Kijana Tashiri Askari has been in solitary confinement since 1994 after he was “validated” as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family. Until recently in California’s prisons, people who were validated as gang members were sentenced to indeterminate stays in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), where they spent nearly 24 hours in windowless cells. In 2012, following two hunger strikes in 2011, CDCR introduced its Step Down program, in which people who had previously been validated as members of prison gangs or Security Threat Groups could ostensibly work their way out of the SHU and into general population. As reported previously in Solitary Watch, there has been some reduction in the number of people in the SHU statewide, although the numbers in Pelican Bay have risen between 2012 and 2014. In this piece, Askari describes his transfer from one supermax prison to another—and his first taste in 20 years of the world outside prison walls. He can be reached at: Kijana Tashiri Askari, s/n Marcus Harrison #H54077, PO Box 3476, 4B1L #31/Step-4, Corcoran, CA 93212-3476. —Victoria Law
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On January 29, 2015, my quest of travel began with a wake-up call at 2:20 am, where I was told to be ready in 30 minutes by the first watch unit officer. Myself and a total of 17 prisoners were all rounded up like “chattel slaves” and placed in the C-facility SHU visiting room holding cells till we boarded the bus at 6 am. In hitting the highway, my sensibilities immediately went through the whirlwind cycle of “shock and awe” via the vivid reminder of what freedom used to entail. I mean think about it, we’re talking about 20 years of being entombed in Pelikkkan Bay’s torture chambers without any environmental stimulation or human contact!! So just imagine how my sense voraciously feasted upon: the sight of cows and horses parlaying in the open fields; the sight of the ocean’s waters roaring and brushing up against the elements of Motha Earth; the sight of enormous mountains and trees, along with green grass and birds flying in the clear blue sky—as free as they wanna be!! The sight of social activity, in seeing other human beings exercising, walking, driving their cars, and doing everything they wanted to do—simply because they were free!!
To my surprise, it got better!! We had a one-hour layover at San Quentin and times definitely have changed since I was last there in the late 80s and early 90s. San Quentin’s lower yard now has tennis courts?! And they’ve completely remodeled the receiving and release (r&r) building.
As we left San Quentin, I was reminded of the old saying: “That some gifts just keep on giving.” As I was able to take in the sights of the historic landmarks of the new Bay Bridge extension, the Golden Gate and San Rafael bridges, the BART train, and part of my hometown in West Oakland, California, via the West MacArthur Maze Freeway. While not a religious person, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Because as a person serving a life sentence, I never would’ve believed that the good fortunes of seeing home would come to fruition in my lifetime…ever again.
The safari from Pelikkkan Bay continued…while awaiting transfer to Corcoran SHU per Step 4 status of the Step Down program (SDP) in the Administrative Segregation Unit (Ad Seg) at Deuvel Vocational Institution (DVI)-Tracy State Prison (“slave kamp”) via the now standard week-long layover. The only good things about DVI were:
1. The food is prepared with seasoning and taste a whole lot better, and they still issue real jelly and syrup unlike Pelikkkan Bay;
2. You finally see prison guards of color (“Afrikans/Mexicans”) who treat you fairly decent; and
3. They’ve upgraded the r&r holding cell area with top-of-the-line flat screen TVs where they’ve showed us quality “grown folk” movies that just came out, which is a complete 360 from the kindergarten flicks shown at Pelikkkan Bay.
However, the living conditions in the Ad Seg unit of L-Wing are outright deplorable, filthy and disgusting. The cell sinks are broken with holes in them and the drinking water is brown!! It’s like drinking water from a water hole in an underdeveloped country!! And you know the water is compromised when the prison guards are walking around with bottles of drinking water for themselves and when your soap doesn’t even lather up during showers. Every environmental water agency needs to be notified about this—so that it can be investigated and corrected ASAP!! There is no telling what level of contaminants these prisoners are being forced to drink?!
On February 3, 2015, we were back on the road and for the first time in 20 years, I had the pleasure of seeing the sun rise!! The script couldn’t have played out any better, until the rude awakening of my arrival to the Corcoran Slave Planation, my new internment kamp for the next foreseeable years…via indefinite SHU status.
Unfortunately, we had a New Afrikan of the Damu tribe lose his discipline as he fell for the fascist antics of Corcoran’s welcome committee that greet you upon exiting the bus where they intentionally roughhouse you to try and provoke a “reaction.” As I approached the stairs to exit the bus, I was immediately identified by a sergeant who told me I would be going to 4B1L (the “validated gang housing unit”), but for reasons unknown I’m currently housed in 4A4L (“housing unit for informants/debriefers”), which is a typical COINTELPRO tactic aimed at neutralizing/isolating all committed revolutionaries. Upon my relentless protest, I was rehoused.
Our struggle continues!