Rattling the Bars: Susanville, California, prison ordered to close by judge

Visiting Lassen County Judge Robert F. Moody ruled against the town of Susanville on Sept. 8 in a lawsuit which aimed to stop California Correctional Center (CCC) from closing. Judge Moody’s ruling lifts the preliminary injunction and allows the state to move forward with plans for closure effectively immediately.

On Sept. 2, the state requested an expedited ruling to dissolve the lawsuit, arguing that the court’s stalling tactics were a “disregard of clear law” which amounted to “an abuse of the court’s discretion.” The ruling marks the end of the town’s year-long fight to keep CCC—a six-decade-old facility requiring $503 million in repairs—open indefinitely. Gov. Newsom’s 2022-2023 Enacted Budget mandates that CCC must close by June 30, 2023.

The case has been drawn out, contentious, and has attracted national media attention. In May, people incarcerated in CCC filed an amicus brief demanding the process be expedited, which was rejected by the judge. Incarcerated organizers released a public statement on Tuesday, Aug. 23, which decried the process and asked the court to do “the right thing,” stating it was time to “move on” from this case and shut the prison down. Advocates see the decision in this case as a decisive victory.

Brian Kaneda is the deputy director for CURB, Californians United For A Responsible Budget and a leader of the statewide campaign to Close California Prisons. He is a founding chapter member of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) Los Angeles and has spent the past decade monitoring and challenging the incarceration crisis and advocating for the rights of incarcerated people.

Shakeer Rahman is an attorney and organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. He represented Timothy Peoples, Duane Palm, and Patrick Noel Everett in their effort to bring the perspective of prisoners inside the California Correctional Center into the City of Susanville’s lawsuit to halt the prison’s closure.

General Dogon is an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network. He previously served 27 years in the California prison system.

Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

Mansa Musa:  Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars I’m mass Mansa Musa, co-host with Eddie Conway. To give you an update on Eddie Conway, Eddie Conway is doing good. And hopefully, answer my prayer, that he makes a cameo here at some point in time.

Imagine this right here. Imagine if you live in the country or state where you could save $500 million monthly in your budget. Imagine also that annually, you could save $1.2 billion in revenue. Just imagine this in the face of the economic repression and economic degradation that’s taking place in this country, it would stand to reason that all citizens in this state will be cheering to have this done.

Here to talk about the closing of the California Correctional Center in Susanville, which is a recently came out opinion from the courts came out saying that the state has to go forward, can go forward with closing it, here to talk about it are three people that’s in this space and has something to do with the closing of it or live there. I’m going to let them introduce yourself, starting with you, General. Introduce yourself to the Rattling the Bars audience.

General Dogon:  Good morning, first and foremost. Thank you for having me. My name is General Dogon. I’m a Fight Back organizer here on Skid Row with the Los Angeles community action network. I’m also a former California prisoner. I did 27 years in the California prison system from level one all the way to a level five of men’s most dangerous row in a [inaudible] program.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. Shakeer, introduce yourself to Rattling the Bars, or tell us a little bit about yourself.

Shakeer Rahman:  Hey, all. Thanks for having me. My name is Shakeer Rahman. I’m an attorney and organizer here at the Los Angeles community action network and with [inaudible] peace fine coalition. I represented three men who are currently incarcerated at the California Correctional Center in Susanville, in their efforts to bring their perspectives about what’s going on inside the prison and the stakes of the efforts to keep the prison open. So that was the lawsuit that just resolved last week.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. And Brian, introduce yourself to the Rattling the Bars audience. Tell a little bit about yourself.

Brian Kaneda:  It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Brian Kaneda, and I’m the deputy director of CURB, Californians United for a Responsible Budget. We’re working on a campaign to close California prisons. And we are saying that it’s time for California to close at least 10 prisons by 2025.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. Let’s start with you Shakeer, because, like you said, this decision that came out after the struggle of the community in Susanville fighting to keep the prison open. Walk us through the process of the finality of this particular litigation.

Shakeer Rahman:  Yeah. I mean, as I said, the case finally ended this week. And the thing about it is that it never should have gotten this far. Basically, the city of Susanville, as soon as the governor announced pursuant to the legislature, told him California’s prison infrastructure needs to be shrunk, it needs to be much smaller, and you need to prioritize especially old, dangerous kinds of prisons to shutter. So the governor then announced another prison as well as CCC in Susanville as the first two he was going to close. And he announced that kind of early, giving the city extra notice to start preparing for that shutdown.

Immediately, the city’s residents and the city’s officials, the city’s government sued the state, saying that the state doesn’t have the power to close that prison, or they should have chosen a different prison. All kinds of claims that, basically, because of the effect of closing the prison and their, more than anything, the city’s kind of financial stake in needing for that prison to be there, needing for the prisoners to be there, needing for the prison to be full, and because of their financial reliance on the revenue that they get from that prison, the revenue that they extract from people being caged there, for that reason, the prison needs to stay open.

It needs to stay open as long as they financially need it. And so, as soon as that happened, prisoners at CCC, organizers incarcerated at CCC started mobilizing against this, writing to the judge, bringing in their perspective of, first of all, these are the conditions inside the prison. And second of all, this argument that a prison needs to stay open because of the revenue that it’s generating for people… And people, by the way, the city of Susanville is a predominantly white community. Obviously, as we know, from the reality of incarceration in California, the population of CCC, the incarcerated population, is disproportionately Black, disproportionately Indigenous, disproportionately Brown, and poor.

And a lot of them shipped from places like Los Angeles, all the way up to Susanville, which is kind of on the Nevada-Oregon border, far away there. And so, yeah, bringing up the point that this kind of argument is akin to the logic of slavery. And this is the [crosstalk] that slavers were saying of, oh, you can’t get rid of slavery because that’s going to upend our way of life. So they were bringing that perspective in, but the judge kept ignoring it. So then we decided to support with an amicus brief formally laying out these arguments.

Mansa Musa:  And General, he spoke on, he just spoke on… I mean Rahman, excuse me, Rahman just spoke on the conditions of the prison that’s being closed. Can you educate our audience on some of the conditions that exist in that particular plantation?

General Dogon:

Yes, for sure. So when I went there, it was quite a while ago. It was 1996, and I was a parole violator. I was there. I went there for my addiction. I think I had a nine month parole violation. And so I’m surprised to hear that, you know, talking about conditions, because back in 1996, I could tell you right now. So first of all, as soon as I got the docket saying that I was going to Susanville, everybody’s like, oh, you’re going to lose your girl world. I was like, what? The prison was nicknamed lose your girl world because it was so far, just like you said, you got to go all the way out to the Oregon border. The bus went all the way out there. We had to go outside the California line and then come back in, go around, come back in to get to the prison.

And I remember being shackled up for all that long time. It is like you’re on a slave trip, because halfway there you run out of water. The bus stop only two – I mean, well it’s the guy that drives the bus, the guy that sits in the front with a gun and the guy that sits shotgun in the back of the bus and they ain’t stopping that bus to give you no water or nothing, he’ll be like, oh no, that’s security reasons. So they push all the way on, man. We had to go there, starving, hungry, people using the bathroom on themself, all kinds of stuff. And so then when we got to the prison, the prison was very old. It was my first time there. I believe it was a level two and three prison. And so the majority of the prison was dorm living and stuff like that.

But it had triple, they had already started the triple bunks, they had already started… They had already closed down the gym and were putting bunks in the gym. And as you walk through the prison, I mean, it was like, I went to Folsom. And when you go to Folsomy you see old gunshot wounds on the wall, you see blood stains on the wall and stuff like that. And Susanville was no different. It was an old prison. So you see stuff all chipped up, paint that ain’t been fixed in, I don’t know how long, decades have gone by, it looked like you were walking through an old castle.

Mansa Musa:  Let me ask you this, let me ask you this, General. Are you surprised, then, that the court has come out and ruled that they should close it? Are you surprised at that? In 2020, we’re talking about in 2022.

General Dogon:  Back in those… Back in, when I was there, inmates were filing complaints about the prison. Like I said, the only reason, and it was a majority of all white males that was working there, and you could clearly tell the prison was the town’s bread and butter. And then also I’d just like to say real quick, though, my prison number is C65343. Here’s my card right here. So when I came to prison, it was like 1981. When Al Capone came to the California prison system was in the ’30s. So I came 50 years after Al. When Al came, he had an A number, I got a C number. So I only went through one letter and a half in 50 years. Right?

Mansa Musa:  That’s right.

General Dogon:  The time that I got there from the early ’90s, from ’92, all the way to where it is now, they would flip the alphabet. Within 10 years, they would flip the alphabet and start doing double numbers. And all this was because of the war on drugs. And I remember PIA prison industry authority in ’82 when I went there was a multi-billion dollar industry then. I don’t know what it is now. So yeah, we need to get rid of some prisons, California has the largest prison system in the world. When you look at it, over 85% of the people that’s in there are for a non-violent offense. People are in there for medicating and stuff like that. And so it’s the 13th Amendment all over again, where it is slavery. They found the way, justify slavery under the new 13th Amendment. And they build these prison systems. And in California, being leading the nation in many years for this. And it’s just not Susanville that’s got bad conditions, a lot of those old prisons like Tehachapi there means still toe up like that. Chino, CMC, CRC. I can do roll call on them –

Mansa Musa:  Hold up, hold up on roll call, hold up on the roll call. And rightly so, you can do roll call. And this is a great day for us. And that’s why we want to go with Brian. Brian, as I opened up, I talked about how much money is going to be saved by the closure of CCC. And I talked about the fact that if you lived in a state where you were going to save this money, which ultimately would be reinvested in the infrastructure of Medicaid, housing, and other things that society would need, it stands to reason that people would be cheering. Why do you think, and walk us through your role and in terms of responsible, budgeted – Walk us through your organization and how your organization fits into this design to get rid of the prison industrial contracts in California.

Brian Kaneda:  Yeah. Thanks for that. And I’m here for the roll call too, because we can name all kinds of prisons that need to shut down. And we can make an argument for every single one in California, because more than anything, we know that prisons are racist. And we know that so many people from our communities are being disappeared into them. And that’s been the case for decades. And cost is real, not just human costs, but closing CCC, for instance, is going to save Californians at least $122 million per year. And ,Mansa, you really said it. We’re not looking to save that money. That’s not going back into the government. We want them to spend the money. We want them to spend the money on services. We want them to spend the money on the things that we know actually keep people safe like healthcare, housing, all of the things that we actually know build strong communities.

And this isn’t just us saying this as advocates and organizers, the state’s own nonpartisan legislative analyst office produced a report in November of 2020 that outlined at least $1.5 billion in annual savings if California committed to closing five prisons by 2025. And that’s where we come in, CURB, Californians United for a Responsible Budget. We do budget advocacy. We know that the state spends upwards of $18.6 billion on corrections annually, and we and our allies and member organizations, people inside prisons who organize with us, we’re saying that there is a more responsible way to spend this budget other than human caging.

Mansa Musa:  And Shakeer, in terms of the litigation – And I think that it’s final in this regard, the prison is supposed to be closed in 2023. Has the city or has Susanville filed any type of appeal to try to keep it open? Because that’s the reason why, like you say, it shouldn’t have been going on this long, but it’s their bread and butter, so they’re really fighting to maintain the plantation.

Shakeer Rahman:  Yeah, I mean the prison was supposed to be closed in June 2022. It was supposed to be closed three months ago. That was the original announcement back in 2021. And it was only delayed because of this bogus lawsuit and the judge giving the lawsuit a lot more air than it deserved. So the prison already should have been closed. The prison’s right on the line of the… It’s in wildfire country, so it’s imperiled by the wildfire season that’s starting. It’s a whole nother year that it’s going to exist, that it was never supposed to exist. And it’s only because of this kind of opportunistic lawsuit that the city filed. I mean, hopefully the decision this week is the final word on all that. But the city of Susanville is trying everything, has not shied away from frivolous claims to try to keep the prison open.

Mansa Musa:  And General, all right, going back to you, look, we are going to go, because you are the expert in terms of these decadent conditions, living conditions and environment. So in your mind, what would be the next one up to close? If you had to go down the list, we ain’t talking, we know we want Quentin closed. We know we want Folsom closed, but what would be the next logical prison, to your knowledge, if you have any insight, that you think should be closed?

General Dogon:  So most definitely, I think they need to dismantle death row, the death house and all that. I know that Newsome came through and took some of the stuff out. But most definitely San Quentin. San Quentin probably still, one of the old prisons. Tehachapi probably would be another one. And then you got some like Chino. Chino was down here. I mean, Chino was so bad when I was there and they continued to keep it open. It was destruction, it’s like about to fall down on itself. It’s probably older than Rome. So any of those old prisons like that, the ones with the bars.

So now I’m surprised because I know the system has changed towards these prisons that are more like gas chambers, ones that are isolated, where they can use these gas when people lock cells and stuff like that, pepper spray and all that kind of stuff. So the more isolated type gas chambers that the prison system is creating now. So they’re getting rid of the old prisons with the bars and stuff. But the ones with the bars are the ones that have the oldest and the worst, probably, conditions that are in them.

And then a lot of them are just bad because of overcrowding right now. Now the medical issues that are in prisons are really bad. People are dying in prison because they can’t get the right treatment and stuff like that.

Mansa Musa:  And if memory serves me correctly – And Shakeer, you can probably talk about this – They did file a lawsuit, dealing with the 8th Amendment. They did raise a couple of 8th Amendment claims pertaining to the inhumane conditions in California prisons. I think they got a ruling that came out that gave them the court’s ruling in their favor, that California prisoners had made an 8th Amendment claim on a class action. Do you have any knowledge of that?

Shakeer Rahman:  Yeah. I mean, Brian can speak more to the broader picture across the prison system in California, but every day prisoners are filing 8th Amendment claims about conditions that they’re experiencing. There’s been a number of class actions. The Brown v Plata litigation that took a very long time was about grave neglect of both mental health and other health access within the prisons. And what was monumental about that decision is it was the first time that the US Supreme Court ordered a massive reduction of prison, saying, along the lines of we’re all saying, and coming from a conservative Supreme Court, that there’s no way you can humanely deliver health services and meet the basic kind of dignity and needs of prisoners at the level that they’ve got. And the only way to address that is not reform, is not putting more resources into it, but it’s just to reduce the prison population.

Mansa Musa:  And Brian, and in terms of, because in this whole conversation, the reality is – And I think you best represent this reality – Is that we’re talking about saving money. We’re talking about saving taxpayers money, and we’re talking about eliminating a system that relies on human suffering to be able to provide jobs for people. From your perspective, where do we stand at now? Do you think we got the momentum to see more prisons? Because I read in the decision that other prisons need to be closed. Newsome has said that other prisons will be closed. Do you think that, from your organization’s perspective, that we got the momentum to start dismantling the California prison-industrial complex institution by institution?

Brian Kaneda:  Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s what we’re trying to harness now is that momentum. And prisons that could close in tandem at the same time with CCC are already being actively discussed in the public sphere. So I really think that this is a rare, ripe, perfect opportunity to go as hard as we can and demand that we close as many prisons as possible over the next few years. And I think it’s important to remember we’re talking about which prisons to close. There’s no such thing as a bad prison to close, but CDCR should expand the criteria for prison closure to include the voices of impacted people. The General was just talking, clearly people who have been inside these prisons are some of the most informed to know why they should close. And that’s why we did a survey of over 2,000 system-impacted people that helped rank what people inside were saying, or the primary issues that should influence which prisons should be selected next.

And that included unsafe health conditions, so we’re talking about water contamination, poison, asbestos, mold. Which prisons are the most overcrowded, the cost of incarcerating people there, and the location of the prison. We talked earlier about distance from loved ones and being inaccessible and travel. And the highest number of homicides and suicides, because we know prisons are deadly. We believe CDCR should be incorporating these criteria for closure.

But all state prisons are toxic and California would collectively cumulatively benefit by any state prison closing. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re demanding a concrete plan to close more prisons from the Newsome administration, hopefully by the January budget. So we want him to outline the plan for which prisons will close next. That can’t just be an announcement about closures. We want that, but we also want a plan for how the cost savings is going to be captured to best support people who have been impacted by the incarceration crisis, people who are formerly incarcerated, and also to create new opportunities in prison towns that are reliant on these economies.

We know that everybody deserves the right to dignified employment if that’s what they want. So even these people who are the ops, we’re not trying to leave anyone behind. And with the state’s leadership, these closures could actually be a much more smooth process compared to what happened in Susanville where there was this outcry, a reasonable outcry in terms of the fact that it’s scary when anybody loses a job, it’s scary when you don’t know what your future’s going to look like. But economies that depend on human caging and the people who profit from them need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and start thinking about what’s next.

Mansa Musa:  And you know what we had, we had a conversation with Nicole Porter from the Citizen Project, and to resonate your point, Brian, she did a study on repurposing the prison. And in her articulation, she made it known that it’s the state’s responsibility to do just what you said, to find alternative ways to provide an income or economic impetus in the society. Because we’re not trying to make people unemployed. We’re not opposed to people working. We’re just opposed to people working in the plantation and becoming the chattel.

But Shakeer, where do we stand now in terms of monitoring and watching the outcome of this particular announcement and the potential closing? Where are y’all positioning ourselves now in the event we have another year delay or we have another justification for why they’re dragging their feet? What are, from the legal perspective, what are y’all plans? Or are y’all preparing for something like that?

Shakeer Rahman:  Yeah, well June 2023 is a deadline. So that’s the latest that the prison can remain open. Hopefully CCCR is working on shutting that place down like they originally had planned. It was already supposed to be shut down. We haven’t had an opportunity yet to really strategize about any other kind of legal tricks that the city might pursue. Hopefully none of that’s going to happen, but CURB and others are going to be obviously watching it closely. And hopefully CCC and the other prison that closed, the Deuel Vocational Center, are the first of several that the state will continue closing.

Mansa Musa:  And Brian, in regard to the abolition movement, because this is the conversation that we’re starting to see take shape nationwide. People are starting to look at the prison-industrial complex as being a new form of slavery, and mass incarceration, and prisoners being the chattel. In terms of the abolition aspect, where does CURB stand at in terms of their relationship with the abolition movement, if any?

Brian Kaneda:  I mean, I think what’s so important for CURB is that we utilize an abolitionist strategy for organizing. So you don’t have to be an abolitionist to be a member of CURB. But when we do advocacy, when we run legislation, we use the lens of abolition to make sure that we don’t disrupt any of the work that’s happening on the front lines at the grassroots. And that includes things like making sure that we don’t create anything that we have to tear down later. A good example of that is there is this movement to create a kinder, nicer prison. And we know that there’s no such thing. So while a lot of reformers and a lot of centrists, a lot of Democrats are interested in things like the Norway model of incarceration and trying to find a nice way to put people in cages, that’s something that CURB stands against, because we know that there’s no such thing as a kinder prison.

Another thing that’s a big guiding principle for us is not leaving people behind. So we want everyone to get free. And we know that there can be a tendency for folks to go for the low-hanging fruit. We don’t think anybody should be in prison for doing drugs or having some kind of drug-related conviction. But the reality is unless we create a pathway for people who are convicted of more serious kinds of harm to get out too, and that includes people who have been convicted of murder. That includes people who have been convicted of serious offenses. We need to deal with the reality that the vast majority of those people are going to come home someday. And we have to create policies that include them in freedom opportunities and make sure that they’re not left behind. So abolition is our guiding principle for how we do all of our prison closure organizing.

Mansa Musa:  Shakeer, you got a final word, and I’m going to come back to you, Brian, for your final word. What’s your final word on this, Shakeer? Like I said earlier, in September in Attica they did the Attica documentary where it showed where Attica was the number one economy for that state, for the city of Attica. What’s your final words on what happened, and what we look forward to in the future when it comes to the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration?

Shakeer Rahman:  I mean this whole case, this saga, just goes to show kind of what we’re up against. And that is a society that’s invested in imprisonment, and that, because of the legacy of enslavement and the history of this country, can comfortably in court entertain arguments that prisoners need to be treated as revenue, that prisoners can be treated as property, that the value of a prisoner is what kind of money it’s making for the city. Just the fact that that is accepted with a straight face in a courtroom goes to show what we’re up against. At the same time, seeing this fight led by people inside, exposing what’s going on, similar to the lineage of stretching back through Attica, of prisoners organizing for their liberation within the most surveilled, oppressive conditions, that goes to show that all of us, those of who are out on the outside and aren’t facing that kind of surveillance and domination, we need to do everything in our power to support this fight and to contribute.

Mansa Musa:  And Brian, give your final word on this, and also give us your information on how Rattling the Bars viewers can get in touch or network with y’all. And Shakeer, you can do the same if you have some information you want to convey. But Brian, in turn, and before I close, I want to just acknowledge that this is some woodwork on y’all part. I’m familiar with the California prisons. Since I have never been there, I told you I did 48 years, but the entire time in the 48 years, we were doing a lot of networking with the California prison system and California. The founder of this program, former Black Panther Eddie Conway, has a lot of friends and family members that were in the California prison system. So talk about where we go from here, Brian, and what you look forward to.

Brian Kaneda:  Yeah, well I think what Shakeer said is beautiful, and ultimately this is a campaign that’s co-led by people inside California prisons that we’re co-organizing with. And this case specifically reached a wide audience and got national media attention. And really, I think its resolution proves that the town never really had a great case, and the state has taken steps to make it easier to close more prisons in the future. So it’s time to close this chapter, because additional prison closures seem to be on the horizon. And we know that CCC’s slow closure is actually hurting people inside of the prison. It’s hurting the most vulnerable Californians and wasting millions of dollars that could be spent on formerly incarcerated people, and even for Susanville, for new opportunities. And it’s well past time to move on from this and start talking about which prisons are going to close next, because we believe we could close at least eight more over the next three years.

And in order to do that, these discussions have to be underway. You can visit our website, curbprisonspending.org, to learn more about our campaigns, and follow us on social media. Instagram and Twitter is @curbprisons. We have actions all the time where you can send letters to the budget committees and the legislature, send letters to governor Newsome and tell people in your community that prison closure is actually an important issue that affects tens of thousands of people. And it has billions of dollars in play that could be better spent on our community. So care about it. Care about closing California prisons.

Mansa Musa:  And Shakeer, you got any contact information you wanted to part with?

Shakeer Rahman:  No, I’ll just say the same. And I think this is what General Dogon would’ve said if he didn’t have to run off to another organizing meeting, which is to join the fight. Follow CURB, join the coalition. I work here in LA with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, LA CAN, and the [inaudible] coalition, both of which are organizing on some of the drivers, the policies, and the systems that are feeding people into prisons and that are also then criminalizing people and surveilling them when they come out. So yeah, work closely with your incarcerated neighbors and with people who are coming out of prisons and organizing to end their brutality.

Mansa Musa:  Thank you both, brothers, for joining us. And there you have it, the real news about CCC closing. And in Brian’s words, what prison will we close next? We like to end on that note because that’s, for us, this is a great day for us, in that we’re ending slavery as we know it, modern day slavery as we know it.

On behalf of Eddie Conway and myself, we ask that you continue to support Rattling the Bars and The Real News. And you can go to our website to know how you can support both The Real News and Rattling the Bars. Thanks both of y’all for coming, taking your time out, and continue to do the great work that y’all are doing.

Brian Kaneda:  Thank you. Thank you for all that you do.

Shakeer Rahman:  Thank you. Yeah, it was great talking to you.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, also known as Charles Hopkins, is a 70-year-old social activist and former Black Panther. He was released from prison on December 5, 2019, after serving 48 years, nine months, 5 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes. He co-hosts the TRNN original show Rattling the Bars.