As the movement to fund police and prisons continues to gain momentum, more and more of them are adopting a key strategy of decarceration: shutting down prisons and prisons. Struggles for prison closures have always been an important organizing tactic for those of us working against the prison-industrial complex. Unfortunately, some state governments have attempted to co-opt the rhetoric of prison closures without actually putting it into practice.
The office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legislative analyst announced two prison closures – Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy and California Correctional Center in Susanville – following the devastating effects of COVID-19 as well as fires in ongoing forest endangering vulnerable people. people across the state.
But what does the state mean by “prison closure?” Of course, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) will transfer people locked up in these jails to other out-of-state locations, and there will be some staff reshuffle. But what is actually proposed by the CDCR is called a ‘hot shutdown’: the prisons will keep a smaller staff, a smaller budget and, in the case of DVI, will then be used as a training site for the officers. correction.
The problem is, like all prisons, DVI is infamous for its decades of oppressive and harmful tactics and its toxic culture. I know it firsthand: I spent two years in a DVI cage. It was an experience I will never forget, and that is why I know for sure that DVI should never be used to train prison staff.
The IVD is known as a ‘gladiatorial school’ for people across the prison system due to the history of violence authorized and ignored by staff that has taken place during the history of this. jail. When I was sent there, it took me five hours by bus to get to the facility from Wasco State Prison, a drop-in center where many begin their sentences. As I entered, I could see the wings of the accommodation – dirty clothes piled up outside, debris waiting to be picked up. All of the housing units were clearly run down, but I had no idea how bad it really was until I got inside. We were rounded up from the reception and release area to a small, dilapidated building. It was raining and the ceiling was leaking.
We were pushed through monstrous toothed cattle turnstiles in cages filled well beyond their capacity, as if we were animals on a factory farm. We waited six and a half hours, only then to be led by a series of ambivalent nurses and stern interview sergeants. We were given a kit called a “bedroll” – a tattered shirt, a pair of underwear and socks, and old sheets. As we were escorted through a large hallway, the common rooms were filled with beds and people until we came to “the row of fish.” This is where they house the new entrances to the prison, on the first floor of C-Wing.
I entered my cell and the guard slammed the door behind me. It was completely dark. After several minutes of searching, I discovered an old pull-down light above the upper bunk; the bulb was missing. It was very cold from the rain outside and a puddle was forming under the grated but open window. Closing the window was not an option – the surrounding glass was broken. The cell was disgusting; it had a smell that could only be described as “rotten”. The mattress was torn in half.
I shouted to a person in the cell opposite mine, “How can I have a light and a mattress?”
He replied, “You won’t get anything from them [the prison guards]. They will ignore you if you ask them.
It was my first day in DVI-Tracy.
One would assume that it has improved – it has not. The truth is, although the privileges improved slightly as I became part of the general prison population, the conditions did not improve. The shower drains were clogged and the water severely discolored – black and orange most of the time. The prison guards were contemptuous, rude and aggressive. While typical of the California prison system, DVI-Tracy seemed to be tinged with a particular kind of hatred for those in prison that only stems from a long-standing toxic internal culture based on the idea that we are “less. than “.
Tracy is known to have the biggest playground and gym in the CDCR, but we could only go out once or twice a week at most. Instead of being offered as a space for recreation, the gymnasium was used to cage hundreds of people, specifically putting up to hundreds of three-tier bunk beds and ensuring that each bed is full. Sometimes weeks went by without any âoutside timeâ. Isolated, we made “fishing lines” with the elastic of our underpants to do without notes. I lived the next two years like this. Others would spend their entire lives in these horrible conditions.
I was at DVI in 2003 and 2004. During this time the CDCR as a whole was under federal scrutiny due to reports of serious abuse and mistreatment of those incarcerated in its system. Has federal oversight changed the odious living conditions? My experience with DVI is that no the amount of external pressure or oversight actually changed something significantly. The windows were left smashed; bulbs were hard to come by; the water remained muddy, metallic and orange-black; and the drains were clogged until someone “important” came around. So things were fixed only to the extent that they appeared “that suits.” Eventually, everything would fall apart again and no one cared – except the people who lived there. It was – and I affirm is still – culture within DVI-Tracy. It’s rampant. He cannot be “trained”.
The only way to ensure that the toxic culture in DVI is eliminated is to eliminate the prison as a whole. Rip it to the ground and completely disable staff positions. DVI shutdown will save California $ 119 million in 2021-22 – and an additional $ 150.3 million each year after. These savings could be used for reintegration programs for those formerly imprisoned and to directly support the economies of cities affected by the DVI closure.
Tearing down the DVI will ensure that CDCR can never use this horrible, archaic place for anything again. Its demolition could serve as a model for decarceration efforts across the country.