Voices From Solitary: Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Was “the Only Way to Get the Word Out” About Prison Abuses
The following is excerpted from a letter from Alfred Sandoval, a Pelican Bay SHU inmate and one of the original leaders and participants in this summer’s three-week hunger strike. Addressed to “All Media, Prisons Supporters, etc.,” it was written on June 26th, a few days before the strike began. Sandoval describes his own experiences, and outlines a series of abuses and factors that he feels made the hunger strike necessary.
Let me begin with a quote “The degree of civilization may be judges by entering its prisons.”
As a prisoner housed in the isolation control unit known as the “Short Corridor” of Pelican Bay State Prison, D-Facility SHU, I decided to write and expose and hopefully bring attention to the daily abuses being committed by administrators and correctional officers as part of a concerted effort lead by the Office of Correctional Security (OCS) to psychologically and physically “break” prisoners by any means.
In 2001 I was transferred to this gulag from San Quentin’s Death Row where I had spent approximately 15 years in the adjustment center. On the first day I arrived, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would “die here one way or another” and that I was “a cancer to be cut out.” I went out to court and was returned in 2003. When I got my property I happened across a confidential memorandum that had somehow got mixed in with my legal materials. The title read “The Function of the Control SHU units” and went on to outline a plan of attack for prison administrators and “Investigation” units. ISU, IGI, LEIU to follow. Cited was “the function is to reduce prisoners to the state of submission essential for their ideological conversion…that failing, the next step is to reduce them to a state of psychological incompetence sufficient to neutralize them as efficient self-directed antagonists…That failing, the only alternative is to destroy them. Preferably by making them desperate enough to destroy themselves.”
In approximately 2005, before the OCS was formally created, the then secure state security unit (SSU) and various members of gang investigation units throughout the State of California compiled a list of alleged prison gang members to be targeted for various degrees of abuses to be “broken.”
First isolation: Control and restrict all information. In January 2006 approximately 200-2500 prisoners were “rehoused” into a special isolation control unit which is the “Short Corridor” of D-Facility and then the underground confidential restrictions began; all mail, including legal…are rerouted to the IGI unit. Legal mail is routinely opened illegally and regular generally mail is stopped, delayed or …even retuned to sender without notification. Numerous family members and friends of these prisoners have received anonymous letters and phone calls warning them of “being used by gang members” in an attempt to create friction and further isolate the prisoners.
Another underground “regulation” is no talking. Prisoners are routinely disciplined via 115 Rule Violation Report, the alleged violation is “refusing a direct order” and 128 Information Chronos are written and cite “gang activities” which can be just saying hello to a neighbor and these fabrications are used to deny inactive status, deny visits, take canteen privileges or television for up to 90 days. These punishments depend on everything and nothing. Arbitrary is the word…Even visitors lose their right to speak to other visitors and the IGI and ISU routinely goosestep through the visiting room and even ride in the visitors bus as an intimidation tactic.
Second, medical care is intentionally denied and withheld under the “debrief or die” doctrine and the gang unit oversees medical procedures with the chief medical officer, medical hardships are denied and prisoners are routinely questioned while under anesthesia by members of the IGI because of this many prisoners refuse necessary medical procedures. Even the psyche visits are monitored by the IGI unit and I was told by a psychologist that the IGI had asked him to disclose our conversation, he stated that he refused, but I believed that was because it was a court ordered observation. But the chief medical officer allows the gang unit to review prisoners confidential medical files…
Third, food is routinely served on dirty trays, portions are small and a lot of the food is spoiled, overcooked-burnt and undercooked, beans and rice is often crunchy. Since January an average of five days a week some of the prisoners can be heard yelling that the bread is green, the SHU cook told prisoners to notify the C/O serving the meals and the C/O will decide if the food should be replaced. If you were to read the menu, you would be led to believe that prisoners are being served government meals but in reality most is inedible. For example vegetarian meals are basically three items, beans, cheese and peanut butter. The baked beans are also called canned vege beans, seasoned beans, the pinto beans are also Mexican beans, refried beans, seasoned beans also, chili beans and just beans. The portions can be ridiculous! At times you can actually count the number of beans, vegetables and even noodles and the C/O will refuse to notify the kitchen or replace the food. One C/O testified on behalf of a prisoner’s civil rights complaint and the court ordered PBSP to serve proper portions in accordance with federal guidelines of caloric daily intake. Even after that court order, PNSP routinely serves small or spoiled portions on a 602 complaint one prisoner was actually told that it’s the “weekly” caloric intake that matters, so prisoners can go hungry for a day or to and good a good portion of greasy food which will add calories. I am one of the fortunate prisoners that is able to supplement by meals with canteen items such as beans and top ramen-cup-a-soup. Actually, those prisoners that can’t are extremely thin. But their weight loss will rarely be documented because the weight scale in the D-Medical clinic is off by at least ten pounds.
Code of Silence; prisoners submit 602 grievance forms on a daily basis. I have over one hundred documented with approximately two being granted but I am sure that you may have heard of the code of silence which was exposed in California Senate Hearings on Abuse within the CDCR. Well it does exist and prisoners who file complaints can expect the 602 form to be routinely denied, rejected or just disappear. The Appeals coordinator will and does refuse to even process complaints….This is a department wide problem but here at PBSP there is an underground order to all staff to deny 602’s or “partly” grant them thereby guaranteeing litigation.
You must remember that this is the prison that actually boiled a prisoner, the Madrid V. Gomez case, had officers… orchestrating assaults and murders of inmates and these and much more incidents were investigated by the Internal Affairs of PBSP and in 2006 the Office of Inspector General cited that the Internal Affairs of PBSP would turn a blind eye to abuses and mistreatment of prisoners by C/O Staff which is the code of silence. Since 2006, when the “Short Corridor” was unofficially created, there have been hundreds of incidents of cell doors being opened ”intentionally” and “accidentally” but only those where prisoners fought are mentioned and documented and used as “evidence” of the worse of the worst. I believe that most of these “incidents” have been orchestrated because I have overheard C/O’s talking about how they were unable to shoot prisoners because they only stood at their assigned cell doors.
Assaults on restrained/handcuffed prisoners by C/O staff is routinely covered-up by actually charging the prisoner with battery. Assault on staff, resisting or any of a handful of possible charges. Usually if the assaulted prisoner has the audacity to submit a complaint, he will be charged and targeted for more harassment by other C/O staff. Here in this block there is a “crew” of C/O’s who tell us “You fucked up by filing that 602,” and proceed to tear up the cells. That’s just the way it is.
Personally I expect all kinds of harassment during and before the planned hunger strike, as the department does not want the exposure and bad press. But it’s the only way to get the word out and expose the filth that is the administration of Pelican Bay State Prison.