Pelican Bay letter seeks inmate truce

Written by Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate September 24, 2012 06:05 pm

Penned by leaders of recent hunger strikes

Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who last year organized the largest hunger strike throughout California’s prison system are now calling for a truce among inmates.

A letter directed last month to “all California prisoners” contains an order to end hostilities among races and unite in an attempt to bring changes to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the benefit of inmates.

The letter calls for a truce among prisoners from the state to county levels to start Oct. 10. Just this week there have been riots in two state prisons — involving 60 inmates in Sacramento and two incidents Friday in Solano involving about 120 inmates combined.

It is hoped that by unifying, the inmates will be able to change the prison system to a “rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc.” through “peaceful protests/noncooperation” and “hunger strike, no labor,” the letter states.

The letter, which has been published on several prisoner advocacy blogs, is attributed to 16 Pelican Bay inmates — among them a group calling itself the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. It is comprised of four inmates: one white, one African- American and two Hispanics. 

The Short Corridor Collective has already shown its ability to influence other prisoners through  two hunger strikes last year that were protesting SHU living conditions. One was in July, which the CDCR said had 6,600 inmate participants, and another was in October, when 4,525 were identified as striking.

The letter states the call to cease hostilities is the result of a mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups in Pelican Bay’s SHU corridor.

The Security Housing Unit (SHU) corridor holds about 200 inmates in isolation who have been identified by the CDCR as being high-ranking and influential among their respective prison gangs.

The four inmates identified in the letter as being part of the collective are Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Ronnie Dewberry and Antonio Guillen.

Ashker, 49, has been in prison since 1982 for various crimes including second-degree murder and burglary. He is serving a life term.

Castellanos, 51, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He was convicted in 1980.

Dewberry, 54, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon  from a 1981 conviction.

Records requested from the CDCR were not available for  Guillen, 47, by Friday. He has been in prison since 2000.

The letter states inmates should refrain from violence and settle disputes that may arise through diplomatic means.

“We hope they do what they say they intend to do,” said Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for CDCR. “We are all in agreement for reducing violence in prisons.”

The peace order is scheduled for the same month the CDCR will begin implementing a change in its SHU policy that will restructure how inmates can be released from solitary.

Reach Anthony Skeens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it