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July 29, 2015

Monday, November 26, 2012

We Are Human

This is a guest post on the weblog Live from Lockdown, "the real deal, authentic and uncensored. Born in the Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (SMU) at one of the nation’s most notorious prisons- the Big House, USP Lewisburg": 

November 14th 2012

I’m writing this piece on prison life due to the fact that there is so much going on within this prison system, specifically the NJ Department Of Corrections (NJDOC), that society should know. These issues really need to be exploited and hopefully whoever reads this will be able to get it to the media and really put the issues on the table.

I’ve been incarcerated for a little over ten years now, and I’ve pretty much seen things in this prison system, which are not only a violation of my rights but to society as well. I say that because the way we are treated and conditioned in here is the way most of us will come home and carry ourselves because this is all we know after being incarcerated in these conditions for so long. Prepare yourself for what it is to be HELD PRISONER in Trenton (NJ) State Prison’s Management Control Unit (M.C.U.)…..

First, I will touch on the food being served daily. Most days the food that is supposed to be served hot is usually the exact opposite, cold. For example, I can get a tray of oatmeal and put my spoon in it to take a bite and literally pick up the whole serving at once. That’s usually how most of our food is. I’ve even saw one of the brothers open one of the milks and there was some type of black tar stuck to the inside of the milk carton. Finding dead and live insects in a meal in here doesn’t surprise the average prisoner at all. Mice droppings have also become part of some of our diets as well. Moldy bread is so normal in certain areas in this prison system that I actually heard someone trying to convince another prisoner that mold can be good for them in some ways. Not to mention that most of the food we are served really does look like vomit. How can a person sit down and eat something that looks like cold vomit?

We are treated like this because we are convicted felons and a lot of us have committed some very harsh crimes. In the eyes of most we should not be treated fairly or even be alive for that matter, but the fact still remains that WE ARE HUMAN and deserve to be treated as such. Not to mention that just because you are in prison you have committed a crime. In my eyes, from what I know, there are more innocent people in prison than there are on the street.

Another issue I want to touch on is the living conditions we are FORCED to endure. These cages they house us in shouldn’t even be utilized for animals, let alone humans. The paint is so badly chipped and falling off the walls that it can’t be safe to be around 24-hours per day. Most of the toilets and sinks are so messed up that these plumbers are probably the busiest workers in this prison system. If I flush my toilet, my feces come up in my neighbor’s toilet in the cell next to mine and vice versa.

As for the “water” that’s coming out of the sink, it isn’t clear at all. The water that comes out of these sinks is white. Sometimes if I’m lucky, I will catch it clear. Still, I know it’s no pure because the smell of it is one that automatically draws a warning sign in your head not to drink it.

The vents meant for air circulation are so filthy and dusty that it is impossible for them to serve their original purpose. There are two vents in these cells. The one that blows usually blows out a smell that will eventually push us to just block the entire thing up, period. The one that is for suction is so clogged and dusty that it barely works. With the vents like this, it almost always causes us to get sick and sometimes even stay sick. These types of living conditions are definitely a health hazard to us as well as the staff that are around us 24 hours per day.


Another thing is the ceiling leaks water into our cells on rainy days. The more it rains outside, the more water literally leaks in our cells; all over our beds, electronics, down our walls, and even to the hallways on the tier. We’ve wrote this issue up so many times through the remedy system and still the issue remains. This is pretty much an M.C.U. issue.

There is so much dust and dirt throughout this prison that I’m almost certain that it’s killing us slowly. There are guys that have been incarcerated in this prison so long that it is impossible to say that these conditions are not just affecting them. The Administration just doesn’t seem to care at all. In my eyes, they’d rather let us live in cruel conditions and save money than fix these problems.

Not only are the living conditions cruel and unusual punishment but the simple fact that they make us spend years in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) is literally having a real negative affect on us mentally.

Solitary confinement has proven to be very dangerous to a person’s physical and mental health, especially in cases of extended isolation. Personally, I have experienced some of the negative affects of solitary confinement such as not being comfortable around other people. I also can’t be myself around people any more. It’s like I shy away from people whenever they try to talk to me, or I start stuttering and get nervous during conversations because I am just not used to them any more. I even get like this when my own family comes to visit me now.

The only way I can truly express myself is simply by writing. I’ve been in solitary for over five years and have ten years to go. It’s like the longer I am here and isolated from others, I don’t trust anyone else, and my guard is always up whenever I’m around other people. The reason why it feels crazy to me is because I am well aware of it, and I know that it has to be the solitary confinement. But, still, I can’t help it when put in a position around others. Nonetheless, I do everything in my power to keep my sanity such as: reading, writing, praying, and exercising. Deep down inside, I know I need help.

I’ve seen guys lose their minds in here right in front of my eyes. One minute they were alright and the next minute they didn’t even know where they were. That’s what scares me the most. I don’t want to be one of those guys. The thing is, they don’t want to give me the help I need. So now I ask myself questions like, how much longer can I hold out?

Another issue is the ad-seg conditions throughout the NJDOC system. Administrative Segregation is a lockup where prisoners are put in whenever they are institutionally charged with an infraction of some sort. In addition to being placed in ad-seg for fifteen years, I ws put on M.C.U. status as well. The Management Control Unit is also a lockup for gang leaders who have too much influence, guys that have killed or seriously hurt Correction Officers, guys with extensive disciplinary histories, a violent past, or pose a threat to others and the facility.

Recently, they made a change to the commissary catalog for ad-seg prisoners throughout the entire New Jersey prison system. They took things off our catalogs that were actually more helpful than anything. For example, we used to be able to order vitamins- such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E and multivitamins. Now, they told us we can’t order them any more. They never gave a specific reason. They just said we can’t.
The only type of food that ad-seg prisoners are now allowed to order is all junk and sweets. There is no actual real food on the commissary order form for ad-seg prisoners like there used to be. They just recently changed this on November 1, 2011. They removed all the soups, fish, chicken, and other foods and left us with stuff that will eventually give us diabetes if we choose to eat it. To be honest, most of us don’t have a choice. We just can’t simply eat the slop they serve. Even if we do eat it, the portions are so little that we are left still hungry.

So first they take all the vitamins and other health products off of commissary, then they take all the food off and add all the junk food and sweets. Does this seem like people trying to help or trying to hurt us?
It’s not like ad-seg prisoners don’t have to endure these conditions for years at a time in most cases. I am a prime example that that’s not true. This is not only a disgrace, but it’s also a health hazard.
They won’t let us order surge suppressors (outlet protectors) anymore. These prisons have power outages regularly. At one point in time, the power outages were so bad that eventually they actually put out a memo saying that we need to order surge suppressors so the power outages wouldn’t blow out our T.V.’s and other electronics. We did as told so our property wouldn’t be destroyed. Now, not only are they saying we can’t have them, but they actually came and took them away from us. It was like a big money scam or something…

Ad-seg prisoners also used to get “State Pay”. Basically, you would get about $18/month or so to buy the necessities such as toiletries (most can’t use the soap they give out here because it breaks them out), food for those who cannot eat what they serve, shower slippers, towels, washcloths, and other things that they do not provide but are needed. They just stopped giving ad-seg inmates State Pay, but regular population still gets State Pay. There are so many guys in ad-seg who don’t have family helping them or no support out there at all who can put money in their accounts so they could get what’s needed for survival. These guys are back here slowly losing their minds because in all actuality there’s only but so much a person can take.

Then, to top it all off, they just up and stopped everyone from smoking. There were no programs to help you quit, no substitutes- no nothing. Just forced to stop! I’m not mad at the that want us to stop smoking, but it’s they way they did it. There are guys who had been smoking for so long that they are now in here literally losing their minds because they were forced to stop. It’s good to stop smoking but the way they did it is very dangerous to prisoners as well as staff. And if they want to stop us from smoking out of concern for our health, what about our dietary needs and the facilities issues?

Another thing being done to ad-seg prisoners is that we are being denied schooling and rehabilitative programs. I literally have all the paperwork needed to back this up, an I am willing to mail anyone a copy who is reading this and willing to do something about it. I’ve written so many requests, letters and remedy forms letting them know that I would like to participate in their rehabilitative programs because I really want to change my life for the best. I’m willing to do what I can to learn how to become a better man and just learn the right ways to do things. I explained to them that I have fifteen years ad-seg, and I don’t want to sit here and not earn from it. They literally told me that I can’t take any of their programs because I am on ad-seg status. They said they do not offer any programs to ad-seg prisoners.

First and foremost, I have a right to rehabilitation by law. This prison system is basically designed to rehabilitate prisoners and get us ready for our return to society. By them denying me rehabilitative programs contradicts the whole purpose of the NJDOC. If anything, the guys on ad-seg are the ones who should really be getting the programs due to the fact that they are the ones allegedly catching the institutional infractions and getting into trouble.

I’ve got fifteen years ad-seg, M.C.U. status, and I’ve basically been in trouble since my incarceration. Now, I’m coming for help so I can better myself and change my life and they tell me no. How does that help anyone? And people wonder why a lot of guys come home with the same mentality, if not worse, they had when they went in. It’s because we aren’t getting any type of real help in here. It’s because these people rather keep any funds they receive to rehabilitate us and just simply tell us they aren’t going to help us.

Right now, I’m in Trenton (NJ) State Prison. Before I came here I was in Northern State Prison where I worked extra hard to obtain my high school diploma by enrolling in school and dedicating my days and nights to learning my work. Once I finally obtained my diploma, I immediately enrolled in a college correspondence course so I could obtain my College Degree in Psychology. Everything was smooth until I was transferred here to Trenton State Prison for a disciplinary infraction I caught. Once I got here, they immediately started denying me the access I needed to continue my courses because I’m an ad-seg prisoner and, according to them, ad-seg prisoners aren’t allowed to do anything but serve their ad-seg time. I explained to them that I was already in ad-seg when I started my college courses in Northern State Prison and that I would like to finish my courses and obtain my degree. They said no. That was in September 2010.

 I’ve been fighting for the right to continue my college courses and take rehabilitative programs since. I’ve explained to the administration on numerous occasions that I’ve been in ad-seg for over five years and have ten years left. I shouldn’t have to be here this long without schooling, rehabilitation or any other type of help for that matter. I’ve done my best to explain that I really want help. I’ve even sent letters to Commissioner Gary Lanigan, Governor Christopher Christie and other government officials about being denied the right to rehabilitation and education. Still, no progress. They are literally about to make me sit in solitary confinement for fifteen years and do nothing! This is the type of prison environment we are coming home from. What do you honestly expect guys’ minds to be like when they come from this type of setting?

Once again, I have all the necessary documents to back up all of these facts I’m putting out there about this prison system.

Another issue in here is the physical abuse by Correction Officers of the NJDOC. This is basically the reason why I have fifteen years ad-seg and M.C.U. status. This and the fact that they labeled me as a gang leader for the Bloods. I refuse to just stand there and watch physical abuse take place with another prisoner or especially with me. I’ve assaulted many officers in this prison system because they simply have it in their heads that they are just going to physically hurt us, and we will not, or should not, defend ourselves. This prison system is hiding so many incidents where they hurt guys very badly for no reason at all and in some cases they’ve even killed prisoners.

Nonetheless, the incidents aren’t being properly investigated. If they were, it would be known that the officer was dead wrong. I’ve been in incidents with these officers where even after I was handcuffed and restrained, they continued to assault me. They are cowards at heart and brainwashed at mind. It’s just so bad that they have transformed from prison guards into a gang amongst themselves. I will not say that it is all of them because there a lot of them who don’t partake in this behavior but the majority of them are guilty of these actions. As long as this type of behavior is taking place, I will continue to defend innocent brothers and myself. Most of these prison guards are so brainwashed and institutionalized that they start to act like they are locked up too. They do things we do such as collect commissary and make hookups (prison meals). They steal our magazines out of the mail. They pretty much have created an “Us against Them” environment. It’s strange to me because most of the time these officers aren’t even mentally stable. How did they even get the job to begin with?

I argued with an officer in here one day and he literally showed me a knife he had in his possession. He told me that he would definitely use it if I tried him. On one occasion, the officers planted a knife in my cell so they could set me up to get more charges. This indictment took place in 2007 right after the 2007 Rahway Prison riot, which I was involved in. I requested a polygraph test to prove that they planted the knife in my cell and the administrator of this prison at the time sent me a letter denying the polygraph. She said I couldn’t get a polygraph due to my extensive disciplinary background. That doesn’t have anything to do with me wanting to prove to her that I was innocent and her officers were dirty. She knew what it was already and that’s why I was denied. I have all the paperwork to prove this as well.

They even have prisoners in here that are beyond mentally disturbed who are not being treated at all. No medication, no attention- nothing. These guys bang on the doors all day and throw food and feces at people and, in some cases, even assault and murder other prisoners. Still, no help.

I’m literally on the same tier with a guy right now that murdered his cellmate a few years back and does nothing but kick his door, throw things, blow the power out of his socket, and much more. They don’t have him on medication, no programs, nothing! All they did was weld his plug sockets shut so he won’t blow the power out any more and took all his property. Would you consider something like that to help? He’s just one example there are many more just like him.

I’ve seen them carry so many dead prisoners out of here in body bags simply because somebody wasn’t getting the right treatment. Regardless if it was the guy that killed himself or, as it is in most cases, one prisoner killing another. Nonetheless, they rather worry about coming in our cells and taking extra sheets or trashing our cells to make us mad. Most of the officers that are being hired to work here belong in these cages.

This system is so corrupt that it is literally damaging the minds of prisoners and officers more than ever. This is the type of system that the people of New Jersey are contributing their tax dollars towards. The minute this is publicly exploited, I’m sure sure they will deny all of it and make it sound convincing as well. But once again, I have proof for most of it and if these issues are properly investigated, all of what I’m saying will be proved true.


The way this system runs it automatically breeds the mentalities of murderers, hate, thieves, and much more because the only thing being taught in here is negativity.

It has got to the point where they blame everything like the assaults taking place in here and things like that on gang violence. But then deny us the help we need and seek.


Until these issues are taken seriously it will only get worse. There will be no improvement whatsoever.

What I’ve told you in this correspondence isn’t even half of what’s going on in here. I’m just giving you a brief summary of what it’s like to be held prisoner in solitary confinement in New Jersey. Most of what I’ve written in this letter is specifically directed to this prison Trenton (NJ) State Prison, but it also goes for all the other prisons in New Jersey. I’ve been to a few and they are basically the same.

As I’ve said there is much more going on in here, which is being covered up by the people who run the NJDOC. If anyone reading this wants me to further elaborate on other issues, all you have to do is contact me.
Hopefully, someone who cares will read this and take immediate action towards correcting these problems.

Julius Wilson will be 29 years old on December 27, 2012. He is from Newark, NJ– the Weequahic Section– Elizabeth Avenue– The Towers from Renner to Meeker. Many may know him by the nickname “GRIMEY”. A lot may also know him as “JU”. 

He’s currently serving a 25-year sentence for a Felony Murder, which he maintains he was wrongfully convicted of, and has been incarcerated since 2002. 

Right now he’s in the Management Control Unit (MCU) of Trenton State Prison (NJSP), after having been sentenced to 15-years Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) and permanent M.C.U. The MCU is a 23 & 1 lockdown and long-term isolation unit. 

Send light to
Julius Wilson #509928-541478-C 
P.O. Box 861
Trenton, NJ 08625


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where Are All The Photographs Of Solitary Confinement?

This is an interesting oversight from the website Prison Photography.

Nov 12th 2012
By Pete Brook

Solitary confinement is in the news … for lots of reasons – a lawsuit brought by prisoners against the Federal Bureau of Prisons; a lawsuit brought by 10 prisoners in solitary against the state of California; a June Senate hearing on the psychological and human rights implications of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons (which included the fabrication of a replica sized AdSeg cell in the courtroom); an ACLU report pegging solitary as human rights abuse; a NYCLU report showing arbitrary use of solitary, a NYT Op-Ed by Lisa Guenther; the rising use of solitary at immigration detention centres; and the United Nations’ announcement that solitary is torture.

Recently, journalists from across America have contacted me looking for photographs of solitary confinement to accompany their article. I could only think of three photographers – one of whom wishes to remain anonymous; another, Stefan Ruiz is not releasing his images yet; which leaves Richard Ross‘ work which is well known.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dear Outside World Humanity

We found this such a beautiful story, and Sister Kendra wrote: "This month of October is domestic violence awareness month. 
James Baridi Williamson wrote a beautiful piece about his experience and honoring his dead mother and his sisters and ALL women out there." 

Dear Outside World Humanity

As a child, I would find myself sometimes standing outside the locked bedroom door hearing my mother-Queen (Betty Jean) crying and screaming, as her insecure, possessive male brute (boyfriend) was beating her repeatedly. I don’t know if hearing my lil balled fists beating upon the door and hollering at the top of my lungs for him to stop, helped to get him to open the door, and exit, while knocking me aside. But I hated him, and carried those horrific childhood memories with their bloody images inside me, while I would run to the bathroom to get a wet towel and go try to help her wash the blood from her face. 

To this day, I find it amazing how she would be more worried about me than her own painful injuries. Hugging and comforting each other, she would somehow make sure her youngest baby boy know that he did not break her free spirit inside. Unfortunately, we got separated when I was 12 years old and sent to Kansas, never to see, hug and kiss my Queen mother again. She passed on recently (October 2010), which are two reasons why this “Domestic Violence Awareness” month is very personal and important to my heart and soul. So with that shared, there are some things that I would like to say:

1.      First and foremost, I send a heartfelt embrace of care, respect, appreciation and honor to all the (grand) mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, nieces, wives and women – queens, princesses of the world. You, each and all deserve to be treated fairly, equally and with the utmost dignity and respect, no matter what.
2.      Secondly, raising awareness about domestic violence must be a continuing effort all year long, because it’s the only way to break the cycle that has become a part of this society’s collective psyche over the centuries. Its passed on generation to generation from (grand) father to son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, friends, neighbors, and from television to viewers!
3.      Third, “understanding” is the key for each male to grow-mature and develop as real ‘men’ by recognizing, caring, respecting and appreciating women and the value that daughters, mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts, wives, friends, etc… has (and continues to) bless upon our world since the beginning of human civilization. Remember, “understanding” is key to real change. It took me years up into adulthood to grasp genuine “understanding” of some of the many reasons why women are so important to us and our world.

And for all of the above reasons and more, I apologize first to my mother Betty Jean Carr-Stanford, my sisters, my grandmother, and all the women, whose lives crossed or connected with my presence years ago in my immature and irresponsible past. When I was that frustrated, confused, lost and out of control “male” who did not know how to do my best by you. It took me over twenty five (25) years, but I have grown up inside and is man enough to say “I’m sorry” in front of the entire world.

Today, I promise that I will continue to be my best toward all (grand) mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, wives – women whom I come into contact with as I have been doing for years now. In hopes to lead by example for others to emulate.
Much care and respect to you all.

James Baridi Williamson
CDC# D-34288
P.O. Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532

Written to and transcribed by Kendra Castaneda. Written on October 18, 2012 and postmarked October 22, 2012. 

Please send James some love and light. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hunger strike of Kurdish prisoners since Sept 12th - more join each day

Since Sept. 12th Kurdish prisoners inside Turkey's prisons have been on a hunger strike protesting the prologued isolation of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been held on İmralı Island on a life sentence. Öcalan has been held in solitary confinement and even his own lawyers have not been allowed to visit him since 14 months, see:

Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish newspaper, Oct 19th 2012

See also: Global Times, where this was written about the background of the hunger strike, which more and more prisoners are joining each day:

There are over 7000 (some resources say closer to 8000) political prisoners related to BDP, KCK or PKK in Turkish jails with majority being under arrest as a result of KCK operations. Overwhelming majority of those are not convicted. Just being held captive pending trial- which might take years to finalize in the maze we call Turkish judiciary system.

These prisoners even lack most basic rights of visitation. If allowed they are humiliated in front of their relatives. What is worse is their relatives are also humiliated in prisoners’ presence by military guardians. Most have forfeited their rights of visitation to protest that fact.

Letters are torn in front of both prisoners and visitors. And as of last week all communication between the Kurds in custody and the outside world is completely broken.

A hunger strike initiated by a small group of women in Diyarbakir prison spread over the country and today over 350 prisoners joined in for “the right to use their Kurdish mother tongue in the public sphere, including court and the removal of obstacles preventing imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from negotiating in peace talks with the Turkish state.”

Today the mayor-elect of Siirt province, Selim Sadak has joined in the hunger strike to support his comrades in jail.

Also, Here are the names of the hunger strikers as of yesterday: http://www.amednewsagency.com/aclik-grevindeki-tutsaklarin-tam-listesi/

More news via Twitter, follow #KurdishHungerForFreedom

Thursday, October 18, 2012

California: Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown: Stop the torture now

From: SF Bay View, October 17, 2012

Dear Gov. Brown:

We oppose the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR’s) policies and practices relating to our subjection to decades of “status”-based indefinite isolation (SHU confinement); this includes our opposition to CDCR’s proposed policy changes, entitled “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy.” We would appreciate your supportive intervention on this issue.

We are the four principal prisoner representatives confined in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor, and we present you with this request on behalf of ourselves and all similarly situated prisoners who are subject to torturous, indefinite SHU [Security Housing Unit] and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] confinement.

The “censored pelican,” drawn by Pete Collins, at Bath Prison in Ontario, Canada, became an icon of the 2011 hunger strikes led by the same “main reps” in the Pelican Bay SHU who wrote this letter to Gov. Brown.

Our commonality as a collective group – able to effectively represent our own interests, as well as those of the thousands of prisoners similarly situated – lies in our continued indefinite SHU confinement for more than 25 years, which is based on “status,” rather than illegal behavior. Notably, our decades of SHU isolation are based on CDCR gang classification, i.e. status, without ever being found guilty of committing a gang-related criminal act!

Our gang validations and related decades of SHU isolation are based on what CDCR claims to be “intelligence-based evidence of criminal gang activity,” consisting of: (a) innocent associational or political type activity; and/or (b) confidential prisoner informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity.

Beginning in February 2010, we became united in our efforts to collectively expose and peacefully bring an end to the CDCR policies and practices referenced above, based on our position that they constitute a form of torture and a violation of basic human rights principles. This is when we created our “Formal Complaint” document, copies of which were sent to numerous lawmakers, organizations, groups and individuals, including former Gov. Schwarzenegger and CDCR Secretary Cate. (To review our Formal Complaint, go to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity. wordpress.com/formal-complaint).

As of early 2011, the Formal Complaint had resulted in no relief, and our conditions in SHU had become more oppressive; therefore, we decided our sole avenue for gaining mainstream exposure and outside support for our cause to end our torture was for us to put our lives on the line via a peaceful protest hunger strike action. In May/June 2011, we served your office and Secretary Cate with another copy of our Formal Complaint and our Final Notice of the July 1 hunger strike with the Five Core Demands. (Available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/FinalNoticewith5CoreDemands.doc).

True to our word, we began our hunger strike July 1, 2011, which lasted until July 20, 2011, and included supportive participation by more than 6,600 prisoners across the state. Our hunger strike action was temporarily suspended on July 20 in response to our face-to-face meetings with top CDCR officials, who admitted early on in the negotiation process that our five core demands “were all reasonable,” and CDCR “should have made changes 20 years ago,” and who promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

In our face-to-face meetings with top CDCR officials, they admitted early on in the negotiation process that our five core demands “were all reasonable” and CDCR “should have made changes 20 years ago,” and they promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

All parties understood that CDCR needed to change policies so that SHU confinement would be reserved for prisoners who are charged with and found guilty of committing a serious rule violation, meriting a determinate SHU term, i.e. a system based on individual behavior.

As of early September 2011, we believed CDCR was not acting in good faith … resulting in our return to hunger strike on Sept. 26, 2011. The response was to subject 15 of us to additional torture: Todd Ashker, C-58191; Arturo Castellanos, C-17275; Charles Coleman, C-60680; Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), D-05996; Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671; J. Brian Elrod, H-25268; George Franco, D-46556; Antonio Guillen, P-81948; Paul Jones, B-26077; Louis Powell, B-59864; Paul Redd, B-72683; Alfred Sandoval, D-61000; Danny Troxell, B-76578; James Baridi Williamson, D-34288; and Ronnie Yandell, V-27927.

We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

The response (to our second hunger strike) was to subject 15 of us to additional torture. We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

This second hunger strike action was joined by more than 12,000 prisoners at its peak. It was again temporarily suspended on Oct. 13, 2011, after CDCR made a presentation of their good faith efforts toward the policy changes agreed to in July which was satisfactory to our outside Mediation Team.

[photo: Legendary artist and revolutionary Emory Douglas, whose art enlivened the Black Panther newspaper and is now exhibited around the world, lent his powerful voice to a rally in front of CDCR headquarters in Sacramento during last year’s first hunger strike, on July 18, 2011.]

In the year since Oct. 13, 2011, the CDCR has failed to honor their end of our prior agreements to change SHU policies and practices including but not limited to those listed below:

1) We remain in SHU, subject to the torturous conditions therein, including but not limited to all of the conditions described in our Formal Complaint and other written statements. (See prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com).

2) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes actually do not change anything for those prisoners whom CDCR has classified as validated gang members, who will continue to be subject to indefinite SHU isolation based on “intelligence information” alleged to indicate the prisoner’s participation in “criminal gang activity” – but in fact often innocent associational/political type activity).

The “intelligence” includes confidential informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity – notably, carrying zero formal charges! This is the same policy and practice used and abused by CDCR to keep us in SHU for more than 25 years. (See, e.g., “intelligence” references in March 1, 2012, proposal at pp. 7-8, 25; “intelligence” categories references at pp. 19-24. Compare to CCR, Title 15, sec. 3378(c)(6), 3378(c)(8) and 3378(e).)

3) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes include a four-year minimum step-down program, which prisoners may participate in to earn their way out of SHU. This is also unacceptable! Four years is too long, and the incentives for each step are not adequate. Any step-down program should have a maximum limit of 18 months and require meaningful incentives from the start, such as increased opportunity for out-of-cell contact with other prisoners, additional programs and privileges, including regular phone calls and contact visits.

Notable are the following additional facts supporting our position that CDCR has violated our July/October 2011 agreement and acted in bad faith, thereby requiring us to request your supportive intervention.

A. In March 2012, we presented CDCR with our written rejection of their proposed policy changes, and we included our counterproposal. (Available at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/pelican-bay-human-rights-movement-short-corridor-collecitves-counter-proposal-to-cdcr/).

B. Our outside Mediation Team and the Prison Law Office also presented CDCR with related written oppositions to the proposal. (The Mediation Team’s critique is available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/MTreviewofSTGplan5.5.pdf). The CDCR failed to respond to these opposition points.
This rare photo – rare because reporters are almost always barred from all California prisons, especially the SHUs – shows the cell that was home to Todd Ashker, a signatory to this letter, for over 20 years. Recently he was abruptly moved to a distant part of the SHU. 

The reported reason is nonsensical for a move that is no doubt intended to stop the movement for peaceful change by separating the leaders.

C. This past June 19, 2012, U.S. Sen. Durbin held a congressional hearing about the overuse of isolation cells in the nation’s penal system. The next day, Illinois Gov. Quinn announced that he would close down Tamms Correctional Facility, the notorious SuperMax that opened in 1995 and held prisoners in long-term isolation – some of them since the prison’s inception. His decision was based on the enormous operational costs and evidence suggesting such isolative confinement profoundly and irreparably damages the prisoners exposed to such harsh treatment. Other states have also made significant reductions in their use of SHU-type units, reserving such cells for prisoners found guilty of serious rule violations, where they serve minimal time periods; these states include Mississippi, Maine and Colorado. (See http://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/closing-tamms-supermax-chance-reevaluate-solitary-confinement.) Reducing their use of isolation is saving these states millions of dollars.

Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct. And we believe that the March 2012 “Security Threat Group …” proposal will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to years of torture in isolation cells.

Reducing their use of isolation is saving the states of Mississippi, Maine and Colorado millions of dollars. Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct.

Gov. Brown, back in May/June of 2011 we respectfully made you personally aware of the serious problems. Your failure to take appropriate corrective action has enabled our decades of torturous pain and suffering to continue. Remember, we are talking about the illegal torture of thousands of male and female prisoners – and their family members. The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

The policies and practices at issue violate basic human rights principles and are clear violations of the Constitution and international law, which bans torture for any reason.

All this comes, as you know, at an enormous cost to all California taxpayers: At least $73,000 per year for each SHU and Ad-Seg prisoner, compared to approximately $52,000 for a general population prisoner – while every other citizen in the state has had social services slashed!

The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

Meanwhile, we continue to work for constructive change. Since the PBSP SHU became operational in December 1989, the entire state prison system has had an explosion of riots, to the point where level fours are locked down most of the time, without meaningful rehabilitation programs, opportunities etc.

To change this, we have just launched an initiative to reduce the violence in the CDCR system by calling on all prisoners to end hostilities between various groups. (See http://www.prisons.org/documents/agreement-to-end-hostilities.pdf). We hope for your cooperation in this effort; we will communicate with you further about it soon.

[photo: This banner provided the theme for a hunger strike solidarity vigil at the Alameda County Courthouse on Aug. 11. 2011. – Photo: United for Drug Policy Reform]

Gov. Brown, the barbaric, inhumane treatment of prisoners in this state has gone on for far too long now. We are asking you to take corrective action today by ordering Secretary Cate to immediately halt such practices consistent with our points presented above, and thereby end the unnecessary pain and suffering such practices cause to prisoners, their loved ones outside, and the rest of the majority of the 40 million Californians who have a conscience.


Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), Antonio Guillen

Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Prisoner Representatives

P.S. We (prisoners) reject version 7.0 (June 29, 2012) of the “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy,” as prisoners rejected version 5.5 (March 1, 2012).

Send our brothers some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. Mail to Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen is severely restricted.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Statement on Solitary Confinement by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Sept. 14th Statement on Solitary
[Speech writ. 95/12] © ’12 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Brothers and Sisters! Mis Hermanos y Hermanas! Comrades!

Thank you all for coming together here.

You may think that you know something about solitary, but you don’t. You may have a loved one in prison who has experienced it, and told you about it.

But still I say, you don’t know it.

You know the word; but between word and the reality, a world exists.

You don’t know that world.

But the closest we may come is to say it must be like life on another planet. One where the air is different; where the water is different, where wildlife and flora and fauna mean different things.

For, as you know the word torture, you don’t know how it feels.

For solitary is torture.

State torture.

Official torture. Government sanctioned torture.

Some may call that hyperbole, or exaggeration.

But I’ve lived in solitary longer than many – most, perhaps –Americans have been alive.
I’ve seen men driven mad as a hatter by soul crushing loneliness. Who have sliced their arms until they looked like railroad tracks. Or burned themselves alive.

This isn’t something I’ve read about in psychology books, or newspaper reports.

I’ve seen it with these eyes with which I write these words. I’ve smelled the blood. I’ve smelled the nauseating stench of the smoke.

Why? Because human beings are social creatures; and solitary confinement kills that which is human within us.

Why did these men do these things (to themselves)?

We can’t really know, but if I could guess I’d say they simply wanted to feel. To feel something. To feel as if they were alive.

I’ve seen men beaten while handcuffed; shocked with Tasers and electrified shields; and gassed with pepper spray – really a form of liquid cayenne pepper, which inflames the eyes, nasal passages and mouth.

As America embarks on its second century of mass incarceration, breaking every repressive record ever made, it’s also breaking every record in regards to solitary confinement: locking up, isolating and torturing more and more people, for more and more years.

As I’ve noted elsewhere (in my Live from Death Row (1995), for example) In 1890 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case re Medley, held that solitary confinement for a man on Colorado’s death row was unconstitutional. In a sense, over a century later, the law has lurched backwards!

Today, such an idea would be laughable, if not unthinkable.

According to some estimates, there are over 100,000 people in solitary across the country (I happen to believe this is a conservative estimate). But no matter the number, the reality is stark: under international law – solitary confinement is torture.


And if it happens to one man, one woman -one child - it is torture nonetheless, and a crime under international law -or, put another way, the law of nations.

That’s because such a policy has one primary purpose; to destroy human beings, by destroying their minds.

Is it cruel and unusual, and thus violative of the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Apparently this was so in the 1890’s, but not so in the present, probably because of who was in prison then – and who are now.

It may surprise you to know that at the end of the nineteenth century, Blacks were a distinct minority of American prisoners, and while numbers certainly swelled post-slavery (to build the prison-contract-labor industry—really slavery by another name), the biggest bounce in Black imprisonment came in the aftermath of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, when Black people, en masse, opposed the system of white supremacy, police brutality and racist juries.

And then – The Empire strikes back!

Indeed, never in the history of the modern world have we seen such a vast machinery of repression, and the U.S. is the world’s undisputed leader in imprisonment of its citizens.
Neither China, Russia nor any other nation comes close.

As scholar/law professor Michelle Alexander had aptly described it, the U.S. has reconstituted the ‘New Jim Crow’.

And as prison populations explode, the law becomes increasingly more supportive of this repression, and less tolerant of the notion of equal rights, or even equal access to courts.

These factors have continued to be problems irrespective of whether under Republican or Democratic administrations.

For, repression is apparently bipartisan.

But all is not gloom and doom.

People have the power to transform their grim realities.

All they have to do is fight for it.


When people get together –and fight together – they create change.

They make change.

If you want to shut down solitary confinement, you can do it.
You’ve got to organize – and fight for it.
If you find the prison industrial complex intolerable, then organize – and fight it.

This is not Pollyannaish, or pie in the sky.

This is as gritty and as down to earth as spinach.

It’s as real a dirt. As real as steel. As real as blood. As real as life.

Whenever any social advance has happened it’s because people fought for it. Often, against their own governments, for governments ever embrace the status quo.

During the U.S. Civil War, one of Lincoln’s severest critics was Frederick Douglass, the fiery Black ex-slave and abolitionist.

When Lincoln died a few years later, Douglass would both mourn his passing and laud his accomplishments.

It was Douglass who said: “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has, and never will.”

That lesson of our Ancestor is still true.

We must demand what we want – and fight for it!


If we want the closing of solitary confinement, we can make it happen.

If we want people like Delbert Africa, Mike Africa, Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz, Janet Africa, Phil Africa, Janine Africa, Chuck Africa, Leonard Peltier, Jalil Muntaqim, Ed Africa, or [Dr.] Mutulu Shakur freed, we can make it happen.

Really. Truly. But we gotta fight for it.

Movements make change.

So let us build such a Movement, that it shakes the earth!

Don’t rely on voting, for politics is but the cruel art of betrayal.

Rely on working together and fighting for change.

For “Power concedes nothing without demand!”

Build the Movement!

Let us go forth and make the change we want, for we are the hope of more people than we know—and People make change!

Ona Move!

Long Live John Africa!

“Power Concedes Nothing Without Demand!”

Down With Solitary!

Shut Attica Down!

Down with the Prison Industrial Complex!

--©’12 maj
Discurso del 14 de setiembre sobre incomunicados

Mumía Abú-Jamal

¡Hermanos y hermanas! ¡Mis queridos carnales! ¡Camaradas de lucha!

Muchas gracias a todos por venir a esta reunión.

Ustedes quizás crean que saben algo sobre estar presos incomunicados, pero en verdad, no saben. Quizás han amado a alguien que ha vivido en carne propia esa experiencia, y les ha contado algo sobreéso.

Sin embargo, yo todavía digo, Ustedes no saben nada de éso.

Saben la palabra; pero entre la palabra y la realidad, existe un mundo.

Y Ustedes no conocen ese mundo.

Lo más cercano que podríamos decir es que es como vivir en otro planeta. Un planeta en el que el aire is diferente; donde el agua es diferente; un planeta en el que la vida salvaje, la flora y la fauna significan cosas totalmente diferentes.

Porque, así como saben la palabra tortura, no saben como se sufre la tortura.

Porque estar preso incomunicado es tortura.

Tortura a manos del estado.

Tortura oficial. Tortura sancionada por el gobierno.

Algunos podrían decir que éso es una hipérbole, o una exageración.

Pero yo he vivido preso incomunicado por más largo tiempo que muchos norteamericanos que han sobrevivido --quizás más largo tiempo que todos los que han sobrevivido.

He visto a hombres volverse más locos que cabras acorraladas debido a la soledad que les destrozó el alma. Hombres que se cortaban los brazos hasta que parecían como rieles de ferrocarriles. Ú hombres que ellos mismos se quemaban vivos.

Éso no es algo que he leído en libros de psicología, o en reportajes periodísticos.

Yo lo he visto con estos ojos con los que escribo estas palabras. Yo he olido la sangre. He olido el hedor nauseabundo del humo.

Porqué? Porque los seres humanos somos criaturas sociales, y estar preso incomunicado mata éso que está dentro de nosotros que nos have humanos.

¿Porqué esos hombres se hacen éso (a ellos mismos)?

En verdad no podemos saberlo, pero si yo pudiera imaginar, diría que ellos simplemente lo hacen para sentir. Para sentir algo. Para sentir como si todavía estuvieran vivos.

He visto a hombres con las manos esposadas ser brutalmente golpeados; golpeados con Tasers y con mantas eléctricas; y asfixiados con disparos de ají --en verdad una forma de ají-pimienta líquido, que irrita malamente los ojos, los conductos nasales y la boca.

Mientras Estados Unidos se embarca en su segundo siglo de encarcelamientos en masa, quebrando todos los records represivos que jamás han existido, Estados Unidos también está quebrando todos los records en lo que respecta a tener prisioneros incomunicados: encarcelando, aislando y torturando más y más gente, por más y muchos más años.

Como ya lo he dicho (en mi libro, En Vivo Desde el Corredor de la Muerte, (Live from Death Row,1995), por ejemplo, en 1890, la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos, en el Caso Medley, sostuvo que tener incomunicado a un prisionero sentenciado a muerte en Colorado iba contra la Constitución. En cierto sentido, más de un siglo después, ¡la ley ha retrocedido a saltos!

Hoy en día, esa idea sería irrisoria, si no difícil de pensar.

Según unos estimados, hoy hay más de 100,000 personas prisioneras incomunicadas a lo largo y ancho de Estados Unidos (a mí me parece que es un estimado conservador). Pero no importa el número, la realidad es clara: bajo la ley internacional --tener incomunicados a prisioneros es lo mismo que torturarlos.


Y si éso le pasa a un hombre, a una mujer --¡a un niño o niña!-- éso es por cierto tortura; y torturar es un crimen bajo la ley internacional --en otras palabras, bajo la ley de las naciones.

Éso es porque tal política tiene un fin principal: destruír a seres humanos, destruyéndoles la mente.

¿Es éso cruel e inusitado, y en consecuencia viola la Octava Enmienda a la Constitución de Estados Unidos?

Aparentemente éso era así en los años de los 1890s, pero ya no lo es hoy, probablemente porque, ¿quiénes eran los prisioneros en esos días, y quiénes son los prisioneros hoy?

Quizás les sorprenda saber que a finales del siglo XIX los Negros eran claramente minoría entre los prisioneros norteamericanos, y aún cuando sus números ciertamente crecieron al terminar la esclavitud, (para crear la industria de contratos para trabajos en prisiones --en verdad, esclavitud con otro nombre), el más grande aumento en encarcelamiento de Negros ocurrió después del Movimiento de los Derechos Civiles y del Movimiento de la Liberación de los Negros, cuando el pueblo Negro, en masa, se opuso al sistema de la supremacía de los Blancos, a la brutalidad de la policía y a los jurados racistas.

Pero entonces --¡el Imperio contra atacó!

Es verdad. Jamás en la historia del mundo moderno hemos visto tan vasta maquinaria de represión, y Estados Unidos es el líder indiscutido del mundo en encarcelar a sus propios ciudadanos.

Ni China, ni Rusia; ni ninguna otra nación en el mundo se aproxima a Estados Unidos.

Como la investigadora y profesora de leyes, la Doctora Michelle Alexander lo ha escrito muy bién, Estados Unidos ha re-construído, "El Nuevo Jim Crow".

Y mientras la población de las prisiones explosiona, la ley es cada vez más escrita en apoyo de esa represión, y es menos tolerante de la noción de igualdad de derechos, o aún de igual acceso a las cortes.

Estos factores han continuado siendo problemas sin importar si la administración es Republicana o Demócrata.

Porque, aparentemente la represión es algo natural a cada partido político.

Pero no todo es tristeza y mal agüero.

El pueblo tiene el poder de transformar sus peores realidades.

Lo único que el pueblo tiene que hacer es pelear; y transformar la realidad.


Cuando el pueblo se junta --y juntos pelean-- el pueblo crea el cambio.

El pueblo hace el cambio.

Si tú quieres que no hayan prisioneros incomunicados, tú lo puedes hacer.

Tienes que organizar --y pelear hasta terminar con éso de prisiones para incomunicados.

Si crees que el complejo industrial de prisiones es intolerable, entonces, organiza –y lucha contra él.

Éso no es juego de niños, ni tampoco maná que cae del cielo.

Éso es tan real y tan práctico como la espinaca.

Es tan real como la tierra. Tan real como el acero. Tan real como la sangre. Tan real como la vida.

Siempre que ocurrió un avance social fue porque el pueblo luchó por él. Casi siempre contra sus propios gobiernos, porque los gobiernos siempre abrazan el status quo.

Durante la Guerra Civil de Estados Unidos, uno de los críticos más severos del Presidente Abraham Lincoln fue Frederick Douglass, el apasionado ex-esclavo y abolicionista Negro.

Cuando, pocos años después, Lincoln fue asesinado, Douglass lamentó su muerte y elogió sus conquistas.

Fue Douglass quien dijo: “¡El poder no da nada sin que se lo demanden. Nunca lo ha hecho, y jamás lo hara!”

Esa lección de nuestro Antepasado todavía es verdad.

Tenemos que demandar lo que queremos --¡y luchar hasta conseguirlo!


Si queremos cerrar las celdas de incomunicados, nosotros podemos hacerlo.

Si queremos que gente como Delbert África, Mike África, Russell "Maroon" Shoatz, Janet África, Phil África, Janine África, Chuck África, Leonard Peltier, Jalil Muntaqim, Ed África, o el Doctor Mutulu Shakur ganen su libertad, nosotros podemos conseguir liberarlos.

De veras. Es verdad. Pero tenemos que luchar hasta conseguirlo.

Los movimientos hacen los cambios.

Entonces construyamos un Movimiento. ¡Un Movimiento que sacuda al mundo!

No confiemos en elecciones, porque la política en Estados Unidos no es otra cosa más que el cruel arte de la traición.

Confiemos en trabajar juntos y en luchar juntos por el cambio.

Porque, “¡El poder no da nada sin que se lo demanden!”

¡Construyamos el Movimiento!

Sigamos adelante y hagamos el cambio que queremos, porque somos la esperanza de más gente de la que nos imaginamos --¡y es el Pueblo el que hace el cambio!

¡Ona Move!

¡Que Viva John África!

“¡El poder no da nada sin que se lo demanden!”

¡Abajo con las celdas de incomunicados!

¡Cerremos la cárcel de Ática!

¡Abajo con el Complejo Industrial de Prisiones!

--©’12 maj

Traducción libre del inglés enviado por Fatirah Aziz, Litestar01@aol.com,