In this edition: A guard at SCI Forest expresses "white power" sympathies, a jailhouse lawyer is stripped of his legal property in a retaliatory transfer to a behavior modification program, prisoners across the world engage in separate hunger strikes in protest of abusive conditions, and more..
We begin this report with a letter from the Human Rights Coalition in solidarity with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers. What started on July 1st with 100 prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California’s Pelican Bay Supermax has spread throughout the country, igniting a spirit of protest and a rally for justice. More than 6,600 prisoners in 11 prisons have joined the fight to end the heinous and inhumane conditions of confinement.
Of the approximately 1,100 prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU, the vast majority are being held in indefinite solitary confinement for alleged membership in or association with a gang. Much of the evidence for gang memberships is secret, provided by confidential informants, and impossible to verify. The only way to get out of the SHU once validated as a gang member is to inform on other alleged gang members, a situation which endangers prisoners, contributes to violent reprisals and generates false evidence.
The strikers have demanded that prison officials:
Eliminate group punishments
Abolish of the Debriefing Policy, and Modification of the Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria
Comply with US Commission 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement
Provide adequate food
Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates
These demands are a result of the ‘injustice system’ that seeks punishment and dehumanization rather than true rehabilitation. The Human Rights Coalition fights to end this injustice by supporting these demands.
We express our heartfelt love and admiration for these brave souls and their families for we know the struggle is not easy. They are a symbol of hope and strength. We call upon all human rights defenders and organizations to be voices of resistance and support for our brothers in Pelican Bay and our brothers and sisters locked up around the nation!
In Solidarity of Resistance,
The Human Rights Coalition
The News from Inside
Jailhouse lawyer deprived of legal property during transfer to Special Management Unit : Carrington Keys reports from the Special Management Unit (SMU) at SCI Camp Hill that in late June he was transferred there from the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Frackville. The SMU at Camp Hill is a phased program that, according to Department of Corrections officials, functions to permit prisoners with extensive disciplinary time to re-enter the general population in less than two years. In practice it serves as a behavior modification unit that routinely targets jailhouse lawyers, people of color, and the mentally ill. Keys has been confined in the SMU on a prior occasion, during which he was frequently subjected to physical and psychological abuse.
Prison officials sentenced Mr. Keys to substantial time in solitary confinement due to an April 2010 incident in which guards at SCI Dallas attacked him and five other prisoners with tasers and pepper-spray after they staged a peaceful protest against acts of torture by covering their cell windows and requesting to speak with administrators or to somebody from outside the prison. The following August, the six were charged with riot by the district attorney of Luzerne County, despite substantial documentation indicating that it was prison staff, not prisoners, who were guilty of criminal conduct that day. Keys had filed a lawsuit against the same district attorney less than two months prior, which had attracted the attention of the local media.
Since his transfer to Camp Hill, Mr. Keys has been deprived of all of his legal property, including that needed to prepare his criminal defense in the Dallas 6 case. The judge in that case has issued court orders for Mr. Keys to be permitted access to all property necessary for the preparation of his defense, though the PA DOC has failed to follow the order. Another defendant in that case, Andre Jacobs, has been deprived of his legal property in violation of a court order by SCI Rockview.
Hunger striker transferred from SCI Cresson: A man at SCI Cresson on hunger strike in protest of the abuse and neglect that led to the recent suicide of another prisoner has been transferred to the solitary unit at SCI Pine Grove.
Nadir Allah began a hunger strike on June 21 to protest the targeted abuse by Cresson staff that in early May led state prisoner John McClellan to commit suicide. Nadir also sought to call attention to staff's retaliation against prisoner witnesses who reported the abuse to prison investigators. Another prisoner at SCI Cresson reported that Nadir was removed from his cell in a wheel chair on the sixth day of his hunger strike, as he was unable to walk. Nadir reports that he only ended his hunger strike on July 6, 15 days after it began. Conditions in the solitary confinement unit at SCI Pine Grove are substandard as well, according to Nadir, with many juveniles being subjected to abusive treatment.
Another prisoner at SCI Cresson stated: “It really isn’t safe for us to write letters of any kind to the HRC. Administration gets on our case really bad about it, yet I will always speak out. . . . I really see no end to this and I believe it is due time for the federal government to step in and actually do something about these issues. . . . This is not about politics, this is real people’s live being affected by this. People need to wake up and see this is a problem. Until they do, I fear this will all continue to happen.”
Lockdowns and racist antics at SCI-Forest: Marty Dunbar reports from SCI-Forest that beginning on Monday June 20, the entire institution was locked down on the pretext of a fight between two prisoners. This is the second occurrence of such a lock down adopted by SCI-Forest since May 15. During a lockdown, prisoners are confined to their cells, cannot call their families and loved ones, cannot work or get paid for their jobs or access health care, law library and other facilities. Dunbar emphasizes that such lock downs not only abuse prisoners' rights, but also reap more pay for guards and staff who get paid for overtime during such periods. At last report, this most recent lockdown had lasted four days.
Also at Forest, Henry Williams reports that on March 10, a guard entered the B-Unit yard and screamed "White Power, White Power!" while giving the Nazi salute. When Williams filed a grievance about the issue, prison officials initially tried to claim that the guard was merely saying, "Fight the Power". After the issue was remanded to Captain Riskus of the prison's security office by Superintendent Debra Sauers, Williams reports that he was assured by a prison official that since some white prisoners had also heard the "White Power!" cries, the investigators would be able to "do their jobs". However, Williams' grievance was denied and the prison's response made no mention of any white prisoners or "Fight the Power" statements. Williams has since been transferred to another unit in what he identifies as retaliation for speaking out against racism and injustice.
Another Prisoner is Tortured in Frackville’s Solitary Units: Eliezer Vidal reports that on June 12, he was moved into a solitary unit at SCI Frackville and has been abused ever since. He was not given a meal until June 17, when he was given nutraloaf, which consists of several food items blended together and is barely edible according to prisoners. He went two weeks without being given a shower or yard. Vidal is in a hard cell sleeping on a plastic bed with no mattress or cushion. Before Vidal was put into the solitary unit he was contacted by his girlfriend who informed him that his daughter was in the hospital. Because his mail was being withheld, he was not able to find out the status of his daughter for almost three weeks. Vidal’s property is being withheld, including his contact information he needs in order to write his family and his legal property. He is scheduled for release on October 1 of this year, and has been told that he will remain in these conditions until his release.
Across the Nation
Union workers replaced with prison labor in Wisconsin: Under the auspices of Gov. Scott Walker's law that stripped the collective bargaining rights of unions, officials in Racine County, south of Milwaukee, have decided to outsource more prison labor without any pay for more of the work public employees were doing earlier. Such a move was stopped by unions last year, but with the collective bargaining ban now in effect, unions are not able to contest such decisions. This follows a trend adopted recently in Georgia where prison labor is used to replace undocumented farm workers and continues the dismantling of public employee jobs, while devaluing the dignity of human labor with the use of prisoners' “slave” labor. (Story summarized from www.politico.com)
Around the World
Palestinian prisoners stage hunger strike in Israeli occupation jails: On July 4, approximately 6,300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli occupation jails went on a one-day hunger strike as a warning protest against the repressive practices by the prisons’ administrations.
Spokesman for the ministry of prisoners in Gaza, Riyadh Al-Ashqar said in a press release on Saturday that Palestinian prisoners in all Israeli jails were the target of an unprecedented terrorizing campaign of repression, isolation, and transfer from one prison to another over the past few weeks. Al-Ashqar stated that the campaign peaked with the beating of the oldest serving prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi, which prisoners condemned as a violation of all red lines, along with the isolation of many prisoners serving high sentences. He warned that the prisoners decided to go on the single day hunger strike as a warning that could later escalate into other forms such as refraining from daily count and daily stroll outside their cells and closing their wards before the administration and others.
Israel routinely abducts and incarcerates Palestinians from land Israel has illegally occupied for more than 40 years. According to Addameer, a prisoners’ support and human rights association: “Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel.”
We end this report with words of encouragement from Pennsylvania state prisoner Robert Ivory, who earlier this year was awarded $50,000 in a federal lawsuit against prison officials who failed to separate him from a violent cellmate despite repeated warnings: It should be noted that I litigated the case for two years without the aid of counsel. I say this not to be braggadocious, but to inform all who litigate to never, ever give up.. Yours Truly in Solidarity, Robert Ivory
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
Pittsburgh area: Write On! – letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh,email email@example.com or call 412-654-9070.
You've been listening to the Human Rights Coalition's PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.