Love Letter to the Community from inside a Washington State Corrections Center

WA Corrections Center – August 13, 2020

Putting my thoughts on paper sometimes is a way to escape the reality of the existence I am currently surviving. It’s during times like these that I am even more motivated to get my voice out to the free world. Given the current state of things we face many challenges; a global pandemic, economic crisis, unemployment, depression, you name it people are facing levels of emotions that can be unnerving. It’s during this time I can say I understand and empathize with what you are feeling.

Yet, how can a prisoner understand? We go through a myriad of emotions while incarcerated and are left to our own devices on how we choose to handle them. Some choose a self-destructive path and some find solace in others company and advice. While we may seem like people separated from the free world, we are not blind to what goes on in our communities. After all I for one realize the brokenness I left behind where I came from and know all too well the impact my decisions left on the ones I hold dear to my heart.

Now is not a time to despair in our misfortunes, but to actually be a family. We have heard the word COMMUNITY, but we forget it isn’t spelled without UNITY! People, this is to all of you who are doing the work and fighting for something. This is also for anyone listening. It’s time to stop for a moment and analyze yourself, look deep into your soul and re-discover or re-invent what humanity means to you.

I understand the political chess game that is gripping the world and it’s a part of the fabric of our society until the people choose to change it. For now, it’s important for us all to not lose sight of a few facts. One of those you who are sincere in the work you do, never forget the ones who have experienced the systemic racist machine of mass incarceration. We know all too well the dehumanizing and depressive experience incarcerated people go through just for being colored. There are millions of modern day slaves housed in warehouses across the country hoping their voice is heard and mine is one of those.

There are amazing men and women that are intelligent, loving, and experienced in what you all are just going through. Trying to fight for freedom but are unsure, divided, or even weary of others around you. You see you cannot claim to be a champion for your community if it isn’t in unity. I am sick of hearing about all these movements that claim to fight for equality when the very people, are fighting amongst themselves, hoarding important information and resources and are even perpetuating the very system they are fighting. Get it together people!

We all fight for equality, empathy, and inclusion but it’s not what I hear or ever see happening between the so called champions of justice. Believe me I know all too well, the politics of race and how it plays into our lives. I have experienced it in the free world and the ugly world of prison.

My voice is one of many concerned people who wish to be involved in the discussion when discussing reform because you CANNOT discuss police reform without discussing reform of the prison industrial complex because it is interwoven not separate.

I urge you all to work together no matter what organization you claim to support because the goal is freedom from the shackles of systemic racism, yes it is that easy.

-Inmate at a WA

On Transformation

Compañero,

You and your comparerxs on the other side of those walls must have a difficult time imagining how the seed that you’ve planted in our minds on this side of the walls, around how we understand human dignity and how we see the resiliency of life gives us hope to struggle harder and to force us take up new ways of organizing based on shared values and relationships.

I’ve enclosed an organizational chart of my community organization to demonstrate how we are trying to think of this ecosystem we’ve been building. For context I should share two stories with you:

The first, has to do with what our leadership described as the flexibility of organizing as an “amoeba”. An amoeba is a type of cell or unicellular organism with has the ability to alter its shape, primarily by extending and retracting pseudopods (false feet). To eat, it engulfs its food in the same way that it alters its shape. 

Francisco Varela (left) and Humberto Maturana (right)

Socialist Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in their book Autopoiesis and Cognition (1980) introduced two novelties to describe single cell organisms, 

Autopoiesis

1. “Autopoiesis” which refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. Maturana & Varela explain, “An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network” (Maturana & Varela 1980, 78).

Cognition

2. “Cognition” which is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”(Thompson E 2007) For Maturana and Varela, the basic notion of autopoiesis as involving constructive interaction with the environment is extended to include cognition. Maturana defined cognition as behavior of an organism “with relevance to the maintenance of itself” (Maturana & Varela 1980, 13). In short, cognition is the ability of an organism to interact, react and shape its environment.

Using the “amoeba” as a metaphor, we asserted how our organizational structure had to be that malleable, that as the movement advanced, we had to have the capacity to shift like the amoeba that engulfs a specific political moment with urgency while discarding another piece that had served the purpose of advancing the environment of the social movement where our “amoeba” exists. Depending on the political moment, the organization may react to its environment or at other times reshape its environment via cognition, an interaction and intimate knowledge with the environment. I like to incorporate what I describe above by Maturana & Varela to provide philosophical context and I’m trying to develop an image of this as attached, a snapshot in time.

The second story related to the image has to do with the Caracol. A manner of describing social movements used by our comrades in South America, namely the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), the Congreso Nacional Indigena (CNI) in Mexico and Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Tierra (MST) in Brazil. I think the beauty of a caracol is that it is a 2D image that describes movement. In codices from Meso-America, the same symbol represented speech, the manner in which wisdom and knowledge are passed from human to human in order to work collectively. I think that the larger metaphor that the caracol provides is that humans are stronger in collectives. 

I hear you, in grieving the arrested collective capacity that has been so easily revoked by administration. I must remind you however that your and your comrades creativity made the cultural groups to survive the racist institutional policy of segregating you from your other brothers on that side of the wall. Ruth Wilson Gilmore defined Racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” (Gilmore 2006). The fight that I would argue that you are helping to win on the legal side is to bring that state-sanctioned, group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death closer to its end.

Recently, I heard an interview of Bryan Stevenson, who said when asked about the museums he helped create:

“I felt we had to introduce a narrative about American history that wasn’t clearly being articulated. I think we are a post-genocide society. I think what happened to native people when Europeans came to this continent, was a genocide, we killed millions of Native people through famine and war and we justified that violence by creating a narrative of racial difference. We said that Native people are savages, and we used that rhetoric to justify the violence and it was that narrative of racial difference that got us comfortable with two and a half centuries of slavery. The great evil of American slavery wasn’t involuntary servitude, it wasn’t forced labor, it was this idea, this narrative that Black people aren’t as good as White people, that Black people aren’t fully human, Black people aren’t evolved, they can’t do this, they can’t do that. And that narrative created an ideology of white supremacy and for me that was the true evil of American Slavery…I don’t think slavery ended, I think it evolved” (NPR Interview of Bryan Stevenson, January 20, 2020).

Before that, he had said that “We are once again in an era, where the politics of fear and anger are shaping how institutions respond” (ibid).

Compañero, I hope these words find a place in your heart to give hope and endurance in the face of the repressions you and yours have faced in the recent months. And what was a full blown caracol for you has found fertile soil on the outside and is now a tiny bud that we will nurture and defend so long as it is in our amoeba.

We are our ancestors wildest dreams come true!

THE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN WASHINGTON STATE’S DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS IS TORTURE, AND IT MUST STOP.

The United Nations has called upon all countries to ban the solitary confinement as early as eight years ago (UN News 2011). In 2018, Gali Katznelson and J. Wesley Boyd concluded that Solitary Confinement was “Torture, Pure and Simple,” in an article by that subtitle in Psychology Today (Psychology Today 2018). They assert that “despite its barbarity,” that “the United States continues to place thousands of people, including individuals with mental illnesses and children, in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades” (Ibid). Katznelson and Boyd report that a study conducted by Dr. Stuart Grassian in 1988 evaluated fourteen people who were placed in Solitary Confinement and found the same symptoms across participants which included, “hypersensitivity to external stimuli; perceptual disturbances, hallucinations, and derealization experiences; affective disturbances, such as anxiety and panic attacks; difficulties with thinking, memory and concentration; the emergence of fantasies such as revenge and torture of the guards; paranoia; problems with impulse control; and a rapid decrease in symptoms immediately following release from isolation” (Ibid). Katznelson and Boyd warn that the “psychological effects of isolation last long after individuals are removed from isolation,” noting that they “experience anxiety and depression, and preferred to remain in confined spaces” (Ibid). If left untreated, they warn, these experiences lead to suicide and conclude that “continuing to place these individuals in solitary confinement is both inhumane and unethical” (Ibid). The psychologists affirm that as solitary confinement “causes such severe psychological damage that is tantamount to torture,” it must be stopped.

            On Monday, October 7, 2019, several Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoners exercised a non-violent hunger strike at Clallum Bay Correctional Center (CBCC), a facility tucked away on the Penninsula of Washington State. According to their list of demands, they saw their hunger strike as “serious constructive action” that sought to “rectify the prison environment,” and assured both the DOC and CBCC that hunger strike was “a non-violent demonstration” (CBCC Hunger Strike 2019). Acting as the CBCC Prison Population Representatives, these prisoners outlined a six-point list of demands that included: 1. Better Food; 2. the end of the frivolous use of lock-downs by CBCC; 3. A pay increase equivalent to the inflation of the cost of services; 4. the abolition of the Gang Violence Reduction/Forbidden 3 Policy that segregates inmates by ethnicity; 5. for DOC to hold vendors accountable for timely service (i.e. J-Pay, GTL, Union Supply Direct); and 6. Any demands brought up by the representatives in their negotiations (Ibid).

            On Wednesday, October 9, 2019, CBCC and the DOC in retaliation for the hunger strike rounded up 37 CBCC prisoners at 4:00am, loaded them onto a bus, and shipped them across Washington State to place them in Solitary Confinement. On Friday, October 11, 2019, the prisoners were informed that they were under investigation by the DOC with a court date set for November 14, 2019. That means that these prisoners could possibly spend at least 38 days in solitary confinement for having exercised a non-violent collective action.

            Those of us on the outside who have forged relationships with these young men and their families call upon the public to demand that Washington State cease the use of Solitary Confinement on the grounds that it is inhumane and unethical. We call upon the public to demand that the Department of Corrections remedy their poor choice to retaliate against 37 young men for exercising a non-violent demonstration that sought to create better communication and improve the conditions of the prison environment. The DOC can start by removing the young men from Solitary Confinement and begin to dialogue with the selected CBCC Prison Population Representatives.

CALL TO ACTION:

  1. Contact Governor Inslee to demand an end to the use of Solitary Confinement in Washington State by the Department of Corrections:

Jay Inslee (WA State Governor) 360-902-4111; jay.inslee@gov.wa.gov

2. Contact the Department of Corrections to release the CBCC 37 from Solitary Confinement and to begin a productive dialogue with the CBCC Prison Population Representatives:

  • Stephen Sinclair (Director) 360-725-8810; 360-725-8213; sdsinclair@doc1.wa.gov
  • Janelle Guthrie (Director of Communications) 360-725-8737; doccorrespondenceunit@doc1.wa.gov
  • Robert Herzog (Assistant Secretary) 360-725-8226; rlherzog@doc1.wa.gov
  • Donald Holbrook (Walla Walla Superintendent) 509-526-6300; drholbrook@doc1.wa.gov
  • Jeri Boe (Clallam Bay Superintendent) 360-963-3204; jlboe@doc1.wa.gov

A Call to Action

The community incarcerated at Clallam Bay Correctional Center (CBCC) have observed a peaceful hunger strike to improve conditions on the inside.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) has retaliated against them and is isolating anyone that they suspect is connected to the hunger strikes. This includes transferring folks to further isolated spaces, placing the populations on lockdown, and stopping external communications.

This is a call to action for those of us on the outside sympathetic to the humble demands of the hunger strikers to pressure the DOC in support of the demands and to end the retaliation against the hunger strikers

A. Call and Email the WA DOC Today!

  • Stephen Sinclair (Director) 360-725-8810; 360-725-8213; sdsinclair@doc1.wa.gov
  • Janelle Guthrie (Director of Communications) 360-725-8737; doccorrespondenceunit@doc1.wa.gov
  • Robert Herzog (Assistant Secretary) 360-725-8226; rlherzog@doc1.wa.gov
  • Donald Holbrook (Walla Walla Superintendent) 509-526-6300; drholbrook@doc1.wa.gov
  • Jeri Boe (Clallam Bay Superintendent) 360-963-3204; jlboe@doc1.wa.gov

Jay Inslee (WA State Governor) 360-902-4111; jay.inslee@gov.wa.gov

  1. To Stop the Retaliation.

2. To Meet the Hunger Striker Demands.

B. Circulate these Infagraphics to Inform more people about this historical moment.

CBCC HUNGER STRIKE 2019

On Monday, October 7, 2019 several prisoners at the Clallum Bay Correctional Facility began to observe a Hunger Strike. Below is their list of demands:

TO: The Department of Corrections and Clallum Bay Correctional Center

Given our current situation and increasingly detrimental conditions, we have no choice but to search for an alternative to make our voices be heard and demands met. The administration has shown a lack of understanding and unwillingness to take an honest and serious constructive action to rectify the prison environment.

Our alternative is by all means a non-violent demonstration, therefore we will not be participating in work “programs”, mainline, and recreational periods until the administration complieswith our demands, and compromises in takin steps toward positive change regarding the parts of our demands that can not be changed immediately. All changes must be done in an inclusive form, taking usinto consideration in the decision-making process. Our representatives will be able to sit down and have a dialogue, a constructive one, with the administration.

  • We demand a thorough revision of the kitchen menu. We refuse to accept any sack-breakfast, sack-lunch, or sack-dinner. We demand better food quality (fresh vegetables and fruit, and better prepared meals). We oppose any CI food, every institution is capable of preparing better meals if given the opportunity, especially if gardens within the institutions are taken advantage of. Our demand would cost less money to the Department of Corrections, and could potentially create job opportunities, making our prison environment better.
  • We demand a full restoration of our regular recreation schedule, the unnecessary lock-downs and/or delaying and cancelling of our recreation periods for minor incidents must stop. Likewise, we demand “pull-up and dip bars in all close custody dayroom; and a split-pod dayroom (The way gym is currently done) allowing us to have 3 dayroom periods of one hour each.
  • We demand a full revision of the Department of Correction’s Job/Work policy (Class I, II, and III). Our labor is fundamentally important to keep the prison system running. We have been “earning” the same amount since we can remember; however, store items’ price have gone up around 200% in the last 15 years. Therefore, we demand a reasonable increase across all Jobs’ “compensation” in order to keep doing the necessary work to keep this “environment” running.
  • We demand the abolition of the distorted GVR Policy (Gang Violence Reduction/Forbidden 3 Policy). It has not created any positive changes/results and it won’t since it’s disconnected from reality. Prisoners of today are not more violent than those 20 years ago, the problem resides in the current prison conditions created by the administration.
  • We demand that the Department of Corrections take a serious approach in regard to holding private vendors (J-pay Inc., GTL, Union Supply Direct) responsible and accountable for any delays/violations with their services.
    • J-Pay Inc: We pay enough money for its “disservice”, it can take months to fix a kiosk.
    • GTL: Phone calls are too expensive compared to other states.
    • Union Supply Direct: Products are too expensive and quality is low. Better products, lower prices, changes need to be made
  • Finally, other demands regarding the visiting room, prison gardens, hobby shops, etc. will be discussed through ourrepresentatives. We ask for your understanding, commitment and support for new ideas and proposals.

– CLALLAM BAY CORRECTIONAL CENTER PRISON POPULATION REPRESENTATIVES

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