Plaintiffs in Landmark Pelican Bay Case Speak Out Against Solitary Confinement

“How are you today, Mr. Redd?” began the five-hour deposition interview with Paul Redd, an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison. For the past 14 years Redd has been held in solitary confinement, isolated in a cell the size of a parking lot for 22 to 24 hours a day.

“I am surviving,” said Redd with a quick smile.

Redd is one of ten men in Pelican Bay who sued the state of California, with assistance from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), for its use of indeterminate long-term solitary confinement. The plaintiffs claimed that such treatment violated their constitutionally protected rights of due process and protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

I spent two weeks reading deposition transcripts and struggling to comprehend how any person could survive the alleged abuse these men described. Imagine only feeling the sun on your skin three days a year? Or being deprived the opportunity to hug your family members during visitations?

Paul Redd and the other inmates at Pelican Bay not only persevered through these conditions but fought the system that held them in indefinite isolation: they united, organized a hunger striking, and first filed the lawsuit as pro se litigants. To highlight their role in the landmark lawsuit against California, the CCR asked N-Map to produce a video that allowed the plaintiffs to speak about their own experiences. To have their voices heard by people outside of the deposition room.

This video started with a bag full of DVDs. The discs contained over 30 hours of deposition footage, or footage recorded during the out-of-court testimony of the Pelican Bay plaintiffs. We worked through the footage to pull quotes that best illustrated the living conditions in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Units (SHU). We then cut together the most compelling sound bites to allow these men to speak directly to you.

The written testimony of the six plaintiffs is inescapably compelling, but seeing their faces in the videos—their expressions of anger, despondency, hope, and despair—stuck with me. Each man spoke of the debilitating insomnia they suffered, but only video can show the physical symptoms: the bags under each of their eyes and the exhaustion on their faces. Only video can convey the emotional weight of Paul Redd explaining how, when faced with indefinite solitary, he sometimes wishes for the death penalty.

During his deposition interview, Redd said he hopes this litigation would change conditions in SHU housing. In a living situation described by another plaintiff–Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa–as “psychological warfare,” Redd managed to be optimistic about ending the abuse he and other inmates endured. Thanks to the hard work of the advocates at CCR and their partner organizations, the case of Ashker v. the Governor of California was settled out of court on September 1st. In short, the settlement ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in California. The success of this case not only lies in the immense overhaul of California’s policy on solitary confinement, but also in its empowerment of the men who decided to fight for justice. Please help elevate their voices by sharing our video. 

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