Upon leaving Pelican Bay: my firsts (of many :))

From the July-August 2016 issue of News & Letters

Leaving out of Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Torture Prison-Facilities/Units-Cages for the first time on Jan. 23, 2015 (after arriving there Nov. 29, 1990), I remember witnessing my first sunrise as the CDCr [CA Dept. of Corrections and rehabilitation] “gray goose” transportation bus travelled up the mountainside along Highway 101.

Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU worked out The Agreement to End Hostilities in response to prison authorities setting prisoners against each other. The Agreement expresses the bases for what is now the Prisoners’ Human RIghts Movement. Art by Michael Russell.

Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU worked out The Agreement to End Hostilities in response to prison authorities setting prisoners against each other. The Agreement expresses the bases for what is now the Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement.  Art by Michael Russell.

Staring out the window at the skyline as it transformed into a mixture of blended orange-red-violet-blue colors, I sat there in deep silence just appreciating the beauty of Nature . . . It would be the first of many first time experiences of using my natural senses again after being buried alive in that concrete box deprived of the natural use of those senses for the last 25 years.

My next First was at the San Quentin Receiving and Release Center. And while we were standing in small holding cages waiting to get back on the bus, another of the men (in another cage) asked to use the restroom across the hall.

I was surprised when the guard walked over to the cage, unlocked the door, and let the guy walk out and across the hall (around other staff) unhandcuffed! I knew that I had to experience this after years/decades of being chained and cuffed (like a 19th Century slave). I asked to use the restroom and the guard let me out to walk freely across the hall uncuffed. It was not far, but just the absence of cuffs made a world of difference between being treated like a (chained) animal and feeling Humyn!

My next First may seem small to many outside hearing this, but for me it was special for my humanity. On Jan. 28 I arrived at Salinas Valley State Prison general population and was housed with a fellow human being named Malik. He gave me a brand new toothbrush (that he was allowed to purchase from an outside quarterly package vendor).

This was not the 2” miniature size toothbrush (normally for brushing pet animals’ teeth) I had been using since the 1990s. This was the normal regular-size toothbrush used for brushing human teeth. And each time I use it, the feel of being human is always at the front of my mind. With each stroke of the brush I humbly give in to the use of this part of my deprived senses.

There have been many more Firsts since then over the course of this first year, but the one that is so close and dear to heart was my first visit (contact) with my family in my thirty-plus years of confinement.

When I was able to visit my sister Donnita Benson, when she flew out from Oklahoma City and we hugged/kissed for the first time since 1980. It was a memorable experience to go from tears of hurtful pain and suffering that date back to our childhood struggles—domestic violence, being separated at ages 10 (me) and 14 (her); as “survivors”; she survived breast cancer and I survived being lost to the street jungles at age 15, then these concrete prison jungles, including decades in solitary confinement—then went to tears of joy, laughter, and happiness as we enjoyed those two days together.

She said I squeezed her hand so tight and would not let it go that it went numb… Oops, my bad. I guess I subconsciously was that little child back home walking everywhere holding securely to my older sister’s hand.

I will close this off with a solidarity salute of appreciation, and honor to all of the Prisoners’ Hunger Strike Support-Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement outside supporters who believe in our cause enough to keep the spotlight on this state’s massive dysfunctional system of mass incarceration, its evil solitary confinement torture use, non-rehabilitative and social re-entry parole opportunities. Thanks for their contributions for helping those released from long-term solitary confinement identify, cope with and heal from its own unique post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome. Thank you/Asante to each and all.

In solidarity with all oppressed peoples’ struggles,

—Brutha Baridi

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