By Kiilu Nyasha and Donna Wallach
August 1, 2012
In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 9, under which people serving indeterminate life sentences in California State prisons could be denied parole and another parole hearing for 3 to 15 years, instead of the established 1 to 5 years.
Prop 9 proponents argued that people convicted of serious crimes were being released from prison too frequently. This simply is not the case. In 2008, about 30,000 people were serving life sentences, and about 4,000 applied each year to appear before a two-member panel for a parole recommendation. Less than one percent received release dates in a given year. In 2006, e.g., only 23 lifers were granted parole, less than 0.5 percent of those eligible for release.
The California Parole Board held a hearing for Hugo Pinell on January 14, 2009, at which time they denied him parole and scheduled him to return to the board in 15 years! However, since Prop 9 was not in effect in 2009 when his hearing was scheduled and postponed, the decision had to be rescinded.
A new parole hearing was scheduled for May 2012, at which Hugo anticipated a 15-year hit; meaning he would not return to the Parole Board until 2027 at age 82! However instead, Hugo's board hearing was postponed another year due to CDCR's new gang validation rules of 2012. Uncommon Law, the law firm of Keith Wattley, is handling Hugo's case now, and they think they can get some relief for him under the new rules. So let's take this year to do everything we can to support Hugo and help him to stay strong in that hell hole for another year.
Hugo Pinell, affectionately known as Yogi Bear by his friends, has been in Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) since 1990 -- no windows or natural light, very restricted possessions, no phone calls, 24/7 lockup unless permitted to exercise alone for an hour in a small concrete pen, also known as a dog-run; no-contact visits which are limited to an hour and a half, if you are lucky, only on weekends or holidays and only one visit per day.
Yogi lives in a small 6' x 8' cell. In his cell he sleeps on a concrete bed, if you can call a concrete board a bed, has a metal toilet, a sink and a TV, and has extremely limited contact with the other prisoners in his section of the SHU, there are eight pods of cells in his unit. Armed guards stand non-stop watch over him and the other men. Basically Yogi spends every hour of every day by himself, day in and day out, unless family or a friend comes to visit him on a Saturday, or a Sunday or a holiday.
Yogi has been in solitary confinement for at least 42 years at San Quentin, Folsom, and Corcoran State Prisons, and the last 22 in Pelican Bay SHU. He was 19-years-old when incarcerated in 1964 and has spent a total of 48 years in prison altogether. Despite 32 years of clean time (no write-ups) he remains in solitary. Solitary confinement is considered to be torture, which is illegal under international law and our own Constitution.
Pelican Bay is isolated in the Northwest corner of California, just 10 miles south of the Oregon border, a very long trip by car (the only means). His mother, in her 80s with health problems has continued to make that long trip to visit her son, now 67 years old. Can you even imagine not being able to hug your own son for over four decades?
Yogi earned the enmity of the prison officials back in the 1960s when he was part of the "Black Movement" behind California prison walls led by George L. Jackson, W. L. Nolen, and many other conscious, standup brothers who made it safe for Blacks to walk the yards of California's extremely racist gulags.
On August 21, 1971, in what has been deemed a setup, Soledad Brother George Jackson was murdered on the yard of San Quentin by prison guards. During this orchestrated escape attempt, however, three guards were also killed, along with two inmate "trustees." This set the prison officials on fire and they have been exacting revenge ever since on Hugo Pinell (Yogi), the only defendant in the "San Quentin Six" case still in prison; convicted of assault on a prison guard. The only defendant convicted of murder in the case, Johnny Spain, was released in 1988.
Clearly Yogi is a political prisoner, although the U.S. rarely if ever admits to holding any political prisoners. Our revolutionary hero is still strong of mind and body, has maintained his health with a strictly vegetarian diet and a grueling exercise program. His character and personality are evident in the following missive to Terry Collins (reprinted in full at the end of this article).
It would be a good thing for those with resources to contact office of Attorney Keith Wattley of The UnCommon Law at (510) 271-0310 or contact his secretary Ritika via email RAggarwal @ uncommonlaw.org to help Yogi with financial assistance in covering his legal fees. The law office is a 501(3)c and you can get tax deductions.
Thanks to Kiilu for most of this!
Power to the people!