Tag Archive: California

How Can The Atlantic Give Us 5,000 Words on Prison Life Without Interviewing Prisoners?

solitary_630_2From Mother Jones/ by Shane Bauer

As someone who writes about prisons, and who two spent years behind bars, I devour nearly everything written about it, especially the long-form stuff. So I was excited when I saw that The Atlantic’s latest issue had a major story called “How Gangs Took Over Prison.”

Then I read it. Anyone who has ever survived anything traumatic—domestic abuse, rape, torture, war—knows the particular jolt that happens in the body when someone makes light of that thing that you once thought could destroy you. I am a former prisoner—I was held captive in Iran from 2009-2011—and a survivor of solitary confinement. In my experience as a reporter who writes about prisons, it is surprisingly rare that I come across people outside of the prison system who justify long-term solitary confinement. Even within the world of prison administrators many are against it. The last two times I’ve attended the American Correctional Association conferences, there have been large, well attended symposiums on the need to curb the use of isolation.

Graeme Wood, the writer of the Atlantic story, gives a different impression of the practice. He visits Pelican Bay State prison, which probably has more people in solitary confinement for longer periods than any other prison in the world. He goes to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, where people are kept in solitary confinement or, as he gently puts it, are “living without cellmates.” When he enters, he says it’s “like walking into a sacred space” where the silence is “sepulchral.” The hallways “radiate” and the prisoners are celled in the “branches of (a) snowflake.” Beautiful.

It’s difficult to understand why Wood does not find it worth mentioning that the cells in those snowflakes are each 7×11 feet and windowless. Men literally spend decades in those cells, alone. I’ve been to Pelican Bay, and wrote a story about it in 2012. I met a man there who hadn’t seen a tree in 12 years. Wood tells us categorically that everyone there is a hard-core gang member. This is what the California Department of Corrections consistently claims, but if Wood did a little digging, he would find that number of the prisoners locked away in the SHU are jailhouse lawyers. (more…)

A Year After Mass Hunger Strike in California Prisons, What’s Changed?

hungerstrikeFrom Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners launched what became a 60-day mass hunger strike. One year later, however, Luis Esquivel is still sitting in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in solitary confinement in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. “Right now, my uncle is in his cell with no windows,” said his niece, Maribel Herrera. “It’s like sitting in a bathroom – your sink is there, your toilet is there, your bed is there. And you’re just sitting there. I can only think about that for so long because it hurts.”

Herrera’s uncle has been in solitary confinement for 15 years. “I hadn’t seen my uncle since I was a child,” said Herrera. “I can’t even remember hugging him.” When she visited him in 2012, her first-ever visit to Pelican Bay, more than 850 miles away from her family’s home in San Diego, hers was the first visit Esquivel had received in seven years. (more…)

Censored and ‘Obscene’ in Solitary

After a huge hunger strike to protest the state prison system’s inhuman conditions, California is threatening to ban any written material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”
Last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed sweeping new regulations for mail going both into and out of the state’s prisons and jails. Coined “obscenity regulations,” on face value they appear to ban material that “depicts or describes sexual misconduct.” Yet, if you scroll further down the long, technical parameters laid out on CDCR’s website you’ll find they’re casting a much broader net—such as censorship of any material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”“There’s a lot of non-sexual speech that will be banned if these regulations are put into effect,” says Paul Wright, Director of Prison Legal News. “This isn’t a new tactic, for hundreds of years the guise of ‘obscenity’ has been used to crush political speech, not just among prisoners, originally it was used to punish criticism of the church.”

It’s no coincidence that these enhanced restrictions are coming from California, where 29,000 prisoners went on hunger strike for 60 days last year in a historically unprecedented protest against inhumane prison conditions—namely prolonged solitary confinement. A large part of the hunger strike’s success in capturing international attention had to do with the ability of activists, lawyers and family members to get out the voices and opinions of the men inside who initiated the strike, at least in part through written correspondence. Under these new regulations, letters like those might not make it through next time. (more…)

Fight new prison censorship rules in California

“They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.” -Prisoner in Corcoran State Prison SHU

“They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.”
-Prisoner in Corcoran State Prison SHU

From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

We need your help. Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons.

If these changes are approved, CDCR will permanently ban any documents it defines as “contraband,” including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

The proposed regulations are designed with two main purposes: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

1.) Please weigh in and speak out against these regulations. The public comment period is open until 5pm on June 17th. Resources to help craft a letter are provided at the action page.

2.) Spread the word on Facebook and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also.

Thank you for everything you do.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition