News has come in that prisoners at Oregon’s Orwellian Snake River Behavior Modification Unit have organized to join the hunger strikes that commenced today in California (and perhaps elsewhere too).
Snake River is Oregon’s solitary isolation unit. While there are differences from Pelican Bay SHU, the end goal is the same: to break prisoners and remold them. Snake River operates with a more fine-tuned, gradated program – an example of what CDCR’s poisonous “step-down” program promises – whereby prisoners are infantilized, denied even the right to access to mail or reading materials, and forced to earn points by participating in various psychological programs intended (in the words of Oregon’s prisoncrats themselves) as a form of behavior modification.
What follows is the text received from a Snake River prisoner:
Taken Hostage: And My Captors Expect Me To Do What?
We are being held in solitary confinement and the State compels us to reveal personal questions or be held in isolation indefinitely. They call this bi-weekly interrogation “programming” where we’re forced to reveal our most personal information to our captors “the State”, knowing that this information can and will be used against us. They give us “packets” containing personal questions such as “Describe a specific incident where you completely lost control of yourself and lashed out in anger.” I’ll give an example where this question was used…
Daniel Lunsford #11360357 a Native American who is housed next door to me in Oregon’s IMU as I write this. Daniel is fighting an outside case where he was assaulted (punched in the face) by a staff member (CO Harrison) on camera and was forced to defend himself. His “packets” are specifically designed around questions about lashing out in as anger previously mentioned. Many are “multiple choice” answers that give no option for self-defense and leave him exposed for self-incrimination. Yet he is coerced to either answer these questions risking the real possibility of incriminating himself and picking up more time in prison or spend the rest of his lengthy sentence in solitary confinement. This tactic the State is using to interrogate, is clearly coercion which is a felony crime.
ORS 163.275 Coercion: To unlawfully and knowingly compel and induce an individual to abstain from engaging in conduct to which they have a legal right to engage in. [In this case the 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Under the threat of the indefinite placement in solitary confinement which has clearly been defined as torture by the United Nations in 2011 and is widely known to cause lasting and irreversible psychological injury.]
Just because we are incarcerated does not authorize ODOC to dissolve or obstruct our 5th Amendment right to remain silent yet the State does this under the radar, by implementing an internal rule #055 (IMU) and calling these invasive questions “programming” thereby receiving public funding to commit the crime of coercion which is a felony. Recently I asked the Assistant Superintendent of Snake River Corrections Judy Gilmore if it is “true that if I act in best behavior and never receive a single misconduct yet simply choose not to answer these invasive personal questions will I be kept in solitary confinement forever and for that reason alone.” Her response in writing was “Yes it is true.” She then went on to write “If you refer to rule #O55 (IMU) you will see that an inmate must complete assigned programming to be considered for release to general population.”
Oregon Joins the Fight
DOCs across the country violate our amendments by skirting the law to accomplish their goals and have had next to no consequences or repercussions. We have ALLOWED them to do this by just accepting the actions they take against us. Well everyone I have spoken with about this is ready to create positive change and we all agree the three core demands are worthy of our sacrifice to create lasting meaningful changes. We have committed to the struggle and are participating in the July 8th HS in surprising numbers. We have stopped turning in our packets together, in accord, as more and more people join us because they realize that they are not alone. DOC will begin to realize they must reassess their current strategy and consider our 3-Core because they ABSOLUTELY depend on us to complete these packets in order to maintain population control in IMU. The July 8th HS will get us outside support. Because our demands are reasonable and this packet strike is the most effective solution to create lasting changes for our brothers and sisters across the state who will be assigned IMU in the future.
We struggle for change
OREGON’S 3 CORE DEMANDS (NOT NEGOTIABLE)
1) A date for release from IMU regardless of participation/completion of packets, not to excede 90 days beyond the calculated release date if one does complete their packets. Currently we are being held indefinitely per Rule #055 (IMU) which states that an inmate must complete assigned “programming” to be “considered” for release to GP.
2) Reduce the inadvertent placement of individuals in LONG TERM IMU by implementing a rule that calls for a decision by IPC for the placement of an individual in long term IMU (solitary) within 90 days of initial placement in IMU. This will significantly reduce the number of long term assignments because currently they lead us to believe we are working towards our relase to mainline by completing their self help packets “program” only to find out they were waiting for a bed to become open to place us. Chase the carrot, get the stick…
3) One (1) phone call within 2 weeks of attaining Level 3 and 1 phone call every 3 months if there are no DR’s and inmate remains at Level 3. This phone call must be allowed from a list of 3 numbers approved and must occur no longer than 2 weeks before or after said 90 days.
SPECIAL PROVISIONS (NEGOTIABLE)
1) Once an inmate reaches Level 3 he/she should be allowed to purchase shoes from commissary
2) and photo tickets (for reprints only)
Many of us learned a lot about Snake River when our comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a politically active prisoner, was transferred there earlier this year. It was at Snake River that Rashid was drugged by another prisoner (which induced severe medical crisis), and it was there that medical staff purposefully withheld treatment, putting his life in danger.
In response to Rashid’s treatment, several of us began investigating Snake River, and contacting Oregon officials demanding some answers. What we learned was not reassuring. As was written several months ago:
According to an April 17th, 2003 memo, the Snake River Intensive Management Unit “by design is not long-term housing. IMU houses inmates to provide programming toward behavior modification and to prepare them for return to general population.” However, the human rights group Solitary Watch has received the housing history of one IMU inmate who spent 12 years in isolation before being sent to an out-of-state supermax unit. In other words, Rashid faces the equally dehumanizing alternatives of a “behavior modification” program to break him, or else years or decades under conditions designed to produce psychological distress. […]
According to an Oregon DOC spokesperson, [a prisoner] is only given access to his mail for a few hours each evening as part of a program of “incentivizing to improve behavior” – when asked if this meant that good behavior would be rewarded with more access to his mail and “bad” behavior with more restrictions on it – the answer was “exactly”. So even according to Oregon DOC’s own spokespeople, limiting access to mail is being used as a form of punishment.
The same Oregon DOC spokesperson described the Snake River Intensive Management Unit […] as a place with “different depths of programming”, as “behavior based” and all about (as above) “incentivizing to improve behavior”.
Behavior modification amounts to an assault on a person’s psychological integrity, as their environment and their conditions of life are manipulated in order to mould them into submission. As Rashid himself has described what it is like to me targeted for this kind of brainwashing:
[The IMU is] a housing status that lasts from seven months to indefinitely, during which a prisoner must pass through four levels – which requires that he reveal his every thought to his torturers.
Those housed in IMU who receive rules infractions are automatically placed on level one for a month, which is even more restrictive and extreme in sensory deprivation than DSU housing. And for every infraction he then receives, his level one assignment is extended. Such conditions often put prisoners struggling to maintain their sanity in a catch-22, where coping prompts resisting their torturing confinement, and that very resistance prompts infractions which intensify and prolong that confinement. (“Oregon Prisoners Driven to Suicide by Torture in Solitary Confinement Units”)
Perversely, this kind of abuse is rationalized by Oregon DOC’s spokesperson as a way to minimize the effects of isolation torture. As was explained in a recent phone call to a supporter, “there’s a lot of discussion in Oregon and nationally about the use of isolation or solitary or whatever one wants to call it” and as a result Oregon DOC “made significant changes to our philosophy; we try to limit the use because we know it can have impacts”. The idea being that the IMU will mould prisoners into compliance, and then they won’t have to be kept in isolation!
Rashid has since been transferred to Texas (where he continues to be singled out for abuse), but many others remains at Snake River, sometimes simply there for having stood up against the ongoing abuse that runs rampant through the prison system, in Oregon as elsewhere. For more insight about Snake River, readers may wish to check out these articles that were written by Rashid prior to his transfer: