From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters
Soledad, Calif.—On Aug. 6, dozens of mostly family members demonstrated in front of Soledad prison. Below are a few statements made at the rally.
An organizer with We Are Their Voice addressed not just the crowd but the guards looking at us: “We are here for our loved ones, but not only them.” Turning to the guards she continued, “I want to ask you, do you think Ralph Diaz [head of California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr)] cares about you? He doesn’t. This prison was doing fine, no instances of the virus. How did it get in there? [It was brought in by staff, most likely during a raid a couple weeks ago.] Now our loved ones are sitting in there, at risk of dying, just like so many already have.
“The prisoners were sentenced by the court. They were not sentenced to die by the virus. We are here to stand for our loved ones, to end mass incarceration, regardless if they are classified as ‘violent offender’ or not.
“We have to stand up for all our loved ones: we want to drop enhancements, drop LWOP [life without a possibility of parole], stand up for youth offenders, close these damn prisons already. Just like our lives matter out here, so do theirs. Just because they are incarcerated, they are still human beings.”
Another family member said, “My husband is not even at this prison. I keep fighting for my husband, for your husband. What’s happening right now is completely wrong. I see women come out here holding all those beautiful signs. I want them to understand that when they are hurting, we are too. I love my husband. I want him home. It was an accident when he was 19 years old and they gave him life.
“We will show up at every prison: Solano, Chino, Monterey County Jail, Calipatria… I want to be a part of this movement. There will be adversaries against us. But guess what, Martin Luther King went through all those things because of what he believed in. There will be change, we will be heard. When my husband comes home, I will keep fighting for your husband. We will have our demands met.”
“My name is Jessica. In 2006 I witnessed the murder of a prisoner. He was in handcuffs. Because he moved, seven sheriffs murdered him. They did it in front of me, because they thought I would not talk. Brown people do not talk. We just take it. It’s called colonization. They killed him with a choke hold. They left him in a cell with me. Every 20 minutes they came in to do a fake ‘medical check.’ They did that for three hours. After that they called medical, who tried to resuscitate a body that had been dead for three hours. Shocking to me is how fluidly and with precision they executed this cover-up. They must have done it hundreds of times before, since they didn’t even flinch. I found out later that they told the family he died of an overdose. But this man’s daughter, his parents, deserved to know the truth. I told what I saw, and made myself a target. I did that so they could get justice. When an investigation was opened, it came out that ten prisoners were murdered in the same way in that jail that year. They settled with the family, the case didn’t even go to court. It makes me angry.
“The cases we know about we know because of the videos. Imagine what they do behind these walls where there are no videos. They claim that prisoners die by suicide, by overdose. Nobody is watching them. Over 500,000 Americans are in jails because they cannot post bail. They have not been convicted of anything. They are in there because they are poor. It’s not just personal stories, it’s a humanitarian issue. We have to continue the fight, we have to get rid of bail.”