My name is Mayra Romero. Even though my husband Juan has been incarcerated since 2005, we still managed to be a family. I would visit him with our daughter, and he could hold her, touch her, tell her how much he loves her. Then he was sent to a form of extended solitary confinement called a Security Housing Unit and our family has never been the same.
When I hear how bad the conditions are in the SHU, I can’t help but cry uncontrollably. Juan lives in a cramped, windowless cell for at least twenty-two and a half hours a day. He is let out of his cell only to exercise alone in a concrete enclosure and to shower three times weekly. He is allowed no phone calls and may only receive one package per year. His food is often cold and rotten. Juan has started to developed phobias due to not having normal interaction with humans. His eyesight is slowly being affected, from not being in sunlight for days, which has made him pale and severely Vitamin D deficient. His physical deterioration has caused a sleep disorder as well. He says that being in the SHU feels like psychological torture.
Juan might as well be in Guantanamo Bay -- he is subject to indefinite detention in solitary confinement, and we have no way of knowing if or when he’ll ever leave. Thanks to policies created by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, people can be put into the SHU based on scant evidence that they can’t even refute because prison officials often won’t tell them what it is.
The way my husband is living is truly cruel and inhumane. Sometimes, he has not received immediate medical care and he has written home asking me to please help by calling the prison, writing the warden -- any help I can get him because he is in so much pain. It is traumatizing knowing that a loved one is suffering and there is so little you can do about it.
I’m not just worried about Juan -- I’m worried about the impact his segregation will have on our family as well. We used to regularly visit him, and we could interact with him physically. But since he was transferred to Pelican Bay in 2009, I have seen him only a few times, maybe once a year. It is heartbreaking to see my husband through a glass window and even harder to watch our daughter and him. I know he just wants to hold her, to give her a hug and let her feel how much he loves her. Instead, our short visitation time is marred by phones that barely work.
I fear that my husband’s good spirit for life will soon be gone. He is not the same man that I met 18 years ago; he is not the same man that he was even when he began his sentence. I fear that his health and mental health will deteriorate more and more by living in those conditions.
Now, more than 30,000 prisoners across California have gone on hunger strike to protest the conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison. The movement to end these horrific conditions has actually lifted Juan’s spirits. For the first time in a very long time, I feel hopeful that Juan’s situation might change for the better -- but only if as many people as possible sign my petition asking Governor Jerry Brown to stop indefinite detentions in California’s Security Housing Units.
Conditions in the Security Housing Units are torturous -- extended solitary confinement, limited time in sunlight, poor food and medical attention all describe conditions we would expect in a Soviet gulag or in a rogue state. This shouldn't be happening in California.
Governor Brown, I urge you to stop the human rights abuses in California prisons and immediately go to the negotiating table with the hunger strikers and their representatives.