From the March-April 2018 issue of News & Letters
San Francisco—A Feb. 23 rally in front of the courthouse outlined some of the new battle lines drawn after the September 2015 settlement of the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit that ended the use of indeterminate solitary confinement in California’s Secure Housing Units (SHUs).
Many of the prisoners released from solitary are classified as level IV, that is, the most dangerous prisoners. After two years we find that the conditions in general population (GP) in level IV prisons, are actually worse than they were in the SHUs.
GENERAL POPULATION WORSE THAN SHU
Prisoners sent messages to the rally, saying that now they have less out-of-cell time then they did in the Pelican Bay SHU. There is no counseling, nor any help for prisoners who have been deprived of human company for decades to adjust to being among people. Whatever programming that is available, i.e., jobs, classes, etc., is frequently cancelled. Prisoners report that it creates tension, exacerbates paranoid attitudes and leads to problem behavior. The limited social interactions continue the harm done by solitary: insomnia, anxiety, and mental and physical illnesses. (See “Treat PTSD from the torture of solitary”
by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi Williamson.)
One prisoner kept a detailed record of his activities for the month of March 2017. His total out- of-cell time was 16.8 hours! It was not an unusual month, just one he documented. International standards specify that solitary confinement is defined by 22 hours per day in one’s cell. GP prisoners, by the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation’s own documentation, should be getting at least six hours a day out of their cell and at least 10 hours of yard time per week. Very few prisoners in level IV facilities get that.
TRUTH VS. LIES
A former prisoner speaking to the rally shared his desire to organize opposition. He said, “Disorganized truth has little chance against an organized lie. And a big lie is what we are facing.”
Urszula Wislanka of News & Letters said she supports prisoners not merely to be nice to others. Prisoners who survive solitary have learned that the prison cannot take away their humanity. In an environment that inculcates racial hatred, prisoners reached an agreement to end hostilities; they practice a cross-racial solidarity, which inspired many prisoners to join the hunger strikes in 2011-13. Their call to be recognized as human beings is lived in their everyday lives as support for each other, a definition of each one that includes all prisoners. If the prisoners’ message of what they found as the core of their humanity were carried to the outside, it could overcome the politics of fear and hatred out here, too.
In court the judge heard the arguments from Ashker lawyers and will decide whether the conditions in level IV GP meet the criteria of the settlement. Whatever the judge’s decision, the struggle continues!