The empire is falling (the ceremony of innocence is drowned)
by Black Captain
California not only keeps more prisoners in solitary than any other US state, it also treats them more harshly — because so many are gang “associates” rather than full members — and holds them for longer. In the words of a class action lawsuit working its way through the federal courts, the state is an “outlier in this country and in the civilized world.” At Pelican Bay alone, about 500 prisoners have been in solitary for more than 10 years. (The prison houses about 3,000 inmates, one-third of them in “security housing.”) About 90 have been in isolation for more than 20 years, and one prisoner has been on his own for 43 years and counting.
Usually, the only way out of solitary is to “debrief” — in other words, for a prisoner to tell the authorities everything he knows about his gang connections. But debriefing is fraught with problems. Bona fide gang members face all kinds of risks from their fellow prisoners once they turn snitch, so they tend to keep quiet. And many of those labeled gang “associates” — 78 percent of the total at Pelican Bay, according to official records from 2011 — have little or no information to offer in the first place.
Take Gabriel Reyes, one of the class action plaintiffs, who was originally convicted of housebreaking and sentenced under California’s draconian three strikes law. He was thrown into solitary 17 years ago, based on the mere fact that he was seen exercising with known gang members. Since then, everything from his tattoos to his Mexican-themed artwork has been held against him as evidence of gang association. He has not hugged his daughters in two decades, since they were in preschool, a startling deprivation for a man without a violent record. Some time ago, Reyes described to his lawyers how he and his fellow inmates were ready to “explode.”