A reply to Debra J. Saunders from the NCTT in COR – SHU
“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man, its publication is a duty.”
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël
Here’s how you know corporate mass media journalists like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders are simply the public mouthpieces of the state’s authoritarian apparatus: the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex has been maintaining the single largest domestic torture program on planet Earth in SHU torture units across the nation, with 12,000 of its 80,000 victims in California and instead of every investigative reporter in the nation researching and reporting on the existence of systematic torture in U.S. prisons it barely gets a mention in mainstream media and when it does, it is nothing more than a recycled version of the same distortions and mischaracterizations issued by the very prison administrators responsible for the inhuman practice. Because of the blatant distortions and outright lies contained in the Op-Ed piece masquerading as “journalism” such as Debra J. Saunders “Prison Hunger Strike Is a Dangerous Game” (S.F. Gate 8/23/13), we feel compelled to correct them with the truth.
A good place to begin this discussion, because it was so thoroughly mocked by Ms. Saunders and CDCR masters, is settling once and for all the fact that indeterminate SHU confinement is torture, and why. It is a three-prong, systematic process including “validation, indeterminate SHU confinement, debriefing,” which taken together is by definition torture.
”Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of, or with the consent of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Let’s begin with, “Any act which pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted…”
The body of evidence cataloging the severe mental pain irreparable physical and psychological damage of prolonged and indefinite sensory deprivation confinement is so overwhelming, so irrefutable that it stretches back over 100 years in U.S. science and jurisprudence alone. In 1890, the Supreme Court ruled, In Re Medley the court observed of the practice,
“A considerable number of prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to rouse them, and others became violently insane; others still committed suicide, while those who stood the ordeal were non-reformed, and in many cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of subsequent service to the community.”
(U.S. Supreme Court, In Re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 168 (1890) ). In Great Britain, as in other countries, public sentiment revolted against this severity, and by the Statute of 6 and 7, William IV, Chapter 3, the additional punishment of solitary confinement was repealed. (In Re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 168, 170 (1890)).”
Experts in the field of psychology, psychiatry and human behavior from Bonnie Kerness, Craig Haney, to Doctor Stuart Grassian have universally determined even brief stays in sensory deprivation confinement causes significant psychological injury:
To quote Craig Haney of U.C. California, Santa Cruz,
“There is not a single published study of solitary or super-max-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement lasting longer than ten (10) days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects, including such clinically significant symptoms as hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.”
The SHU torture units in California were uniquely designed for this purpose, and as CDCR spokesperson, disguised as a journalist, Debra. J. Saunders, seeks to reduce prisoners’ legitimate resistance to indefinite torture to “a game”, men like Billy “Guerro” Sell and Armando “Baby Paya” Morales are being driven to hang themselves right here in Corcoran SHU because these conditions in fact do intentionally inflict mental and physical pain and suffering of such severity that men kill themselves to escape it.
50% of all California prisoner suicides occur in SHU, though it houses only 5% of the prison population. The cause of this disproportionately lethal impact has been crucial and articulated by experts in the field ad-nauseum, with universally agreed-upon findings, that long-term SHU confinement causes severe mental and physical suffering amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or…torture. Instead of relying on the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and the leading psychological experts in the field of solitary and supermax-style confinement – CDCR groupies – like Debra J. Saunders rely on baseless opinions and outright lies of prison industrialists like Jeffrey Beard, who say that neither solitary confinement or torture exist in California.
In an August 13, 2013 Rolling Stone– article, citing the California Penal Code definition of torture, CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton claimed this penal code didn’t fit the definition of torture, “The intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose.”
Oh, but it does fit that definition and countless personages over the last 100 plus years have reported just that. But before we get into the “purpose” aspect of SHU, we think it’s important for us to analyze the psychosis, which seeks to justify and has always sought justification for this type of inhumanity.
Authoritarian powers of the world, and those who support them, like Debra J. Saunders, have always cloaked their dehumanization and abuses of certain segments of the population in the name of “the law,” “nature,” and in some cases, “God.” The U.S. since its inception has been a nation founded upon the patriarchal authoritarian mass psychology, The cultural foundation of reactionary man in which the values, cultural mores and ideas of the ruling elite are reproduced in those they exploit. For centuries it was illegal for women to own property, vote, or have any meaningful control over their daily lives, their bodies, or their futures. When women resisted this patriarchal enforcement of their second-class citizenship, they were brutalized, jailed, reviled, and often killed.
Though the intimate oppression of women finds its origins in the development of the modern family unit, the economic role women played as sexual and domestic chattel, is equitable in most men’s minds to any other valued beast (cattle, sheep, horses, etc). This oppression was enforced with biblical scripture which cloaked women’s subjugation in “the word of God”. Laws flowed directly from the pulpits that mirrored the same. After centuries of resistance and progress this same patriarchal authoritarian mass psychology responsible for 19th century sexism, misogyny and brutality of women is the same psychosis responsible for its modern perpetration, and the creation of torture units across the U.S. prison industrial complex.
The same authoritarian psychosis which rationalized the systematic genocide of over 50 million Native North Americans as “the white man’s burden” in service to Amerika’s “Manifest Destiny,” is the same authoritarian psychosis that pits prisoners against prisoners in gladiator fights in Corcoran SHU, and boiled them alive in Pelican Bay SHU; is the same authoritarian psychosis that invoked biblical ”scripture” and “the law” to justify enslaving 100’s of millions of Afrikans in Amerika and murdering 100’s of millions more during the trans-Atlantic slave trade; is the same authoritarian psychosis responsible for Jeffrey Beard reducing tortured prisoners’ peaceful hunger strike to end indefinite torture, to a “gang power play”; is the same authoritarian psychosis which stripped Jews in Europe of their rights under Nazi occupation before marching them to extermination camps; is the same authoritarian psychosis responsible for Debra J. Saunders advocating that the label ”gang member” is a justification for the U.S. prison industry to erect the largest domestic torture program on the face of the earth.
The authoritarian psychosis of reactionary men and women is infinitely capable of rationalizing its own evil and justifying it under “the rule of law.” The CDCR spokesperson, Terry Thornton, can bluntly say torture isn’t torture, and somehow convince herself of the delusion that it is the same way the Victorian-era preacher convinces himself the repressed woman is “happy,” docile and joyous in her submission, and it is the same waythe union soldier convinces himself he is “doing the native savages a kindness by resettling them on a reservation to be taught the proper ways of civilization; is the same way the prison industry convinces themselves that the prisoner who “bed checked” in the same tiny cell for years, decades, deserves it because he is a validated prisoner; and it is the same as the District Court Judge today who convinces himself that the SHU prisoner has no 8th Amendment rights to be free of torture.
At Corcoran SHU there is a forced double-celling policy. The legal minimum requirement for the amount of cell space for two people in one cell is 60 square feet. In Corcoran SHU cells, because the beds sit next to each other here, there is no more than 15 square feet for two people. The toilet is less than 2 feet from the bed. The toilets are on metal and stick out into that space. Only 3 flushes are allowed every 12 minutes. It is common for the cell and tier to reek of feces, including during morning and evening meals. We routinely have our yard privileges taken away and find ourselves regularly confined to the cells 24 hours a day almost every single day for weeks.
The c/o’s (correctional officers) also function under the same warped psychosis of the patriarchal authoritarian mass psychology. It is a psychosis, which is cultural in capitalist society and all encompassing. In each case, dehumanization plays a central and necessary role in the function of the psychosis. To inflict inhumane treatment on another human, the mind forces the perpetrator to dehumanize the subject of his or her cruelty. In this instance, the justification for our dehumanization is the label “violent gang member”. As some read these words, a part of your mind is automatically and irrationally skeptical and repulsed by anything, no matter how noble or correct you may feel you are, associated with the term “violent gang member,” and that’s because you’ve been conditioned that way over the course of the past 35 years.
In that same time period, the U.S. prison population has exploded by 800%! A monolithic, multi-billion dollar prison industrial complex has spread its tendrils into almost every aspect of economic, social, political, and cultural life in AmeriKa. SHU torture units have sprouted up in almost every state in the union, with more and more human beings consigned to them indefinitely for ever more arbitrary and nonsensical reasons, all fueled by your tax dollars and political will. They accomplished this the same way they accomplished the invasion of Iraq, by telling you enough lies, enough times, with sufficient intensity that in your mind it’s taken on the aura of truth. Even though it’s a lie.
This brainwash has gone on so long that it’s now become the standard “go to” narrative of CDCR. Reality, veracity and common sense have little place in that narrative. It is designed to frighten you by dehumanizing you, and by doing so they create the social illusion that you and I are separate and adversarial entities; that we lie outside the legal definition of ”person,” as though we did not come from and will not return to the same communities you now live in; the same communities our mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, children and kin live and pay taxes in, right alongside you. It’s both insidious and evil, and more to the point, prohibits a basis for torture.
We’d like to elaborate:
On August 23, 2011, former CDCR Under-Secretary, Scott Kernan, in response to several psychiatrists and psychologists’ expert testimony that indefinite SHU confinement was a violation of international standards prohibiting torture, responded, “The real human rights violation is the violence the gangs carry out.” This is the identical narrative of every CDCR spokesperson, official, and administrator, at present. Current CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton, who, in some of the most warped logic we’ve ever seen, put into print, stated in the wake of Billy “Guerro” Sell’s alleged suicide here at Corcoran that the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition activists and Billy’s family members were somehow “exploiting his death” in order to “mislead the public: about a hunger strike orchestrated by violent gang members.” As previous analysis has already established, suicide is often employed to escape the torture of the SHU. 50% of all prison suicides occur in SHU, though only 5% of the prison population is housed there. Implicit in such statements is, “So what? We’re torturing them, they are “violent gang members,” so why should anyone care?”
This very rationale is prohibited under C.A.T., Article 2; and the Convention Against Torture, states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture,” that includes the label “violent gang member.” When the U.S. signed C.A.T. at the close of WWII they were conscious of this type of dehumanization, as they had just witnessed it in liberating the Nazi death camp footage; so inflicting it on their own citizens within their own borders proves the acts intentional. We have established that indefinite SHU confinement causes “severe pain and suffering, both physical and mental.”
We have established that CDCR officials are actually aware of this, which brings us to the “purpose”aspect of the torture definition. CDCR has stated on multiple occasions, the purpose of indefinite SHU confinement is to “administratively segregate gang members from the general population so the other 95% of prisoners can program without the violence of gang members.” Since the beginning of the validation – indeterminate SHU – debriefing process in the mid 1980s, violence in CDCR facilities only increased exponentially. So this is either an outright lie, or “gang members” are not the origin of prison violence. This fact was one of the many contradictions former Undersecretary Kernan was confronted with by legislators at the August 23, 2011 Public Safety Committee Hearings in Sacramento, concerning the CDCR practice of “administrative segregation” which in actuality, does not necessitate indefinite confinement in SHU torture units. If indefinite confinement in solitary was truly not the aim of prison officials, a standard level IV 180 design prison yard setting exclusively housing “validated prisoners” could serve the same end for $24,000 less per prisoner per year.
Current costs per year are $78.000 per prisoner to house men in SHU, but only $54,000 per prisoner to house men on a normal level IV 180 design yard, annually.
No, the true purpose of indefinite SHU confinement is to break men’s minds; to coerce them through punitive sanctions to debrief; to provide information on yourself and/or others to prison officials; to become a state informant; to snitch. This process has been articulated, its etiology explained, its key architects named, in the NCTT-COR-SHU article, “Creating Broken Men.” The process is further analyzed in the article “Creating Broken Men 2” and mentions its current evolution in CDCR’s STG Pilot Program.
However, we can illustrate the CDCR’s methods briefly by using CDCR’s own language: Article 22 of the Department Operating Manual (D.O.M.)(50270) of their governing “gang management” system. In D.O. M. (52970.5), CDCR states their gang management strategy shall be to identify gang affiliated inmates and parolees; …take interdiction action, and apply sanctions.” In D.O.M.(52070.5.4) “Gang activity sanctions: “inmates… in violation of criminal and administrative statutes shall be dealt with in the strictest possible…manner. This shall include, but not be limited to loss of privileges, increase in custody, loss of work credits (read: loss of parole), enhancement of penalties; segregation from the inmate general population (read: indefinite solitary/sensory deprivation confinement).
Let’s stop for a moment; the language here is grossly misleading at its outset. The disturbing truth is, though CDCR uses language like “violent gang members” and “violation of criminal and administrative statutes”, very few, if any “validated” prisoners were consigned to SHU for committing any act. It is these alleged “administrative statutes” – the arbitrary standard – that allows this. “Validation” is not, nor has it ever been about “behavior.”
The violent crimes that Debra J. Saunders definitively attaches to the D. Short Corridor Main Reps occurred 20 – 40 years ago. Are any of us the same persons that we were two (2) decades ago? Of course not. Most validated prisoners have had no rules violations of any kind in years – or even decades. The “validated “ gang theory is predicated not on what you have done, but instead, like in the Tom Cruise Dystopian film, “Minority Report,” you are punished for what officials believe you may do; that just their suspicion that you are a so-called “gang member” is sufficient to determine you are predisposed to inevitably carry out an act of violent crime. Such a systematic process in a supposed “open and democratic society” should horrify and outrage every citizen. Yet these dubious “gang activity sanctions” have been codified in CDCR regulations, “calculated to force an individual or group of individuals to comply with an obligation or submit to that authority, state or group of states; (2) a coercive provision of law or penalty designed to enforce obedience.” In each case we see “sanctions” equated with force. But what is the end in this case?
We find out answer in D.O.M. 52070.29.2 “Role and Responsibility of the Gang Intelligence Operations. Debriefing Team,” which states, “the primary objective of the team shall be to debrief validated prison gang members housed in the SHU.” Here we see “validated prisoners in the SHU” are identified as the primary focus of debriefing efforts by CDCR. The purpose provision of the torture definition under C.A.T., article 1 states: “pain suffering… intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person… When such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” This is the very definition of debriefing. “To learn enough about the subject and the object’s current gang (D.O.M.52070.19.2)..Information obtained during a debriefing shall be documented on…a debriefing report.” (D.O.M. 52070.19.8) Validation/indeterminate SHU confinement/debriefing is all about gathering information, coercing the subject to become an informant on others (a third person), and this becomes a tool of the state. This is unequivocally torture by any definition.
Any narrative to the contrary, be it asserted by CDCR groupies like Debra J. Saunders or a CDCR spokesperson like Terry Thornton, you now know what you are hearing is sick people trying to justify torture.
The representation of “lies as truth” and the employment of state-controlled journalists to give those lies the air of legitimacy has always been the preferred method of the authoritarian order to maintain cultural hegemony, and the August 24, 2013, article by Debra J. Saunders is a prime example of this process. Here we have a collection of completely uncorroborated sound bites by CDCR officials and outright lies being presented by a so-called journalist that has made no effort to verify the truth of any of her “fun SHU facts”. Obvious contradictions are often the first indication of state duplicity. Ms. Saunders opens this pro-CDCR Op-ed piece (It is not serious journalism) by castigating the commitment of hunger strikers by noting participation went from 30,000 persons to 79 persons in 16 days, then 4 paragraphs later puts forward the absurd contradiction that so-called “gang leaders” have coerced everyone with threats to go without food. The truth is repression breeds resistance. We’re discussing indefinite torture. No one requires compulsion to resist torture, or the prospect of the same happening to them. That CDCR, with the aid of irresponsible journalists like Ms. Saunders, were able to “force feed” that contradiction to Judge Henderson does not lend that false narrative any credence.
U.S. Courts have allowed this torture to continue in numerous cases for over 30 years knowing full well all the actual facts articulated in this piece, in consistent support of prison officials maintaining SHU torture units. Taking judicial steps to neutralize the lethal component is in the interest of the State, of which the Courts are a part. A convenient lie was floated devoid of any verifiable evidence, it was accepted by the judge, and he pulled the fangs from the hunger strike. This tripe by Ms. Saunders is no more journalism than is “The National Inquirer.” One of the standards of American journalism is to always verify sources; “facts.” The entirety of the “article” posted on SFGate, is to justify CDCR employees telling Deborah J. Saunders one unsubstantiated lie after another, and Ms. Saunders just putting it into print without bothering to verify it, or if any of this even occurred.
Joyce Hayhoe, of the Federal Receiver’s Office, allegedly told Ms. Saunders one hunger striker would take food “if he could hide it” and yet another would eat “if he could be transferred”; yet neither Ms. Saunders nor anyone at the SFGate site bothered to contact, or even identify, these alleged prisoners to verify this, or if they even exist. Saunders quotes CDCR as reporting that “a hunger striking prisoner assaulted his cellmate who refused to share food,” yet the columnist did not seek to verify the existence of either prisoner, or even if such an incident occurred. This far surpasses irresponsible reporting, and is a smear piece masquerading as journalism, which is equitable to some state official telling a journalist that Barak Obama is really a member of the Taliban, that journalist having printing up the story, and the newspaper publishing it, with no attempt to verify this with either Barak Obama or the Taliban. That “journalist” would be fired, and rightfully so.
Debra Saunders goes on to state that CDCR employees gave all hunger strikers “Gatorade and vitamins”, but no such thing occurred here at Corcoran. If a hunger striking prisoner accepted Gatorade here, it would take you off the hunger strike. Officers not only did notmake daily rounds to see who needed medical attention, but custody staff went out of their way to not offer strikers any attention. It was the exclusive province of CCHCS medical staff and they were instructed by Chief Medical Officer, J. Wang, to ignore the CCHCS mass hunger strike, fasting, and re-feeding care policy (IMSP&P, vol 4,Chapt.22.2). Daily rounds, consisted of nothing more than a nurse with a clipboard coming by your door and asking, “are you still on a hunger strike?,” then walking away. That’s it.
We have 4 appeals with documentation of intentional medical neglect/deliberate indifference, by COR-SHU medical staff toward hunger strikers here. You would appear very thin, in the face of the July 28th, 2013, 68 page Corcoran State Prison Health Care Evaluation Report condemning Corcoran CCHCS as the worst in the state, that she would make some effort to determine if “care” for prisoners was actually what CDCR was “reporting” it was. But again, that would imply serious journalism, and that’s simply not what we’re discussing here.
Here are some NOT so fun facts about SHU:
- SHU does constitute “extreme isolation:, with or without a cellmate, as the conditions of sensory deprivation confinement, enforced idleness, sharing a space barely large enough for one person, let alone 2 (the physical structure of Corcoran-SHU cells affords even less room), and the inescapable psychological degradation that accompanies the horrifying realization that you will never get out of this tiny, monotonous, sterile space is universally experienced. None of this is mitigated (and is often exacerbated) by having a cellmate. SHU is torture; SHU is extreme isolation, and that must be judged by its effects (which are objective and quantifiable), not by the sarcastic commentary of a CDCR groupie’s opinions, who could not begin to fathom, let alone accurately report on, what a day in SHU is like.
- According to the information CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton provided Debra J. Saunders (accounting for its dialectic), 50% of Tehachapi SHU prisoners are in solitary confinement; 60% of New Folsom SHU prisoners are in solitary confinement; 65% of Corcoran SHU prisoners are in solitary confinement’ and 90% of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners are in solitary confinement – and at the same time, she continues to insist, there are no prisoners in solitary confinement in California.
- SHU prisoners can purchase a small, 13” TV or am/fm radio, at their own expense. There is no “cable TV” in Corcoran SHU, and the reception fed to us from the antenna is so poor, you’re lucky to get 5 of 13 local stations they air to come in clear at any given time. Corcoran needs cable service. In other SHU torture units that may have a few cable stations, it’s due to the remote locations of these prison. Cable service is the only way you’ll get any TV reception at all (like Pelican Bay). All TV programming, equipment, and service is paid for in full by prisoners from our Inmate Welfare Fund, not the state. As you read this, COR-SHU prisoner Reps are seeking to negotiate with the Corcoran administration to pay for our own wireless cable channels from our IWF, which is managed badly by the State.)
- SHU prisoners, with enough money, can pay to earn a degree; and this opportunity is only as a result of concessions realized after the 2011 hunger strike. Prior to this, SHU prisoners were not allowed access to any education at all. If you don’t have the thousands of dollars to pay for college courses, you will remain without it, and as woefully uneducated and unemployable as when you arrived in SHU, just as CDCR likes it.
- In SHU, your mail is screened, and routinely withheld, by I.G.I. staff. Should they take exception with your political views, artwork, culture, or most anything they choose, your mail will be confiscated and you’ll be subjected to even more punitive sanctions by CDCR.
- You can receive visits with your family on weekends; behind a thick pane of glass, talking over a telephone in the wall, for only an hour – no human contact. SHU torture units are by design, situated in remote, rural areas of California, far from the urban centers most SHU prisoners hail from, which makes visits difficult to impossible for most SHU prisoners to get any outside contact at all.
In the final analysis, misinformation disseminated by pro-torture activists like Debra J. Saunders moves beyond the realm of “irresponsible journalism”: and into active support for systemic torture. In U.S. capitalist culture, the news is a powerful tool of the ruling class and the State to a degree that misinformation is now par for the course, but that doesn’t make it correct. Misusing it in such a way as to justify a practice dependent on dehumanizing and brutalizing other humans to achieve its ends, is neither “objective” nor in the public interest.
When such reporting is grounded in lies, intentional distortions, and rampant mischaracterizations, it becomes complicity in these human rights abuses themselves. Article 4, section 2 of C.A.T. states in part, “Each State party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law (and) shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to any act by any person which constitutes complicity…in torture.” This “article” by Debra J. Saunders places her in violation of article 4, section 2 of C.A.T. and makes her complicit in torture. If there is any justice in this world, when pro-torture prison industrialists are judged by the people, Debra J. Saunders and her ilk will be right with them. For now, history has already judged them, and they have been found wanting.
For more information on the NCTT-COR-SHU and its work product, contact:
Michael Zaharibu Dorrough, D83611
J. Heshima Denham, D38283
Kambui Robinson, C82830
Jabari Scott, H30530
Address for all is:
P.O. Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212