Thursday, August 15, 2019


By David Pedersen

The Intensive Management Units here at the Washington State Penitentiary, like all buildings that house human beings in solitary confinement, are perverse places. Someone walking past who is ignorant of what happens inside them would, judging from the large sign posted outside, get the sense that these units are in many ways distinct from the general population units. This sign is a curious thing. It states : "Intensive Management Unit", and "Est.", followed by the date it opened, which eludes me at present.

The curious, and to my mind rather ominous thing about the sign is its icon. It is a key, and a rather large one. And it is quite telling, this key, for it gives one a look into the minds of those who run these units. Someone wanted that key there, thought it a good idea.

I imagine the whole process of coming up with this icon was perversely comedic. There is perhaps a string of emails in existence between some D.O.C. bureaucrat and the artist commissioned to create this icon. God, do I use the term “artist” loosely in this instance, with all apologies to Michelangelo, Waterhouse, et al. "These last two submissions of yours are not quite what we have in mind--we'd like something sinister, something that will instill in the viewer a sense of foreboding; something reminiscent of the all-seeing eye on the back of a dollar bill, perhaps..."; and, later: "These latest submissions are quite good, particularly the imagery of the boot on the neck--and the way you depict the human mind crumbling, having succumbed at last to years of psychological abuse, absolutely amazing!--but we're looking for something slightly more subtle..."; and, later still: "This key is almost perfect! Make it bigger, though. Remember, it represents a prison within a prison, and must be a particularly virile key, phallic even--this is a key that fucks people...".

Yes, walking past this sign is an ugly reminder of where one is at, and of what human beings are capable of doing to one another. I have spent a fair amount of time inside the Intensive Management Unit here at W.S.P., and I know from bitter experience what life behind those walls means for souls unfortunate enough to be subjected to it.

Locked in a single-man cell twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of handcuffed trips to a small shower stall a few times a week, and handcuffed trips to the "recreation" area, which is another glorified cell. Indeed, it is not too much bigger than a cell, and one sometimes inquires of oneself, upon arriving there--having walked in handcuffs maybe thirty paces from one's cell--"What was the point? I put down my book for THIS? Another concrete box?"

Prisoners housed in segregation units in the state of Washington, as well as all other Ninth Circuit states, are to be afforded opportunities for outdoor exercise. The standard is five hours each week.(Seems easy enough for prison administrators to meet, right?) The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled time and again that outdoor exercise must be provided to segregated inmates. In Spain v. Procunier, 600 F.2d 189(1979), the Court stated: "[T]here is such substantial agreement among the cases in this area that some form of regular outdoor exercise is extremely important to the psychological and physical well-being of inmates."(Idem, at 199)

The Court went on to state: "Underlying the Eighth Amendment is a fundamental premise that prisoners are not to be treated as less than human beings. The amendment is phrased in general terms rather than specific ones so that while the underlying principle remains constant in its essentials, the precise standards by which we measure compliance with it do not. It follows that when confronting the question whether penal confinement in all its dimensions is consistent with the constitutional rule, the Court's judgment must be informed by current and enlightened scientific opinion as to the conditions necessary to ensure good physical and mental health for prisoners."(Idem, at 200)

These words were written nearly forty years ago, and, in the decades since, numerous decisions by the Ninth Circuit court have affirmed time and again that outdoor exercise must be provided to inmates.(See Toussaint v. Hockey, 722 F.3d 1490(1984); Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083(1996); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122(2000); Hearns v. Terhune, 413 F.3d 1036(2005), et al.)

Yet, in 2018, prisoners housed in W.S.P.'s I.M.U. South, and Monroe Correctional Complex's I.M.U., are not afforded the opportunity to exercise outdoors, the long-term deprivation of which constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation. The D.O.C. knows as much, and, indeed, segregation units at all other prisons in Washington have outdoor exercise areas. So, what gives? The usual suspects, is what gives: financial considerations, laziness, indifference, spite...the list goes on.

While housed in I.M.U. South here at W.S.P., I challenged numerous conditions of my confinement, including the deprivation of outdoor exercise, by filing grievances and writing letters to D.O.C. headquarters. Several of the responses I received are downright absurd, and not a single one seriously addressed the issue.

In a January 12, 2015, response to a letter I'd sent him, then Deputy Director Scott Frakes stated: "In regards to your comments concerning the recreation yards...American Correctional Association(A.C.A.) standard 4-4155 states the following:

'Segregation units will have either outdoor uncovered or outdoor covered exercise areas. The minimum space requirements for outdoor exercise areas for segregation units are as follows:

Individual yard modules-180 square feet of unencumbered space...' Upon review of the recreation yards in W.S.P. I.M.U. South, each recreation yard is 182 sq. ft., which is within A.C.A. standards." 

Presumably, Mr. Frakes wrote this with a straight face. Nowhere in my letter to him had I so much as mentioned space issues, and apparently lost on Mr. Frakes was the irony in his quoting from the American Correctional Association's standards, which themselves call for outdoor exercise.

In a response I received to a grievance I'd written, one Sergeant Wilson states: "Offenders are also encouraged, in lieu of out of cell opportunities, to perform daily in-cell fitness activities..." You hear that, Ninth Circuit? Sergeant Wilson says I can simply exercise in my cell--your guys' input is no longer needed!

While these and most other responses I received tended to dance around the fact that outdoor exercise was not being provided, some of the responses actually claimed that, because there exists a small grated opening on the back wall of the "recreation" area, permitting fresh air into the concrete box, I was in fact being provided "outdoor" exercise. Indeed.

In February of 2016, almost one year after having been released from I.M.U. into the general population, I filed a Personal Restraint Petition in which I challenged, among other things, the denial of outdoor exercise while I was housed in Monroe's and W.S.P.'s Intensive Management Units. Though I was no longer being subjected to those conditions, nevertheless, the issue was not moot. According to the law, mootness is established only if "(1)it can be said with assurance that 'there is no reasonable expectation...that the alleged violation will reoccur...and(2)interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation."(County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625(1979); accord, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701(2007) )

If there exists a concrete reason to believe the violation is likely to recur, the case is not moot.(Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210(1990) ) As well, short-lived legal violations that are over before they can be challenged in court are not considered moot if they are "capable of repetition, yet evading judicial review" and if there is a "reasonable likelihood" that they will happen again.(Spencer v. Kerman, 523 U.S. 1, (1998); accord, Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305(1998); Burman v. State, 50 Wash.App. 433(Div. I 1988).

I am serving a life sentence, and could at any time be placed back in I.M.U., sent there on the whim of one of these people who think large keys make for great icons. The learned jurists on Washington's Court of Appeals know as much, but they dismissed my P.R.P. all the same.

There is a phone in each "recreation" area in I.M.U. South, and I recall a conversation I had one day with my mother, shortly after having been informed by D.O.C. officials that I was in fact being provided with outdoor exercise. I said to her, "I'm sorry, mom, could you speak up a bit? I've been told I am not inside a concrete box right now, but rather outside, and I cannot hear you for the howling wind and rain." The jests we make to keep bitterness at bay.

It is not funny, though, and it could never be. As I write these words, hundreds of prisoners in Washington's Department of Corrections languish in solitary confinement with no access whatsoever to outdoor exercise. The playthings of perverse men who erect perverse signs.

David Pedersen 356650
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

David "Joey" Pedersen is serving Life Without Parole at Washington State Penitentiary. He works training shelter dogs for the Blue Mountain Humane Society Prison Based Shelter Program, where dogs spend several weeks or months with him and other incarcerated trainers before being adopted out to good homes. Joey has a great appreciation for nature and spends his free time writing, beadworking, and reading philosophy and great literature.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Doin’ Death

By Felix Rosado

“What’s up wit those guys?” I asked.

My new celly, Tito, and I stood outside of the 6-by-12-foot cage we were now forced to share. It was my first day at Graterford State Prison.

“That’s Jo Jo. He been here thirty-five. The other guy, Skip, he got like thirty in.”

My heart dropped. 

What prompted my question in the first place was why these two men were walking laps around the eighth -mile-long cell block wearing bell bottoms, butterfly collars, and humongous afros, cool as can be. In 1996.

I tried to play it off, not wanting to come off as naive. But inside, I shook. My eighteen-year-old brain couldn’t fathom a human being spending that much time in prison, almost twice my existence. 

“So what did they do? … How many life bids they got?”

Tito, who had five in on his, looked me straight in the eye. “Lil’ brother-they got what you got.”

The next morning, I was in the law library trying to withdraw my guilty plea. 

See, like most people who’d never stepped foot in a Pennsylvania state prison, I’d thought life meant twenty years, fifteen if you behave. That’s what my lawyer told me. I mean, if you’re blessed to live to sixty, that’s a third of your life. And if you get locked up in your teens or early twenties, it’s all your best  years. But here in the Commonwealth, home of the world’s first penitentiary, life means death.

Today about 54,000 prisoners across the US are condemned to the sentence referred to as life without parole. Add the other 109,000 doing life with parole and 45,000 doing what some call “virtual life” or “defacto life,” and we have a carceral state in which one in seven people is serving a life or virtual life sentence. (All stats are rounded off from Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences, Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Project, 2017. In it, virtual life is defined as a sentence of at least fifty years. )

Isn’t it ironic, that we call death behind bars life? Cruel even? As popularity for death by execution has waned over the past few decades, death by incarceration has skyrocketed. In Pennsylvania alone, 5,400 are permanently incarcerated, 760 here at Graterford. The SCOTUS decisions in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Lousiana (2016), banning mandatory life without parole for those who committed crimes while under eighteen, have cracked the steel gate slightly, allowing a ray or two of light to penetrate. Over 500 in PA, the most in the world, 300 from Philadelphia alone, are slowly being reconsidered for a change to one day live outside of prison fences and walls. So far, most of the hundred or so released had spent over three decades in. Joe Ligon, whose been incarcerated the longest on the planet, has been caged since 1953, when he was age fifteen.  He still lives on B-Block and sweeps the kitchen corridor every day at lunch time. 

At the time of my arrest in 1995, I had no idea this country was at the height of a highly politicized and racist tough-on-crime movement that was swallowing up poor people of color by the thousands and decimating entire communities. For two decades there was nothing to look forward to behindthis thirty-foot-high concrete wall but a slow agonizing death in a prison infirmary, where resident hospce volunteers sit by your side around the clock in 4-hour shifts. Most of us – those who hadn’t given up completely – were caught up fighting our individual battles in the courts with our miniscule resources hoping to be one of the less than 1% who get convictions overturned on appeal. I was one of them. Then came one of those moments of clarity.

I realized my freedom fight was inextricably tied to the liberation of all. In January 2012, a few brothers and I founded Right 2 Redemption, a group whose sole mission is to end death by incarceration via public education, political action and people power. In 2015 we, along with three Philadelphia-based organizations-Decarcerate PA, Fight for Lifers, and Human Rights Coalition-joined forces to form the Coalition to Abolish the Death By Incarceration (CADBI). Currently, bills introduced in the state House and Senate seek to provide parole eligibility after fifteen years. There’s still much work to do with a conservative dominated state congress, but the movement is growing. 

Language matters. It not only shapes our reality but it also gives us the power to shape the reality around us. Too many death penalty “abolitionists” advocate for death in prison precicely because we call it life. Truth is, both versions begin and end the same way: bodies vertical, bodies horizontal. 

Let’s call this sentence by it’s true name. If we as a society can see value and dignity in those in prison for murder, there’s hope for all of us. Reform confined to so-called “nonviolent drug offenders” is no reform at all. If we can see redemption as an innate human quality that no one should be denied, we can begin to do justice in ways we’d all want to for ourselves, for our own children. If not, some young dude will be kicking it with his new celly one day and ask, “What’s up wit dude?”

“Oh, that’s Phill … ”

Smart Communications/PA DOC
Felix Rosado DB0028
SCI Phoenix
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733

Felix “Phill” Rosado is cofounder and cocoordinator of Let’s Circle Up, a restorative justice project based at Phoenix State Prison. Originally from Reading, PA he has been fighting a death-by-incarceration sentence since 1995. He also co-coordinates the Alternatives to Violence Project and is a member of the inside Out Think Tank. In 2016 he earned his Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree from Villanova University. He is an advisor to Decarcerated PA and to Eastern State Penitentiary’s Prisons Today Exhibit and Returning Citizens Tour Guide Program. As a member of Right 2 Redemption, a founding organization of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, he seeks to end the practice of caging humans until death. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

I Apologize

By Millard Baker

I'm at a time of my life when it's important to apologize to those I've hurt. I want to apologize to society for the behavior I exhibited for most of my life. Although some parts of my life were not my fault, there were plenty of times I clearly made bad choices. I've already published an autobiography but I will try to dig deeper to find the root cause of my behavior, starting when I was young.

Research conducted by John Bowly shows that "[y]oung children need a warm, intimate and enduring relationship with the primary caregiver. Children who feel unloved and rejected limits ones trust in the world and the risk one is prepared to explore." Attachment and Loss: Vol (1973). My twin sister and I were placed in foster care when we were four years old due to my parents drug use. I missed my Mom and I felt abandoned by her. As a four year old I did not know how to process being taken from the mother I'd known, loved, needed, and relied on for four years and thrown to a new mom. "Children may feel that their biological mother and father did not want them or that in some way they were defective or at fault for what happened." (Newman Bay & Newman, P.R; Development Through Life 2015).

I moved into foster homes where the biological children of the foster parents bullied me. I was told things like my Mom was dead. I was never believed when I toldthem about things, they always believed their kids over me. I was verbally and mentally abused, but my twin loved me. I hated school and was said to have learning disabilities. I was diagnosed with depression at ten years old. My sister, the only person with me who made me feel loved, was taken from the foster home and sent to live with Grandma. I wondered why I did not go also. Another person was gone out my life. I would eventually live with Grandma also. My twin and I went to church together with Grandma.  We watched movies and played together and we also cried when this one commercial would come on, because it reminded us of our Mom who we needed and wanted in our lives. It had been four years or so since she was in our life now. My Dad was still not around, but my Uncle Andre was like my Dad. He taught me how to fish and read and he took me to the fair, and taught me how to tie a tie, etc… 

My strong, funny, happy, favorite Uncle would start to become so sick. I had to help walk him to the bathroom and help him eat. He died of AIDs. I remember walking to his open casket and seeing him looking asleep, hoping he would wake up. Another person gone out my life; the list grew. "They are unable to trust that another can or will love them, they fear being rejected, and they fear even more the possibility of closeness and being accepted and loved." (Elkins, D.N The Human Elements 2016). 

The death of my Uncle took a toll on my Grandma and her health declined. She couldn't take care of me any longer. I was sent to a children's home in Sacramento. My twin remained with Grandma and so I thought Grandma didn't want me, just like my mom. I was around kids that were going through the same things in life and we bonded. I miss those guys to this day. They were true friends to me. 

Meanwhile, Mother had been in programs to get better. She worked hard to overcome her addictions. She started visiting me and I was happy to see her, but sad when she had to leave. I was afraid she wouldn't come back. She would come back and the visits became weekly. The plan to get us kids back was going good. 

I returned home at twelve years old. Mom could only afford an apartment in a drug infested, crime laced, gang-ridden area. I suffered from depression and anger. I have learning disabilities and speech problems. At the impressionable age of twelve I hung around criminals and gang bangers. I started smoking weed. I drank alcohol, I was defiant, I stole cars, stayed out late, and burglarized homes, etc. A true lost soul. Mom tried her best but she didn't know how to raise a twelve year old male. She did great with my sisters and she never left me ever again. Even during this prison stay, she has been my main support. 

From twelve to eighteen I was in and out of Juvenile Hall. I was cutting school and I continued to live destructively. Now I want to speak about what happened seventeen years ago. I was severely depressed and I used Meth and Marijuana to cope. I was angry that I was a failure. I failed in school, in relationships with girlfriends and with family. I failed to understand my purpose in life. I failed to abide by the law, I failed to listen to my Mom and her knowledge. And I was verbally abusive in relationships with girlfriends, and I couldn't maintain a job, so I sold drugs. I blamed others for my problems. I was an opportunist who took advantage of people and situations. I was at rock bottom, hating myself and I couldn’t have cared less about other people as well. I wanted to kill myself. I committed crimes that do not define the man I am. I was a heavy drug user who walked through life in a blur. I take full responsibility for my actions and I am extremely remorseful. 

When I came to prison at twenty-one, I had no reason to change, nor did I have intentions to do so. I wanted to be accepted so I did whatever I needed to fit in. I was violent and there was also violence towards me. Ten years or so into this time, I started to mature, not just age wise but mentally. I started accepting responsibility for my actions. I started acknowledging my problems. I began to see life differently, and I received treatment for my depression which helped me  a lot. I still take anti-depressions to cope. I wanted to be somebody in this life. I wanted to be smart, get my GED.  I wanted to make Mother proud. I started realizing that what I do today directly impacts tomorrow. 

Then the laws changed, allowing youth offenders under the age of twenty-three a chance for parole. This motivated me to change even more. The problem was getting over the fear to change. I had to get over worrying about what others would think about me. The process wasn't overnight. I signed up for one self-help group, then another. I enrolled in education and worked on my GED. I valued my willingness to learn. I received my GED, then I enrolled in college. I noticed my life was happier, my relationships were better. My mind thought different, my dreams now reachable. I knew where I wanted to go in life and I made the choice to do so. My life had been terrible, but I wanted to rewrite my script. 

I knew things were on the right path when my daydreams changed. I use to daydream about getting released and driving a new car with loud music and people saying: "Hey Millard! Where you been? You look good, do you want to kick it?" But now I dream about buying a suit from Men's Warehouse and Stacy Adams from Macy's, and talking to troubled youths about changing their life, going to college and volunteering for the community that I hurt. These type of daydreams only came once I’d gained ego integrity, the knowledge that I'm worth while. 

My dad had a serious impact on my life. My dad is not in my life, but he motivated me to never be like he is. I already lived like he had by being a criminal and in prison. But the things he did not do I'm doing now. I'm in change mode. I realize who I want to become and nothing will stop me. I'm close to my AA degree and for a special education student, that’s an accomplishment. I'm excited to be able to tell my story of special education to college grads. I'm also a follower and believer in Jesus Christ and I try to live by his guidelines. I've completed many self help groups and have attached proof of my accomplishments to this essay. 

Although I have no children now, I will never neglect my children in the future the way my dad chose to. Everything is a choice and although he is an alcoholic and drug abuser he never tried to get better. I was a lost boy and then man in this world who literally needed a dad in my life. There are many times I wish I had a dad. As a kid  I needed someone to push me toward my dreams. Someone to tell me how hard I needed to work, if I want to play in the N.B.A, which was my dream growing up. I'm 6'7 and I was 5'11 at twelve years old, skinny and loved sports but was too shy to play in front of people. I lacked the self esteem my dad could have helped me gain. 

I can't change my past but I can shape my future and that is what I am doing. I don't want to give the impression that change is easy -- it takes a determined effort. It takes strength t embody change while around people with whom you have been negatively involved with.  People try to knock you down and bully you but no one can stop you except yourself. I love being called a school boy and a square, by people who think they are hurting my spirit. I simply want more in my life. I grew out of who I was and if people don't understand that, then so be it. I am no longer the lost soul. I'm found.

Life is a journey and it will be bumpy but I'ma still ride. I owe it to society to change and help others do the same. I am very sorry to the people I’ve hurt, I had no right to do so and I deserve my prison stay. I will use this time to become the best version of myself. The deep remorse I have is sincere. I again want to apologize to Society for my behavior, and I promise to do everything I can to impact my community positively in the future. I have enclosed two report cards to prove I'm a College student. Anybody can say anything but I want to prove it. I am also sharing a chrono to show I'm a positive programmer. Change takes effort. 

Millard Baker V16360
Pelican Bay State Prison
P.O. Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532