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Old 01-19-2004, 11:38 AM
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Default CA- Pelican Bay State Prison: Behind the walls

Eureka Times-Standard


Pelican Bay State Prison: Behind the walls
By Chris Durant The Times-Standard


Sunday, January 18, 2004 -

First of two parts; part two will run Monday

Nestled near California's northwest corner sits Pelican Bay State Prison. The beauty of the surrounding forests and nearby coastline is a sharp contrast to the dull gray, cold, hard walls that house some of the state's most violent and dangerous convicts.

On average, about 3,350 inmates are locked up at any one time.

About half of Crescent City's population are inmates at Pelican Bay.

On Monday, there were 3,357 inmates housed in these eight different areas:

The most inmates -- 1,219 -- are in the Security Housing Units, an area described as a maximum security prison within a maximum security prison. Inmates are allowed out of their cells for about an hour and a half per day; 10 minutes for a shower and about an hour in a concrete yard the size of half a basketball court, by themselves with no basketballs or equipment. The validated prison gang members are housed here, as well as those who don't obey the rules.

General Population had 1,148 inmates Monday, kept in separated yards. This is where prisoners who behave themselves and follow the rules are kept.

Level I housing, with 377 inmates, has been compared to trustees in a county jail -- with prisoners who are not likely to try to escape and do not present a threat to others.

The Administration Segregation area is like a county jail within the prison. If a law is broken within the prison walls, the suspects are detained in the Administration Segregation area throughout the investigation. On Monday, 212 inmates were housed there.

The Gym housed 147 inmates. This is where prisoners are held when they arrive and are observed by staff to determine which area they will be sent to. Prisoners who will only be in the prison for a short time, like someone serving a month or so because of a parole violation, would also be housed here.

The Psychiatric Services unit, Transitional Housing unit and Enhanced Outpatient program held a total of 233 inmates Monday. These areas are newer and are innovative in the California Department of Corrections. They're discussed in more detail below.

About 30 other prisoners are temporarily housed in medical facilities both inside and outside the prison walls.

The prison has come under severe criticism in the past for its use of force policies and a 2000 riot that left a prisoner dead.

A 'maturing organization'


"Pelican Bay is a complex institution with multiple missions," said Chief Deputy Warden Richard Kirkland.

Pelican Bay State Prison was opened in 1989 and was built to help accommodate the increasing maximum security population in the California Department of Corrections.

"Pelican Bay State Prison is designed to house the state's most serious criminal offenders in a secure, safe and disciplined institutional setting," states a brochure from the prison's Public Information Office.

"The worst of the worst is a catch phrase but we have three security housing units and we tend to get most of the inmates that have proved to be problematic in other institutions," Kirkland said. "We're built to handle the whole spectrum of maximum security inmates."

No other California prison is built to handle the amount of violent and validated gang inmates as Pelican Bay.

"We are the only institution in the state that has dedicated Security Housing Units," Kirkland said.

Kirkland said that inmates who have proven themselves eligible are offered a number of jobs, from working in the kitchen to being an office clerk.

"Just minding their own business, getting along and keeping busy during the day," Kirkland said. "If they act out then we have a place to keep them both in short term and long term."

The prison's Public Information Officer, Lt. Steve Perez, said Pelican Bay is "a maturing organization."

Staffing has increased and policies have been developed to provide health care for inmates with mental health problems.

"Our medical and mental health care was a significant issue in a lawsuit many years back," Kirkland said.

Perez said the prison is working with the courts to implement changes beneficial to both the inmates and staff.

"Pelican Bay has had significant oversight from a court special master," Kirkland said. "They've looked at the way we've used force, they've looked at our mental health care, they've looked at the way we do investigations and they have been very impressed in the progress that we made to the extent that they no longer routinely monitor those areas."

Kirkland said the disciplinary policy is the only area that is still routinely reviewed by the courts.

The policy changes started about the mid-1990s.

"They've been fine-tuned and honed ever since," Kirkland said. "What we want to have and what we believe we have is an institution that's operated honorably and ethically, and that staff members can come in, do their jobs, do what needs to be done to maintain control of a fairly difficult population of 3,300 or 3,400 inmates and go home at the end of the day knowing that they did just what they were supposed to do."

New programs

The new programs are a source of pride among the Pelican Bay staff.

"We use our resources extremely wisely here," said Capt. C. M. Patten.

Patten said a large portion of the prison mental health system began at Pelican Bay, which remains at the forefront among Northern California prisons.

"We are pretty much the leaders as far as the type of care these inmates get," Patten said.

There are three major programs that have recently been implemented, each with their own array of staff and programs.

The Psychiatric Services Unit is a mental health treatment program for inmates who are in the Administrative Segregation or Security Housing units.

The Enhanced Outpatient Program is to help identify and treat mental health problems that prohibit an inmate from functioning in the general population.

The Transitional Housing Unit, the only one of its kind in the state, was developed to help Security Housing Unit inmates prepare to integrate into the general population. This comes when the inmate makes a commitment to disassociate himself with prison gang activity.

"It's a long and very scary process for the inmates," Patten said. "It puts their families at risk from mobsters, if you will."

There is also a Correctional Treatment Center that has been certified by the state as an acute care facility.

"The reason they're sent here is because we can provide the security," Patten said.

Addressing the inmates' concerns

Inmates who follow the rules are kept in General Population and are allowed to participate in programs and have jobs.

Quinn Malcolm Wilridge is serving a 30-years-to-life sentence for second degree robbery, his third strike.

He's the vice chairman of the Inmate Advisory Council, a committee designed so inmates can express concerns to administration. The committee was discontinued after the February 2000 riot but was re-established on a trial basis last November.

"I am basically a liaison between staff, administration and inmates," Wilridge said. "My job is to become abreast as to the inmate's concerns."

Wilridge said some of the concerns inmates have include receiving care packages from family members, and portions during meals.

"There are individuals who work in the kitchen, for whatever reason, choose to just scoop the portions off the top of the pot without stirring it and bringing the meat to the top," Wilridge said. "We're getting the juice instead of the meat."

It's not uncommon for something as small as a dispute over portions to become an issue.

"There's four real important issues to a convict," Perez said. "His canteen, his mail, his food and his business. You will find that a significant amount of complaints revolve around those issues."

Wilridge recognizes that it's incidents between inmates in the past that have led to the cancellation of certain programs and stricter guidelines on others.

"We have to take responsibility for our actions," Wilridge said. "It's the reason it is the way it is. Fortunately we're having an opportunity today to reprove ourselves."

The council's purpose is to allow prisoners to voice their concerns about making their time at Pelican Bay a little more comfortable.

"We understand that we are expected to do our time here," Wilridge said. "But what we ask is that we please not be put in a position where the time is doing us."

Weapons and drugs

Prison gang activity has led to a Security Squad within Pelican Bay, that equates to a detective's bureau in a police department. They investigate and validate gang activity, much of which includes cell-made weapons and drug smuggling.

Since August 2000, 885 weapons have been found on inmates and confiscated.

"They (inmates) can take a plastic bag and in one hour they can make a weapon," said Security Squad Narcotics Investigator Jim Dagenais.

Lighters, paper, any scrap of metal, plastic and pens can all be turned into weapons for injuring rival gang members, guards or their own gang members.

"It's like we're working with magicians here," Dagenais said.

And just because an inmate may be locked in a cell doesn't mean he can't use a weapon to injure someone.

Dagenais described a scenario where the inmate will call a guard over to the cell and talk with him, but the whole time he's noticing where the guard's vital areas are in relation to the number of holes down from the top of the inside of his cell. The holes are then marked so the inmate knows exactly where to place a cell-made spear when he decides to attack the guard. This information can also be given to other inmates who may be planning an attack.

The inmates have also fashioned handcuff keys out of various materials.

"They're good for one, two, maybe three times, but that's all they need," Dagenais said.

The inmates take advantage of every moment they aren't supervised, which isn't very often.

"You'll have one dining officer and he'll be observing, doing everything he's supposed to do but then the phone rings," Dagenais said. "He goes to answer the phone and they start dismantling the place. He comes back and they're back working. They do this constantly."

Drugs are smuggled into the prison in numerous ways.

Dagenais described a technique where part of a greeting card is soaked in liquid methamphetamine, dried and then colored on to help hide the discoloration. The card, if it makes it through, then has pieces ripped off and sold inside.

Another technique is disguising mail with drugs as legal correspondence.

A lot of money is made by selling drugs in prison.

"A gram of black tar heroin on the street is generally about $50 or $60," Dagenais said. "By the time it comes in here, they break it down 15 times and sell it for $50 a hit."

Part two in Monday's Times-Standard will focus on the gangs in Pelican Bay.
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Old 01-19-2004, 11:02 PM
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If the guards at the Pelican Bay SHU are being injured by these inmates why donít we ever hear about it. I would like to see a count on the injuries. Barb
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Old 01-19-2004, 11:19 PM
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Thanks for posting this my honey is there
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Old 01-19-2004, 11:30 PM
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cover ups [b][b]and they dont want t he public to know
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Old 01-20-2004, 12:44 AM
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Eureka Times-Standard


Behind the walls: Prison gangs at Pelican Bay
By Chris Durant The Times-Standard


Monday, January 19, 2004 -

Part II of II parts

You can't talk about Pelican Bay State Prison without talking about the gangs that operate from it.

The Security Squad

Correctional Lt. R.S. Marquez is in charge of Institutional Gang Investigations and is the Security Squad lieutenant.

Five sergeants and about 10 officers who work in the squad respond to and investigate about 400 felony incidents at the prison every year.

"We collect evidence, we secure crime scenes, we process the crime scenes," Marquez said. "We do everything a detective would do in a regular police department. It's for the sole purpose of making sure that we can present a case to the Del Norte County District Attorney's Office for prosecution."

As the institutional gang investigator, Marquez and his squad are responsible for identifying and validating gang members.

The California Department of Corrections has three classifications for gang members.

The first is prison gangs.

"As defined by Title 15 as gangs that originated in prison," Marquez said. Examples of prison gangs are Mexican Mafia, the Nuestra Familia, the Northern Structure, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, the Nazi Lowriders and the Texas Syndicate.

The second classification is disruptive groups.

"They are gangs that don't have their roots in the prison system," Marquez said. Examples of disruptive gangs are Crips, Bloods, Nortenos and Surrenos.

The final gang classification is drop outs.

"Guys that have dropped out and debriefed from the gangs," Marquez said.

In order for an inmate to be validated as a gang member they must meet at least three of 13 established criteria.

"Self admission, tattoos or symbols, informants, offenses, communications, association are some of those (criteria)," Marquez said.

It's part of Marquez's job to keep a pulse on the gang activity, not only in Pelican Bay, but in all California prisons.

"Because Pelican Bay was designed to house all the prison gang members and associates it affects all the other prisons," Marquez said. "Part of my job is a liaison between Pelican Bay and the 32 other prisons in the state."

Marquez's squad also works with numerous county gang task forces, including Humboldt County.

"If there's any law enforcement agency that needs assistance with any kind of information we have relative to gang activity, we provide it," said the prison's public information officer, Lt. Steve Perez.

Once an inmate is validated as a gang member he's placed in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU.

"There's a number of ways for that inmate to get out of SHU, we don't put him in SHU and throw away the key," Marquez said. "You can get out if you debrief and drop out or go six years clean without any gang activity. The notion that we're putting these guys in there and saying the only way out is for you to snitch on everyone is not true. They have other ways of getting out."

The debriefing process, where gang members decide they don't want to be involved with the gang any longer, is a two part process.

"You give us information regarding your criminal history with the gang," Marquez said. "What you did, who you know, the other players and what they've done. Stuff that law enforcement doesn't readily know or they may have parts to but don't know all of the particulars."

The second part of debriefing takes place in the Transitional Housing Unit, where the inmates undergo an intensive 14-week course. The course includes drug counseling, conflict resolution, parenting skills and GED testing.

"The neat thing about the transitional housing unit is this is the first time for a lot of these guys where we put them in an environment where guys that have been enemies their whole lives, based on the politics of a gang, can now get a long," Marquez said.

Perez said it could take six months to a year for an inmate to complete the debriefing process.

In the two and a half years Marquez has been the gang lieutenant there have only been two fist fights between rival gang members in the THU.

"These men that are in our Security Housing Unit, and then the men who after a while decide to disassociate themselves, these are men who at one time were very, very dangerous, at the top of the predatory process within the penal system," Perez said. "You take those men and put them in the Transitional Housing Unit and have that kind of result, where you only have two fist fights, it's a pretty good track record considering who we're working with."

Marquez must maintain a relationship with both active and drop out gang members.

"Our relationship with the inmates is, by and large, based on respect," Marquez said. "One of the things you learn coming into the system is right away that you can't use the authority that the state has given you. By way of the badge, if you think you're just going to come in here and give orders and tell everyone how the cow ate the cabbage all day and think that everything's going to be all right. You have to learn how to communicate with people. You have to listen. You have to treat people with respect, and that's a two-way street."

Prison gangs don't just operate in prison.

"I think the thing that's real important to understand with these prison gangs is their tentacles," Marquez said. "They affect every prison in the state, every community in the state. Through narcotics trafficking, through extortion, through murder. Just terrorizing communities."

Marquez said that what may appear to be a "happenstance" crime to someone is more than likely part of a plan orchestrated from behind prison walls.

Marquez said Southern California Hispanic gangs are moving north, into territory claimed by northern Hispanic gangs for years.

"Because they understand that the law enforcement in Northern California doesn't have the resources or background in dealing with hard core gang members like Southern California law enforcement is used to dealing with," Marquez said.

"The dynamic with street gang members is that you're dealing with I would say like a single A baseball team, if you were going to equate it to baseball," Marquez said. "Guys work their way up in the organization to where they become a member of one of these prison gangs, these criminal organizations, they're like the cream of the crop."

There's also clout that comes with serving time in Pelican Bay.

"A guy gets out of prison and said I was at this prison or that prison, not that big of a deal," Marquez said. "A guy gets out and says I just came back from Pelican Bay, yeah, that's going to carry more weight."

Marquez believes it may be environment and culture that spawns gang members that end up in Pelican Bay.

"In these communities where these gang members predominately come from, there's a culture that is ingrained there where going to prison is part of the culture," Marquez said. "If you're going to go to prison, might as well go all the way to the top."

Marquez said that where most people want their children to go to college, the gang culture wants its children to participate in criminal activity and end up in prison.

"Going to Pelican Bay is like going to college," Marquez said. "Going to Pelican Bay SHU is like getting your master's degree. You've made it all the way there and you're around the guys you've idolized your whole life."

The inmates are held in a glorified light in their communities. Marquez has seen the sons of some inmates come through the system.

"It's really a cultural thing, especially in Southern California," Marquez said. "Whole neighborhoods are controlled by gang activity. You have kids growing up where great grandpa was a gang member, grandpa was a gang member, dad was a gang member, I'm a gang member."

The inmates who may think they've succeeded by making it to Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit don't know what they're in for until they arrive.

"But you also have to let them know what Pelican Bay SHU gets them," said Sgt. D. Higgerson. "They don't get to touch their mom's hand, their wife's hand, because they're locked in their cell 22 hours a day. They get a 10-minute shower and hour and a half in a concrete yard the size of a basketball court. That's it."

Perez said that the SHU inmates aren't allowed any balls or recreational equipment and the only sky or sunlight they see is through the top of the small yard they get access to about an hour a day.

Perez said another factor in driving inmates out of the gangs is the paranoia and inside hits, gang members killing their own.

"It's an environment based on mistrust," Perez said. "It's amazing the number of gang members who eventually find themselves on the hit list."

Gang walk-aways


Inmates who walk away from gangs put themselves and their families at risk. The walk-aways are housed in a segregated area and many do what they can to deter anyone else from following in their footsteps.

E, only his first initial, came to prison in 1992, at the age of 19.

E belonged to a street gang that made it easier to join a prison gang once he was in.

"When I was growing up, that was one of my main things," E said. "I wanted to be the most bad ass gang member I could be."

After being in prison for two months, E joined the Northern Structure.

He was automatically elevated in the gang because of his offense and immediately began participating in activities against rival gangs and races.

E soon found himself in the SHU because of his gang involvement.

"Because of my past experience and leadership abilities I was then coveted by the organization known as Nuestra Familia," E said.

He soon rose through the ranks and was given a position of commander. E was able to oversee a lot of the street activities in his home town.

"Anything from money laundering, to murder to drug sales," E said. "That's what the organization is about, making money."

One of the E's duties from within prison was to educate members being released into his regiment.

"I educated them on how to avoid getting in trouble with the cops, how to stay below the radar," E said. "How they can present themselves to their probation officer so they wouldn't get busted so they could stay out there longer and generate more money."

All the efforts would filter back to the prison.

"If they were making money out there, then we were living comfortably back here in the SHU," E said.

Gang members would be put on a payroll and get funds reflective of their rank.

After a while, E started to think about his involvement with the gang.

"After sitting back there (SHU) for about nine years I seen a lot of activities that was taking place within the organization," E said. "A lot of cannibalistic activities. Beating up on each other and taking advantage of younger people and it became stagnant."

Contact with his family was another contributing factor in E's decision to walk away.

"That's it, I just decided to walk away," E said. "I'm doing life and I want to give myself an opportunity to be paroled."

E believes that the SHU prevents a lot of violence in the prison and dampens the gang's illegal activities.

"If they put us back in the general population they're going to have blood shed all over," E said. "Not only inmate on inmate attacks, but there's going to be inmate on staff attacks and the drug trade within the walls will be a lot greater. The SHU prevents all this."

The SHU also gives inmates who walk away from the gangs and finish the debriefing process the piece of mind that allows them to come forward.

"Because they're back there (in the SHU) I'm now able to enjoy these privileges and better myself without the interference of my own people," E said.

E now makes an effort to deter younger family members, including his own children, from joining the gang lifestyle.

"I let them know the positives about staying away from gangs and the negatives about the gangs," E said. "About how important it is for them to stay in school and I try to instill with them goals. Without goals the children out there don't have nothing to strive for. I want my kids to have that and I hope to be a part of it one day."
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Old 01-20-2004, 10:49 AM
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good story and better knowlwdge of the shu.
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Old 03-23-2004, 05:42 PM
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thanx for posting this it was very informative, ....my ol man is at Pelican Bay he was just sent there.He wants my daughter and myself to come and visit, I've been having some second thoughts about our daughter shes only a month old. Doesnt sound too great of a place for a visit with a baby
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Old 03-23-2004, 08:51 PM
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Yah it is a pretty dreary,sad and a bit frightining place at least it was for me on my first visit and that was GP my next visit will be at The SHU
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Old 03-23-2004, 09:06 PM
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I hope these stories about the SHU don't discourage you or other loved ones from visiting. I admit that it is an awful place, but think of being the inmate, locked away, far from family and friends. Heck, no sunlight or good food, the list goes on...I've said before and I'll say it again, the visiting staff for the most part are pleasant. But the best reward is seeing your loved ones face and the smile they have from seeing you. It may be difficult bringing such a little baby, but think about how happy her father will be.

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Originally Posted by Mjustagirl333
thanx for posting this it was very informative, ....my ol man is at Pelican Bay he was just sent there.He wants my daughter and myself to come and visit, I've been having some second thoughts about our daughter shes only a month old. Doesnt sound too great of a place for a visit with a baby
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Old 03-23-2004, 11:43 PM
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I think it only fair to post a rebuttal to this oh so informative article, this is from an inmates point of view. Barb

Some might think it makes sense to isolate men with a gang type mentality, but when the policy is examined itís clearly flawed. I only hope to point out a few really obvious flaws. First prison is full of people whoíve grown up in gangs so 90% of all the people in prison have a predisposition to a gang mentality. So no matter how many people they place in the S.H.U. today, tomorrow there will always be someone new to take their place.
The policy serves no point; all that it does is remove older, calmer & wiser men from the general population. The only result is the younger more excitable & less experienced men are left to run wild. Let me ask you this, how many of you know men who were wild as hell & unpredictable while in their 20ís & early 30ís but settled down in their 40ís and 50ís? Really thatís how most men are. I wonder what the world would be like if it were governed by aggressive 20 something males. I bet it would be a far more dangerous place! Just as you would expect the California prison system is far more violent today than when it initiated this program. If you donít believe me just look at the numbers that the guards union just used to blackmail the lawmakers into not cutting their budget. I wonder why the prison system would initiate a program that would obviously raise the violence level, Iím sure it wouldnít have anything to do with budget blackmail. Ití sure is odd that the guards union is the only state agency whoís budget was not cut AT ALL.
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Old 05-17-2007, 08:54 AM
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wow that covers alot of info- thanks it helped me
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Old 09-10-2007, 11:10 PM
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I am new to this forum my son is now serving a term of 16 yrs he just arrived at pelican bay two weeks ago and i'm not sure about how to tell what yard or privelage group he is in i also am not sure how the point system works or how he got so many points to start with any info would be helpful
thanks
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Old 09-11-2007, 06:47 PM
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The inmate (E) interviewed in this article sounds a lot like one featured on those cable TV documentaries. Anyhow, he's a very wise and courageous individual for leaving the prison gang behind.
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Old 09-11-2007, 08:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sonismissed
I am new to this forum my son is now serving a term of 16 yrs he just arrived at pelican bay two weeks ago and i'm not sure about how to tell what yard or privelage group he is in i also am not sure how the point system works or how he got so many points to start with any info would be helpful
thanks
Perhaps you are not in contact with your son as he is just getting situated at PB. If that's the case, I'm sure he will be able to provide you with all this information once he is able to contact you. Best regards...
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