Image: drawing by Marco Perez
Today, the 23rd of the month, invoking the 23 hours per day that prisoners spend in their cells in the SHU, activists throughout California are taking action to bring attention to prison conditions. Below Marco Perez shares his experience of being released into the general prison population after years in solitary confinement, following a settlement in CCR's case Ashker v. Governor of California that effectively ended longterm solitary confinement in CA prisons.
Hola, I will begin this letter by saying thank you for your good work and allowing me to share these words with you. My name is Marco Perez. I arrived to Calipatria State Prison on January 28, 2016. I was in solitary confinement since 2005. I have been in prison since October 28, 1984.
My transition to the general population main line went well. I had a few things I had to adjust to, like walking without handcuffs, contact with other inmates, walking to the chow hall and no more strip searches. I have been participating in the tutored Voluntary Educational Program, where I am tutored by another inmate to prepare myself for the General Education Diploma (G.E.D.). I was recently given a job in the kitchen, I do the lunches, they don’t pay me money but they will as I move up.
My first time out here, I seen doves on my way to breakfast. I walk so close to them and they won’t fly away. The weather is real hot around here. I was glad to see the sun and smell what little grass grows here. Staff here are real respectful and friendly; I like the harmony.
On July 31, 2016, on my way to work at 6:00am in the morning, I saw the sun rise. It was so beautiful. I even said to myself if heaven looks like that, I can’t wait to go to heaven. I did my best to recreate it for the world to see and enclosed it.
On August 6, 2016, I received my first contact visit in over 32 years when I got to the visiting room and seen all those people in there, I was really nervous because I had not been around people in years. I was standing there waiting for my visitor and I felt like I was in front of a stage about to make a speech. I really felt awkward. A sergeant came to me and told me it would be a minute. I seen my sister and her husband coming my way. I hugged her and shook her husband’s hand and gave him a hug too. It had been over 32 years since I hugged my sister or had any contact with the outside world. In fact, this was the first time I met my brother-in-law. My sister, who I grew up with when we were kids, began to tear up; it was natural and normal. I held myself back from crying, it was really happening, I was before my little sister. We talk about plans for my education and we ate some junk food. I also had me a cheese chicken sandwich, ice cream, and soda. We really had a great time. Time just went too quick. My other sister wanted to come visit me too but she was not able. But they plan to come together again soon. It was a blast for me.
To me, the simple pleasure I most looked forward to, which I had been deprived of during my days in SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison from 1991 through 2003, was contact visits. My mother passed away in 2002 and I only wanted to give her a hug and a kiss.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisons needs more vocational programs statewide and educational programs. Prisoners should also be allowed to receive diplomas throughout CDCR, and not just G.E.D.’s. CDCR should provide the vocational programs and courses for free to all prisoners going before the Board of Prison Term for a release date. This is how you can help the movement by making the world aware of what is being denied to prisoners, statewide throughout California.
Thank you very much for allowing my words to touch the world.