It's Going Down

IGDCAST: Prisoners Launch Hunger-Strike Inside Merced’s Concrete Hell

Originally posted to It’s Going Down
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In this episode of the IGDCAST, we hear from Victoria from the group, Live Free Merced (LFM) as well as Kinetic Justice and Melvyn Rae of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). In this in-depth interview, Victoria discusses the unfolding hunger-strike happening in two county jail facilities and the demands issued by the inmates. Starting on September 9th, the day of the national prison strike, inmates presented their demands to guards while on the outside, community members staged a rally. Since then, guards have repeatedly locked down the facility and cut off communication to the outside. Victoria (who is also on hunger strike) estimates that over 100 inmates are participating in the action which began on September 9th.

Just today, many inmates refused to dress out in various colors that denote gang classifications, and the guards again came down on them. According to a post on Live Free Merced:

The correctional staff have placed the participants on lockdown effective until tomorrow morning. 1:49 p.m. Sgt. Spangler just went into 1 Block (Merced County Jail) with a camera stating that the detainees have ‘mandatory yard’ and if they DO NOT dress out to go they will be stripping them of privileges. 1 Blocks yard days are on Mondays and today is Thursday. This is a tactic to force the participants to cease the 1st Amendment protected right to peacefully protest.

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But these recent incidents are just the latest chapter in a long history of brutality inside the local county jails in Merced, CA. For months, community organizers in Merced, located in the Central Valley, have been raising their voices against continued brutality from guards, continued deaths and suicides, an end to horrible conditions, and to abolish the practice of solitary confinement. All of these abuses, which abound across the ‘justice’ system in Merced county, helped to build for the actions on September 9th.

Since the 9th, prisoners on the inside have faced a wave of repression and also a media black out. Live Free Merced wrote this chilling update after the start of the hunger strike:

Merced County & John Latorraca Jails inmates participating in this Hunger Strike are on Administrative Lockdown. Yesterday block 1 of Merced County Jail had corrections officers lined up to shoot, they threatened to shoot and brought dogs in threatening to unleash them upon detainees. Inmates were pulled out of there cells by force and after searches placed back into their cells.

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The current demands of the hunger strikers are varied, but include an end to solitary confinement of juvenile inmates, the immediate firing of Lt. Moore (one of the Sheriffs seen as directly responsible for carrying out many acts of brutality), a demand for 2,000 calories a day diet, access to basic program, and the end to prisoners in protective custody handling other inmates food, clothing, and other items.

In the case of Lt. Moore, Victoria discusses how this officer has led various raids in the facility, which appear to be carried out for the purpose of allowing the Sheriff’s Department to conduct trainings at the jail. These raids often lead to various inmates being shot and injured with rubber bullets and other projectile weapons, including Victoria’s husband who is currently locked inside one of the facilities. On the subject of Lt. Moore, inmates wrote in a statement:

Lt. Moore should be FIRED, demoted or removed from working within the jail facilities. Cease and desist his continued harassment and abusive treatment of inmates. The environment with which Lt. Moore has created is hostile and dangerous for both corrections staff and inmates.

LFM is calling for support and solidarity. Please share this story and podcast and contact Live Free Merced about how to get their story out. The group is also in need of inside legal support and is also encouraging people to call the jail and demand that the repression end and the demands of the strikers are met. Call at: (209) 385-7419.

This podcast also features two recordings from members of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), which were recorded for a demonstration in Oakland, CA on Saturday, September 10th. Both speeches talk about the mass strike on September 9th and the work of the Free Alabama Movement to push forward the movement against prison slavery. To support FAM and to learn more about their historic strike, go here.

Here is the collective statement from the prisoners of Merced:

Merced County Jail & John Latorraca Jail Hunger Strike 9/9/2016

First and foremost we would like to advise you, that we as individuals on our own accord have decided to invoke our First Amendment Right to assemble and have a peaceful protest to address our grievances that go unanswered.
We are in solidarity with the Nation & World Wide Prison/Jail Strikes on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising.

We are also calling on Governor Jerry Brown to sign SB 1143 into law so that our youth will not continue to suffer from being held in solitary confinement.

With this action of great sacrifice we hope to bring attention to the plight of prisoners and detainees in our local jails and California Department of Rehabilitation.

For this we expect there not be any repercussions, reprisals or any form of disciplinary actions taken during or after this peaceful protest, which will be a hunger strike and refusal of all movements.

Local Action:
We are choosing to protest here in Merced County and John Latorraca Jails due to the continued biased mistreatment including the misuse and abuse of authority within these facilities as well as inmates and detainees not being afforded rights and entitlements.

We would like the following issues to be addressed immediately, most are as per adult Title 15. We would like a plan of operations provided for us to show how this will be addressed:

  1. Food: The food given to us does NOT meet the minimum 2,000 calorie standard per Title 15.
  2. Due Process: We are unable to find relief via this course of action. Grievances either go unanswered or are forwarded to the staff we have issues with. We are continuously having our privileges taken without reports or notice for the ‘punishments’. After requesting and grieving for a 3+ year period for a Title 15 we recently received only one copy to circulate amongst 40 plus inmates.
  3. S.N.Y. (Sensitive Needs Yard) inmates are given jobs to serve General Population inmates: touching food, cleaning supplies, washing clothes, filling water buckets for yard. Protective Custody & trustee inmates, even corrections staff have told us that our food, clothing, water, chemicals are being contaminated with fecal matter, urine, blood or other foreign material. S.N.Y. inmates should NOT have access to ANY items for the General Population or outside of their housing units. These are sensitive needs inmates and should be segregated per Security Threat Group (S.T.G.) classification rules. We want General Population put in trustee quarters.
  4. We are requesting to be taken out of green and white stripes and placed in orange (Main Jail) and blue (John Latorraca Jail). Furthermore we want to be racially integrated. We are general population inmates yet we are segregated against our own will. When we go to court we are discriminated against due to wearing the striped jail issued uniforms by the court (Judges, bailiffs, etc.) in efforts to villainize us throughout court proceedings. Classifications claims it has no relevance to the court process but the first thing brought up throughout court proceedings is the fact we are housed on an ‘active gang’ block(s). We have NO problems being with other group segments, in fact we hope to prove this would ease the burdens of our families and over criminalization we face when we are labeled this way.
  5. We are not being provided with the proper tools to maintain a healthy, sanitary, clean living environment, i.e. our brooms do not work. We are given water but are told it is Suprox. We are supposed to receive deodorizer, disinfectant, and sanitizer and are not. After dinner trays we do not receive cleaning supplies so our tiers remain unsanitized.
  6. We have no exercise equipment.
  7. We are asking for Mail system oversight. Inmate mail is continuously missing, intercepted or not received both outgoing/incoming, legal/familial.
  8. Access to programs, i.e. school, Behavioral Intervention, N.A., A.A., religious services, recreational equipment, Law Library access to give us opportunities and tools to have a better future.
  9. Access to Inmate Welfare fund for the most indigent people incarcerated. Due to the segregated housing of inmates at the Merced County Jail on Blocks 1 & 3 and John Latorraca Jail dorms 501 & 502 we are unable to benefit from services or relief.
  10. Lt. Moore should be FIRED, demoted or removed from working within the jail facilities. Cease and desist his continued harassment and abusive treatment of inmates. The environment with which Lt. Moore has created is hostile and dangerous for both corrections staff and inmates. He also authorized the raid in item #11. We believe that Lt. Moore will continue to harass us in attempt to stop our peaceful protest because he does not want any outside officials nor agencies to become aware of his actions. In the past when John Latorraca Jail inmates attempted to peacefully protest, Lt. Moore came into their dorm and took personal property, stripped them to only boxers (those were the only garments they were left with), no sheets or blankets. He also took their phone and visiting privileges so to stifle them from advising their family, loved ones, and counsel of what was taking place. The facilities and staff have been known to allow these civil rights violations to occur.
  11. Review of the cellblock raid and inmate injuries on 6/30/2016. Make available videos public and ensure an independent investigation of the use of force upon inmates during this incident and ensure more scrutiny to prevent future inmate death or injuries.
  12. Medical services need to be adequate and managed by unbiased staff. Current medical contract with California Forensic Medical Group with Program Manager/R.N. is Amanda Gibson who is Sheriff/Corrections Lt. Gibson’s wife. Asking for her transfer or termination. Review of contract and standards of care through C.F.M.G.
  13. Administration over Trinity Services Group, Inc. which oversees commissary and food. Currently being overseen by Sheriff/Corrections Lt. Moore’s wife. Inmates are asking for fair pricing and that products are not missing portions of items purchased per Penal Code §4025.
  14. Oversight of personnel hired into positions such as in items #12 & #13.
  15. Inmates are requesting Ricardo Herrera (DOB 12/22/1982) be placed into his regular housing unit. He was removed against his will after the raid of Block 4 on 6/30/2016. He has made claims against the County of Merced as heard on 7/12/2016 at the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting item #26 on agenda and has been forcefully housed in a one man cell, which is considered solitary confinement.

Expanded explanations:

A Pre-Trial Detainee is to be treated with the same basic rights/Freedoms as a free-person. We are held at such high bail amounts that many of us are unable to make bond. In Merced County Jail detainees are treated as though they are already sentenced. They do not afford us basic dignities, rights, or Freedoms. “(Jail) is not supposed to be a comfortable place. They’re not going to get recliners, he said. If they want that, they can stay out of trouble.” (Sheriff Vern Warnke, Merced Sun-Star August 13, 2016) This clearly shows by the attitude and treatment towards detainees by Sheriff/Corrections staff, officers, coroner, and medical personnel. We are viewed and treated as guilty during our confinement.

Upon arriving to Merced County Jail inmates are booked and placed in classifications. Law Enforcement Agencies (Merced Police Dept., Gang Violence Suppression Unit, Sheriff’s Dept., District Attorney’s) are conspiring to systematically segregate and label anyone they feel are gang members. After being booked into the Main Jail for clearance purposes inmates are taken to classifications for interview and are asked if they have any affiliations or housing issues. No matter what you say they will house the inmate as they see fit. If you say you are General Population and wish to be house with G.P., they will say you are an ‘associate’ of certain people or groups in order to classify you as a gang member. Unless you choose to become an informant, debrief (give information), or go to protective custody. Why? Because we are put in specific clothing (stripes) so that our charges can be enhanced via gang enhancements and we are treated with bias throughout our detainment and court proceedings. We want to be integrated with other General Population inmates but classifications will not allow it in their efforts to use our housing to establish Penal Code 186.22 charges. These interviews are NOT recorded and that needs to change due to the inmates word not being found credible so classifications can make up anything they want ruining families and lives. (S.T.G) Racial integration.

All inmates detained and housed in green and white stripes are continuously being discriminated against and harassed. We have been raided on several occasions which resulted in inmate injuries. We are not given the opportunity to benefit from services such as Behavioral Intervention Program, Anger Management, A.A., N.A., Early Release, Alternative sentencing programs, jobs, etc. Many of us have been labeled or classified due to familial relations, known association or area we reside as gang members. The facilities claim that as such we are not entitled to any form of rehabilitation.

We have no law library access. Per title 15 we are entitled to law library to assist us with our on-going case(s), as well as to stop the misuse and abuse of authority within the facilities. The jails claim unless inmates are Pro-Per (represent themselves) they cannot have access making it extremely difficult to properly file motions or Writs of habeas corpus to address matters to the court in legal form.

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