CCI Step Down Program is Bogus: we shall stop participating Monday, May 11, 2015

CCI Step Down Program is Bogus

May 7, 2015 [received June 18th]

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

I have taken the position to shut down this fake SDP crap. So, all of Step 4, who have the most to lose, meaning, some of them are a couple of weeks away from completing their Step 4, and for some they are one, two, three, four months away from being on a mainline and for some of them it’s been 13, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 39 years since they last been in general population, and for Step 3 it ranges from 4 to 31 years.

We all agree that these latest types of 115s/RVR’s is just another way to keep us held in SHU or a means of bringing us back, once we make it out to the GP mainline and we’d rather take our stance now!!  So, you can start spreading this good news to Corcoran, New Folsom and Pelican Bay by radio, news articles and when family members travel to PBSP and the other two SHUs.

We shall stop participating Monday, May 11, 2015, indefinitely. We won’t be attending any CC hearings, directly dealing with Steps 3 and 4, nor shall we go to those group meetings, or do any more of those journals. Now, there are two groups for each Step 3 and 4, and that’s a total of 40 prisoners who would have been attending those group meetings weekly. This SDP cannot function without prisoners participating.

I need for you to share that Steps 3 and 4 prisoners will not continue to participate in the SDP that is corrupt and discriminatory against all SDP prisoners, and has been trying to provoke all of us to rebel, get angry and act out.

Our problems come from the Warden, Kim Holland; Chief Deputy Warden, J. Gutierrez; Chief Deputy Warden W. Sullivan; Capt. P. Metzers; IGI Lt. J. Tyree; R. Diaz; Deputy Director of Division of Adult Institutions, Sacramento office, M. Tann; former SDP Facilitator, B. Snider; CC-II at CCI, Ybarra; and all of these Tehachapi officials and the one Sacramento official who have knowledge that we as SHU/SDP prisoners have been denied our fundamental SHU rights; and as of two weeks ago we are being denied the use of a razor, or should I say, we have a choice to take a five (5) minute shower or take a (5) minute shave, but not both.

Now, 90% of all SDP privileges have been denied us from Jan. 2014 to May 2015. This is a failed program and all of the Heads of CDCr know what is going on here at Tehachapi, CCI.

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California’s savage system of confinement: An end to solitary is long overdue

Published in the SF Bay View, December 9, 2014

by Marie Levin

Marie Levin holding one of the few pictures of her brother Sitawa

Marie Levin holding one of the few pictures of her brother Sitawa – by Malaika

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: Project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1,500 STGs.

Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85 percent of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance.

Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS). Mohamed Shehk, the media and communications director for Critical Resistance, also contributed to this piece and can be reached at mohamed@criticalresistance.org. This story previously appeared on Counterpunch.