Segregation = survival

Prison officials tell us ‘integrate or else,’ but it’s far too dangerous

Eugene Alexander Dey is a native Sacramentan, currently incarcerated in the Central Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, serving a mandatory three-strikes life sentence

Prison officials have issued a directive: Integrate or else.

I don’t consider myself a racist, but the thought of accepting a cellmate of another race triggers instincts of “fight or flight.” Since flight isn’t an option—I’m serving a life sentence under a three-strikes conviction—I choose instead to fight, using what free speech remains to me.

In the subculture of prison, we inmates of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation separate ourselves, aligning first by racial group, then by hometown, region or gang membership. There is exhaustive judicial, academic and journalistic documentation of these facts. Every major prison disturbance in recent memory has been caused by some racial facet of our “politics.”

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled CDCR’s policy of assigning inmates to cells by race had to be reheard, in order to ensure that equal protection guarantees were not being violated. In 2007, CDCR codified a new policy that inmates must accept a cellmate from any race—including placing rival gang members in the same cell—or suffer extremely harsh disciplinary consequences.

The current policy—“integrate or else”—ignores a mountain of testimony by the CDCR’s own experts. In his 2005 dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas summed it up: “If California assigned inmates to double cells without regard to race, knowing full well that violence might result, that would be the very definition of deliberate indifference [duty to protect].” In order to undo a potential 14th Amendment equal protection violation, prison officials are trampling on the 8th Amendment by placing inmates lives in danger under some insane coding mechanism.

Soledad Central has a relatively relaxed atmosphere, and integration is being wholeheartedly rejected. On December 15, 2010, a small racial melee occurred when prison officials tried to force a Hispanic inmate into an Asian inmate’s cell. In a higher-security prison, all hell would have broken loose. It’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt—or worse.

We’ve all got lumps in our throats. A single “write-up” could result in parole denial, not to mention being forced to live in a strip-down cell for a minimum of 90 days. Inmates who follow the order to go into the cell face any number of violent hypotheticals, not to mention the specter of facing homeys on the yard.

Every facet of our prison subculture is voluntarily segregated: the phones, the chow hall, card tables and the yard. You name it, and it’s segregated—by choice. My cell is my only sanctuary from the racial tension and conflicts. Now, the CDCR hides behind an equal protection argument, while ignoring that segregation is a matter of survival in the most screwed-up prison system in the country.

The CDCR is the leader in all the wrong categories: violence, recidivism, gangs—and lawsuits. Due to decades of unchecked overcrowding, amplified by the worst prison violence in the nation, a state of emergency was declared. The Supreme Court is once again dealing with the CDCR, this time because the overcrowding has created an unconstitutional level of health care. Rather than dramatically lower the polarization and render cell integration moot, the CDCR has chosen the worst possible option: chaos.

With the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality of the mainstream press, I suspect that tough-on-crime politicians plan to use our resistance as fodder in their campaigns. I file this piece as notice that an assault is being perpetrated on prisoners in an environment that is already in a declared state of emergency.

I can’t integrate. None of us can. It’s too fucking dangerous.