Tag Archives: Zaharibu Dorrough

We are being isolated in Corcoran-SHU! No medical checkups! Stripped of property!

From a letter by Zaharibu to a friend:

7/14/13

Forgive me for not being able to write sooner. It has been very, very tiresome. [Thinking of you
all has been quite the motivator]

On Thursday, 7-11-13, the warden here ordered the supposed leaders of the protest be isolated from good people. That meant that the reps from each cultural group from the section that we were in: 4B-1L, C section have been moved. Myself, H., two Southern Hispanics, and two Northern Hispanics.

We are now housed in: 4A-3R. [And three of the guys have been housed in 4A-3L] These blocks are designated as SNY/PC buildings . All of the guys in this building [as well as 4A-3L] are informants. They have debriefed.

A day after we were moved here, mattresses were placed in front of our cell. This we designed to re-enforce, psychologically, the feeling of being isolated. And, I guess, to prevent us from receiving food or beverages from anyone. It’s so silly that is borders on being offensive. We have absolutely nothing at all in common with any of the people housed in the building. There is no reason at all to communicate with or accept anything from them. As is said, it’s a building full of stool pigeons. This is the CDCR’s version of sending us to a black site. The conduct of these guys would be comical were it not so disrespectful. You cannot help but hear the idiot shit that is directed at us. And it’s not just daily, it’s all day.

It’s an Absolute Madhouse.

Moving us down here was an extremely tense situation. The warden did authorize that force be used to move us. And it came very close to that happening. It was incredibly irresponsible of the warden. And a clear case of trying to provoke us into a military posture.

We were naturally stripped of our property. And, just as predictable, some of our personal property items came up missing. Thermals, photos [they took the only two copies of the photo I had of me],dictionary, stationary. I’ll have to replace some of it when I am eligible for my package. The Prison Focus, Bayview, gone! At this point it’s the kind of thing that causes you to think and say-when it’s too hot for everyone else, it’s just right for us!-

We have not been to yard in almost 2 weeks. We have not been allowed to shower in a week.

We received no medical attention. NO WEIGH-INS, NO vital signs checks-nothing. A nurse came to the cell this morning, stood approximately 3-4 feet from the cell, stated “drink plenty of water”, wrote something down and walked away. I called her several times in an effort to explain to her that we are both experiencing light headedness, extreme fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, cold chills, dizziness. The nurse just ignored me and kept walking. It was very obvious that she was reading from a script that she, perhaps all of them have been given. And it is either to not say anything at all to us-or only the bare minimum….

Ordinarily, efforts such as those being made by the state now [Everyone was issued a 128, a Chrono alleging that our participation in a statewide hunger strike with gang members and associates in support of “perceived overly harsh SHU issues”, is gang related activity. And our continued participation will result in progressive disciplinary action] occur in response to efforts, just as enthusiastic, by those of us who have been under the yoke of tyranny for far too long, resisting.

I know that it has been said before, but it is worth saying a thousand times …you all are amazing, brave and inspiring people. Whatever victories that result from this struggle will, in no small measure, be because of your contributions, support, and commitment.

                                                Please take care
                                                 Always with you

                                                             Love, hugs   Z.

Being on the outside, writing in

Solitary confinement in California prisons, resistance and prisoner correspondence

by Dendron Utter
SF Bay View, March 10th, 2013

This semester in the Anthropology and Social Change program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), we focused our energy on prisoner rights and abolition movements, particularly the organizing going on within California’s supermax facilities against solitary confinement. We each linked up with a pen pal incarcerated in isolation at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Calipatria, CCI Tehachapi or Centinela state prisons. We were able to do this through the help of Mary Ratcliff and Kendra Castenda, both active prisoner advocates. We wrote to our pen pals about their experiences inside, about the recent Agreement to End Hostilities, and about multiracial movements for prisoner rights, social justice and prison abolition.

I started correspondence with a prisoner named Michael Dorrough, also known as Zaharibu, who is incarcerated in Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, Calif. He is one of the many men of color confined in isolation for 22-24 hours a day for over 20 years due to his political affiliations, lack of subservience and racial profiling. He has been in solitary confinement for 25 years.

I have learned profound lessons from him in the short three months I have known him. In hearing more about his story and the horrendous conditions he lives under, I have been driven to learn more about solitary confinement, why it must be abolished and the resistance against it. I have also been moved to become a part of that resistance in any way I can.

Michael Zaharibu Dorrough & family, web
Michael Reed Dorrough with his family before he was incarcerated

Solitary confinement in the United States is entrenched in the history and contemporary reality of mass incarceration of poor folks and people of color. Mass incarceration based on race is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the penitentiary system was created as an extension of chattel slavery through the Black Codes, in that freed Black folks and often Indigenous people could be detained and imprisoned for ambiguous reasons in order to maintain a slave class and a capitalist system built on exploited labor.

This history is evident when looking at the huge numbers of people of color inside prisons today. It is within this racist context that solitary confinement has become a standard among politicians, wardens and administrators in the U.S. prison system.

According to Amnesty International, “More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units (SHUs), where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind.” Many of those locked in long-term isolation have been put there because of alleged gang affiliation. The criteria used by the California Department for Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to establish gang membership are unsound. They use “evidence” such as what prisoners are reading, connection – as simple as a greeting – to other prisoners, tattoos and the contents of their mail.

Michael Dorrough, dad, mom, son
Michael Zaharibu Dorrough with his father, mother and son during a prison visit long ago

Once inmates get “validated” as gang members or associates, it is incredibly difficult to be returned to general population – especially if the inmate has any politically radical, leftist or revolutionary views or affiliations. As stated by Zaharibu, Heshima Denham and Kambui Robinson, three New Afrikan Revolutionary men in solitary at the Corcoran SHU, “Gang is a term that encompasses leftist ideologies, political and politicized prisoners, jailhouse lawyers and most anyone who in the opinion of Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI) is not passively accepting his role as a commodity in the prison industrial complex.”


The combination of total isolation for extended periods of time, coerced snitching, the hostilities between racial groups inside, mental abuse and physical violence by guards can thoroughly crush prisoners. There is nothing left to do but unite and act.

In fact, once labeled, the only way to be released is through a process of snitching on other inmates regarding gang affiliation. This is called “debriefing.” To force inmates to debrief is not only entirely divisive, breaking unity between prisoners, but it is dangerous due to the retaliation one might receive for acting as an informant.

Solitary confinement is akin to torture as it includes inhumane levels of sensory deprivation, extremely limited interaction with the outside world, and poor food and access to healthcare. The torture of isolation not only stems from the conditions of sensory deprivation – no human touch, no fresh air, no natural light, no windows, no sound, often no communication, no exercise, no activities, no warmth in winter – but from the strategically prolonged lengths of stay.

The combination of total isolation for extended periods of time, coerced snitching, the hostilities between racial groups inside, mental abuse and physical violence by guards can thoroughly crush prisoners. There is nothing left to do but unite and act.

Prisoners have been fighting back against inhumane treatment and abuse in the prison system since the conception of it. Two recent racial unity movements started by prisoners inside long-term solitary confinement units in California have been the hunger strike started in the Pelican Bay SHU and the agreement to end hostilities. In writing back and forth with Zaharibu, I focused my questions on these struggles and more generally on multiracial movements outside and inside prison walls.

Michael Zaharibu Dorrough 2012, web
Michael Zaharibu Dorrough in 2012 after 25 years in solitary confinement – prisoners in isolation are rarely allowed to have their pictures taken.
In the second letter I received from him, I fixated on a particular statement. He said: “The housing of citizens in isolation for any length – 10 days or 30 years – and depriving them of any and all meaningful programs for absolutely no legitimate reason should provoke a sense of outrage. That it is being done … to break human beings should provoke outrage amongst all of those who love democracy.”

I realized at that moment that I have limited knowledge about solitary confinement. I sought to find out everything I could about the history, application, conditions and resistance to these atrocious control units. What I read, listened to and saw is torture under the guise of rehabilitation and safety. It is helpful to re-read Zaharibu’s letters with this research fresh in my mind. I am even more filled with outrage!

Although halting racial driven violence and uniting across race is an immense achievement and central to prisoner resistance, there is more to it than singing “We Are the World” by Michael Jackson and calling it a day. By no means am I saying that this is what incarcerated men, women and transgendered folks are doing inside, but that those of us on the outside need to do our homework and learn this history that shapes the current situation.

Zaharibu wrote in response to my questions: “A lot of us have always believed that ending the [state-created] violence and hostilities is crucial to having any kind of chance of changing the realities that we are confronted with daily. And it’s important to put this in a correct historical context. This specific effort by the state has been ongoing for the past 30 years or more.”

“The housing of citizens in isolation for any length – 10 days or 30 years – and depriving them of any and all meaningful programs for absolutely no legitimate reason should provoke a sense of outrage. That it is being done … to break human beings should provoke outrage amongst all of those who love democracy.”

As I mentioned before, Zaharibu has been in solitary lockdown for 25 full years. What I did not mention is that he is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Like so many other African American men and women locked inside prison walls, he has a completely sound case of innocence that the courts refuse to hear.
Prison bars unite into fistHe is guilty until proven innocent and, although his attorneys have done so, the color of his skin and his radical political views overshadow his innocence. He is currently struggling, with the help of his family, to get a new trial for his case.

“It not only connects me to life outside of prison but when I am blessed enough to meet someone like you, it connects me to the larger activist community. I consider the prisoner rights movement to be inclusive of the broader abolition movement … It is simply not possible for meaningful lasting change to occur without coalition building … I consider my being able to connect with you and the class there to be part of that coalition building.”

That statement is one of the first things Zaharibu wrote to me in November. The warmth and care that rests in these words is not uncommon in his writing. With each letter I feel more and more seen, cared for and connected to something larger than our correspondence. I am connected to the movement of a people unified to gain humanity back.

“This struggle had to happen. It was inevitable. There is simply no way that people are going to continue to allow themselves to be subjected to the constant assault on their humanity. The disrespectful, degrading, dehumanizing get down that is directed at us at some point has to be responded to. It honestly does not matter what one’s political ideology might be.” – Zaharibu Dorrough

“The time for us to get off our knees is long overdue” – Zaharibu Dorrough

What does it look like for those of us on the other side of these walls to “get off our knees” and support prisoners fighting for dignity, humanity and freedom? Some call it accompaniment or solidarity and, while I respect their praxis and can see where they are coming from, I do not agree with the notion that I am supporting someone else in their struggle. There lies a harmful distancing within that framework that is important to unpack.

With each letter I feel more and more seen, cared for and connected to something larger than our correspondence. I am connected to the movement of a people unified to gain humanity back.

I view my participation as stepping up to a struggle that is all of ours to fight. Although we all have differing placements, privileges and entry points into it, that doesn’t mean we aren’t all affected by it. Some examples of how I see my role in the abolition and prisoner rights movements are being in dialogue with prisoners about needs and ideas, working with organizations such as the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and funneling resources that I have access to through the academy into these movements.

I certainly am outraged and will continue to be. I am blessed to continue learning from and sharing outrage with Zaharibu. Like a great man once said, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

To read more about Zaharibu’s case, go to: http://nctt-shu.blogspot.com/p/zaharibu-dorroughs-case-for-innocence.html and http://zaharibuisinnocent.weebly.com/index.html.

Dendron Utter, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies studying prison activism with Anthropology Department Chair Andrej Grubacic, can be reached at desertinwinter@gmail.com

Zaharibu receives Certificate of Appreciation from Southern Poverty Law Center

Foto “In recognition of your important contribution to the ongoing fight against hatred and intolerance in America. And in honor of your commitment to making a difference in your community. Thank you for taking a stand.” Signed: Morris Dees, Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Read more about Michael Zaharibu Dorrough’s case for innocence here and here.

Creating broken men? A discussion on the U.S. domestic torture program

December 4, 2012: SF Bay View

by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes 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 a third person.” – United Convention Against Torture, Art. 1, Sec. 2

We extend our heartfelt greetings to you, brothers and sisters.

Many discussions are taking place on the nature of the indefinite solitary confinement program in the U.S. prisons and whether or not it constitutes torture. The debate on what to do about the program itself is being held at every level of social organization, from the U.S. Senate to the United Nations, from the California Legislature to the short corridors of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs.

[Corcoran State Prison – Photo: Ben Margot, AP]

Academics from multiple disciplines, from psychologists to sociologists, have all weighed in with the objective, scientific analysis that indefinite SHU confinement is not only torture, but even limited SHU confinement results in irreparable psychological damage. Yet, as with the Bush era “torture papers,” the socio-economic and political interests of the capitalist tend to supersede and supplant objective evidence, moral reason and human decency.

Such debate, which only continues in the presence of arguments contrary to the obvious reality of the U.S. domestic torture program in SHUs across the U.S., is not only ludicrous, it’s reality, and it is this lethal component to the debate which forces us to share a perspective which should end the debate definitively, leaving behind only the inescapable truth: Amerika maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest torture program in Amerika, and it continues to exist in your name, with your tax dollars, because you allow it to.

A recent incident here in Corcoran SHU’s short corridor compels us to give voice to the outrage we should all feel at the continued maintenance of the indeterminate SHU debriefing process of the U.S. domestic torture program: Another suicide, Armando Morales (Baby Paya), a validated Mexican prisoner from Los Angeles who had been confined to SHU for almost a decade, hanged himself after the IGI moved him from the 4B-1L-C-Section short corridor, to 4A-1R.

The reason(s) that Armando was moved are the typical ones associated with the coercive tactics employed to break men’s minds: After his girlfriend had been compromised by IGI and other state and federal law enforcement, those same agencies mounted an effort to put pressure on Armando, who was actually a baby in terms of what he did and did not know, as it relates to the enormous pressure that law enforcement will apply to coerce information from persons they’ve targeted.

In response to that pressure, he took his own life. Naturally, IGI and the state will seek to escape any culpability, and their response to this is that each person is responsible for his own conduct. We should all recognize the illegitimacy of such a position – that this is nothing more than an excuse to try and separate themselves from a situation that they are responsible for by their reckless and barbaric disregard for our humanity.

Amerika maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest torture program in Amerika. 

We know this primarily because the vast majority of us have been in these tortuous madhouses for decades. One day is too long and not a single illegal act or rules violation has been committed by us to justify this, which is, by international law, unjustifiable.
But we also know this because our research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create broken men is its purpose. The domestic U.S. torture program carried out in SHU (aka SMU, control unit etc.) style prisons finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists and prison wardens held in Washington, D.C., in 1962, recruiting the findings of Dr. Edgar Schein, which he delivered to them in his man-against-man brainwashing. In addressing the group Dr. Schein stated:

“I would like you to think of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment in which the captive populace lives.” 

The techniques he espoused would also require, to be effective, a new type of environment conducive to altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned helplessness.”

This last technique is a key factor of both validation based indeterminate SHU confinement and the debriefing process. “Learned helplessness” is a systematic process of conditioning to crystalize in the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation of his existence, that he is completely dependent on the state and its guards for the necessities of “life,” that he is helpless and must submit to the state’s power and control.

Our research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create broken men is its purpose.

This is, of course, contrary to core human consciousness and a linear thought divergence into two options, “resistance or escape.” The program is designed to apply maximum punitive coercion against “resistance” from the outset – from physical removal from the general (prison) population to sensory deprivation, using informants, collaborators and agent provocateurs to erode trust amongst those of like circumstances, punishing uncooperative attitudes, prohibiting collective thought or expression while simultaneously employing group punishment, arbitrary punishment and property restrictions etc.

At the same time, those who are capable of prolonged or indefinite resistance through ideological consistency, political development or force of will – like victims of crucifixion left to rot on crosses during the Roman Empire – they serve as powerful deterrents to those of lesser psychological resilience or those in general population to not resist and instead explore the second option: escape.

The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. Due to the successful corporate influences of the prison industrial complex on the legislative, political and, to a degree, cultural processes in the nation over the past quarter century, most validated SHU prisoners are serving mandatory minimum, enhanced or BPT (Board of Prison Terms) based sentences and their very confinement to SHU is prohibitive to their parole.

A cell in the Corcoran SHU

The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole:

 “If you want a parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.” 

This reinforces the psychological pressure on those already weakened by the enforced conviction that they have been abandoned by and isolated from society – and only through submission and subserviency can they be socially accepted as human beings.

This form of “escape” – debriefing – is consistent with points 7, 8 and 9 of Dr. Schein’s behavior modification techniques: (7) exploitation of opportunities and informers; (8) convincing prisoners they can trust no one; (9) treating those who are willing to collaborate in far more lenient ways than those who are not.

Again, our personal experience with the state and its use of such opportunistic broken men against those of us who are committed to resistance has been demonstrated here at Corcoran-SHU on a number of occasions in which agents posing as revolutionary progressives have tried to undermine the efforts of the NCTT (New Afrikan Collective Think Tank), and when those efforts failed, they locked up and debriefed.

It was only through our collective education and insight and experience with these periodic Cointelpro-style attacks on progressives which allowed us to identify and resist the attack and mitigate its political disorder. But this does not negate the damage done by the broken males to the unity and progress of resistance in the SHU population.

Though political immaturity by some elements played a role in the mistrust and disunity that resulted from it, in the broader population, it is the nature of the domestic torture program itself to create such broken males that we must understand is prohibited by the international community – and the U.S. knows this in analyzing the effects of such broken males on the psychology of certain elements in SHU. Other such examples of torture being put to such use against those who resist in Pelican Bay, here and across the U.S. is legion.

The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.”

In the etiology of the U.S. domestic torture program, Marion Control Unit was the first. When former Marion Warden Ralph Aron was asked why the torture unit was built, he replied, “The purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.” These broken males thus serve to not only damage or destroy progressives in prison but the attitudes and ideas of progressives in society at large.

It was always meant to be this way. To be sure, Dr. Broder, the psychotherapist who implemented Dr. Schein’s brainwashing program at Marion envisions those paroled broken men as “therapeutic technicians” who will take these techniques and warped views back into the community. Some 30 years later we have a snitch culture that derides objective facts in favor of a corporate media-created fantasy, and it owes some of its existence to the disastrous effects of isolation, which leads to the inevitable final “escape”: Death! Suicide rates in these sensory deprivation torture units are magnitudes higher than those in general population.

Speaking these words simply does not convey the reality of what we all know intimately: the transient appeal of the void as an alternative to endless isolation. We all know of the disastrous effects of isolation because we have seen what it does, along with the pressures that the state brings to bear on us all daily in its efforts to break us, efforts that include compelling the taking of one’s own life.

“The purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.”

If this domestic torture program did not exist, Armando and so many others would still be alive today. But his is only the “escape” view of death. There is also a “resistance”-based view of death – that all of us who will never be counted amongst the broken men not only understand, but have demonstrated twice before, and may well be compelled to do again: peaceful protest in the form of hunger strikes, mass single cell, work stoppage etc.

Christian Gomez died [a year ago], not “escaping” these torture units but “resisting” these torture units, and it is this dialectical view of this final option – that death is an active and practiced form of both escape from and resistance to indefinite SHU confinement – is the final and definitive proof that it is, undebatably, torture.

During an assembly hearing on solitary confinement on August 24, 2011, a former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of humanity. People are dying who could be saved while you are reading these words.

A former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of humanity.

And now you know. This is a system that must be abolished. It is a system that has robbed us all of some part of our humanity and has caused us to lose our way as a nation. So many of us have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention against Torture.

They have proven that they will not do so without compulsion. We must ensure that they do so, as a nation of the people, for the people and by the people. If we are doing anything less, we are complicit in the state’s hypocrisy.

The Pelican Bay D Short Corridor has given us the proper onus for unity in their historic “agreement to end hostilities” issued for Oct. 10, 2012. We call upon all of you brothers and sisters across the nation in prison yards and hood blocks, in SHUs and barrios: Take up this call also. Turn your attention not toward one another, but to those who have condemned us all to languish at the lowest rungs of this locked anti-poor society: the ruling 1 percent.

Many of us have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention against Torture.

Join the movement – embrace, support, join or form your own local Occupy or anti-prison industrial complex formation. Build coalitions. And in doing so, change this world. Come, let us make peace.
Our love and solidarity,
Corcoran SHU NCTT:

  • Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212 [53?]
  • J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism) Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) at Corcoran State Prison.

Published in: SF Bay View, Dec. 4th 2012

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Don’t let the torturer define torture

by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough, Oct 23rd, 2012
In: SF Bay View and California Prison Watch

In the Crawford case (In re Crawford, 206 Cal.App.4th 1259 (2012)), won by Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford), the three-judge appeal panel ruled unanimously that the CDCR cannot confiscate mail and claim that it contains some kind of “coded” message without proving it. It’s an important case not only because it strips the CDCR of an illegal tool that it considered important in burying people in these dungeons.

Equally important is that the judges finally had the courage to actually uphold the law for the sake of upholding the law, and there was no trade-off. There was no “I’ll do this in exchange for that,” which is pretty routine when it comes to the rights of prisoners and criminal defendants.

It really is foul and obviously so. You cannot bury thousands of human beings under conditions that amount to torture – and you cannot leave it up to the torturer to establish the criteria for what constitutes torture. They never see anything wrong with what they do even when violating the law and the humanity of people.

Correcting madness only requires courage. We are a nation governed by bullies. The judge in the Crawford decision, like Crawford himself, had courage.

Equally important is that the judges finally had the courage to actually uphold the law for the sake of upholding the law, and there was no trade-off.

You, the Bay View, your husband, the Pelican Bay representatives, the thousands who resist and supporters who have stood up and continue to stand up and really stand up against the state have courage.

We also received a copy of the latest draft – version 7.0 – of the STG (Security Threat Group, or gang) proposal, and it appears as if this will be the policy. I did not think it could get any worse.

You cannot bury thousands of human beings under conditions that amount to torture – and you cannot leave it up to the torturer to establish the criteria for what constitutes torture. They never see anything wrong with what they do even when violating the law and the humanity of people.

You can actually be given an additional SHU term for what is being called an “STG handshake.” This is the 21st century and a nation that defines itself as the greatest democracy on earth and we actually penalize citizens, put them/us in isolation for shaking someone’s hand.

This drawing by acclaimed prisoner artist Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is titled “Control Unity Torture.” The term control unit refers to the extremely restrictive solitary confinement called in California a Security Housing Unit (SHU) or Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU). U.N. torture czar Juan Mendez classifies as torture confinement in a control unit for more than 15 days. Yet the average stay in the Pelican Bay SHU is 7.5 years, 89 have been there for over 20 years and one, former Black Panther Hugo Pinell, for 42 years.

This is the best proof of how irrational the thinking is: People literally create their own reality, give it a name and then do with it as they please. There is no such thing as an “STG handshake.” There is also a provision that makes it possible for a person to be given a SHU term for “group exercise.” People are actually paid huge salaries to come up with this shit!

The sanity of these people should be called into question. The Pelican Bay representatives and SHU population are absolutely correct: This must be resisted. To not do so, particularly in the face of such disrespect, would be deplorable. It would be weak! And nothing is as pathetic as weakness.

Our hope is that we might be able to come up with something to contribute to the efforts being made by the Bay View, you and others who have been so supportive and so inspiring in the struggle. However it is that we can contribute to any of your endeavors, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

The road is long and hard and rough, but anything worth loving is worth fighting for. Take good care.

Strugglin’ with you – Michael Zaharibu Dorrough

Send our brother some love and light: Michael Dorrough, D-83611, Corcoran SHU, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212. This open letter was written to and transcribed by Kendra Castaneda, a prisoner human rights advocate whose husband, Robbie Riva, T-49359, is being tortured in segregation at Calipatria State Prison ASU.

In a personal, introductory note, Michael wrote: “Dear Kendra, Hello sis. It is my/our hope that you continue to be of sound health upon receiving this and that you will continue to maintain that magnificent fire that you possess. It is the difference between being committed to changing the inhumanities that confront us all and those who are just paying lip service to it. You could never be confused with the latter group.”

Launching a Campaign of Resistance

by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough
In: SF Bay View
Aug 15th 2012

“The way prisons are run and their inmates treated gives a faithful picture of a society, especially of the ideas and methods of those who dominate that society. Prisons indicate the distance to which government and social conscience have come in their concern and respect for the human being.” – Milovan Djilas

We should never accept being abused or mistreated. It’s our duty as human beings to fully resist. Our strike activity over the past year, followed by strikes as far away as Palestine/Israel, has shown that solid resistance is not only possible but also very effective, and it can be done in smart, fully advantageous ways. It simply requires prisoners to come together collectively for the common good of all and with the support of the people outside, forming a powerful force to compel changes that are long overdue.

“Our compliance and recognition of the prisons’ power over us is our downfall. If we collectively refuse to comply and refuse to recognize the prisoncrats having any power over us via refusal to work, refusal to follow orders, then these prisons cannot operate,” wrote Pelican Bay strike representative Todd Ashker in the March San Francisco Bay View.

Our only solution, as overwhelming as it may seem, is to launch a long, protracted campaign of resistance throughout the prison system – level three and four yards – not only to close the SHU facilities down completely, but to gain back everything we’ve given up over the years. The time for us to get off our knees is long overdue.
With the application of new and correct tactics employed throughout the system, accompanied by class action 602s and lawsuits, coordinated written statements from us to the media and support from various prison activist groups and, of greatest significance, mass solidarity, we can achieve this. The legal struggle that was being waged in the interest of the entire population to overturn the process failed to provoke a unified response. We are, as a prison population, oppressed as an entire population, therefore the solution is to be found in a group response.

We as a prison population are becoming increasingly more self-centered and driven by self-interests as our material conditions continue to deteriorate, and in turn we become contributors and accomplices to CDCR’s agendas and the further downward spiral of our own deterioration. More often than not we do so unconsciously; that is, we do so unintentionally and unknowingly.

“We live within circumstances where the existing and predominate ideology of ‘individualism’ is self-defeating and destructive to all of us as a population and where the collective mentality is an absolute necessity for the improvement of our living conditions,” wrote C.L. in “The Road Ahead” in the March issue of Rock.

Finally, hundreds of men in the ASU at Calipatria State Prison participated last year in the Pelican Bay State Prison Hunger Strike that reached statewide in July 2011 and another in September 2011. The men at Calipatria State Prison ASU who starved themselves were in unity with Pelican Bay State Prison’s five core demands, but these men added their own demands, which were to have appliances, either a TV or radio, to stimulate their minds if they had to be forced to stay in segregation.

With help from articles that were published to expose the illegal extended years these men are serving in these “temporary” segregation units, loved ones on the other side of these walls pushed CDCR to have these men’s demands met for appliances. The men at Calipatria ASU described to the public the extreme inhumane conditions they were faced with, and after Warden Leland McEwen was removed, Sacramento approved TVs for all men in Calipatria State Prison ASU.

On April 19, 2012, at the expense of CDCR, TVs were distributed and installed in all ASU cells. This demonstrates that the issue of addressing the need for prisoner unity, of specific examples of solutions and the importance of developing a political consciousness and its role in developing successful strategies and tactics inside and outside of prison is an important part of the dialogue.

The success of any struggle is tied to the strength of its movement – a movement that we all belong to as a result of our willingness to resist and make sacrifices. Unity requires dialogue and commitment, and our only interest is in broadening and deepening the unity and support that all of the efforts made have realized for us all.

As revolutionaries, we will and must continue to pursue the formation of a broader “National Mass Movement” which will support the realization of the five core demands articulated by Pelican Bay, just as we all strive to transform the nature and structure of capitalist society itself which gave rise to the need to pursue the California Prisoners Hunger Strike and the Pelican Bay D-Corridor Collective to create the five core demands.

Other areas that can be pursued are contacting the hunger strike coalition, if this has not already been done, and explain to them the circumstances of your situation. Write to your families and loved ones and make them aware of your situation. And educate them about the prison movement as well.

The Prisoner Activist Resource Center (PARC, P.O. Box 70447, Oakland, CA 94612) is an invaluable resource. And again, the article “The Road Ahead” in the March issue of Rock is an excellent study material to refer to.

Struggling with you.
Michael Dorrough

Send our brother some love and light: Michael Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, Cor-SHU, 4B-1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran CA 93212. This story is an excerpt from a letter sent to Ed Mead of the Rock newsletter.

Justice Makes a Nation Great

From: SF Bay View

January 26, 2012

by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough

Zaharibu, who has been in isolation for 23½ years, was “validated” as a “gang member” and condemned to solitary confinement for having this classic and four other books by renowned authors in his cell and sharing them with other prisoners. Prison authorities labeled these books “gang material.”

I read once that whereupon meeting a poor man who had been falsely accused, Jesus went with him before the magistrate and, having been granted special permission to appear in his behalf, made this address: “Justice makes a nation great, and the greater a nation the more solicitous will it be to see that injustice shall not befall even its most humble citizen. Woe upon any nation when only those who possess money and influence can secure ready justice before its courts! It is the sacred duty of a magistrate to acquit the innocent as well as to punish the guilty.

“Upon the impartiality, fairness and integrity of its courts the endurance of a nation depends. Civil government is founded on justice, even as true religion is founded on mercy.”

This is my 23rd year in isolation, and regardless of how some might try to define what isolation is, I can assure you that after 23 years and in light of the almost constant, non-stop assault on the senses and your humanity, this is isolation. And at least part of what constitutes isolation must be defined according to what it takes and tries to take from you – the suicides, past and present, the surrender of one’s humanity and integrity, qualities that play a large role in becoming informants. It’s not only that people become like Judas when they do so, they become factors, major factors in the continued efforts at destroying and trying to destroy the humanity of us all.

But like many of those of us who have been buried in isolation for decades, I consider myself to be a student and I love democracy. During the hunger strike of Sept. 26-Oct. 12, I had an opportunity to speak to an officer here who stated that treating the humanity of citizens who are in prison with respect is a liberal idea whose time had passed and the people have spoken. Obviously, he considered “the people” to be those who think just as he does and even those citizens who have remained silent on the issue of democracy and justice.
I was not offended by his thinking. I understood it to be that 500-year-old process in which the elitist minority has convinced much of the middle class and working poor majority that their interests are one and the same. The conversation actually reminded me of conversations that Nelson Mandela had with his captors in a South African prison.

Hate and indifference – and it goes by many names: racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, to name just a few – are powerful tools that the ruling class minority has used to keep the majority competing against one another, from jobs to housing to education, even on how we should love and worship. You can see the pathology that it has created in some basic areas.

Hate and indifference – and it goes by many names: racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, to name just a few – are powerful tools that the ruling class minority has used to keep the majority competing against one another.


If you were to ask 5,000 people if they felt that the criminal justice system is biased, 50 percent or more would probably say yes. If you ask those same people if they believed in the death penalty, that same number of people would say yes. Even if you ask that question as it relates to life without parole, as many now do, you are still talking about a system that is biased.

We actually believe that 1) somehow the system has developed separately from the hate and indifference that the country has developed under and 2) that somehow we can leave our own hate and indifference at the front door and be fair and just in how we treat each other. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the historical record clearly bears this out. Hate and indifference is what has robbed us of our ability to look at each other and see a reflection of ourselves.

The only reason why the nation, at least many of us, have failed to see and understand how we have and continue to be affected by the legacy of hate and indifference and the pathology created by it is because it is who and what we are. Movements are crucial to overcoming this pathology.

Movements consist of citizens from different schools of thought – be it cultural, gender, political, economic, spiritual, educational. The thing that brings us all together is that everyone is being subjected to some form of oppression. The actual and spiritual poverty that results from the unequal distribution of wealth is a form of oppression. Movements are supposed to afford us with that crucial opportunity to relate to one another as fellow citizens.

The actual and spiritual poverty that results from the unequal distribution of wealth is a form of oppression.


Hate and indifference is the greatest threat to democracy. Democracy is and can be tolerant of much, but it cannot be subordinate to anything. It is the greater good. We have historically subordinated democracy to our hate and indifference: the unequal distribution of wealth, maintaining wage systems that are shamefully inconsistent with the standard of living, subjecting citizens to long-term isolation – and for many of us it is as a result of our ideas.

My retention in isolation is based on my allegedly being in possession of gang material and providing that material to other prisoners. That gang material was the following books:

1) “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn,
2) “Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880” by W.E.B. Dubois,
3) “Egypt Revisited” by Ivan Van Sertima,
4) “Democracy in Mexico” by Han La Borz,
5) “Democracy Matters” by Cornel West.

The wrongful incarceration of citizens – and a lot of times this too is politically motivated – and the death penalty are all anti-democratic. And when we subordinate democracy and justice to us, as opposed to subordinating ourselves to democracy and justice, believe me, it stops being democracy and justice and it becomes exactly what it has been. These are forms of totalitarianism.

We mentioned in the previous statement that victory will require sacrifice, tenacity and, most importantly, competent strategic insight. That strategic insight must consist of our not only understanding what hate and indifference is, but also how we, individually and collectively, as well as our institutions, have been and continue to be affected psychologically by the legacy of hate and indifference.

The democratic abolitionist struggle demands it of us, and those of us here and in the Pelican Bay SHU, the NCTT, are committed to contributing to meaningful and lasting change. And this is part of what keeps us amongst the sane. We understand, and always have, that the price that we will pay for this is the efforts to silence us, to isolate and destroy us!

We are committed to contributing to meaningful and lasting change. And this is part of what keeps us amongst the sane. We understand, and always have, that the price that we will pay for this is the efforts to silence us, to isolate and destroy us!


But just as we understand this, we also understand that this struggle will also connect us to the Mary Ratcliffs of the world and the other inspiring and courageous citizens and soldiers that we have had the pleasure of meeting. When the officer said that the people have spoken, he was not talking about the Mary Ratcliffs and Sally Bystroffs, the Gabi Pinars and Nakisah Rices, the Ed Meads and Dorsey Nunns, Marilyn McMahons, Carol Strickmans, Penny Schoners, Critical Resistance and Shaka at-Thinnins, the thousands of citizens who comprise the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the People! You are all proof that beauty does exist and you are most appreciated.

Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing. It never has and never will. Those who want to be free must strike the blow!”

Send our brother some love and light: Michael Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-IL-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212. This letter was typed by Adrian McKinney.