Editor’s note: Alex Sanchez, internationally recognized peacemaker, is a co-founder of Homies Unidos in Los Angeles where he has developed and implemented innovative violence prevention and intervention programs since 1998. He spoke at a rally on Oct. 9 before the joint legislative hearings on solitary confinement in Sacramento.
Thank you to all those here who have someone inside. I know it’s hard to lose someone to the system, to know they are being tortured in there. I myself have been incarcerated, spent time in “the hole,” which is a kind of a security housing unit (SHU) without any access to anything, especially to family. I know what it’s like to get released, to have an opportunity to change your life, to raise your children, to be an asset to the community, to be here, advocating for those who don’t have a voice. There are a lot more families who need to be here and cannot, for various reasons.
In 1992-93 there was a truce among the African-American gangs in Los Angeles followed by a truce among the Latino gangs. It brought down homicide numbers to levels not seen before. Those numbers have never risen to the heights of the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, the numbers are the lowest in 25 years. We know that violence prevention in our communities has to come from people who used to be part of the problem. The Agreement to End Hostilities [issued by Pelican Bay prisoner representatives last year] is that approach. That is the tool to reduce gang violence in our communities. To prevent our young men and women from being lost to a criminal justice system that’s unjust.
On March 9, 2012, taking a cue from 1992-93 Los Angeles, gang leaders in the supermax prison in Zacatecolucas, also known as Zacatraz, in El Salvador made an agreement to stop the violence. They were given support by the prison administration and by the government of El Salvador. Because of the support for the truce, El Salvador saw a 50% reduction in homicides immediately. Over 4,000 lives have been saved since last March.
Our brothers in Pelican Bay sent out a call to cease hostilities. It needs to be supported! Instead it is being crushed, demonized by the department of “corrections.” Neither Beard [the head of CDCR] nor the legislators are backing the solutions arrived at by those who used to be part of the problem.
This is what we need to support. First we need to get them out of solitary confinement to be able to voice their new message of peace and hope. They need to stop being tortured behind those walls! We need them to send the message out into our communities. We need them to take part in intervention, prevention and re-entry programs.
No more prisons! No more solitary confinement! We need to support our brothers in Pelican Bay in their mission: to be a part of the solution. We need peace, not more violence, not more torture, not more mass incarceration. We need to end solitary confinement and invest in peace!