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Family, Vows, & Snitching to Get Out of Solitary Confinement - Part VIII of “I Survived Washington Irving JHS”
FAMILY, VOWS, & SNITCHING TO GET OUT OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT - The following is part of a series of articles written by Michael Leavitt about his real life experiences at Washington Irving Junior High School in Los Angeles, California from 1974-1976. The events are true and have been documented to help Michael's family better understand the racial tensions he endured during that era.
“DAD, WHAT WAS IT REALLY LIKE FOR YOU IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL?”
CHAPTER 8 - FAMILY, VOWS, & SNITCHING TO GET OUT OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
I am absolutely amazed at how destructive a prison sentence can be for the remaining family members who remain long after the gang member is imprisoned. I am also amazed at how Satan has a way of convincing the sinner that they are committing their sin in a vacuum. They sinner feels as though they are only hurting themselves and being free to choose they continue their course until their actions are revealed. The thought that they are only hurting themselves is one of the biggest lies that Satan tells his followers.
When a family member is ripped from society and imprisoned, then there is a huge void within the family structure. This is compounded when you are a gang member in Southern California that gets sent to the maximum security prison in Pelican Bay, California. Family members could visit, but since the prison is located about 800 miles away near the Oregon border, it is nearly impossible. Reading one forum I came across the post of a gang member’s wife who said, “I haven't been able to visit him. I've been approved but the way the economy is..... I need to save the last bit of penny I have in my pocket!!!” To make the drive it is another 7 hours beyond Sacramento, California. From Washington Junior High School in Glassell Park, California to Pelican Bay is nearly 1,500 miles round trip. So how often do you think a family can make that trip? That was the entire point of locating the Pelican Bay State Prison so far away from Southern California. Isolation of the inmates is by design.
I also found it interesting that phone calls are not allowed for those in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of Pelican Bay. This limits the communication of family members to inmates to just letter writing. I have no idea how badly letters are censored, or what dialogue is allowed, but I should soon find out as I await my first follow-up response from Frank Reyna. I have been documenting my history with Frank in the previous chapters of this portion of my blog and I encourage you to go back and read them. I originally wrote my first letter to Frank Reyna about a week ago, not knowing that he was in the toughest of tough situations when it comes to incarceration. I naively asked if he had internet privileges... Duh! I feel like such a goof sometimes.
PHOTO BAN - In my initial research to Frank Reyna’s online presence, I was led to a story dealing with a photo ban that had been in place in Pelican Bay for over 20 years. The news story brought tears to my eyes as I read about the families of the prisoners who have not been allowed to view a recent photo of their loved ones. READ THE FULL STORY HERE
I am not immune to the fact that the prisoners in the SHU have done awful things. I know there are victims and I do not excuse the actions of the imprisoned inmates. But for every prisoner in the SHU there is a Mother at home weeping for her son. There are also brothers and sisters, as well as wives and kids. They are left with only memories.
Here is a telling excerpt from “Blurred Photo Memories” and a quote from Frank Reyna’s sister Silvia...
Sense of identity limited
Going years without phone calls and photographs led many families to feel cut off from their husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles and sons locked in Pelican Bay. Some inmates complained to relatives of losing a sense of their own identity, even their own physical features. In addition to the photo ban, inmates at Pelican Bay do not have mirrors in their cells.
“My brother tells me that sometimes he forgets how he looks. He doesn’t remember how he looks,” said Sylvia Rogokos of Los Angeles. Her brother, Frank Reyna, 51, was sent to Pelican Bay in 1992.
I reached out to Sylvia after finding her on Facebook...
Sylvia, I just sent you a Facebook friend request. I believe that you are the sister of Frank Reyna. I went to Washington Irving Junior High School with Frank and he just sent me a letter from Pelican Bay. I want to learn more about him and the struggles that he has been through. I sent him a letter yesterday and hopefully he will desire to correspond.
I found your quote used in multiple places online regarding Frank and the inability to have photos taken. I have been touched by the topic and am doing my own research. In the process I found you here on Facebook.
Frank wrote to me because I mentioned him by name in some articles I wrote online to my family titled “I Survived Washington Irving Junior High School”. In them I described your brother mugging me by the shop classes.
I reshared these articles on my blog at www.MichaelDLeavitt.com as well as the letter he sent to me and the letter I sent back to him. Until this evening I did not know why he was there or how long he had been imprisoned. I am finding everything online in an attempt to better understand your brother. My last interaction with him was 37 years ago.
Obviously he has done some bad things to get him where he is at, but his letter to me was so coherent that there must be a lot of goodness in him. I also found some references to prison artwork that he has done, but I have not yet found any of it. If you have any that you would like to share, then I would love to post it online.
My motives are to try to set my prior hatred for his actions against me aside and get some resolution with further research and letter correspondence with Frank. I am transparent in that I post my findings and interactions openly on my blog with the hope that my kids and their kids will better understand me. Writing and researching about this is also helping me heal. I do not have any plans to write or share anything to harm Frank. In fact, the more I research, the more sympathetic I am becoming to more humane treatment of those that are incarcerated. My veil of innocence has quickly been stripped away as I learn more about Frank’s life and imprisonment.
So please consider me a friend.
Thanks, Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah
It was initially strange writing to Sylvia because I had no idea how my message would be received. I was again blown away as she shared some of the details of Frank’s incarceration...
Michael, thank you for contacting me. Let's just say I was not surprised by what you wrote. Frank was what we call a bully even to his family I really don't like to talk about it but anyway. I'm also here for you. Feel free to look at my Facebook. His art is all over & Frank has been in prison for 27 years. 23 of those in Solitary Confinement. Frank was hanging around the wrong crowd, but I promise you they got the wrong guy. Frank’s sentence was 15-life & he has been in for 27. I am part of a group called California Family To Abolish Solitary Confinement. We are a group of Wives, Moms, sisters, and friends. We have nothing against prison, only Solitary Confinement. And I would also like to say sorry! Goodnight & thanks. Your friend, Sylvia Rogokos
I will find “California Family To Abolish Solitary Confinement” online and offer my support. I just Frank’s writing about the extension of his sentence and I am horrified. He must have some incredible will to endure for all of these years. I look forward to learning more about him. Thanks again! Michael Leavitt
I researched many articles and news stories about Pelican Bay and the families of the prisoners and I am shocked. I just keep shaking my head in shame at the way we treat men here in America who we are supposedly trying to rehabilitate. How can they ever be prepared to return to a normal life when they have been stripped from family relations, photo evidence, and kept in solitary confinement for decades?
Frank’s sister Norma wrote to her State Senator regarding solitary confinement...
It all gets back to the solitary confinement issue. California’s prison system resolves this issue easily by pointing out that California has no solitary confinement in their prisons. By not calling it “Solitary Confinement” then there is no issue. Voila!... Like magic it all disappears (tongue firmly placed in cheek).
From the SolitaryWatch.com website, “... Few prison systems use the term “solitary confinement,” instead referring to prison “segregation.” In California, long-term solitary confinement units are referred to as Security Housing Units (SHUs); in New York, the same acronym stands for Special Housing Units. In Oregon, the long-term isolation units are called Intensive Management Units (IMUs), while in Pennsylvania they are called Restricted Housing Units (RHUs). In the federal system, one type of extreme solitary confinement takes place in Communication Management Units (CMUs). Despite the variety of names, the general practice of incarceration in these units and facilities is solitary confinement.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE - SHU PRISONER
I found this 27 page document that features letters from Pelican Bay inmates describing life in the SHU. Frank Reyna’s letter starts at the lower portion of page 10 and extends through page 12. - DOWNLOAD
THE PELICAN BAY SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CELL
Yes, solitary confinement does exist. Here is an animated short video of what the California cells are like...
If any of this affects you like it does me, then consider signing the latest petition to stop the solitary confinement in California... SIGN THE PETITION
WHAT IS REQUIRED TO LEAVE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN PELICAN BAY?
It is really quite easy to leave solitary confinement in Pelican Bay, if you do not take into consideration the vows gang inmates have made earlier in their lives. I am certain that it is a bunch of political bureaucrats that pushed through the criteria. Bureaucrats with virtually no understanding of the gang lifestyle. I nervously giggle when I read how simple it sounds on the surface, and then I step back to realize the depth of betrayal a gang affiliated prisoner must undertake if they are to comply and be released back into the general prison population. The steps are seemingly easy.
“An inmate used to have only two options to leave the SHU. They needed to remain inactive for six years or debrief. There is currently a step down program available which gives inmates more freedoms and additional programs as they progress through the steps even if they chose not to debrief. Inmates who have made the decision to debrief, are placed into debriefing pods while the investigation into their claims are validated. Once their claims have been validated, they are placed into the Transitional Housing Unit (THU) which is located in facility B building 3 (B-3). Those inmates in the THU are separated from the General Population inmates by staggering their yard times, visiting times, education and law library times.”
Let me translate. You must either denounce your gang affiliations and be proven to be inactive for at least 6 years, or debrief, which is a sterile word which really means snitch on your fellow gang members. If you opt to snitch, then they stick you in transitional housing while they prove your snitch stories to be true. Then they take those you snitched on and put them in the SHU and ultimately release you back into the general population amongst those that know you either snitched or turned your back on your blood oaths. How long do you suppose that individual will last in the general population? Is it any wonder why somebody who is true to their vows is forced to remain in soliatary confinement for decades? We are talking about young men who were raised in this gang mentality, swore their oaths of allegiance to a flawed gang environment, yet who still hold true to the vows that they have made. All I can relate this to in my life is my religion.
I realize that comparing prison gang vows and religious vows are at opposite ends of the pendulum swing, but I must believe that they are equally impassioned in their actions. If I was imprisoned and put away in solitary confinement and told that I could be released if I renounced my religious beliefs and/or turned in my fellow church members, then I would like to think I would rot in there knowing that I was remaining true to the vows that I had made. In fact, I would hold my head up high knowing that I was remaining true to my vows. We can look to Daniel, in the Old Testament for the perfect example of faithfulness when he was told to stop praying and he continued doing what he knew to be right and ultimately thrown into the den of lions only to be miraculously saved. In a perverted way, gang members are remaining true to their vows and maintaining their sense of honor.
Now I am not equating the gang members imprisoned in solitary confinement to the righteous actions of Daniel. But we have lots of people who stay true to their vows, be them righteous or evil. The thought of imprisoning them until they either renounce and/or snitch is a completely flawed concept on the part of the prison system. It might make perfect sense the to bureaucrats, but who are we kidding to think that multiple years and decades of solitary confinement is going to finally break somebody down?
And never-mind the topic of who is paying for all of this and how much it costs the State of California to keep somebody in the SHU.
PELICAN BAY QUICK FACTS
- Pelican Bay State Prison was built in 1989 at a cost of $230 million to hold 1056 inmates, or, $217,803 per cell.
- With over 1,100 inmates in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) and 400 more in the Administrative Segregation
- Unit (ASU), Pelican Bay State Prison has an yearly budget of $180 million (2010-11)
- The 2010-11 annual costs per inmate were as follows:
- $70, 641 per Security Housing Unit (SHU) inmate
- $77,740 per Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) inmate
- ??? Per Transitional Housing Unit (TSU) inmate
- $58,324 per general population inmate
This has been quite a journey for me as I have delved into the life and imprisonment of Frank Reyna. Yes, he was a bully in his younger days. Yes, he was raised in a harsh environment and he chose a hard path. Frank is now 52 and has spent 27 years and counting, over half his life, behind bars. Over 21 of those years have been in solitary confinement. I invite anybody who reads this to sign the petition banning any State of Federal laws that would have the open ended ability to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for decades. I have also drawn new personal meaning to the teachings of Jesus Christ when he implores...
- “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
- (New Testament | Matthew 5:43 - 48)
Paying special attention to verse 44, I have not been able to do this with many of of those that have despitefully used me when I was younger. I know the return hatred that festered in my soul, but I am now at a point in life that I can deal with the pain and move forward. For now there is no way that I can go any deeper. I look forward to receiving a response from Frank and we will just have to see how it goes...
TO BE CONTINUED...
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - Michael@TheHomeInspector.com
NOTE: Washington Irving Junior High School was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades during my 1974-76 tenure. I see that it is now named Washington Irving Middle School and features 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. I wish the change happened decades ago and I could have completed 9th grade at the much more impressive and friendly Eagle Rock High School.
NOTE 2: Washington Irving has changed again. The internet shows it is now called the Irving Magnet School and is painted white and vibrant blue and features grades 5th through 8th. LINK
What are your thoughts?