The following discussion on the CDCR’s Security Threat Group (STG) Step Down Program for California SHU units comes from the Spring 2013 newsletter of Prisons.org.
Creating broken men, Part 2: A discussion on CDCR’s new brainwashing mandate for SHU torture units
by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU
“I would like you to think of brainwashing, not in terms of politics, ethics and morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment in which the captive populace lives.” – Dr. Edgar Schein to U.S. wardens and social scientists, 1962
Greetings, Brothers and Sisters. We’ve had an opportunity to review the over 100 pages which constitute CDCR’s STG Pilot Program and felt compelled to discuss provisions of §700.2 (the Step Down Program) in the wake of our last discussion on “Creating Broken Men.”
There should be no doubt indefinite solitary confinement is torture. Yet in §700.2, the CDCR has devised an insidious program whereby they can leverage this torture to coerce validated SHU prisoners to submit to brainwashing in lieu of debriefing – the end result being qualitatively no different: the production of a docile, submissive, quasi-informant population who reproduce in themselves the values of the same authoritarian order responsible for mass incarceration and the domestic torture program. In other words, “broken men” will be created by a new process.
In §700.2 of the STG Pilot Program, CDCR outlines, beginning in Step 3, a requirement that prisoners complete “12 months of journals … that lead to responsible thinking and behavior.” This behavior modification program – and that’s exactly what it is – is preparatory, designed to condition the minds of the targeted population to accept cognitive restructuring. This intent is clear in the themes of the journal.
For example, “Values guide prisoners through an evaluation of the criminal values that have influenced their lives and help them weigh the consequences of living a life based on criminal values versus responsible values.” This presupposes everyone currently confined to these torture units holds true to “criminal values.”
An absurd notion. The overwhelming majority of validated SHU prisoners have committed no criminal acts or rules violations – a natural outgrowth of so-called “criminal values” – to be confined to SHU by CDCR’s own admission.
Many are in SHU on purely ideological grounds: for holding revolutionary attitudes or socialist values which oppose authoritarian social control and exploitation of the underclass.
This begs the question, What are “criminal values” and who defines “responsible values”? Surely it’s “criminal” to hold a population captive under conditions of torture indefinitely unless they become informants or submit to having their “values” modified. Are we to assume an entrenched industrial interest that has intentionally manufactured the legislative and physical conditions in prisons to perpetuate mass incarceration to establish its own labor aristocracy, while presiding over the largest domestic torture program on the planet, is now going to be the instiller of “responsible values”? The answer is: No, of course not!
The Self-Directed (S-D) Journals component of the SDP is replete with other Orwellian themes like “thinking errors,” “social values,” “responsible thinking/healthy personality” and “peer relationships.” These themes constitute classic “character invalidation,” an essential Schein model brainwashing technique employed to induce guilt, self-loathing, anxiety, irrational fear and suggestibility, while simultaneously providing social and emotional supports which reinforce the new subservience and docility.
This is in fact an improvement on the original Schein behavior modification model outlined in his paper, “Man Against Man: Brainwashing,” the basis for previous SHU best practice. Up to now, torture unit administrators, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) and OCS (Office of Correctional Safety), have relied on staff and their specialized SHU training to observe prisoners’ behavior patterns, record them in the “daily activity log” and utilize this data to calculate a prisoner’s sensitivity or vulnerability to pressure with a degree of precision.
This is one way the IGI is able to anticipate and target specific SHU torture victims who are prepared to – or are on the verge of – debriefing. They now intend to use the prisoners themselves to provide additional input data to facilitate and reinforce their own brainwashing.
Section 700.2 states: “Personal reinforcement check sheets … will be used by the inmate to monitor weekly/monthly program participation and progress. In addition, Individual Change Plans will be initially completed by the inmate after 6 months in the SDP. … These documents will be submitted to the Correctional Counselor II and may be used … in determining an inmate’s movement between steps.”
You are not only expected to submit to brainwashing in order to escape indefinite torture, but you must actively participate in your own cognitive restructuring or be trapped indefinitely in the torture unit’s “steps.” This is “Skinnerian operant conditioning,” the rewarding of submission to the character restructuring encompassing the brainwashing objectives by easing the pressure on the subject by moving them along to the next “step.”
But in truth, this is no “reward” at all. As previously stated, the S-D Journals are only preparing the subjects’ minds for complete restructuring, while weakening – or removing completely – any psychological resistance to the more intense behavior modification techniques to come.
These are introduced in Step 4, and as if aware of the pliancy (in this context, easily influenced) and desperation of those prisoners willing to submit to these techniques, the state makes no attempt to conceal their intent. The text states clearly, “Step 4 will include an integrated, cognitive behavior change program that will include cognitive restructuring.”
For those of you not familiar with this language, this means brainwashing. The exact nature and composition of the Step 4 “cognitive restructuring program” has been intentionally left vague and ambiguous. It is designed for “small groups” of subjects and will no doubt be a modification of techniques already tested in other supermax torture units which include Synanon attack therapy (a form of character invalidation for a group setting), transactional analysis and encounter group sensitivity sessions.
This progressive step-based approach ensures maximum control for therapeutic administrators to prevent subjects having contact with anyone not sympathetic to the reconditioning methodology, disorganizing group standards among prisoners which are not pro-conformist, all within the confines of an environment that is prohibitive and restrictive towards any activities or ideas which are not supportive of the brainwashing objectives. In the end, the conditioned subject is psychologically no different than the debriefer: a broken man or woman.
Read the entire piece in the Spring 2013 California Prison Focus newsletter.
Corcoran SHU NCTT:
- Michael (Zaharibu) Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
- Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) at Corcoran State Prison.