Victories and Challenges: The First Few Months of the Prisoner Advocacy Network

Julia Althoff

Carlos Sanchez* has been in solitary confinement for almost 15 years. During that time, Mr. Sanchez has been an activist against the conditions in which he has been forced to live after being accused of being a gang associate in January 2002. The claim of the CDCR is that Mr. Sanchez would be unsafe in the general population. In December of 2015, the Prisoner Advocacy Network (PAN) paired Mr. Sanchez with an advocate. The advocate has since been working closely with Mr. Sanchez. As a result of this partnership, Mr. Sanchez was able to kiss his wife for the first time in over 20 years. He has also been given some time in the yard and dayroom with a select group of others. For the first time in over 14 years Mr. Sanchez has been able to play basketball and chess with another human being.

Also, as a result of PAN advocacy, the Ashker litigation team reviewed his case and determined that this placement is likely a result of retaliatory animus, given how outspoken Carlos has been in advocating for himself and speaking out about SHU conditions. If CDCR does not agree to address the issue, the litigation team plans to bring Carlos' situation before the magistrate.

The PAN is a volunteer network of activists, attorneys, legal workers, and law students. It began preparatory efforts in 2013 in response to needs identified by hunger strikers and their loved ones, and had its “beta” launch in November of 2015. It collaborates with people in CDCR suffering from solitary confinement, and similar conditions of administrative segregation, to advocate for their humanity and rights. Volunteers advocate for individual prisoners and their loved ones experiencing discrimination or retaliation. They also gather evidence and documentation of the conditions of torture and violations of human rights which prisoners in the SHU and SHU-like conditions face.

Mr. Sanchez is just one of the successes that we are beginning to see from PAN’s efforts. The Network is also making progress with access to medical care for correspondents, appropriate treatment and placement for transgender correspondents, and nutritional food and dietary accommodations. These individual victories make clear how much more is needed. They illustrate the need for more advocates as well as funding for this valuable program. Not only are we working to make a difference in these individual lives, but we are also collecting information from the intake forms and actions taken by Advocates in order to identify and correct widespread unjust conditions within CDCR. As PAN increases the number of people it works with, we may share that we have received a certain number of complaints regarding a specific issue or guard from particular prisons.

Awareness of our project is clearly spreading quickly among people on the inside. We have been getting several inquiries each week, and we have many potential correspondents currently awaiting advocates. We aspire to train more advocates to meet the needs of people inside. We hope to raise money for basic costs (mailing, copying, training, etc.) as well as potentially expand to have staff. Currently, all funds for mailing, training, records requests to CDCR, etc. have come directly from NLG. Additionally, all administrative tasks involved in maintaining files and facilitating communication between the correspondents and advocates have been shouldered by NLG staff. This will not be sustainable in the long run. If you have ideas about funding sources, or if you would like to contribute directly to our work, you can click below to donate online, or contact us at pan@nlgsf.org.

*Not their real name