Color of skin

In December, I sat in front of the art room as a fellow artist ran his music theory class inside the room. I saw the watch office clerks look up the hill to the upper basketball court. I sat there knowing that I wouldn‘t be getting my week-end visit from my friend visiting from Sweden, and that the reason would be based solely on the color of my skin.
Everyone, even the birds, knew there would be friction and troubles after months of over-loading the big yard with one particular gang. The state chose to set this yard up for failure, bringing in dynamics everyone knew would combust.
It has been nearly a decade since this kind of disturbance happened on the big yard of C-Facility. Why the state has chosen to rearrange the dynamics of this yard, making its structure ripe for violence, is the question.
I sat there looking at the watch office clerks gazing up the hill in silence, as if they saw a tornado. Moments later, the yard erupted with gunfire, yelling, rubber bullets and tear gas. Prison and medical staff rushed to and fro. Some staff stood in front of the watch office waiting until some clouds of gas subsided up the hill.
The sally port officer locked the gate to the art room. The entire area where I work was now fenced in; the hospital, visiting, maintenance, library and computer class are in this corridor. One nurse yelled, - They won‘t stop.

First word on the local news was that there were around 50 black and Mexican-American prisoners fighting. Later it went from 50 to 150. Now it‘s March and we‘re still locked down. In my cell, I hear what happened in Florida. A young black kid, seventeen years old, was shot down, killed, just because he walked down the street, and the killer wasn‘t even arrested or charged. The authorities decided that the killing of an unarmed young man was justified to protect the shooter‘s constitutional rights. When did walking down the streets or the color of someone‘s skin become a crime? Here it is, 2012, and the California‘s Department of Corrections is still doing race-based lockdowns. Confinement based only on skin color, not any collective wrong doing. This kind of treatment is immoral, un-American, and separatist.
If a prisoner, no matter the color of his or her skin, has not been in any trouble in six months, a year, five years, ten years or twenty years, why are they on lockdown? Or - modified program, which is a new trick and term used by CDC when only some prisoners or one race is on lockdown. Lockdown or modified program? There is no difference between dirt and sand. This kind of treatment of prisoners feeds into such horrible events as what happened to that seventeen year old black youth in Florida.
According to a complaint filed by Prison Law Office in 2011, California is unusual, perhaps unique, among US state prison systems in imposing race-based lockdowns. Such inhumane treatment violates international human rights and is unconstitutional.
You have prisoners of all colors in California, prisoners who just want to program, to do their time and self-rehabilitate. Yet these people, particularly at Level Four prisons, are being punished over and over again, not based on any rule violation, but because of the color of their skin.
I have been back here in New Folsom since 2005 without experiencing any major racial strife. Which at first was a shock because I was here in the late 1980s when such madness was commonplace. Now, for a long time, this yard was relatively peaceful. Until this recent influx of prisoners politicking heavy. What a shame on prisoners, administrators, correctional officers, guards and the public. When will content of character matter? When will forgiveness matter?

Reprinted with permission of Barbara Brooks, SJRA Advocate monthly prison newsletter.

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