Incarceration Nation

Pick Up the Confetti

The battle to abolish solitary confinement has only begun

By Jose H. Villarreal

On September 30, 2015, I was moved out of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) after nine years in the hole. My “release” from the SHU was due to the United Front that California prisoners forged in our anti-torture struggle. This relocation however has been no celebration to say the least. Solitary confinement still exists as does the unlawful dehumanization, which continues to plague the captives held in California’s SHUs.

Did DRB free the slaves?

One of the things that came out of the prison struggles was that the California Department of Corrections (CDC) created a Department Review Board (DRB) which was comprised of CDC big wigs who went to the prisons in a committee to review a prisoner’s file (they have since done away with the DRB), and decide if a prisoner should stay or leave the SHU.

When I went to my DRB hearing, the Director of California’s Division of Adult Institutions, Susan Hubbard, began notifying me of why I was being held in the SHU (a confidential informant accused me of wrongdoing) and nonchalantly stated, “That’s hearsay, so we won’t use it,” and let me know I was going to general population. Now, of course, I was delighted to be leaving the slave quarters behind, but it felt like I was kicked in the gut when she stated “that’s hearsay,” and moved on as if she was in the produce aisle of Trader Joe’s and spotted baby spinach that was a bit spotty and not quite right for the day’s brunch. I sat there wanting to vomit as I processed what was just said. Hearsay.

So, the near-decade that I had spent in solitary was on hearsay and this torture that I endured for nine years of my life did not end with a “sorry,” no handshake, not a shrug of embarrassment, the woman didn’t even blink!

I sat there in awkward silence, almost like a session of unsatisfied sex, like showing up at a rally and I’m the only one there. Having thought that I had seen it all, being raised in California’s school-to-prison pipeline, I was shocked. Before I was able to figuratively pull up my pants, I was hurried out of the room and hauled off in shackles.

As I hobbled down Pelican Bay’s cold stone hallways, chains rattling around my waist, I thought of Lincoln’s so-called “freeing” the slaves. Did DRB see themselves as “freeing” us SHU prisoners I thought? Upon arriving to my windowless cell I concluded that we have much in common with those newly “freed” slaves of old because now our subjugation and oppression would simply transform—change in form but not in essence.

Meet the “Security Threat Group”

The state simply changed the wording of our state sanctioned oppression. They say they did away with how they handle “prison gangs.” Now they simply call gangs “Security Threat Groups.” There is still SHU and solitary confinement, only now they have to use it—in most cases—in stints of five years. Most doctors agree that after ten days it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. But what do they know?

What the doctors, bourgeois politicians, and even some activists or reformers are not talking about is how so-called “gangs” are simply a by-product of capitalism. These are youth clubs that materialize as a reaction to their own oppression. It is a defense reaction to come together with others in the face of poverty and despair in an effort to survive. Even those who do not study political economy in a way that Marx did, to define the productive forces and class struggle, understand that they do indeed have empty hands. They realize that to survive it will take uniting with others (however their efforts are motivated by the subjective.) How could they not be when all of their lives have been saturated in capitalist propaganda, which defines what is important, what is appealing, what one should act like or whose skin we should worship?

So what is often left out of this discussion is that those of us on the bottom of the totem pole, the Chican@, the new Afrikan, the First Nations, the migrant youth survival groups are being criminalized for the social reality that capitalist Amerika has created! It’s like raising a pit bull to eat raw meat all of its life and then putting it down when it bites someone. In such a situation is freedom really obtainable? If so, at what cost?

So now we’re categorized as “Security Threat Groups.” In today’s U.S. hyper-militarized Homeland Security culture the state needs to keep the larger population feeling threatened. It’s kind of like the ’50s and ’60s when people were scared into building bomb shelters in their homes and school kids were indoctrinated via crawling under their desks. Today the state uses “terrorism” and Security Threat Groups to get the larger population to sympathize with the ruling class agenda. But who do prisoners really threaten? I guess when you’re brutalizing people all their lives it makes sense not wanting to go to sleep around them. But torture?

Struggle continues

I have been reading that some people are cheering for some victory concerning the struggle to end solitary confinement and close the SHUs. We have made a step forward, but so long as one person continues to be tortured in solitary, there is no victory. Just because I was released from solitary, does not mean our struggle or my struggle, is over because we still have a SHU and many are still being tortured in those tombs. Instead of being tortured for 40-plus years, now people will be tortured for five year intervals. Should we celebrate that? It would be like a socialist saying we should celebrate because now the capitalist is only exploiting 80 percent instead of 90 percent of our labor power.

Our hunger strike of 2013 was only a small sample of where we prisoners are heading as a class. Our class struggle continues according to the natural laws of development. Our relationship as captive, tortured, exploited or oppressed people within the U.S. prison camps cannot survive without the antagonism of classes, prisoners vs. the oppressor state.

Through our collective struggle in the form of the hunger strike we learned much about the importance of knowing the oppressor and we perceive that a class struggle can only be successful through unity, despite our varied political line of internal contradictions. The cadre at the helm of this beautiful current of imprisoned resistance understands that despite the many contradictions that we face, in order to nurture these lumpen developments we had to understand the difference between principle contradictions and secondary contradictions. For even the “politically enlightened” outside of prison this is easier said than done. But, in order to push forward and overcome obstacles that ultimately help imperialism, this must be done. For us castaways of capitalist society with little or no formal education and deadly histories, we were able to put our perception of this into practice.

Regardless if some of us are let out of the SHU—even the most vocal SHU writers, artists, jailhouse lawyers, etc.—we will not be content with our release. Raising awareness about SHU torture will continue to be built around the dehumanization of people by the use of solitary confinement. It is wrong in California or any other state. It is wrong for ten days or five years, and the United Front and mobilization will not stop until solitary confinement no longer exists!

Write to:

Jose H. Villarreal #H84098

PBSP B4 - 210

P.O. Box 7500

Crescent City, CA 95532-7500