OP-ED: Locked in Solitary Confinement, Prisoners Lead Fight for Racial Unity

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By Troy Williams

 

I am not sure if the public-at-large knows this, but California prisons are places where you can be attacked simply based on the color of your skin.

 

When a riot erupts on a prison yard, you don’t get to say I’m not involved. Just pray you’re in the right area when it happens, put your back to a wall and swing your fists as though your life depended on it.

 

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Sitawa Nantambu Jam

Given this fact, the headlines on every newsstand proclaim: Breaking news!

 

Men who have been validated as prison gang members and associates by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and are currently serving prison time in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (PBSP-SHU) have signed an “Agreement to End Hostilities” among racial groups inside the prison system.

 

“We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups…All hostilities between our racial groups…in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population and County Jails will officially cease,” according to the document signed by “Short Corridor” hunger strike representatives who have been locked in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.

 

The Agreement to End Hostilities was approved by all races in all of California’s Security Housing Units (solitary conferment) and comes alongside a settlement in a class action lawsuit that, in part, prohibits the indefinite retention of inmates in solitary confinement based on gang affiliation alone.

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Todd Ashker

 

The settlement also addresses the conditions of confinement in the Security Housing Units.

 

Anne Weills, attorney for the group who filed the class action lawsuit, expressed her respect for the participants, whose hunger strike in 2011 acted as a catalyst for this current Settlement.

 

“These men are leaders,” Weills said.

 

Some of the men involved in the Agreement to End Hostilities have spent over 30 years in solitary confinement under conditions that many compare to torture chambers.

 

They were placed in lockup for affiliations with the Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia, Black Gorilla Family and Nuestra Familia.

 

But men like Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Antonio Guillen should be rewarded for what they are doing now – uniting for a greater cause.

 

These men have not only become the face of a movement to end the practice of indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, but they are also stepping forward to build better relations among races inside the prison walls.

 

I am not sure if readers can fully appreciate the level of coordination, compromise, dedication and courage that it took for these men to unite in prison, especially while living in a place like solitary confinement.

 

Having experienced prison as well as solitary confinement, my fear for them is that some corrections officers, as well as some inmates resistant to change, will try to thwart peace efforts by any means they can.

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Arturo Castellanos

 

Therefore I am asking the community to support these men in any way possible. I can’t express enough how the future of race relations on the streets is dependent on the success of the Agreement to End Hostilities.

 

The minds of our youth are hardwired on what’s happening in penitentiaries across California.

 

On another note, imagine not being able to touch or hug your loved ones for 25 years, the only contact you have with family being through a one-and-half-inch thick plate of glass.

 

I’m sure these courageous men need a hug. If you have any ideas about what could be done to support them on this level, please write in.

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