Word has just reached us that Steve
Champion, a prisoner on San Quentin’s death row well known as an
inspirational advocate for justice and as one of the trio with Stanley
and Anthony Ross, began a hunger strike last Thursday,
Oct. 4. His demands – still unmet – are listed in “The struggle never stops,”
published in the July Bay View and reprinted below, and he asks that
all who believe in justice call and write the warden and Corrections
Department (CDCR) spokespersons to say:
“We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike
and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him
promptly, constructively and appropriately.”
Call and write:
CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey
CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry
Champion, death row prisoner and author of ‘Dead to Deliverance, A Death Row
Memoir,’ has been held in administrative segregation, without phone
and other privileges, since just prior to the execution of his friend
Stanley Tookie Williams in December 2005,” writes Steve’s friend,
Professor Tom Kerr of Ithaca College, in an afterword to Steve’s essay,
“Gang validation: The new
inquisition,” published Feb. 18, 2011.
It was Professor Kerr who learned and confirmed
today that Steve started a hunger strike Oct. 4. Letters from both
Steve and his comrade Anthony Ross are reportedly on their way, their
delivery perhaps held up by San Quentin authorities. But we cannot wait
to save Steve’s life.
Like Tookie, Steve is a brilliant writer and
leader widely admired and loved on both sides of the prison walls.
Professor Kerr adds in his afterword:
“Steve Champion, in his death row memoir,
describes his early life in Los Angeles and the allure for him of the
Crips street gang, his incarceration and experience in the U.S. prison
system, his life on death row, and his growth and struggle as a human
being. He also offers a critical analysis of the prison system,
especially capital punishment, and describes how through sustained
collaboration with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, he evolved
on death row from a high school dropout into an accomplished writer and
student of the humanities.”
A lot of history is evoked by Steve’s hunger
strike. San Quentin’s infamous Adjustment Center is where “Soledad
Brother” George Jackson was housed when he was assassinated Aug. 21,
1971, the day commemorated every year in Black August. In turn, George
Jackson, probably the most famous and influential U.S. prisoner of all
time, was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excuse for executing Stanley
The governor wrote in denying clemency to Tookie,
triggering his execution hours later, on Dec. 13, 2005: “The dedication
of Williams’ book ‘Life in Prison’ casts
significant doubt on his personal redemption … (T)he inclusion of George Jackson on the list
[of Black heroes in the book’s dedication] defies reason and is a
significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still
sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal
Steve Champion’s “Gang validation: The new
inquisition” begins by reporting a cell search and the confiscation
of his legal materials and other writings “for possible gang
validation. The reason for the action, I was told, was my possession of
a Kiswahili dictionary and the book ‘Soledad Brother’ by George
Jackson” – this after 28 years on San Quentin’s death row, with that
book in his cell for most of those years.
Recalling the rebellion of Aug. 21, 1971, and
fearing a repeat in response to Tookie’s execution 34 years later, San
Quentin authorities confined Tookie’s closest friends, Steve Champion
and Anthony Ross, to the Adjustment Center, an extremely restrictive
form of solitary confinement much like the infamous Pelican Bay SHU.
Thus, now that solitary confinement is recognized worldwide as torture,
the particularly intense torture endured by Steve Champion is purely
retaliatory. Steve is being tortured for his friendship with Tookie and
Anthony and their admiration of George Jackson.
Steve writes in “Gang validation: The new
inquisition”: “Prison administrators know that if even one prisoner
shuns George Jackson’s books or other leftist material because he
thinks he might be labeled a gang member and placed in the SHU, then
the strategy of suppression is effective. …
“[Even] ‘apolitical’ prisoners will recognize on a
general level that their own existential condition can be compared to
George Jackson’s. It is this identification with George Jackson that
makes him symbolically powerful and very much alive. And for this, he
must be vilified and punished, over and over again – suppressed and
chased away from anyone who dares consume his words.”
the same essay, Steve also addresses what is likely to become – only
three days from now – the number one prison story across the U.S.: the
“end of hostilities” between prisoners in California declared by the
leaders of last year’s hunger strike housed in the Pelican Bay SHU.
That declaration is contained in “California
make historic call for peace between racial groups in California
prisons and jails
consciousness is the unending cycle of ethnic and sectarian violence
that permeates the U.S. prison system. Violence is micromanaged to
perpetuate racial hatred and division among prison groups.
administrators to accomplish this when they fail to redress the stark
contradictions between their intransigent conflicts against each other
and the repressive and often brutal treatment meted out to them by the
in justice is the way to stop the madness of mass incarceration. Steve
Champion’s hunger strike is a prime opportunity for showing prison
administrators a better way.
The Bay View urges readers to flood San Quentin
and CDCR with messages similar to the letter sent today by Professor
Tom Kerr to San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell with a link to Steve’s
list of demands:
“Dear Warden Chappell,
“As Steve Champion’s friend and editor, I am writing to comment on the
hunger strike that I understand he began on Oct. 4. Steve’s CDCR number
“Judging by his writing, by my nearly nine years of correspondence with
him as his editor and friend, and by my several personal visits, Steve
has, in 30 years on death row, become a remarkable person.
“I know that he would only resort to an action as dire as a hunger
strike if he felt it were the last resort to get legitimate, if
negotiable, grievances addressed. I know that he has long endeavored to
work within the system, even when he has been critical of it.
“I hope you will view his hunger strike as an opportunity to reconsider
or revisit the prison’s position on some of the issues he describes in
his 602 petition and listed in his article in the San Francisco Bay
View this past July: http://sfbayview.com/2012/the-struggle-never-stops/.
“I hope you will also ensure that Steve is treated respectfully and
appropriately, as he protests against policies and procedures that he
strongly believes to be excessively degrading and punitive, even in the
extreme situation of death row. I trust that you will both respect the
convictions and integrity driving his protest and work quickly toward a
“Thank you for considering my thoughts.
“Tom Kerr, PhD, Ithaca College”
Your message may also be as simple as the one
noted above: “We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger
strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him
promptly, constructively and appropriately.”
For ease of reference, here are
Steve Champion’s demands:
prisons.” – Fyodor Dostevsky
On July 1, 2011, men held captive and confined in
Security Housing Units (SHU) in Pelican Bay State Prison went on an
unprecedented hunger strike to peacefully protest torturous, inhumane,
barbaric and draconian-type conditions they were subjected to live
under. Prisoners who were languishing in SHU isolation and
administrative segregation throughout California heeded the call by the
Pelican Bay hunger strikers and joined them. Most of the death row
population isolated in the infamous adjustment center (AC) in San
Quentin supported and participated in the hunger strike as a way to
A second hunger strike was called by the Pelican
Bay Human Rights Movement in September 2011, because top California
Department of Corrections (CDC) administrators in Sacramento began
dragging their feet and back-tracking on previous promises and
agreements they made. In the end, CDC made minor concessions but
terribly failed to act in good faith in addressing the most critical
issues, like indefinite SHU isolation, the debriefing process and gang
In fact, what CDC did do is craft together a
flimsy step-down program that doesn’t deal fairly with the issue. See
the article published in the April 2012 Bay View titled: “Pelican
Human Rights Movement presents counter-proposal opposing CDCR ‘Security
Threat Group Strategy
In spite of the ongoing negotiations between the
Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement and top CDC administrators, the San
Quentin administration is resisting any attempt to improve the plight
of death row prisoners housed in the AC. Unlike Title 15 – California’s
Code of Regulations for all California prisoners – San Quentin top
officials have concocted and enacted an exclusive code of regulations
called the 608s, which mandate that death row prisoners are under the
control of the warden of San Quentin. It is this illegal and repressive
code of regulations that AC death row prisoners are vigorously
There have been several attempts by the San
Quentin administration to discourage our goal to file a group 602
petition. It has been returned on two occasions and cancelled once.
They sought to sublimate and obscure our grievances by trying to insist
each individual must file a personal 602 even though our issues are
collective grievances supported and endorsed across racial and
ideological lines. The group 602 is still wrapped up in a labyrinth of
bureaucracy. [Enclosed with Steve’s letter is a Group Appeal, CDCR
602-G, signed by 43 death row prisoners.]
Here are the nine core issues death row prisoners
in the adjustment center are struggling to bring attention to and will
fight to bring into existence:
1) Abolish the 608 or amend it to be in alignment
with Title 15: In 2008, the Thompson decree, a code of regulations that
governed California death row inmates, was abolished by the U.S.
District Court. In the same year the San Quentin administration created
their own code of regulations for death row inmates under the arbitrary
control of the warden at San Quentin. One of the rules included in the
608 is an “indetermined SHU” program for anyone found guilty of two
serious rules violation reports or one serious and two administrative
rules violation reports within 180 days. The 608 needs to be abolished
or amended. California death row inmates should be placed under Title
15, which is the California Code of Regulations for all California
- Cease the discriminatory practice of
holding new death row arrivals in the Adjustment Center for an
indeterminate amount of time without just cause. There should be no
more than a 90 day “observation” period for new arrivals before
institutional classification committee renders a decision on an
- Cease the use of confidential
informants or 1030 disclosure forms to deny inmates access to Grade A
programming, Grade B programming in East Block or access to a group
yard in AC.
- Cease the use of confidential
informants or 1030 disclosure forms to label inmates as “prison gang
members,” “gang associates” or involved in gang activity, unless there
is factual corroborating evidence, in which case San Quentin’s staff
shall and must follow the regulations by issuing a rules violation
report affording the inmate his due process as required by law. The San
Quentin staff must specify the rules and criteria clearly – no
vagueness or contradictory rules. The Castillo should be used and the
most recent criteria created and implemented stemming from the hunger
strikers in PBSP or from LEIU (Law Enforcement and Investigation Unit).
- End long-term confinement in the AC:
Some death row inmates have been in AC for 20, 15 and 10 years. Create
a program for these inmates and other AC inmates who have been
disciplinary free for a year and grant them some form of privileges as
given Grade A inmates.
2) Expand and provide constructive programming and
privileges for the AC death row inmates. For example:
- Expand visiting to two hours for
people traveling over 250 miles.
- Allow two telephone calls per month.
- Allow inmates to take four photos per
- Allow four yearly packages per year,
or increase the unit to 50 pounds.
- Allow more TV channels – channels of
substance like the history and discovery channels.
- Raise the number of personal books
condemned B are allowed to have to 10.
- Allow us to get our education (GED)
and take college courses.
- Allow a proctor to come in to test us
in our studies within the unit.
3) Cease the policy of group/collective punishment
and hiding behind the policy of safety and security. For example, in
2007, the AC administration implemented a policy to collectively punish
and humiliate all AC inmates. All AC inmates were required to wear leg
restraints and shower shoes only whenever being escorted outside their
cell or unit. We were also required to be strip searched outside at
yard recall time. After two years the wearing of leg-restraints was
rescinded. This entire policy was supposed to be temporary. We want:
- To be able to wear personal tennis
shoes, or state shoes, to and from the yard; and on all escorts inside
or outside the unit.
- To be able to wear state clothing to
the law library, especially during inclement weather; T-shirt and
underwear during rain storms are both inhumane and not required in any
other part of San Quentin.
- To cease being strip searched on the
exercise yard when it’s raining or during inclement weather.
4) Provide healthy, nutritional and adequate food,
and expand the canteen.
- Allow AC inmates to be allowed to
purchase vitamin supplements and protein meal supplements from approved
vendors without it being counted as an annual package.
- Cease the practice of removing the
plastic covers off the bread, cookies and chips, which is required in
order for daily freshness to be preserved.
- Oversee how the meals and trays are
being prepared; too often the breakfast/dinner food trays are not
- Bring back the “hot food cart.”
- Increase spending limit for canteen
and offer a wider selection of food items.
5) Provide exercise equipment on the group yards
and group yard program.
- Return the basketball court.
- Return the pull-up bar; place a dip
bar and two tables on each yard.
- Allow items to be brought out to the
yard, such as soap, shampoo, coffee, lotion and a tumbler.
- Provide the group yard with activity
items – checkers, chess, cards and handballs.
6) Medical: Honor all medical chronos issued from
and approved by the chief medical officer. Custody staff should have no
say so on any medical needs of prisoners. If the medical need of an
inmate cannot be met in the AC, then the inmate should be housed in a
unit where his medical needs can be accommodated.
The AC unit staff must not be permitted to impose
unjust punishments upon prisoners who have proven a necessity for
medical appliances. When it is deemed medically imperative for modified
cuffs, staff puts the prisoner on leg restraints claiming “safety and
security,” when in fact it is an attempt to discourage prisoners from
seeking medical appliances by punishing them with unnecessary, painful,
degrading and excessive mechanical restraints.
7) Clothing and grooming: The AC administration
has been derelict in their duty to provide and exchange linen on a
timely or regular basis.
- Allow AC inmates to purchase their own
white boxer underwear, T-shirts and socks from approved vendors.
- Allow us to purchase rain jackets,
since the AC seems unable to provide them to all AC inmates on anything
other than “first come first serve” basis.
- Allow us to have a mirror and comb,
provided by the state, in the cell.
- Allow us to shave when scheduled for a
visit as is done in other SHU programs in California.
- Allow us to order thermals from
8) Legal law library: Since the AC staff (the
sergeant) has taken control of assigning and scheduling AC inmates for
SHU law library, it’s been inconsistent.
- Return the scheduling of AC inmates
for SHU law to the SHU law clerk.
- Scheduling and rescheduling AC inmates
for SHU law takes too long. There are enough holding stalls when
utilized that can allow an inmate (when he signs up) to be assured law
library twice a month.
- Provide regular access to the main
9) Hobby craft: We want to be allowed color
pencils and pens and color paper.
Steve Champion is on California’s death row at
San Quentin. Send our brother some love and light: Steve Champion,
C-58001, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974. And read his
book, “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir,” available at amazon.com
or Split Oak Press, splitoakpress.com.
To reach the Bay View, email email@example.com.