To mark the 23rd of the month, invoking the 23 hours per day that prisoners spend isolated in special housing units, activists throughout California are taking action to bring attention to prison conditions. Below, Victor Aguilera, a class member in Ashker v. Governor of California, shares his experience of being released into the general prison population after years in solitary confinement, following a settlement in the case that effectively ended long-term solitary confinement in CA prisons.
I’ve been down [i.e. in prison] since 2000. I was in High Desert State Prison from 2002 until 2006, in the Corcoran State Prison SHU [solitary confinement] from 2006 until 2015, when I was transferred to the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU. I went to Kern Valley State Prison in 2016, then back to Corcoran State Prison. I have now been placed in a program that is little by little showing us how to do the mainline program [i.e. general population; read more here]. I have finished high school and I’m a graduate student now. I spent about 10 years in the SHU; there was no action to anything. Now I’ve been out and in only 6 months I got my high school diploma. Also I’m involved in self-help programs such as “conflict resolution,” and book club, and (although I don’t need to anymore) I still attend G.E.D. classes. I am now working in the kitchen serving trays getting 8 cents an hour. I’ve had this job for about 3 months. In the beginning it was hard to get used to this program, being around people again, holding long conversations, adjusting to the noise people make, conversations on the tiers, loud music or T.V.’s, the constant movements. After 17 years I just had my first contact visit. Although I enjoyed it very much, it was hard since I felt my conversation ability wasn’t what I would like it to be. I can write letters, but person-to-person, face-to-face it was hard. My mother and brother came to visit me. It’s a 4 hour drive. At moments I felt I had no conversation, but that hug from my mother was very special; I waited a long time for it. After 10 years in the SHU I had my first soda & ice cream. The taste was something I had been craving ever since I was put in the SHU. I’m just glad to be out of the SHU. I’m doing a lot more now that is helpful to me and others than sitting in the SHU looking for trouble. That’s all I needed—the opportunity to show I’m not a bad person, to prove I was wrongly validated as a Mexican Mafia associate and given an indeterminate SHU term [read more here]. I know and understand I still have a lot to work to do. When I started my self-help groups, it was hard for me to open up in front of a group, but I have opened up a little. I know I got a lot more to open up; it’s a process getting back to my old self. I’m just taking one day at a time. With phone calls now an ex-girlfriend wanted me to call her and I did, but I noticed my conversation ability started to show and it was hard to hold a 15 minute conversation. A lot of time has passed that caused us to distance ourselves because there were no phone calls in the SHU and people in the streets have little time if any to write letters. I just hope the indeterminate SHU never comes back—it took a lot away from us.
Victor Aguilera #745566
Corcoran State Prison 4A3L#19
P.O. Box 3746
Corcoran, CA 93212