Saturday, August 18, 2012

Will I have to stop visiting Bryan?

Aug 18, 2012 Letter to Bryan:

Dear Bryan,

Greetings, my dear, dear friend! I hope this finds you well. I am in exceptionally good spirits today as I have again had the pleasure of dealing with CDCR visiting staff and by extension IGI, who served up a big plate of “run around” with a side order intimidation. To which I responded know me.... “kill them with kindness”.... so I guess you can say I provided the dessert. :-)

Anyway, there is a lot to fill you in on, but upfront I want you to know that you should TAKE NO ACTION to remove me from your visit list UNTIL you receive a postcard from me specifically directing you to do so. I have an agreement here in WA and I want to be sure they fulfill their side of our bargain BEFORE you remove my name from your visit list. Be assured that I will be able to continue to correspond with you....that is one of my requests and our Intelligence & Investigations (like your IGI) has no problem with that.... I just want to get it in writing!

So, where to begin? Well, back when we first began corresponding and then visiting, you indicated your willingness to step back if anything ever got in the way of my life in WA. A simple explanation is that I caught a DOC worker violating policy (who knows I visit you in CA – yeah, the blog!) and when I reported it he got mad and raised a red flag that I “may” be passing information in code between you and an inmate in WA. He then began to take it upon himself to call IGI down there and investigate me by reading my facebook page, etc....despite his admission to me that he had no authorization to do so.

That raised enough of a red flag so that our I & I and your IGI were all in a tizzy. The first thing they did was suspend my visits with Todd (my fiance), which occurred on June 27, 2012. Seven weeks now.

After three weeks of trying to figure out what this was all about and another three weeks of working my way up the chain of command trying to resolve my suspension, at last I began to speak with Tim Thrasher, our DOC Chief of Investigative Operations at Headquarters (who knows me from other matters... I go to conferences where DOC leaders are also in attendance) . In order to simplify I&I's investigation and to fast track the return of my visits, I offered to take my name off your visit list....Tim agreed with this.... he said letters are easy to monitor, and appreciated my offer to not visit. Bryan, you should know that it is not a violation of DOC policy to visit inmates in other states, and there is nothing wrong with my visiting you, I just offered it to simplify things here. Again, don't take me off your list until I send you a postcard... I want to put our “agreement” in writing so there are no “after the fact” changes. :-)

Just know that we are at the very end of this suspension and there are several very good outcomes:

1. Supt. Neiland (DOC's version of a warden) now has a clear understanding of the totality of my situation, (unlike any other person at our facility level) and it has been suggested that she “take me under her protective wing”. If I let her know whenever I have any problems, then she can intercede on my behalf BEFORE things get out of hand, as in this instance. That's the idea anyway, I'll know more after our meeting this week.

2. Todd and I are to be married soon! Our marriage packet is all approved, the license, ring, minister all in order... in fact, this suspension interfered with our original date of July 26. Supt. Neiland should get us back on track! Again, I'll know more after our meeting this upcoming week.

3. You and I can continue to correspond, and of course our next annual visit isn't scheduled til May 2013 anyway, so who knows? To be on the safe side, let's just say I'll be hugging you upon your release from prison. WHOA...isn't that a cool thought !?!


PS I tried to call your mom today and left a message; I try to call her every so often. It makes me happy to talk to her, I feel close to you and I know she enjoys our conversations....mostly we gossip about you.... LOL

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bryan's picture and color pastel artwork

Greetings Everyone!~

It has been one year since the Pelican Bay/CDCR Hunger Strike ended (the first one) and I would like to begin blogging again.

Bryan and I have been writing a lot and both tending to the task of getting through each day.  Some friends have encouraged me to post to this blog again so we can share the happenings of Bryan's life.  And my life.

 Although the major requests for changes at CDCR are slowly going through the process, this blog is about Bryan and his quality of life.  Here is how Bryan's life is better one year later.

1.  Bryan's former youth pastor, Laura, found Bryan through this blog last year and began writing to him.  As she is from his home area in Texas, she has been sending pictures of home, etc.  This past weekend she visited with Bryan !!!! Thank you Laura, perhaps you can send me an email with a post for this blog?  A guest submission so everyone can hear about Bryan and your visit?

2.  Bryan qualified to have a picture of himself taken after 16 years (allowing SHU prisoners photos was a concession won during the hunger strike) and it was sent to his family and friends.  I will post it at the end of this entry.

3.  Bryan qualified for color pens and pastels, another concession CDCR offered to end the first hunger strike.   He was limited for the last 20 years to only doing pictures with pen and ink.  He did the Butterfly for me and the Blue Jay for his mother.  They are posted at the end of this entry.  Feel free to copy and use them.... they make nice cards.

4.  In May 2012, I had some very bad family news and since there was nothing I could do here, I drove to Pelican Bay to spend some time with Bryan.  Our visits aren't always about me cheering him up, in this situation he was the kind of friend who just listened and comforted me.  It was also great to spend the weekend with several of the wives who were in Crescent City to visit with their husbands in the SHU.  Their love and understanding was the salve I needed to move forward.

Here is the Butterfly he drew for me with colored pens and pastels.

Here is the Blue Bird he drew for his mother with colored pens and pastels . 

Bryan - he is 39 years old and has been in solitary confinement in the Pelican Bay SHU, Short Corridor for 16 years.  He is one of the original group that began a small hunger strike there in July 2011. The July 2011 strike grew to 6,600 prisoners  and the second hunger strike in September grew to  over 12,000 world wide.

This is the first picture in 16 years he has been able to provide to his family and friends.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The memo signed by CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan and the mediators

Bryan sent me his copy of the memo that was distributed to the men as proof that a settlement had been reached and the hunger strike was over.  It is the document agreed to by the Prisoner Representatives and then signed by the mediation team..

It is not a CDCR memo, per se, but a summation of conversations. Attorney Carol Strickman spoke with many staffers about the proposed changes that were in the works and saw a document of about 35 pages across the table that they said had the specifics...she did not actually review it, just saw it from across the table.  She then asked if she could write a summary of the things she was told that were "in the works" and present that for signatures.  CDCR Undersecretary Kernan agreed.  So this document was created by Carol, reviewed by the Prisoner Representatives and then signed off by the 4 mediators and CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan.  Note the "acknowledged & agreed" hand written after his signature

This is the document that was presented to Bryan and the other hunger strikers to convince them to come off the hunger strike.  You can see the number 192 showing through on page two.  That is because they wrote his cell number, 192, in magic marker on the memo so it would be distributed to his cell.  Bryan and the 4 other hunger strikers from Pelican Bay housed in his area were a bit concerned because there were no signatures of Prisoner Representatives, but reasoned that all those attorneys, who are known and respected by all the prisoners, probably wouldn't have signed it if it wasn't OK.  But just to be sure, CDCR pulled the four of the five prisoners from Pelican Bay SHU currently staying at Corcoran ASU to conference (# 5 was in the hospital).  One of the 4 was a Prisoner Representative and confirmed that he took that phone call reviewing the document and had agreed to it.  That was Thursday, Oct. 13.  Bryan was enjoying a bologna sandwich by 9 pm that night.  He described it as "20 minutes of heaven", which is how long it took him to get it down.

Speaking of Kernan, he just retired after 30 years with CDCR .... according to this interview,  under the terms of his contract, 30 years of service means he qualifies for 90% of his annual pay...each year, for the rest of his life.  The article says he is 50 years do the math.

I'm hoping that CDCR doesn't use his retirement as a way to wiggle out of honoring this agreement.  That's why it is so important for family and friends of prisoners and ALL the citizens of the world to keep the pressure on CDCR and Governor Brown to follow through with the agreements spelled out in the document below:

Angels on the Inside

In an attempt to see if Bryan had been sent back to Pelican Bay, I determined that he is still at Corcoran.  I spoke with his counselor, the CDCR employee who has been assigned to handle his paperwork, programs and other items.  He takes the time to tell Bryan when I call, which always comes as a surprise to Bryan.  That tells me so much about what life is like in the SHU, that something so simple would be so noteworthy.

Throughout my conversation with his Corcoran counselor today it was very clear to me that he  had no idea how exceptionally wonderful Bryan felt about going to yard outside, in the sun.  When I told him that for 16 years Bryan has been going alone to a cement area smaller than a shipping container, he seemed surprised.  This man also thought it was very strange when I inquired if Bryan was getting mail. When I explained  that mail was withheld at PB during the hunger strike, he again expressed surprise and asked," Why would they do that?"  When I suggested the reason might be retaliation for going on hunger striking again, it was almost as if he couldn't believe it. I think what happens at Pelican Bay SHU is outside the awareness of many, many, CDCR employees statewide.  I can hardly fault them, none of us knew.

I must say that although the situation at Pelican Bay SHU is most desperate, so bleak as to have hundreds, even thousands choose to hunger strike to the death, that there are persons involved here and there who have a bit of compassion.  These CDCR employees somehow see past the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) propaganda which paints Bryan and men like him as animals, deserving of the most despised treatment.

I just now am remembering that Bryan's Pelican Bay counselor did him the same kindness back in July.  Just after Bryan returned from his hospital stay to Crescent City on 7-26, she made a special effort to go and tell him that I had called and informed him that I would visit him the upcoming Saturday.  What ever the reason, I am grateful for it. Bryan even more so. Perhaps it because we rallied to reveal the conditions of the SHU that CDCR employees are also seeing the situation for what it is.
Since May, I have had the opportunity to visit with CDCR employees, usually related to their official capacity.  But when I was staying in Crescent City this summer, more that once did someone to talk to me about the situation in an informal the man who approached me in a Crescent City restaurant to say he was a CO on the Pelican Bay main line (regular part of the prison).  He said that he and many COs at Pelican Bay don't like what goes on in the SHU and were supportive of the hunger strike.  When I asked him how he knew who I was....he said, "I read your blog, many of us do."  How about that!?!

The first blog related event that Bryan shared with me was from July.  On  Day 13 of the first hunger strike he was at medical for some test or another and a CDCR employee asked him, "Are you Bryan?".  Bryan was stunned!  Bryan is his middle name, no one knows him by that name at CDCR except friends.  At our very next visit he told me about it and stated,"Julie, that had your fingerprints all over it."  We had a good laugh about the effectiveness of maintaining a blog.

So to all the CDCR employees who read this blog, I thank you for the small kindnesses you do for the prisoners as you go about your duties.  It means more to the men and their families than you will every know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A letter from Bryan - written 10/13 thru 10/16

The hunger strike ended on Thursday, 10/13.  I just got a letter from Bryan today written 10/13 thru 10/16 and mailed Monday.  Delivered in 4 days!

He has this message for everyone:

Please let it be known out there how deeply appreciative everyone is.
   Without all the pressure y'all put on Sacramento and the overwhelming way in which everyone very publicly rejected CDCr's propaganda of "worst of the worst" and demanded that we were/are much more than the crimes we've been convicted of or prison gang labels, this never would've been achieved.

I think
that's even fundamentally changed the way even many of us in here see ourselves now.  We've all collectively shattered 30-35 years of CDCr status quo in 3 months.  We should be proud of that.  Not necessarily with the material gains (though it/they definitely make SHU life better) but proud of truly exposing the inherently wrong and unjust policies of how gang validation is implemented, maintained and ultimately abused by way of keeping men forever housed in solitary confinement.

Other things Bryan shared in the letter:

He lost 35 lbs and was 145 lbs at the lowest.

He is doing well, he said one man he knew of was actually hospitalized "due to his labs being so out of whack." (blood tests)

As of the 16th, they 
are all medically released so he said they will take the bus back to PB together.  He expects to be at PB this week, by the time I got this letter.

From the sounds of his letter,  PB SHU guys think the ASU (administrative segregation unit) at Corcoran was like a vacation (relatively).  One must remember that Bryan has been in solitary confinement for 16 years, only leaving the windowless cement cell to go to a slightly larger cement room with a cover over it to "exercise".  Always alone, never experiencing the grass, birds, or the sun directly.  16 years!

While at Corcoran ASU for medical supervision and treatment, Bryan and the men from the Pelican Bay SHU had a chance to experience things they haven't for decades.  For instance, rather than a cement space to exercise, they went to "yard" in wire cages similar to dog kennels.  They each had their own cage (with a toilet in it!) and each cage was separated by 2-3 feet so they could SEE each other.. to quote Bryan...

"Going out there was pure BLISS, Julie.  Three straight hours of sun in 85 to 90 degree clear Central Valley farm land weather.  My buddy was out there a few cages down and I don't think we stopped smiling one time.  I have no doubt that as we stood there in our boxers soaking up the sun chatting about how fantastic it was and how cool it would be to do our time here, that ALL of our neighbors in the other cages think we're zip damn nuts."

Geesh, you think he was writing from Acapulco.  I guess it's all relative.

He said he wished he could stay at Corcoran... "They run this ASU with a lot of professionalism and don't seem to carry that weird disdainful attitude that seems ever present at PBSP.  Everyone just seems like they're simply doing their job... minus that "you're an animal" edge.

Anyway, that's the Bryan report


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mail Call - I got a letter from Bryan !

I sent mail to Bryan the other day....
Saturday 10-15-11

Dear Bryan,
My dear friend! I hope this letter finds you on the mend and feeling proud and happy about all that has been accomplished. I am still walking around in a daze of wonder. I knew that you were not at PB on Wednesday, even before you arrived at Corcoran – I have my ways! Early Thursday morning, I tracked you down at ASU-1 and called Mr. Gonzales, but he was in committee with the other counselors. I was told to try again in late afternoon so I met a friend for coffee. (yum, coffee...won't it be nice to get your coffee back?)

Anyway, the funniest thing happened when I learned the strike was over. I was contacted almost immediately after the mediators signed the memo and I had to dash home to get the phone number for ASU-1. When Mr. Gonzales answered (he was very nice), after brief introductions and an explanation that I was calling about you, I said, “Have you heard the news?” Pause. “What news?” Pause. “That the hunger strike is over?” Long pause. I continued, “I was going to ask several questions, but they have all changed with this new development”. He said, “Why don't you go ahead and ask your questions?” I began going down the list, Is Bryan there? (yes), How is he doing? (fine), etc. 

Suddenly, he gets very excited and says, “someone just handed me a memo”, and he just started reading it out loud to me. It appeared to be the memo that they got telling them that the HS was over with instructions to give the hunger strikers the attached papers, 1. the memo signed by the mediators and 2. a document about how to resume eating safely after a hunger strike. Bryan, I think he learned that the HS ended at that moment, while we were on the phone together. I could hear surprise, relief and even happiness in his voice.

After that sunk in, I resumed asking my questions – ”Can Bryan get mail, paper/stamps, visits?” Yes! Yes! Yes! I ended by asking if he would let you know I called. Yes! How about that !?!?!

Today, I got an email from Debbie with their phone number; I immediately called her and she put Pops on the phone. Bryan, I liked him and I think he liked me...we talked for 10-15 minutes about everything that has happened. He is soooo happy that you are OK and looks forward to coming to see you. He just had a checkup and other than being told to lose some weight, he is fine. He is going to fill out the visit form so everything is in place when the opportunity to visit you presents itself. I'm not even sure if you will be sent back to PB or stay at Corcoran. So he's just going to get the paperwork going. How about that !?!?!

You will be very proud of me. Upon hearing you could get visits, I looked up flights from Seattle to Bakersfield (about $500) and had to stop myself and laugh. Of course, including hotel and rental car, that is too expensive, but for the moment I could imagine the look on your face as I strolled into the Corcoran visiting area. Ha ha ha If money were no object, I would already be there. As it is, once you settle in somewhere, there will be plenty of time to schedule a visit. Until then, you will be very busy reading your mail after it all catches up with you. Well, I'm out of room on my large sized postcard. Bye for now. 

Your devoted friend,


When I checked my PO Box, there was a letter from Bryan written on 10-8-11, postmarked in Crescent City, CA 10-12-11, received in Settle, WA on 10-17-11.  It took 9 Days.  About average.

Mail into prison moves slowly.  After I write a letter and post it via US Postal Service, it arrives in the prison mail room to be searched for contraband and other innocent items that are not allowed. After the mail room is finished, SHU prisoners have an additional step...mail goes to the Institutional Gang Investigators who look for secret codes and other things related to gang issues.  Then it is delivered to Bryan. When he writes to me, that process is reversed... Bryan, IGI, mail room, USPS then to me.

Postcards don't need to be searched for contraband and get delivered much faster.

Most discouragingly, anytime they want to retaliate against prisoners, individually or collectively, they will hold the mail and not let it through.  For instance, during this second hunger strike (Sept 26-Oct 13), they completely cut all mail that was sent to hunger strikers.  In Bryan's latest letter he says there has been no mail delivered to them since Sept 23.  

Conversely, I have gotten three letters from Bryan since the hunger strike began...(written on 9/27-received on 10/7) (written on 10/1-received on 10/11) (written on 10/8-received on 10-17)

Here is a scan of the mail room restrictions from Pelican Bay.  I have never had anything rejected or removed by the mail room.

IGI has only stopped one of my letters.  When this happened, Bryan got a notice that a piece of mail was stopped.  I also received a notice that my mail was stopped "pending Investigation" (see the form below) I never heard anything else, so the investigators must have not found anything.  Bryan could have just requested it be mailed back to me at his own expense (see the DISPOSITION section) but we didn't think of that...he preferred to have a hearing to find out why they were investigating information in the letter.  

He filed a 602 (grievance) and got a hearing about the letter.  At that hearing (about a month later?)  IGI told him that I was "discussing an inmate in Washington State"  I probably was telling Bryan a story about Greg, who is in a WA prison.  I rarely refer to Greg for this very reason, and only in the most general terms...I can't even remember what I wrote.  Note the IGI #1 handwritten on the 1st rejection...


Saturday, October 15, 2011

He leads by example

My heart is so full.  After experiencing a spiritual or personal milestone, I must retreat to a quiet place and process all that has happened.  

To sit quietly with the monumental reality.          
To allow the joy of the moment to soak into my soul.    
To pray and express my gratitude to the Eternal Source of Love. 

Thursday, I needed to reflect upon why things unfolded as they did.  What was it about the choice of a hunger strike that made this amazing change actually happen?  Why was I drawn so strongly to accompany Bryan on this journey?  Why was it so important to me to be present to him, to be a witness of his humanity and sacrifice as he put his life on the line for the common good?

It is because Bryan exemplifies spiritual humility and therefore embodies spiritual power.

Political power is the power to influence others through coercion.  It is the power to hire and fire, to punish, to imprison, even to kill.  Or to threaten such things.  Political power has nothing to do with wisdom or benevolence.  It resides solely in money or position.  This is why it is often referred to as temporal power, because these things are temporary.  They can be stripped away overnight.

Spiritual power is the power to influence others through one's own being -- by example, by kindness, by humor, by wisdom and love.  It is exercised at least as often by the poor as the wealthy, by the lowly as the high and mighty.  Indeed, its hallmark is humility.  The more spiritually powerful people become, the more aware they are that their power is a gift from God and has little, if anything, to do with their achievements -- that it is not theirs, but God's power acting through them.  And usually they are surprised by the extent of their influence for the good.

                                                               ~ M. Scott Peck,  A World Waiting to be Born

Political power is not inherently bad, it is just temporary; it can be given, it can be taken away.  Political power is a matter of externals and spiritual power a matter of what is within.  Spiritual power it can never be taken away.  

This is why CDCR moved the 11 representatives, their 2 cellies and Bryan to Ad Seg.  The representatives are examples of spiritual humility and power and they also hold political power, bestowed upon then by the men who chose them as representatives.  It was important for CDCR to separate them from the others, to cut off that tie.

But why Bryan?  Bryan is not a representative, he has no political power.  However, he is the embodiment of humility, commitment and willingness to sacrifice.  It was his ability to lead by example that made him so dangerous to CDCR.  And it was important that he also be separated from the others.  I don't know if CDCR knew why they needed to separate him from the men, but I did.  I knew exactly why he was moved to AdSeg, he possesses the ability to influence because he has spiritual power.

People are drawn to those who are like Bryan, it is his pure example that draws us to him.  Bryan doesn't use the construct of God to express his spirituality, I do.  Nevertheless, what I saw in him is a universal truth.  I was drawn to be with him and ease his suffering in any way I could from behind glass and in letters.  And in being present, I was a witness to all that I have described above...what a blessing.  Thursday, I witnessed a miracle.  Through out this entire hunger strike, we were all witnesses to a miracle.