Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A look back at the letter I sent Bryan after our very first visit

I was going through my computer files and found a letter I wrote to Bryan that wasn't hand-written, but saved in a document.  It was the letter I sent right after our very first visit in September 2010, reflecting on my favorite parts of our first in-person conversation.  This is a fun look down memory lane and evidence of the power of a visit in experiencing the humanity of a prisoner in the Pelican Bay SHU.

Dear Bryan,                                        10-10-10

OMG..... a coffee crisis????  Hopefully by the time you get this you will be enjoying a mug.  Yes, I was exhausted by the whirlwind trip, but was all worth it. I always plan recovery time into my schedule just after a major road trip.   

Bryan, I had an absolute blast hanging out with you for the weekend.  You are really fun and as you have learned, I like to reach out into unconventional places and find treasures where others might not choose to look.  And you, Bryan, are a real treasure !!

One of the best things about meeting face to face is that I can now write to you in a more relaxed style.  We spoke about letters being hard to communicate in because things can be misinterpreted.  I have heard that up to 70 % of communication is non-verbal, meaning inflection, facial expression, even what people wear can tell you something about what they are trying to “say”.  In just one meeting, so many unknowns have been answered and a foundation of trust established for our future friendship.  Little things, like what you look like and how I sound and big things, like our senses of humor, our fears and hopes.  So..... you have to put the smiley faces back into your letters.  I miss them terribly.  Please  bring them back as you will.  I love all the emoticons you shared with me... I’m not cool, I didn’t know about most of them.

Back to our visit.... some of my favorite moments:

What you said that made me laugh the hardest:  When you told me about how you take your Sunday breakfast menu items, mix them all up with peaches and mayonnaise and spread them onto your bread into a “breakfast sandwich”.  Ughhh... you are such a “guy”.  LOL

What I remember saying that made you laugh the hardest:  When I was asking you about the kind of things the men in your pod might ask you about our visit, you said things like “how was your visit”, “have a good time?”, etc.  I shared with you about a visit involving bacon cheeseburgers that resulted in a friend asking if it would be ok to smell that yummy bacon-scented breath.  I remember that had you laughing so hard you pulled the phone away from your mouth out of consideration of my hearing.   

The thing you said that gave me the most to think about on my drive home:
“You are the first woman other than my mom and sister that I have seen in a long, long time.”  At first this seemed very straight forward, but then I pondered that it only was said at the end of day two.  As I thought about that I realized that on day one I had to get my XL white t-shirt and gray sweats to wear as a back up because I had worn blue jeans.  So basically, I was wearing my pajamas, and pretty drab ones at that.  Interestingly, on day one it was easy to just focus on getting to know each other, I was a visual blank slate, or at least as “blank” as a woman like me can get!  LOL  Then on day two, you noticed my attire almost right away.  Probably not fair of me to wear pink, my best color!  

Bryan, it is ok to enjoy the “girliness” of me.  When I was a Red Cross volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, wounded soldiers just days off the battlefield would hold my hand and just look at me.  One told me that he loved to smell me, that when he smelled my perfume, he knew he was home and safe.  Sometime the feminine should just be enjoyed for what it is and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything untoward or overly sexual to comment about the female qualities that I bring into your world.  I kind of expect that when I interact with men in prison or the military and I assume the most benign intentions until a person proves something else.  So if you have any questions, just ask.  But, you may get a totally nonsensical, overly detailed answer, like when I told you how foils are used to dye hair.  :-)   Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Nice things I can say about the CDC Staff:
The visiting room staff was friendly and professional, and tried to make the screening process easy, even if I had to run out to my car three times the first day - all my own fault, of course.  
(1) I had to go get more clothes to replace my jeans, then (2) I had to return the jeans to the car and (3)  I had to go back to look up your CDC number when I filled out my form because I didn’t have it memorized.  

A nice thing you told me about CDC staff: was that on day two when we were in booth 7, that the staff apologized to you about taking so long to get you out, saying that they were understaffed and doing the best they could.  As they walked by with inmates going to booths down the line I could tell they were doing their best.

Worst thing about the trip:  That Damn Fog Horn!!!!!  Every 10 seconds, all night long !!!!

The thing I wished I had explained more about when we were together:
I wish I could have explained further about why I looked into your eyes and said,” Promise me trouble won’t follow me home”.  We kind of skirted around that issue and by the time I felt I could talk about it, it was the end of day two and there really didn’t seem to be time or a need to explore that further.  But I want to explain a bit more because from my perspective, it feels like the only unresolved conversation from our visit.  Plus we can get to know each other better.  Please assume the best of me as I try to get out my thought process down here.... in hind-site, it is pretty funny what I was thinking and what the facts turned out to be....

Remember, I had done some research about Pelican Bay, watched some videos on YouTube and chatted on with people about gangs, the hole, etc.  I kind of thought that maybe you were this AB kingpin who could snap your fingers and reign terror down upon me and the motley crew that I know from the facility I visit -- who are a mish-mash of psychotics, SOs, debriefers and other “special” prisoners. - I am friends with their mothers and sisters.    I understand that the sensors at your facility will be looking at everything we write or say for hidden codes and I should be careful about what I share.  But my thinking was that I should be careful about what I shared with you, that you might learn something that compelled you to followup on my innocent ramblings.  

I can just feel you and your Gang Investigations censors all cringing at this point... relax... this was a misconception on my part.  

Of course, Bryan, I learned so much more about you, the hole, gangs, debriefing and your Pelican Bay world during the visit and understand that you were worried that your Gang Investigations might call back to WA state and cause me trouble.  Don’t worry about the CDC calling WA DOC, there’s no trouble to find.  And of course my misconceptions about fearing you are now resolved :-D

And here’s a final thought:
Thank you for telling me about the SHU and how and why people are there.  I now understand that the purpose is to get you to debrief...and here are my thoughts on that:

I have no opinion about what you should do about all that Bryan, I am your friend and support you because you are Bryan.  That holds true whether you never leave Pelican Bay because you have nothing of value to say or choose not to say what you might know or if you just refuse to talk about anything in protest of the system of indefinite SHU.  But I will also support you if you choose to debrief....because if you could figure out a way out of there you could take me to lunch eventually....but that’s just selfish of me, isn’t  it?   LOL   ;-)

Til next time,

0 :-)  I like the “angel”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pictures of the rally at the Sacramento Hearing on conditions in the SHU

We were all in Sacramento
to tell the TRUTH about TORTURE in California Prisons.

Wives & Husbands - Moms & Dads - Brothers & Sisters - Children
Formerly Incarcerated - Friends - Activists - Supporters - Attorneys - Experts
Members of the Public

Sacramento, CA   August 23, 2011

Rally on the Steps of the Capital

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, addressing the crowd.

Family members, formerly incarcerated and supporters all spoke.

Signs and Banners created by supporters

Thanks to Virginia for the pictures  :-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Article from about Bryan and me

“Give Us in Here the Strength to See This Thing Through”: A Chronicle of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike
August 17, 2011
by Sal Rodriguez

In March 2010, Julie Tackett, a Seattle-based activist inspired by her religious faith, began exchanging letters with Bryan, an inmate in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. Neither could have anticipated the astonishing direction their correspondence would take.

Bryan has been in solitary confinement in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) for 16 of 21 years he has been in prison, for a crime committed when he was a teenager.  Determined “not to let the place crush him,” Bryan learned Spanish and German while in lockdown, and has kept himself busy over the years through artwork, writing a novel, and having international pen pals. He has described his life as a “quiet small Japanese garden.”

Bryan’s extended placement in solitary is a result of his being named 16 years ago by various anonymous inmates as a gang member. This “debriefing” process requires that inmates effectively “snitch” on other inmates and reveal gang activity in return for a release from solitary. Many inmates implicated by this process, including Bryan, were never written up for or noted to have any gang affiliation whatsoever either in or out of the prison. Yet once they are “validated” as gang members and placed in the SHU, they are likely to live out the rest of their sentences in solitary confinement. Every six years, a review process examines validated inmates’ status. According to Bryan, in 2008 his cell was searched, and officials found a drawing and poetry done by a validated gang member; prison officials also accused Bryan of writing a card and sending it to a validated gang member, although the card was never produced. Based on these incidents, Bryan was condemned to another six years in solitary.
In Bryan’s own words regarding his placement in extended solitary:

I take full personal responsibility for being a young violent prisoner who got myself thrown in the SHU.  I make NO excuses nor do I try to blame others or justify my actions.  But it has to be recognized that my validation as a gang member was based solely on the confidential debriefing reports of inmates who could no longer continue to suffer under these condition of perpetual isolation in solitary confinement. There is no individual accountability under the current CDCR policies.  I have now been in solitary confinement for over a decade, not based on a CDCR rules violation but rather for a false label put on myself by inmate informants broken under SHU conditions.  Now in the ultimate form of group punishment I am to be housed in solitary confinement, not based on my actions but based on this gang label.

Initially, Julie and Bryan corresponded about once a month. Julie said she was unprepared for what she learned of the hellish circumstances that had been Bryan’s life a decade and a half. In May 2010, Bryan first told Julie about his placement in the Secure Housing Unit:

I’ve been in the SHU for 15 years (solitary confinement) and as you can imagine, one either comes to know his/her self or breaks.  I have my ups and downs just like everyone else but I “freed” my mind years ago.  So I actively reach out to the “world” and try to stay engaged through my writing.

In the May 2010 letter, Bryan also revealed that in the 15 years of incarceration at Pelican Bay, he had only had two familial visits—his family lives in Texas, where he grew up. Upon learning this, Julie decided to visit Bryan in September of 2010.  She recalled that she found Bryan to be, in person, just as he was in his letters and postcards: very intelligent, spiritual, good-humored, thoughtful, and an excellent conversationalist. Over time, the soft-spoken, reserved Bryan would become more open, and Julie would describe her in-person meetings with Bryan as very animated, often delving into esoteric topics, and very enjoyable.

In May 2011, Bryan indicated to Julie that there would be a hunger strike in the Pelican Bay SHU beginning July 1:

You know me well enough to know that I am in NO WAY suicidal, nor do I wish to harm myself in any way.  But collectively we feel as though we are already dead under these conditions of extreme isolation and deprivation.  I’m personally willing to go to this extreme in order to prove my desire to live.  This is not life Julie…period.  We are here for one reason only, our refusals to debrief. I’ve had no serious write ups in almost a decade.  I have friends here who have 20-25 years in clean.  Why are we here?  Because we’re “labeled” as gang members?  What about the other 100,000 labeled gang members on Cal. main lines? 

Bryan then asked Julie to serve as his “monitor” during the hunger strike. Up to this point, Bryan hadn’t told his family what life was really like in the SHU, instead reassuring them over the years that he was doing fine and keeping himself busy. Julie and Bryan agreed to share news of the hunger strike with his family, and a mutual understanding was established.

Julie made the decision to drive the 500 miles from Seattle to Pelican Bay, just south of the Oregon-California border. She would remain there from June 24th through the end of the hunger strike. Striking a tent in a campground a mile outside Crescent City, California, Julie embedded herself in a growing support network. Over the next several weeks, she would meet and befriend family members of hunger strikers, supporters, and even sympathetic correctional officers. She would also maintain a blog, called “My Brother’s Keeper,” detailing her experiences and sharing excerpts from her correspondence with Bryan.

On day one of the strike, Bryan wrote:

Now it’s 4:05….I spent that minute asking your god, my god….whatever positive guiding force there may be…to look out for you all out there and give us in here the strength to see this thing through.

On the third day of the strike, Julie and Bryan met. Julie was sure to keep Bryan informed of the growing support network outside of the prison, and he wrote:

It was great to hear that the Native Americans were out protesting for us.  I sure hope you let them know that we could hear them and that we truly appreciate their support.  It was good for morale to share that and the news that Folsom had participants as well.  Collectively we are not as optimistic that this will end any time soon but either way we are committed.

By day six, Bryan noted a lack of medical care for hunger strikers:

Still haven’t seen a lick of medical care a full 6 days in.  They threw that Ch. 22 Hunger Strike protocol right out the window and “doctor” Sayre pulled all strikers off their meds en mass.  So the MTAs are real happy, no protocol on checking on we strikers and half the meds they were used to delivering are now gone.

On day seven, Bryan reported, medical care was finally made available. He had already lost 17 pounds. Bryan had signed a medical directive indicating: “Do not attempt resuscitation (DNR), Comfort measures only and NO artificial nutrition by tube.” He also gave Julie Power of Attorney.

On Saturday, the ninth day of the hunger strike, Julie was able to visit Bryan. Bryan had begun to experience difficulty sleeping and came off as very tired.  Julie updated Bryan of the growing support on the outside. Bryan would apologize in a letter dated the July 10th for not being “more on my game.”

On the 11th, Bryan’s condition became more trying:

REALLY long day.  I had zero energy and couldn’t get warm all day.  We were on lock down so I couldn’t take a little walk to break up the day. I tried to pace my cell but it didn’t make any difference. I know the guys in here are hurting.  It was dead quiet all day and when we did speak I could hear it.

 I have to do something with my time.  I feel like I’m just wallowing in the misery…minute by minute.  I have to find a way to pull my mind away from it.  My problem is how hard it is to concentrate. Tomorrow I’m pulling out a book and forcing it.  The isolation is 10 times worse than the hunger.

On the 12th, Bryan found solace and inspiration in the story of Bobby Sands, the Irish republican hunger striker who died of starvation in a British prison in 1981:

I reread the chapter in “Nothing But An Unfinished Song” (Ch.22) when Bobby Sands starts his hunger strike and eventually dies and it was a good wake-up call. Eleven days ain’t squat!  I was laid up in bed for the last 3 days as if death was already upon me.  I had to break that and keep moving.

 Julie visited Bryan on the 16th and 17th. By the 16th, he had lost over 25 pounds. In their meeting, Julie said, Bryan wasn’t himself. He was withdrawn and seemed very depressed.  The usually engaged and good-humored Bryan was unfocused and quiet. Their meeting on the 17th was no different. Bryan had been nauseous and, as Julie put it, he “went from being Bryan to being a hunger striker.” He was, however, still very committed, and insisted that he would see the strike until the end.

The hunger strike ended on July 21st, with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation making a few token concessions, and indicating that it would review its debriefing and gang validation policies.

On July 23rd, Julie was denied a visit to Bryan. After some calling around, she found out that Bryan had been removed from his cell on the 21st due to complications from the hunger strike. Monday the 25th she was informed that Bryan was diagnosed with hypophosphatemia, a low level of phosphorous in the blood resulting in, according to Bryan, “several major seizures and a series of other serious medical issues due to chemical imbalances from starvation.”

Julie learned later that Bryan had been rushed to Sutter Cost Hospital in Crescent City for vital, life-saving care. His heart had been in tachycardia (dangerously high heart rate) and he’d had seizures. For seven hours doctors in the emergency room worked frantically to stabilize his system with numerous IV administrations.

Bryan would be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit for an additional two days. During this period he was repeatedly pressured to debrief: “[I was] asked by every new shift of COs if it was worth it and asked if I was ready to debrief yet.  I expected that but not the level at which they came at me.”

He would spend an additional day at Sutter Coast Hospital and then a day at the prison infirmary before being sent back to his cell. The prison infirmary is located in an area that holds psychologically troubled inmates, who were, according to Julie’s recounting, “screaming, yelling, kicking doors.”

“He looked ragged on Saturday and a bit better by Sunday so he seems to be on the mend,” Julie wrote on the 2nd of August. She had returned to home in Seattle the day before.

“I am so proud to be his friend. He was willing to lay down his life for the well-being of others,” Julie says. “I want people who read this story to walk away with an understanding of the situation in prisons across the country. During this hunger strike, ethnic groups all came together for the common good. I really hope that the CDCR follow through with good faith to bring about changes in their policies.”

Bryan will be up for review regarding his placement in solitary confinement in 2014.

Reflecting on her befriending of Bryan and all that had happened, Julie posed the question: “Should I continue on my well-worn path of interests or should I commit to work for positive change on behalf of thousands of men and women suffering within America’s prisons?” Fortunately for Bryan and the tens of thousands of inmates in solitary confinement, she has chosen the latter.

Julie Tackett outside her tent at the campground near Pelican Bay State Prison. The tent, she notes, is “larger than TWO cells in the SHU.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Testifying in Sacramento about conditions in the SHU

Yesterday I attended the Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on CDCR Secured Housing Unit conditions.  It was so amazing that I can not find the words to describe the events, and I don't have to because you can read the Solitary Watch article below.

But, I will tell you that the families who came from all over California to stand up and testify about the conditions their loved ones have experienced in the SHU...they were the true rock stars in my eyes.  These wonderful family members PACKED the hearing room, and when the balcony area was opened.. that was packed, too.  The hallway had spill over and groups gathered around to watch the hearing on the TV posted there.

In addition to the large number of family members, the Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (made up of about a dozen prisoner rights organizations) were in full attendance.  Their members organized the entire day... starting with a lobbying blitz at 9:00 am, a rally on the steps of the capital at 11:30 and then the hearing.  Some of the coalition members provided expert testimony during the formal part of the hearing, and the rest lined up with the families to speak during the public comment section.  Another amazing group I am so proud to be associated with. 

I can confidently say that there were over 300 people there.  And as we were all wearing pink, heart-shaped post it notes on our shirts, I could see exactly who was there to support our cause.  Except for the experts who would testify, members of the press, Assembly members there to observe and about 10 CDCR officials...that room was full of supporters with pink hearts !!  It was BEAUTIFUL.

After the expert panels spoke, these brave families lined up at the mike during the public comment section and told the TRUTH about what they have experienced and witnessed as they stood by their loved ones who have been in the SHU for 5-10-15-20-25 and even 30+ years. Their experiences, along with the powerful testimony by coalition members and supporters... It was AMAZING!

I would like to give a big "shout out" to State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the Chair of the CA Committee on Public Safety, for convening the hearing... and to the Committee members who stayed and listened until EVERYONE who came had a chance to speak during the public comment section.  Thank you for giving us a voice.

Assemblyman Ammiano said this was just the first of many hearings about conditions in the SHU, validation policies and other abuses by CDCR.  With the families, friends, supporters and the public at large continuing to push for reform, I am confident that things will change.

You can read an article about the hearing here: Historic California Assembly Hearing on Solitary Confinement

Or better yet, watch the hearing here:  Assembly Public Safety Committee: Dept. Corrections Rehabilitation Secure Housing Unit (1 of 2)


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Statment I will submit for Bryan to the Committee on Public Safety

I am on my way to Sacramento.  I will be lobbying in the morning, attend the rally and then the hearing on Conditions in the SHU.  If possible, I will make a 1 minute statement during the public comment period.  This is the written statement Bryan asked me to submit to the committee on his behalf.

Testimony for the Committee on Public Safety
Conditions in the Pelican Bay SHU Hearing  
Aug 23, 2011

Submitted by Julie Tackett, whose loved one Bryan is an inmate who has been in solitary confinement for 16 years in the Pelican Bay SHU, Short Corridor .  (Bryan’s identity will be made available upon request .  Contact info:
Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your time.  My loved one, Bryan, has been in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay SHU, Short Corridor for 16 years.  Bryan was willing to go to the lengths of the hunger strike as a form of peaceful protest in an effort to shine a light on conditions in the PBSP SHU.   These are Bryan’s words.....sent to me in letters.  Let this document be his voice.

This is an excerpt from his letter explaining why he would be participating in the hunger strike:

You know me well enough to know that I am in NO WAY suicidal, nor do I wish to harm myself in any way.  But collectively we feel as though we are already dead under these conditions of extreme isolation and deprivation.  I’m personally willing to go to this extreme in order to prove my desire to live.  This is not life Julie…period.  We are here for one reason only, our refusals to debrief. I’ve had no serious write ups in almost a decade.  I have friends here who have 20-25 years in clean.  Why are we here?  Because we’re “labeled” as gang members?  What about the other 100,000 labeled gang members on Cal. main lines?

Bryan’s own words regarding his placement in extended solitary:

I take full personal responsibility for being a young violent prisoner who got myself thrown in the SHU.  I make NO excuses nor do I try to blame others or justify my actions.  But it has to be recognized that my validation as a gang member was based solely on the confidential debriefing reports of inmates who could no longer continue to suffer under these condition of perpetual isolation in solitary confinement. There is no individual accountability under the current CDCR policies.  I have now been in solitary confinement for over a decade, not based on a CDCR rules violation but rather for a false label put on myself by inmate informants broken under SHU conditions.  Now in the ultimate form of group punishment I am to be housed in solitary confinement, not based on my actions but based on this gang label.

Bryan’s 6 Year Inactive Review Process experience:

I fully participated in the “6 Year Inactive Review Process” but it is NOT a meaningful review process.  I was photographed and given a list of debriefing statements to refute as well as having my cell thoroughly searched.  I refuted every source item used against me relying on the language adopted in the Castillo agreement which established the 6 Year Inactive Review Process.  Not one piece of information (source item) used against me could meet the evidentiary standard of being less that 6 years old and criminal activity in furtherance of a gang, as established in the settlement of the Castillo case.  Yet all source items were accepted.

I 602’ed the finding on every level and was denied on every level.  Again, the 602 process also offers no meaningful review.  CDCR’s own experts testified in open court in Lira vs. Cate that the 602 is only viewed as a review of procedural error and due process, that the actual merit of the prisoner’s appeal are not made part of the process.

Bryan’s states his options for release from the SHU:

Debrief, parole, 6 year inactive review, go insane or die.  I will never be tortured into becoming an informant based on perpetual isolation and frankly nor should I even be forced with such a choice.  As a lifer I am not eligible for parole for years to come.  As stated above, the 6 Year Inactive Review has shown itself to be a sham.  I have been blessed by God to have a sound enough mind to survive all of these years in solitary confinement without becoming totally insane.  However, I do suffer from many side effects of long term isolation under these conditions and I fear what another decade here will do to my mental health.  As for dying, I’ve never given up my hope of living long enough to see my release from SHU and hopefully my eventual release from prison....and I never will abandon this hope.  But it is not lost on me that without any meaningful way out of the SHU, under these current policies, that I will absolutely die here.

Bryan’s request of this Committee:

All I ask is for a meaningful way to program my way out of the SHU.  A fair shake to prove that I’m no longer the 24-25 year old screw up but a 38 year old man who is far more wiser and mature enough to use my time in a productive way.  But this day will never come if the members of this body do not establish some form of oversight to ensure that we have meaningful 6 Year Inactive Reviews, meaningful committee hearings and meaningful appeal reviews.  We are at the mercy of CDCR’s closed system.  And it was under these conditions that we came to view the hunger strike as our last ditch effort to hopefully shine a light on such a destructive and hopeless environment.  Thank you for your time and I pray we come to see some type of productive changes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A glimpse of our friendship...

Dear Bryan,                                                                              Aug. 13, 2011

Greetings, my friend!  I hope this letter finds you recovering swiftly, both physically and spiritually.  You are in my thoughts daily, especially at 4 pm every day, when my cell phone chimes reminding me to say a little prayer for all of us.

Sorry to type this, but there is so much swirling around in my head that I want to share….I know you will read this in your auditory way, making it nice and slow :-) even if my fingers are flying across the keyboard.  LOL

I got a message from your mom confirming that she got your letter.  I have also exchanged many texts with Kristi, who sends her love to you and me.  Yvonne checks in regularly, she’s the only non-family person I have heard from (other than Trey), but she’s a keeper, that’s for sure. 

I also am very involved with ongoing efforts on behalf of everyone and have booked my ticket to San Francisco, CA.  I will spend 8 days working on location and of course be in Sacramento on 8/23 for the hearing.  If I get a chance to testify, in my limited allowed time my main comments will be on the 6 year inactive review process and the improper way you were revalidated based on the way your cell was searched and the use of insignificant items (drawings and poetry) and/or made up things (the card you allegedly sent) to deny you inactive status.  I will also mention that it was inappropriate that they recycled debriefing statements made by others from years past (prior to the current six years).  I will also mention the “By Pass” review injustice. I think others will hit on other various topics, this just feels like something I can speak about with confidence.  Having your paperwork gives extra power and validity to what I have to say…Thanks for the ammunition!  I will state that without changing a single policy, the situation would be better if the CDCR would just actually follow their six year inactive review process in good faith.

Personally, I am enthusiastically being represented by the premier nanny service in Seattle and they are setting up interviews with excellent families interested in having me start after Labor Day when school starts.  I’m very excited to be with a new family and am confident that the situation and compensation I choose will be first class.  So don’t worry about this remaining segment of time and small amount of resources I am spending with the rest of my summer.  You are worth it !!!  Also, little financial “miracles” keep showing up from unexpected sources.  I haven’t seen your $50 yet, but I know it is on the way, so don’t worry.

Sadly, on August 11, Todd had a serious self-harm incident necessitating another surgery.  I don’t have the specific details yet, other that it involved him pushing another  sharpened paperclip into his abdomen and he was again sent to the hospital for surgery to retrieve it.  At this point, two days later, I have confirmed that he is back at the prison facility in the infirmary, which means he is under observation and not in any real immediate danger.  Of course, possible infection and long-term repercussions of the cumulative effects of so many surgeries are always a concern.  It was particularly difficult to get this news on the six year anniversary of my friend Rusty’s suicide in Iraq (8/12).   I accept Todd’s ongoing struggle with his self harming issues. Even with this reality always present, families support each other...I can’t imagine abandoning him.    So don’t worry about me, I am in an accepting space and feel centered and strong.  All any of us have is one day at a time and it doesn’t help to stress too much about what the future may bring. 

Bryan, that is why you play such an important part in my life right now.  I really can’t share the day to day difficulties I have or express distressing feelings to him at this time as it might upset his mental balance.  His mental health counselor called me once asking that I not share news that might upset him, if possible.  I can do this because I have a support network of friends and now you as my emotional confidante.  I feel that you know me so well,  and we have established a friendship of such honesty and trust that I can rely upon you to support me as I go through the ups and downs of understanding his prison reality.  You are my only close friend who truly understands the effects of long-term incarceration and too many years in the SHU.  Just having you in my corner makes life easier.

At this point, I would like to restate that I understand that any choices you make that might put you in harms way are made thoughtfully with a clear mind.  I believe in the reasons for originally going on the HS, and will continue to walk with you on any path that your conscience tells you is right and just.  I am strong in my support for you, so don’t let your affection for me inhibit any choices you might make.  Don’t be concerned that my fears for you will be unbearable, God helps me in the face of all things.  Again, we only have one day at a time and as my friend, I will hold you dear for every day I have.. 

So, Bryan, it is time to close this long letter.  I know that I will be seeing you in person sooner or later, and until then keep your chin up and be strong,

Much love,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

From Zero to Work for Change

I’ve been home in Seattle for a week now.  I’m planning to be in Sacramento for the Legislative hearings on August 23.

Because of this hunger strike, Bryan has finally told his family and friends about the truth of life in the SHU, but I doubt their ability to comprehend exactly how horrible it is. Even with my previous exposure to prison life though my advocacy work with Washington State prisoners, I still had a hard time really believing descriptions of the SHU at Pelican Bay.  But being at Bryan’s side and hearing it directly from him, I was able to listen and resign myself to his reality.  That helped me to see why he was willing to go to the lengths of a hunger strike and risk possible death.  

So how to communicate to my Seattle friends and associates about what is going on there?  How do I bring their consciousness from zero to work for change?  As I pondered this, a friend of mine asked me to join her to catch a movie while her kids were at a play date.  On a whim, she asked if “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would be OK?  

As I watched this movie about apes being used for research purposes and then contained and warehoused at a “reserve” for primates, my horror increased.  I watched as apes were isolated and subjected to all types of torture, having gruel slopped into their cages, being degraded by the men in charge of their care, being attacked by high power water hoses, it went on and on.  The descriptions that Bryan and others personally have told me about life in the SHU were being depicted right there on the screen.  Really, what that movie depicted as horrible treatment for the apes, was no worse that what SHU prisoners say they endure on a regular basis…and from Bryan’s description, the worst of it all is the isolation.

I’m really not sure where this post is going, other than I know that we MUST work for change.  I think I will recommend that you read a blog by Jerome Nathaniel: 

Here’s a small quote:

"When we hear demands and see prisoners protest, we shouldn’t get too lax and fall into the passive role of the empathetic spectator-they are actually demanding us to get up and do something.  Awareness is their victory; change is our responsibility.”    

Please read his blog, I'm at a loss for words but he had great thoughts and ideas...and I felt inspired after reading it. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

Pictures from the Orman Ranch and Campground...

I last posted on July 26,  after learning that Bryan was finally back in his cell after a stay at Sutter Hospital in Crescent City... First the ER, then the ICU,  then a regular room and finally back to the PBSP Correctional Treatment Center.

Based on his description of events, the short version is he suffered from several major seizures and a series of other serious medical issues due to chemical imbalances from starvation.  A "touch and go" situation from the sounds of it.  He looked ragged on Saturday and a bit better by Sunday so he seems to be on the mend.

I know I haven't blogged in a week.  Once I determined that Bryan was back in his cell and on the mend, I entered into a peaceful space of regrouping and healing from this ordeal.  Being in the natural setting of the Orman Ranch and Campground, I found great comfort in just "being".

I reflected on all that has happened that led me to this place ... befriending Bryan ... choosing to be present for him during the hunger strike ... joining with the efforts of prisoner advocates.  During this time of reflection,  I realized that I stood at a place of decision.  Should I continue on my well-worn path of interests or should I commit to work for positive change on behalf of thousands of men and women suffering within America's prisons?

I am already on my way....please walk with me...

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost