Category Archives: California

Prison Health News: Summer 2011 Issue Out Now!

We finally finished the Summer issue of Prison Health News — with vital information that is right on time for people in prisons and jails around the country.

You can download it as a pdf for reading by clicking here, or the printable version by clicking here. See the end of this post for helpful printing instructions.

This issue’s got

  • Beat Stress with Dahn Yoga Meditation by Teresa Sullivan
  • Fasting for Human Rights in the Secure Housing Units of California by Suzy Subways
  • How HIV Meds Work, Part II: An Update on HIV Drug Classes by Hannah Zellman
  • The Society for Employment and Equal Rights by George N. Murray
  • Free Your Mind by Angelo Johnson

plus, addresses in different regions of the U.S. to write for Advocacy and Support Resources and Informational Resources!

Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by 2,500+ people who are locked up in prisons and jails across the United States. It is produced by a Philadelphia-based collective of writers and editors, most of whom have been in prison and are living with HIV, and includes the work of imprisoned artists and writers. Our readers are living inside a system that denies them prevention tools and treatment information about HIV, hepatitis, and other health issues. They are dealing with medical neglect, daily humiliations driven by intense stigma, and the destruction of their communities by mass imprisonment.

Prison Health News is a project of Reaching Out: A Support Group with Action and the Institute for Community Justice, which are based at the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers at the AIDS Library (also at FIGHT) answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information. Continue reading

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Thousands on Hunger Strike in CA Prisons: Their List of Demands

If you haven’t heard yet about the massive hunger strike in California’s isolation units, read up on what it’s all about below, as reprinted from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog. It was planned for months in advance by people imprisoned at Pelican Bay, and thousands of others imprisoned around California have joined in. At least 400 at Pelican Bay have gone without food for 3 weeks now, and many are willing to die for what is right: basic demands including access to sunlight, nutritious food, and humane medical care. Dozens of health care workers wrote a letter responding to reports that hunger strikers have been denied treatment that they had been receiving before the strike and that prison officials have not followed their own medical policy to care for prisoners refusing food.

Take action to support the hunger strike!

Follow the hunger strike on Twitter!!/HStrikeNews

Image by Rashid Johnson (Red Onion Prison in Virginia) in support of CA hunger strikers


Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) are on an indefinite hunger strike that began on July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions of their imprisonment.

At least 6,600 prisoners across the state of CA have joined them in solidarity with their demands.

The hunger strike has been organized by prisoners in an inspiring show of unity across prison-manufactured racial and geographical lines.

The changes the prisoners are demanding are standards in other Supermax prisons (eg, Federal Florence, Colorado, and Ohio), which supports the prisoners’ position that CDCR’s claim of such demands being a threat to safety and security are exaggerations.The hunger strikers** have developed these five, straight-forward core demands:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria

  • Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
  • The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
  • The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
  • Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows: Continue reading

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Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics

My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at)] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.

LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:

1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)

2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)

3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:

Making an Intersectional Analysis Central

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”

— Audre Lorde

We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. Continue reading


Filed under Alternatives to 501c3, arts and culture, California, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, gender, imperialism/colonialism, Native Americans/Indigenous peoples, police repression, prison, revolutionary strategies, sexual violence, transformative justice, Uncategorized, war, women

US Social Forum workshops not to be missed!

So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!

I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left:

This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.

Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!

– Suzy

WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading

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Filed under Africa, African Americans, Alternatives to 501c3, arts and culture, California, disaster capitalism, displacement and gentrification, Drug users' rights, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, gender, Haiti, harm reduction, housing, immigration/migration, imperialism/colonialism, Latina/o communities in the United States, New Orleans, New York City, police repression, prison, revolutionary strategies, sex workers' rights, sexual violence, Southern United States, trans and gender non-conforming, transformative justice, treatment access, women

Transforming Justice: Kelani Key and Vanessa Huang

— Suzy Subways, with reporting by Pedro Soto

November 2007 • Issue 7

*Activist Snapshots #4*

On October 13 and 14, San Francisco Bay Area activists hosted Transforming Justice, the first national gathering to begin developing shared understanding and strategy to end the criminalization and imprisonment of transgender and gender non-conforming people.1 “Prisons are not where we belong, and it’s not what we deserve,” says Kelani Key, a member of the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee (TIP) and an organizer for the event, which drew almost 200 people.

A Transwoman with AIDS Dies in Immigrant Detention

The intersection of these issues was made painfully clear by the death of Victoria Arellano on July 20. Arellano, a 23-year-old transwoman, was swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in May and denied AIDS treatment while in detention for her immigration status. Arellano repeatedly asked to see a doctor but, says Coral Lopez of Bienestar, a Latino AIDS service organization in Los Angeles, “Only once, they gave her Tylenol to reduce the fever.”

Mariana Marroquin, a transgender activist who helped organize a vigil to protest Arellano’s death, says, “To be transgender, HIV positive, and an immigrant are three factors that bring terrible discrimination. What happened to Victoria was a very bad example for transgender people. Already, they don’t want to ask for help because they are afraid of being deported or detained.”

The striking news about Arellano’s story is the depth of solidarity that the male detainees around her showed, bridging the compounded stigma of transgender and HIV status. Lopez says, “All of her fellow inmates – Latinos in majority – went on hunger strike when she was almost dead, and they were screaming, ‘Hospital! Hospital!’” Although this action did get her to the hospital, she died there.

Loved ones displayed this memorial for Victoria Arellano at a protest vigil in Los Angeles on August 27. Photo by SCHA-LA

Building Leadership Under Lockdown

Transforming Justice brought together many people who are committed to that kind of solidarity. Organizers set a precedent by not allowing the possible difficulties of bringing together those directly affected by the issues to become an excuse for excluding them. From the beginning, organizers from the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and the Transgender Law Center worked to ensure the leadership and participation of people most impacted by gender oppression and prisons. Vanessa Huang of Justice Now estimates that, of the participants, “At least half have been through jails, detention centers, and prisons and/or experienced police violence, and the majority who came were trans and gender non-conforming people.”

Even people who are currently imprisoned were able to participate. “From the start, members of TIP and TGIJP visited with people inside to inform the direction of Transforming Justice,” she says. “Trans and gender non-conforming people – mostly in men’s prisons, and a few in women’s prisons – wrote letters that participants who were not in prison were encouraged to respond to.” Continue reading

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Filed under California, immigration/migration, Latina/o communities in the United States, police repression, prison, Solidarity Project, stigma, trans and gender non-conforming, treatment access, women


SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

If you’re part of a sex worker activist project and would like to learn from others doing this work, contact the following groups for insight and inspiration:

Different Avenues
Washington, DC
Different Avenues is a peer-led organization working for the rights, health and safety of people at high risk for HIV, and fighting violence and discrimination. The organization works across labels and identities to envision a world where our communities live with justice and well-being. The majority of its constituents are youth and young adults, people who are homeless or just trying to get by, and people who formally or informally exchange sex for things they need. Most of its work is local, but Different Avenues also does its best to support national and global movements for social justice.

Project SAFE
SAFE serves women, including transwomen, and distributes a Bad Date Sheet to help street-based sex workers avoid clients who have attacked other women or stolen their money. Workers call SAFE’s hotline or invite SAFE volunteers to visit them at home (where they feel safer talking than in the street) and give a detailed physical description of the attacker and what happened. Reports are anonymous and shared only with women. This keeps the information from johns and the police (who may arrest or dismiss a sex worker trying to report a rape), builds trust and community, and helps women define what rape is and be heard without being stigmatized.

St. James Infirmary in San Francisco, run by sex workers for sex workers, provides free, non-judgmental healthcare.

Stella, a broad-based sex worker activist group in Montreal, Canada, also has a Continue reading

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Filed under Alternatives to 501c3, California, Canada, Chicago, harm reduction, imperialism/colonialism, Philadelphia, police repression, sex education, sex workers' rights, sexual violence, Solidarity Project, stigma, Washington, DC, women, youth

Harm Reduction and Crystal Meth

by Suzy Subways

JUNE 2007 • Issue 5

Many of us recall moments of drunken sexual risk-taking—whether disastrous or delicious—and can attest to the fact that crystal meth (methamphetamine) isn’t the only drug that can lead us to make decisions that put us at risk for HIV. The link between crystal meth use and risky sexual behaviors certainly isn’t limited to men who have sex with men. It’s a complicated link that isn’t well understood, varying from person to person and situation to situation. The community websites described below were created and maintained with the participation of current and former crystal users. Both sites are geared toward gay and bisexual men, but the content is relevant for anyone using or interested in understanding crystal meth. They offer a harm reduction approach, providing individuals with various tools to help them make informed personal decisions. is an innovative San Francisco-based website with an array of resources for men who use crystal meth. Committed to harm reduction, the site provides background information about crystal meth and how it affects your physical, mental and sexual health. includes a public forum in which men share their experiences and ideas about crystal meth. Men may submit their “True Stories” for publication and read the refreshingly honest writings of others, including some searingly funny anecdotes. Click on “Campaigns” to see current and past social marketing campaigns that has kicked off. The site also includes a helpful list of harm reduction resources. This summer, sections of the site will be launched in Spanish, allowing it to serve even more men.

CRYSTAL NEON, based in Seattle, provides accurate, honest information about how crystal affects the body and mind, options for reducing sexual and drug-using risks associated with crystal, and suggestions for managing or stopping crystal use. NEON’s philosophies are rooted in the concept of harm reduction and the belief that all individuals are capable of making life-enhancing decisions, regardless of their drug use. The website has useful materials, like a downloadable budget worksheet (click on “Managing” and then “Paying Your Dealer… and Your Rent!”) It’s also clever and lots of fun!

For information about the possible effects of crystal meth use on HIV disease progression and interactions between meth and anti-HIV drugs, read Much Ado About Meth by Tim Horn, published in the Spring 2005 issue of ACRIA Update.

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Filed under arts and culture, California, Drug users' rights, gay and bisexual men, harm reduction, sex education, Solidarity Project, Uncategorized

Amanda’s Story

— As told to Pedro Soto

MARCH 2007 • Issue 3

My name is Amanda Paez. I’m a Latina transgender from Mazatlan, Sinaloa Mexico. In this letter, I would like to tell you the history of the kind of lifestyle that we have to live because our society doesn’t allow us to be something in their life or workplaces.

The life of our community is terrible, because the only options that people give to us are to be a prostitute, drug dealer, hairdresser, cook, or in show business. Our community is marginalized and discriminated against by all people because of our desire to live a different kind of life. People don’t understand. They want us to be what they want us to be—and it’s not fair. We can make our own decision. We are human beings and we live in the same world, we have the same blood. We are not Martians or devils. We only want an opportunity to show people our skills and imagination, to get responsibilities, and make things better. Family and society don’t understand us; they think that we are crazy.

We transgenders suffer a lot of discrimination and hate from homophobic people who sometimes hit us or kill us. Society is cruel to us—we have to fight for our rights. Sometimes we win, but almost all the time, we lose. It is hard to be someone in this society if you are a transgender and Latina. Thanks to Bienestar, I am working, making a difference, and I have my right to be someone now. I would like to be a good leader for my community. That community is Transgeneros Unidas—the famous “DIVAS.”

Amanda Paez, 45, is a health educator, counselor, and activist with Transgéneros Unidas and DIVAS at Bienestar, a grassroots, nonprofit provider of HIV/AIDS services for the Latino community and other under-served communities in Los Angeles.

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Filed under California, gender, Latina/o communities in the United States, Solidarity Project, stigma, trans and gender non-conforming, Uncategorized