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From: Paul Andrew Mitchell [address in tool bar]
Subject: SLS: American Gulag (fwd)

>contact:   Lydia_Sargent@lol.shareworld.com
>Law & Order
>Rural Prison as Colonial Master
>By Christian Parenti
>In 1964 a tsunami swept over Crescent City, California completely
>destroying the downtown. Only nine people died, but the town---
>nestled just below the Oregon border---never recovered. It was rebuilt
>as a shabby imitation of Southern California's worst planning examples;
>empty parking spaces and box-like buildings dominate the landscape.
>	In 1989 another tsunami hit---this time the tidal wave was
>political. The California Department of Corrections (CDC) rolled in,
>and with little opposition, built the sprawling, $277.5 million Pelican
>Bay State Prison, one of the newest, meanest super-max prisons in the
>system. Pelican Bay is now an international model of sensory
>deprivation and isolation; half the inmates are deemed incorrigible and
>locked in their cells 23 hoursa-day. The prison is also Crescent City and
>Del Norte county's largest employer---and, some say, its new colonial
>	The new prison has political and economic clout which is all
>the more exaggerated due to Crescent City's extreme isolation and
>poverty. Only 4 of the area's 17 sawmills were still in operation when
>the prison arrived, commercial salmon fishing was dead, and during the
>mid- 1980s, 164 businesses had gone under. By the time the CDC
>came scouting for a new prison site, unemployment had reached 20
>percent. Del Norte County, with Crescent City at its heart, was in a
>seemingly terminal economic torpor---the prison was its only hope.
>	It is a situation that has been replicated a dozen times in recent
>years---from Bowling Green, Missouri to rural Florida to Dannemora,
>New York---economically battered small towns are rolling over for new
>prisons. In fact, punishment is such a big industry in the American
>countryside, that, according to the National Criminal Justice
>Commission, 5 percent of the growth in rural population between
>1980 and 1990 is accounted for by prisoners.
>	But the story of the rural prison boom is not all rosy economic
>statistics, critics say prisons bring an array of political costs. "We're a
>penal colony, plain and simple. This is California's Siberia or Guyana,"
>says John Levy, a Crescent City lawyer, who used to make his living
>defending Pelican Bay prisoners charged with committing crimes in
>prison. Levy says that, at least in Crescent City, the CDC's power
>extends far beyond the prison gate and prison officials use economic
>leverage and violent intimidation to silence dissent. Several other
>persecuted defense attorneys, former guards, and community
>members, tell a similar story.
>	For the most part, people in Del Norte county don't agree,
>they're just happy to have jobs. Pelican Bay provides 1,500 jobs, an
>annual payroll of $50 million dollars, and a budget of over $90
>million. Indirectly, the prison has created work in everything from
>construction and pumping gas, to domestic violence counseling. The
>contract for hauling away the prison's garbage is worth $ 130,000 a
>year---big money in the state's poorest county. Following the
>employment boom came almost 6,000 new residents, Del Norte's
>population (including 4,000 prisoners) is now 28,000. In the last ten
>years the average rate of housing starts doubled as has the value of local
>real estate.
>	With the building boom came a huge Ace Hardware, a private
>hospital, and a 90,000 square foot KMart. Across from K-Mart is an
>equally mammoth Safeway. "In 1986 the county collected $73 million
>in sales tax; last year it was $142 million," says county assessor Jerry
>Cochran. On top of that, local government is saving money by using
>low-security "level-one" prisoners instead of public works crews.
>Between January 1990 and December 1996, Pelican Bay inmates
>worked almost 150,000 hours on everything from school grounds to
>public buildings. According to one report, the prison labor, billed at $7
>hour, would have cost the county at least $766,300. "Without the
>prison we wouldn't exist," says Cochran.
> 	While the CDC 's economic impact is plain to see, its power in
>Del Norte County courts is quite opaque but just as real. "From our
>investigations it seems that the prison, in conjunction with local judges
>and prosecutors, is using every excuse it can to keep more people
>locked up for longer," says Leslie DiBenedetto-Skopek of the California
>Prison Focus (CPF), a human rights group based in San Francisco which
>investigates conditions in Pelican Bay. CPF investigators, who visited
>Pelican Bay in late January, say that minor administrative infractions---
>such as spitting on guards---are often embellished and prosecuted as
>felonies in the local courts in front of juries stacked with guards and
>their families. As a result, Pelican Bay inmates are getting new
>convictions and becoming permanently trapped in prison, regardless of
>their original conviction.
> 	"For example," says attorney and CPF
>investigator Rose Braz, "I interviewed this one kid G---; he's 21, a
>white guy from [rural] Trinity County. He got 4 years for robbery,
>turned 18 in the Corcoran SHU (Security Housing Unity). But due to
>several fights inside, some of which were staged by guards at Corcoran,
>this guy is now facing his third strike."
>	"I am afraid I'll never get out," said G---in a taped CPF
>interview. Just to make sure, the CDC is, paying 35 percent of the Del
>Norte county District Attorneys' budget. The money covers the costs
>of convicting prisoners charged with committing new crimes. District
>Attorney Bill Cornel, says the CDC's contributions don't even cover
>the full cost of handling an annual average of 80 Pelican Bay cases. "It's
>clear what this is all about," says CPF investigator Noelle Hanrahan.
>"These prison convictions are job security for the whole area."
>	Crescent City criminal defense attorneys say that while the
>CDC bolsters the local prosecutor's office, it also uses behind-the-
>scenes leverage to prevent effective inmate defense. "Hell, all I know is
>that in 1995 I won four out of five of my Pelican Bay cases and they
>were almost all three strikes. Then, in 1996 the judge gave me only
>one case," says criminal defense attorney Mario de Solenni, a self-
>proclaimed "conservative, redneck pain-in-the-ass." According to de
>Solenni---who owns and drives a collection of military vehicles---
>successfully defending prisoners is a no-no: "Let's just say the system
>doesn't seem to like it if the defense wins."
>	Other lawyers tell similar stories of beating the prosecution too
>many times and then finding themselves with fewer defense
>appointments. "Now the judges go all the way down to Humbolt to
>find incompetent, pony-tailed fuck-ups who alienate juries and can't
>win cases," says de Solenni.
>	Tom Easton---a defense attorney with the slightly euphoric air
>of someone who's just survived a major auto wreck---lives in a modest
>house overlooking the sea. The National Review and American
>Spectator cover his coffee table, but right-wing reading habits haven't
>helped endear him to CDC compradors.
>	"The prison and the DA are trying to destroy my career," says
>Easton, who was facing felony charges including soliciting perjury from
>a prisoner. Easton says the charges were nothing more than retaliation
>for providing defense in criminal cases and handling civil rights suits on
>behalf of Pelican Bay inmates. In late January, all charges against
>Easton, save one misdemeanor count of soliciting business, were
>dropped or ended in hung juries. "But the DA could still try to have
>me disbarred," says Easton. In the meantime, he has been banned from
>communicating with the seven Pelican Bay prisoners he represents.
>	"I am convinced that they went after Easton because he filed
>suits on behalf of prisoners," say defense attorney Paul Gallegos, who
>has been accused of gang affiliation by the DA. "That accusation was
>patently absurd. The DA didn't even realize he was, by implication,
>accusing the judge who appointed me to the case."
>	Absurd or not, DA harassment has a chilling effect. "I can see
>the writing on the wall," says John Levy. "They just don't want these
>prisoners to get defense. The more of 'em they can pack in, the more
>money comes down the pipe. I've had enough of it. I'm leaving town."
>	Among Levy's clients are four prison maintenance workers
>who testified against administrators in a recent corruption case. "The
>former head of operations out there made death threats against my
>clients, the state is still investigating," says Levy, adding that one of his
>clients has since been forced to leave town after being fired from the
>local hardware store at the behest of a prison official. "Hey, the prison
>is the only place that buys in bulk," says Levy.
>	According to Levy and others, the CDC also has covert
>investigative units, with classified budgets, that conduct surveillance in
>the community and keep dossiers on trouble-makers. "Internal Affairs
>does investigations in the community but I don't think that's
>inappropriate," says Tom Hopper, former Del Norte county sheriff and
>the current Community Resource Manager at Pelican Bay. CDC officials
>in Sacramento also confirm that the department's two undercover
>police forces---the Special Services Unit (SSU) and the Investigative
>Services Unit---do at times carry out surveillance off of prison grounds.
>During recent revelations of officially sponsored violence at Corcoran
>State Prison, SSU officers were caught trying to intimidate whistle-
>	John Cox looks like a poster boy for the CDC. But the former
>Pelican Bay correctional officer (CO) is, instead, a CDC target. Trouble
>began in 1991 when Cox broke the guards' code of silence and
>testified against a fellow officer who had beaten an inmate's head with
>the butt of a gas gun, and then framed the victim. Cox refused to go
>along with yet another set-up. According to findings in Madrid vs.
>Gomez---a high-profile class action against the CDC---Pelican Bay
>administrators called Cox a "snitch" and told him to "watch his back."
>	Even before Cox broke ranks in court he was hated by other
>guards. As sergeant in charge of the D yard SHU, Cox gave all his
>officers 100 extra hours of on-thejob training beyond the standard 40.
>This was seen as treachery by some hard-line CO's. "They called D-
>Yard SHU, 'fluffy SHU,' because we didn't hog-tie inmates to
>toilets or kick them in the face after cell extractions," says Cox. "There
>was one officer in there who used to take photos of every shooting and
>decorate his office with them."
>	Federal court papers are replete with other heinous examples
>of abuse at Pelican Bay, such as the notorious case of guards and
>medical staff who boiled an inmate alive. A central element in this
>slow-motion riot of sadism was the constant framing of prisoners, so
>that their sentences grew by decades with each year inside. Cox---trying
>to play by the rules---found it almost impossible to do his job.
>	"I broke up one fight without assistance, called for back-up but
>none came, and got a torn rotator cuff," says Cox. "The next day the
>lieutenant made me climb every guard tower ladder. It was pure
>harassment." The final straw was a series of death threats and close calls
>on the job. In one incident Cox found himself alone, surrounded by
>eight inmates and unable to get back-up. "That was it. If I stayed and
>tried to do my job I probably would have been killed," says Cox, who
>is currently suing the CDC.
>	Things have hardly improved since Cox quit. "Bullets through
>the window, death threats on my kids, hang-up calls, sugar in the gas
>tank, slashed tires---you name it," says Cox, recounting the continued
>harassment he still suffers at the hands of the CDC and its allies. "The
>DA and the sheriff have refused to even investigate. They told me to
>talk to the prison."
>	Other former guards have had problems, notably James Carp,
>who says he was harassed by superiors for pointing out security faults,
>such as an automatic door system which failed to lock and required a
>$2 million dollar overhaul.
>	Officials at Pelican Bay refuse to comment on Cox's case. But
>Pelican Bay's Tom Hopper did say: "The prison saved this community
>and people are grateful. There are a few disgruntled employees and
>other fringe elements that complain, but you can't please everybody."
>As evidence of CDC bullying mounts this line may become harder to
>	"Face it---Crescent City has sold its soul to the devil. They got
>a few jobs but that's about it," says CPF investigator and former
>prisoner, Louis Talamantez. According to the critics, the wreckage from
>Crescent City's latest tsunami---rule by the CDC---takes the form, not
>of fallen buildings, but shattered lives. "Remember, the whole
>lockdown economy," says Talamantez, "feeds off prisoners, many of
>whom will never see the world again. " z
>Christian Parenti teaches sociology at the New College of California in
>San Francisco. Many thanks to California Prison Focus for research aid. 

Paul Andrew Mitchell                 : Counselor at Law, federal witness
B.A., Political Science, UCLA;  M.S., Public Administration, U.C. Irvine

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