The Speech I gave at United Nations Rally on July 9, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.
Today marks the 9th day of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, as we strive to bring media and national attention to this hunger strike, many families members of shu prisoners as well as members of our communities have expressed to me that they are learning for the first time the cruelty, the inhumanity and indignities of the incarceration of their loved ones at Pelican Bay State Prisons, as well as other prisons throughout the State of California. Prisoners have often told their family members thru letters that they were okay, and not to worry and often times even telling them not to visit. They know now the reason that their loved ones skin has faded from brown to pale, and often times yellow from the lack of sunlight and years of isolation, why the brightness in their eyes have dimmed, and their weight has pummel from normal weight levels as a result of the lack of food being provided to them. Many family members have expressed to me that they would like to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation of their loved ones on the inside. They have state to me that they feel powerless to help, and often suffer from long periods of depression, and feelings of being imprisoned themselves.
I first became familiar with this prison after I reach out to a prisoner there thru correspondence, and we have formed a beautiful friendship, in fact, I consider him to be my best friend. I later reached out to 2 other prisoners in the State of California who have also experienced solidarity confinement or are currently on shu status.
I arrived at Pelican Bay State Prison for the 1st time on April 2, 2011 where I witnessed a father who was pleading in Spanish for the CO working there to please allow him to see his son, they make no effort to explain the procedure to him and he refused to leave. He finally broke down crying, pleading with them in Spanish “please, I have traveled far to get there, why you won’t let me see my son?” They walked passed him, barely acknowledging his presence, deeming him undeserving of their compassion because his son was a shu prisoner. Until, finally a female correctional officer explained the paperwork that was necessary in order for him to be granted admission into their prison. The second time I went to Pelican Bay State Prison, a mother’s daughter was also refused admission as a result of another administrative paperwork mishap, and she was forced to take her 8 year old crying daughter, who didn’t understand why she couldn’t visit her brother, and leave her alone at the hotel room while she came back for her two hour visit behind glass. Shu visits consist of two hours at most, often times less in the presences of guards who often times paced behind, often intimidating the visitors, and scaring the children.
What most people don’t understand about Pelican Bay is that the vast majority of the prisoners that are being held are people of color, more then half are of Latino descent, mi gente, they don’t have the verbal skills to understand the policy and procedure set forth of CDC, and often times don’t comprehend the language adequately enough to protect their loved ones. Many have entered the system as teenagers who were charged as adults and given lengthy sentences, and even life sentences, not giving them another opportunity to set things right, deeming their lives as unworthy of second chances. These people are oppression members of our communities and they continue to further to be oppressed in these solidarity confinements they call the security housing units.
Shu prisoners are placed in a 6 by 10 windowless cell for 23 hours a day, their rec area consist of a small cage area or another small windowless cell for 45 minutes at most. They have no contact with other prisoners, and are not allowed to use the phones. Their only form of outside communication is thru the use of correspondences and letters, that are monitor by correctional officers; Getting a letter to your loved one inside these shu’s takes an average of two to three weeks and sometimes even longer.
Every Latino prisoner that I have been in contact with has experience long periods of isolation. When I met the prisoner who I was mentoring at Pelican Bay State Prison, I was the 1st person to have a contact visit with him in 11 years, having entered the prison at the age of 18, he is now 30 years old. Early into his incarceration, prison guards told him if he did not conform to prison rules he would be sent to Pelican Bay State Prison. A week later without notice, they sent him packing thru 7 days of layovers at various prisons and long drives in the hot heat shackled on a bus without food or water.
I told him prior to our visit that I would hug him in the spirit of his family, his sister, his brothers, aunts and uncles, and everyone else that was rob of the opportunity to feel his embraced, and spend time in his presence. It has been 7 years since he has last seen his family aside from the pictures that they send him because they are unable to make the 14 hour drive to Pelican Bay. I can promise you he is not a murderer, rapist or pedophile but a good person at heart who cares about the well being of others and enjoys the process of learning from others.
The demands of these shu prisoners are simple, and not outrageous, in fact their demands are all reasonable.
- They are asking to end the use of group punishment, as they are routinely punished for the actions of others.
- To abolish the debriefing policy which endangers their lives and the lives of their loved ones, and to modify Active/Inactive Gang Criteria.
- To Comply with 2006 Commission on Safety and Abuse Recommendations against solidarity confinement.
- To provide them with adequate food, and the ability for family to sent more food packages to them.
- To grant them an opportunity to better themselves by allowing them the chance to enroll in correspondence courses, and provide them with productive programming. Currently they are not allowed to take college courses even if they pay for them.
All of these demands are feasible, including allowing them the human decencies to be able to hold their families and to call home once a week. They are also asking to be allowed to send home pictures of themselves to their loved ones once a year, especially for those members of their families who are unable to make the 14 hour drive into the redwoods.
A few days ago I received a letter from a prisoner who has been under shu status for most of his incarceration. He has experienced long periods of isolation, sensory deprivation, often he went long periods of non speaking to the point where when he finally began speaking again, he didn’t recognized the sound of his own voice. He stated to me that at one point during his incarceration he was taken into a downstairs room, strapped into a chair and choked repeatly by three guards. He wrote to me “Every time they let go I cussed them all out, never giving into their assault. I remember feeling like I was prepared to die, and that I would die with dignity.”
There is nothing rehabilitating in torturing prisoners and keeping them in solidarity confinement. This behavior is unacceptable and we should expect more, we should demand more from CDC officials. They must answer for this type of cruelty and the violence they create, by taking away the dignities of the prisoners they are entrusted to care for, demeaning and degrading them as human beings, and breaking their spirits and that of their loved ones.
CDC calls these men shot caller, worst of the worst, but what they don’t tell you about the faulty system that often places innocence inactive gang members due to the tattoos on their bodies, as well as political prisoners, jail house lawyers and what they consider to be non conformist. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Che Guevara, and Cesar Chavez, were all non conformist. Just because the Department of Corrections has allow this doesn’t make it right.
I urge you to be the voice to the voiceless, and stand up as community members, leaders and prison activist and protest the brutal tortuous conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison, in addition to the other prisons similar, by calling CDC representative and urging them to put an end to the hunger strike by meeting the demands of the prisoners.