A few years ago, I wrote an article about a “shake-down” (search) that took place at Solano State Prison (CSP-Solano) in Vacaville. During that search, some of the guards desecrated prisoners’ personal property, stole items and had a field day tossing everywhere what they did not confiscate. It’s this sort of virulent behavior by a few prison guards that make many of them look bad. The unprofessional deportment of these “rogues” demonstrates just how out of control and jaded some prison staff become when their actions go unchecked. This is statewide, throughout the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
The rogue dispositions and attitudes displayed by the problem prison staff manifest into dangerous tension between prisoners and their keepers. Because some CDCR administrators condone dirty behavior by some, rank-and-file staff feel they have free reign to do as they please, ignoring the rules with impunity. Many prison guards do their jobs and don’t go rogue while searching a prisoner’s personal property. The main reason for any search in a prison is to locate and remove contraband. This is when the dirty prison staff make their move to retaliate against specific prisoners. Targeting is frequently employed.
Because I wrote about the searches and the aftermath in the Community Alliance newspaper, all my personal property was confiscated and I was placed in an isolation cell (the hole) as a “safety and security” threat to the institution and its staff. Most of my property was never returned including hundreds of pages of a manuscript and an unfinished novel I had been working on for a number of years. I filed a First Amendment civil rights suit that (as of this writing) is pending in the Federal Eastern District Court in Sacramento.
Nineteen months later (January 20), in the California Correctional Center (CCC) in Susanville, similar action was leveled against me. I believe it is ongoing retaliation for my journalistic activities. I intend to find out. I filed a Citizen’s Complaint (staff complaint) on prison guard D. Mena, the individual responsible for stealing and/or confiscating my property during this latest rampage against me.
On January 14, 2011, my dormitory in the CCC (which houses 15 prisoners), was searched during an institution-wide search for a small “seven-inch” piece of copper tubing according to the lockdown order signed by CCC Warden R.E. Barnes. The alleged piece of tubing was “possibly missing from an old water heater or coffee pot” in the prison’s gymnasium, according to one of the guards. “It may have went missing this year or five years ago,” continued the guard. I understood this to mean that the gymnasium either maintains shoddy inventory records or inspections of the gym are far and few in between. Another staff member claims that (he believes) nothing was missing at all.
A day or so before the January 14 search, a guard performed what is called a “walk-through” (the housing unit), sort of a heads-up if you will. During the walk-through, he announced that there was a “search crew” coming into the dorm to look for the missing copper tubing.
To make the search “quicker” and “more thorough,” he suggested we remove the contents of our lockers (where our property is neatly stored) and place it out in the open on top of our bunks. Clothes, cosmetics, photo albums, legal and writing materials, books and an assortment of other approved personal items. So, like everyone else in my dormitory, I fell for the ruse.
Everyone in my dorm was strip-searched and “wanded” (gone over) with a handheld metal detector, then marched in a single file line with our hands clasped behind our backs to the prison’s gymnasium where the small piece of tubing allegedly went missing, while our dorm was searched. Go figure.
Approximately two hours later, we returned to the housing unit. I was pleasantly surprised; there was not too much damage done after the search as I walked by one bunk area after another en route to my bunk area. When I reached my bunk and locker I really wasn’t surprised at what I saw. Nearly everything I laid out (at the behest of the walk-through guard) was not where I had left it for the search.
Most of my legal documents and writing materials were dumped in several piles under my bunk, under the bunks of the prisoner’s juxtaposed to mine and thrown in the walkway at the foot of our bunks. Some of my property was on the top of at least one other prisoner’s bed and locker. No other prisoner in my dorm had their property removed or tossed about like so much garbage.
On further inspection, I learned some of my property was taken by guard D. Mena including my small radio and my reading and writing personal book light. These items are on my personal property card registered in CCC’s Receiving and Release (R&R) building. These items were logged when I arrived in 2009.
Also missing were several copies of photos that were sent to me (by the photographer) of the late Jerry Garcia and Jimmy Page, and a copy of a photo of myself and Chuck Berry on stage in the 1970s. That photo is irreplaceable. Guard Mena admitted to taking some of my items in his own handwriting on a “search slip” required after a search. Also missing was a large, detailed drawing I drew during an art class before I had three surgeries on my right hand. The drawing has been in my property for more than 15 years. It was the last piece of art I completed as my hand surgeries prevent me from ever drawing like that again.
It’s not about the photos, or my radio, drawing and other personal items stolen or disrespected by prison guard D. Mena; it’s about the vindictive and odious behavior he utilized while doing so. The lockdown/search order signed by CCC Warden Barnes was clear. A small piece of copper tubing was allegedly absent from its place and needed to be located. No other guard on that day, in my dormitory, went out of his or her way to intentionally confiscate or trash any other prisoner’s property, leaving it in heaps like so much dross.
Was this an act of retaliation for my continuing effort to define my surroundings while in prison? Or because I chose to file “staff complaints” on rogue prison staff? In this case, only guard D. Mena can answer those questions. I’ve requested a complete investigation into this guard’s actions against me as part of the Citizen’s Complaint filed against him. Outcome impending.