Striker Solidarity: Carlos’ Story

I previously posted my support of the hunger strikers. Their demands seem pretty basic to me and noncontroversial. Wow, was I naïve.

This dude’s article – in addition to the SacBees pathetic editorial—shocked me to my core.  I understand that there are some scary dudes and shot callers in prison.  Maybe said shot callers need to be isolated from genpoppas (read: general population folks; also, I don’t have that much street cred, I do not think that is actually a term used in the joint #stilltryintobringbackthetermthejoint.)  What was wrong with the SacBee article by Morain is that it essentially amounted to an ad-hominem attack against one of the strikers, which is too easy when we are talking about someone in the SHU in Pelican Bay.  Do you really think you should get a Pulitzer for pointing out that someone in the place reserved for the worst of the worst in California’s state prisons is violent and scary?  And I have awarded JJC Pulitzers to the Onion, TMZ and BuzzFeed.

My problem with Morain’s article is that we are talking about a nonviolent social movement where people are literally (proper use of the term) starving themselves and dying for a cause, and this “journalist” does not even report what that cause is. Instead, the article reads as if the cause is to release everyone from the SHU immediately. The disappointing thing is, he is not the only one reporting on the hunger strike in a manner that is akin to a baby pooping his mother’s milk.  Is that a phrase? i.e. the prison officials just feed the media the story and they poop out this shit: big bad scary gang dudes are behind this, be scared, don’t think for yourselves, and other such diarrhea. (Compare Beard’s op-ed to this AP story.)

I am less interested in how scary these dudes are and more interested in what they are willing to die for.

Here are the stated demands of the strikers:

The Pelican Bay Five Core Demands:
1. Eliminate group punishments and administrative abuse.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recommendations and end long-term solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
5. Create and expand constructive programming.

The US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recommends some pretty basic things:

1. Make segregation a last resort and a more productive form of confinement, and stop releasing people directly from segregation to the streets. Tighten admissions criteria and safely transition people out of segregation as soon as possible. And go further: To the extent that safety allows, give prisoners in segregation opportunities to fully engage in treatment, work, study, and other productive activities, and to feel part of a community.

2. End conditions of isolation. Ensure that segregated prisoners have regular and meaningful human contact and are free from extreme physical conditions that cause lasting harm.

3. Protect mentally ill prisoners. Prisoners with a mental illness that would make them particularly vulnerable to conditions in segregation must be housed in secure therapeutic units. Facilities need rigorous screening and assessment tools to ensure the proper treatment of prisoners who are both mentally ill and difficult to control.

Dear Morain et al, which of the 5 demands and 3 recommendations do you oppose? Just curious because you forgot to mention them in your articles.

How can we discuss whether the strike is merely a political ploy by the power players in prison without evaluating what they’re asking for? It seems to me that they are not actually asking for everyone in the SHU to be released or for it even to be abolished; only that if it is used it is administered in a fair and humane way. And we are opposed to this why?

When I was researching articles on the Hunger Strike, one thing occurred to me.  I’ve read stories about how bad the strikers are (thank you Morain).  I have read stories about how bad the conditions are.  I have not read, though, a well-researched and thorough story documenting who those in the SHU are and how we know they are so dangerous today that they must endure seeing the sun four times over a period of 28 years (true story). Surely the dude in Morain’s article is a badass.  I’m more interested in the average dude in the SHU. Who is he?

Because I have a full time job and a corgi to care for,  I could not do the systematic research on this point I’d love to do.  Here, though, is just one story. Carlos’ story.

To understand Carlos’  story, you must first understand that even when prison officials agree that you are not a gang member, but are merely an “associate,” you can be placed in the SHU indefinitely. An associate is “an inmate/parolee or any person who is involved periodically or regularly with members or associates of a gang.”  Cal.Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3378(c)(4). Pretty. Fucking. Vague.

Carlos has been in the SHU since 1991—22 years, with the exception of a few years when he was let out after prison officials realized they were relying on the Cole memo horseshit to hold him there.  Carlos has been in prison since he was 17 years old for a second degree murder that he pled guilty to.  I wish I knew more about who he is and his crime, but that’s all I have. Sidebar, not only murderers are thrown in the SHU.  Gabriel Reyes, someone who is serving 25 to life for burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, has been in there for 16 years.

In prison, before officials placed Carlos in the SHU, he obtained his GED and was working toward a college degree. (Castro v. Terhune, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Case Number C98-4877 WHA, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, January 14, 2010, at p. 4.)  After several people, as part of the “debriefing” wherein these informants purportedly tell prison officials everything they know about the gangs so that they can get out of the SHU, accused Carlos of stabbing another inmate, he was thrown in the SHU.  Carlos was later exonerated of the false claim when a work supervisor told officials that Castro was in another part of the prison when the stabbing occurred.  (Id.  at p. 5).

Nevertheless, Castro remained a validated gang member, continuing to be housed in the SHU, after officials relied on a statement by the same informant who falsely accused Castro of the stabbing event. (Ibid.)  After spending 4 years in the SHU based on that informant’s statement, a statement which had been proved to be unreliable in other respects, prison officials deleted their determination that Castro was a gang associate.  Except that prison officials, much like DMV workers, make mistakes (either intentionally or unintentionally, you never really know which).  They “forgot” to delete the gang validation from Castro’s prison file. (Id. at p. 7.)

Castro was later transferred to another prison and was thrown back into the SHU because his file still stated that he was a validated gang member.  (Ibid.)

After years of litigation (the most recent Ninth Circuit opinion on his case was published April 5, 2013, he originally sought relief in the court in 1998), this is the sum total of the evidence of Castro’s gang association which the state says justifies placing him in the extreme conditions of the SHU:

(1)   a drawing, previously found in Castro’s cell, which depicted the “Shield of the Eternal Warrior” (an image commonly identified with the Mexican Mafia);

(2)   testimony of an inmate contained in a debriefing report, identifying Castro as the gang member who supervised the inmate’s portion of the prison;

(3)   a hand-drawn birthday card for a validated Mexican Mafia associate, which Castro had signed;

(4)   two drawings containing the “Mactlactlomei” symbol, which is distinctively identified with the Mexican Mafia gang; and

(5)   a statement in a second debriefing report, implicating Castro in a gang-related plot to stab an inmate.

(Castro v. Terhune (9th Cir. 2013) 712 F.3d 1304, 1309.)

Here are the problems with 1-5:

First, interestingly, after Carlos won his procedural claim, the prison officials said ok well we are going to see if you are a gang associate startinnnnnng…… NOW! They raid his cell and find items he claims were planted.  Good luck getting anyone to believe that. Dear Carlos, I believe you. Anyway, here are other reasons that 1-5 suck:

1)      The drawing was at least 2 years old, even assuming that having a drawing of a “Shield of the Eternal Warrior” means you are a gang associate;

2)      This statement was 4-5 years old at the time the court reviewed whether it justified throwing Castro in the SHU;

3)      It’s a fucking birthday card. Jesus. Enough said.

4)      4.5 years old.

5)      10 years old.

(See Castro v. Terhune, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Case Number 11-16837, Plaintiff-Appellant Carlos Castro Opening Brief, at p. 35 (#3 is not a quote, it is my legal analysis.))

We can surely debate whether Carlos should be in the SHU.  I have omitted much of the injustice in his story including how little due process he was afforded, how he had to fight like hell for decades to enjoy the due process the constitution entitles him to, and how heartbreakingly gutwrentching (phrase?) it is that his person who was only a baby when he committed a terrible crime has been locked in a bathroom with little to no human contact, healthy food, or sunlight because of a birthday card he signed, allegations by people who have a vested and very real interest in lying about him, and the possession of a Mexican themed drawing.

Dear investigative journalists out there: I am a lawyer not a journalist. You do your job, I’ll do mine. Investigate how many Carloses there are. Don’t just take the big bad prison management dude’s word for it.

Dear JJC readers: never stop talking about the injustice you see.  Here is a quote from Carlos: “for while one voice alone might be like a raindrop in the ocean, one million or one hundred million voices together are like a thunderous bolt in the sky.”  Let’s start a fucking storm. #strikersolidarity.


Published by Jenny Brandt

About Me: sociology, african american studies, chicano/a studies, critical race studies, and criminal law scholar. public school kid from kindergarten-J.D. Former public defender. I am a post-conviction guru. Appeals. Sentencing. Withdraw Pleas. Habeas. Published author in the Criminal Law Bulletin and California Defender. "I do it for the joy it brings, because I'm a joyful girl, because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world." Why I started JJC: My PD buddy suggested it. What and who JJC is inspired by: public defenders I have worked for, with, and next to. my clients who have battled things no one should and are still here. innocence and guilt and everything in between. My coworkers, who fight just as hard as the PDs I love, for many of the same reasons. My husband who was once voted "most Christ like" (every Jewish girl's dream). My Corgi who loves everyone. The constitution. Tabloids. My mom, for giving me a voice. My dad, for teaching me what to say. My brother, for teaching me how to say it.

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