Dolores Canales recently joined SWASC; and we’re very thankful for her presence, her leadership and eagerness to join us in our work. Below is her article..
My name is Dolores Canales, I am a member of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (Cfasc), I am on the Advisory Board of CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget) and I am also a member of LWSGI (Lives Worth Saving Gang Intervention), all California based organizations’.
But above all! I am a mother of a Pelican Bay SHU prisoner, and since the hunger strike it has been my goal and passion to bring an end to such inhumane and torturous conditions going on right here in America! Land of the Free and home of the brave! When Americans are held in solitary confinement in other countries it is considered as barbaric and a form of torture, Senator John McCain himself being one of those Americans. But yet, Solitary Confinement has been a common practice for years on end right here in our prisons. And why has it been going on so long? Why have there been human beings held in captivity for 20 and 30 years with absolutely no human contact, and in some prisons, even sunlight has been denied for decades at a time…. because these are the people that no one cares about, that have already been judged and condemned because they are in prison.
But on July 1, 2011 in California, prisoners could no longer remain silent! They realized as they have now grown old in solitary, some of these prisoners in their 60’s and 70’s, knew if something was not done, the next generation would come in to take their place and endure and suffer their living hell, and if the walls could talk. The walls of the SHU cells that have closed in on minds, crushed men’s souls, driving men mad, driving men to suicide, the walls that cry out… NO ONE HEARS YOU AND YOU ARE ALL MINE!
The walls that do not even have windows to allow in any ray of sunlight. But for the men that have endured… their courage and their strength and their unity made the voices heard past the windowless, cement cells of Pelican Bay by risking their own lives and going on a hunger strike. A hunger strike that immediately spread across the State of California, where thousands upon thousands of prisoners came together, joining across 13 prisons!
And not because of the power of the men in Pelican Bay as CDC has attempted to give blame, but the power of the message! The message that Solitary Confinement is a common practice and any one of those prisoners could be next! Right now there are thousands sitting in Administrative Segregation units (also Solitary Confinement) , year after year, just waiting for a SHU cell to open up, just waiting for a transfer, in a purgatory type state, until the final destination, the very pit of hell.
Every day that goes by I think of those held in solitary confinement, I think of my son! And I literally say the words “ONLY” my son has “ONLY” been in Solitary Confinement without any human contact, not even a phone call, for 12 years! And the reason I say “only” is because I am now living the reality of many family members… of their pain and their suffering as their loved ones have been locked away for 20 and 30 years.
And I think to myself “only” how much longer will this go on? I wonder if he will be there until he dies or worse yet, goes insane. I wonder if I will die while he is still in solitary confinement, as one mother, passionate about bringing about and seeing change, has recently passed away. And I think of all the other mothers that went to their grave, praying with their last breath that someone would listen, that someone would care.
In California prisons 70% of suicide takes place while in solitary confinement and still those in authority continue to justify this type of housing. Of course all the money that is being made off of these gulags has nothing to do with the reason we use solitary confinement at an ever increasing rate, or is this the only reason those in authority fight so hard to justify human mental and physical torture.
There are Trade Shows, Marketing, Warehousing and ROI’s at the cost of human lives, so one can honestly say without prejudice or irrational judgment that this has become a very prosperous and lucrative business. And all the while, the reality of this type of confinement is horrific, and sounds like something in a Science Fiction movie, many think this could not really be going on and ask “what on earth have these prisoners done to be housed like this”? The answer, in California, the prisoner does NOT need to have actually of done anything, and solitary confinement is literally considered as “non-disciplinary” and for “housing purposes” rather than actual punishment.
Most mornings are hard for me, as a mother, I fight back the tears when I see the morning sunlight, a new day, filled with new hope? Or the sunlight that I know my very own son can not even see! And I feel the wind and think of those that have not felt something as simple as the wind in decades and how they would consider it an absolute miracle to feel the breeze of fresh air, I could almost feel as if they would feel, as my son would feel. And then there are the days when I could no longer hold back the tears and I cry and think “God, please help me make it thru today, because today I want to give up, today I cant take it anymore”, “today I feel like I myself am losing my mind” and I think, who am I to give up when the very ones held in these conditions, have not given up and are holding on, for the ones that could no longer take it! For the ones that were taken over by suicide and insanity, for the ones that will come in to fill the tombs of solitary confinement. I can only imagine, as a mother how those that have lost someone because a crime was committed, how they must feel as they hear advocates speaking on behalf of the prisoners. Does this make them re-live and suffer their loss all the more? I by no means am attempting to disregard anyone that has suffered a loss at the hands of another! I am living with a daily heartbreak that is unbearable at times, so I can only imagine a mother’s heart that has lost her child at the fault of another. So in all sincerity, please know that my heart goes out to another’s loss and suffering, but I can not stay silent and the world must know! America must be held accountable because of the simple fact that we take pride in our human rights efforts in other countries, while we continue to justify the use of solitary confinement here.
Many of these prisoners have become translucent in skin color, not just light skinned but actually a ghostly see thru, type of image, many have lost their hearing because the only sounds they ever hear are those of the metal doors slamming shut, many have poor eyesight because the only light they ever get is from the fluorescent lights that fill the SHU. And it is well known, many have been driven mad in an absolute state of nothingness!
So today I write this and ask that you hear my voice! That you hear the voices of many of the family members that have now come out, no longer afraid of the retaliation at the hands of CDC and above all, that you hear the voices of the prisoners being held in captivity, in solitary confinement in America’s prisons…