Letter to the Editor

Dear [Pioneer Newspaper]:
Recently The Pioneer published two articles in its October 17, 2013 issue that really caught my attention. These two articles, in particular, are important to two large California communities – students and prisoners – that are viewed by many as polar opposites.

The articles I am referring to are “Occupy Members Commemorate Oakland’s 2nd Anniversary” (Front page), and “Education vs. Incarceration” (Opinion, p. 2). Both articles have a common thread – incarceration.

Metro Editor, Kaliva Morgan, does a spectacular job covering the Occupy movement and its “protest for better human rights standards” in regard to the 30,000+ California state prisoners who participated in the July 2013 hunger strike.

The “group punishment” and “administrative abuse” in prison, that Morgan discusses, extends beyond active and inactive prisoner gang status.

I know this first-hand because I was threatened with being “validated” as a gang associate by San Quentin prison’s Institution Gang Investigation (IGI), even though I have never had ties to gang activity.

In the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), one can be placed in solitary confinement indefinitely, simply for possessing the “wrong” book, reading the wrong book, or for writings that are deemed inflammatory because they voice an atypical political ideology. I have been accused of violating these “underground regulations.” (See the California Administrative Procedures Act, under Government Code, section 11340 et seq.)

As one IGI officer told me: “Every book George Jackson has read, you have read.” Another said to me: “Just because you can write as you do, it doesn’t mean you should.” I read self-censorship in the latter statement.

Many do not know that African American history is considered “gang indicia” in the CDCR. A prisoner must be cautious about reading books by Huey Newtgon and George Jackson; or Sun Tzu’s, Art of War; Che Guevera’s, Guerilla Warfare; Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung (The Little Red Book); books about the Black Panther Party, or any material prison administrators deem dangerous, subversive, or a “threat to the safety and security of the institution.” (See California Code of Regulations, Title 15, section 3270)

Studying certain material is how some prisoners wind up in solitary confinement. It is a means of silencing voices of dissent, through intellectual castration, and it is all legal.

The Occupy story about former Iranian captive Sarah Shourd is also on point. I know this because I met her husband, Shane Bauer. He visited San Quentin prison earlier this year, in January (See the February 2013 issue of San Quentin News at www.sanquentinnews.com).

The facts about solitary confinement at the end of the Occupy article were also informative for readers who do not know the truth about what is happening in our nation’s prisons. As it is often repeated in prison: “Abuse takes place in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay because it has been taking place here!”

Michael Pacia’s opinion piece, “Education vs. Incarceration,” is latent with accurate facts and statistics about the U.S. prison system. Sadly, he is correct with his statement “the lifetime likelihood of African American men going to prison is nearly twice as high as their getting a college degree.”

In his 1970 book, Soledad Brother, George Jackson’s words then, are just as relevant today, where he wrote:

“Blackmen born in the U.S. and fortunate enough to live to the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison. For many of us it looms as the next phase in a sequence of humiliations… I was prepared for prison. It required only minor psychic adjustments.”

I believe the media has a responsibility to inform the public about what is happening. With that said, I must also commend Managing Editor, Yousuf Fahimuddin, for is piece “Local Afghan Residents Find Closure for 4,785 Dead.” The plight of Afghans is of no less importance than any other oppressed people around the world.

The Pioneer is covering a wide spectrum of newsworthy stories locally, nationally, and around the world. Thank you for such well-balanced, factual articles. It is clear that your writers have done their homework.

Kevin D. Sawyer