Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. We must all do more to help stop this western corporate arrogance that puts the future generations lives in despair. @BruceKGagnon

Monday, August 23, 2021

California Courts allow San Quentin to steal prisoners property

Last June I wrote on this blog about the situation of San Quentin (California) death row inmate James P. Anderson. I’ve been friends with Anderson for the past 2 ½ years and we regularly speak on the phone about his situation inside the prison as well as things going on in the wider world. I recently asked him how we first made contact and he told me he'd seen an article I wrote in 2005 that made the connections between growing Pentagon budget and cutbacks in social spending. So he tracked me down and called from San Quentin and I accepted the call.  The rest is history.

I wanted to write more about Anderson who has been on San Quentin’s death row since 1979.

On March 13, 2021 Anderson was charged with possession of a ‘deadly weapon’ found in his cell. He was put in the ‘hole’ (called ‘Little Gitmo’) for more than 90 days for what was actually a small part from an electrical plug (one inch prong) that he has used for years to etch many dozens of domino pendants which he personalizes and gives away free to people and community organizations. 

At the time of Anderson’s placement in ‘Administrative Segregation’ one of the guards was shown 20 of the pendants hanging by their necklaces in his cell.


An electric prong (male part) that Anderson was accused of having as a weapon

The prison authorities have long known about this art tool, with more than a dozen guards witnessing him using the prong for his creations. Some guards have even requested Anderson make them a pendant. (One of his pendants sold for $1,000 at an auction in the Bay area with the money given to a Palestinian solidarity group that he supports.)


In a California Supreme Court opinion filed on December 27, 2018 the court defined a weapon in the following manner: “For an object to qualify as a deadly weapon based on how it was used, the defendant must have used the object in a manner not only capable of producing but also likely to produce death or great bodily injury.”


Where is my property?

It is abundantly obvious that Anderson’s art tool was not a ‘deadly weapon’ and was never used in any threatening way. It was a trumped-up charge.

Louis Wolf (Co-founder of CovertAction Magazine) has known James P. Anderson, and has been a committed advocate for his innocence, for more than 25 years. Wolf believes Anderson is ‘provably innocent’ of his charges.

Wolf (from Washington DC) wrote prison authorities in June of 2021 asking if this recent claim of a weapon (and resulting time in the hole) was “another retaliatory action stemming from James P. Anderson’s filing of a civil suit over the theft of his property in 2019?”

Since being recently released from ‘Little Gitmo’ after his detention there, Anderson has repeatedly requested that his personal property be returned to him. So far nothing has happened. He has followed all available internal procedures to get his personal items returned, including asking his court appointed attorneys to help him, which bore no fruit.

Anderson reports that without his property, he has no access to “my legal materials related to my death sentence and appeals, legal notes, etc. Thus, I am unable to work on my appeal as a result of my property being withheld.”

Anderson faced the same situation in 2019. At that time the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) rejected his attempts to recover his possessions by saying, “…if the Office of Appeals is not able to respond to a claim in 60 calendar days, as in this case, then the claim must be answered ‘time-expired’. As a result, the answer provided by the Office of Grievances remains unchanged and this appeal is now closed.”

Anderson calls this ruling, “Another back door rule (excuse) which allows CDCR to avoid responsibility and not respond to complaints by prisoners.” Clearly, he says, this is a “systematic means of denial for prisoners’ appeals”.

This recent time in the hole, and confiscation of his property (including his eye glasses and a dictionary he's had for 25 years), appears to violate state prison guidelines that require that once an inmate returns from the ‘hole’ they are to have their property returned to them. At one point Anderson even took the step to write to the prison mental health department noting that his collective property helps to keep him sane. Still no positive response.


'Destiny' by James P. Anderson


History of property theft in San Quentin

There is a history at San Quentin of guards stealing inmates’ property – not just from Anderson. Anderson sees his recent time in the hole as punishment for attempts to hold guards accountable for property thefts. He says, “They will retaliate, they want you to know ‘this is our house’. It’s because they can get away with it.”

One of the tricks used by prison authorities to deny the return of property is to request that the inmate produce a ‘receipt’ for a particular item. In one letter to a Department of Corrections representative Anderson wrote, “You can’t realistically expect a prisoner to retain the receipt for an item that was purchased ten years ago, or longer, not to mention that corrections officers will discard paperwork they ‘perceive’ as being trash, when it actually has a purpose. You won’t be surprised to know that entire envelopes of receipts have been trashed.”

In one case in January 2021 two San Quentin East Block ‘property officers’ were caught stealing an inmates’ possessions and were ‘Terminated’ but then just two weeks later were ‘Reassigned’ to another part of the prison without any reprimand. So this is how things appear to swing inside San Quentin.

Anderson writes, “For those that care to know, these ‘missing-stolen-lost’ property items often and ‘mysteriously’ find their way into the hands of informants. Radios, CD players, equalizers, TV’s, CD’s, beard trimmers, hot pots, tennis shoes, sweat suits, canteen and quarterly package items are often taken from one prisoner and given to an informant for ‘services rendered’, all very clandestinely.”

The legal consequences

These false accusations against a prisoner (and resulting punishments with time in the hole) are recorded and placed in a prisoner’s file and when rare opportunities for appeal hearings arise these so-called ‘disciplinary actions’ are used by the state prosecutors to influence judges and/or juries to reject the appeals, thus the prisons stay full and justice remains denied.

Anderson’s Federal Public Defender (Central District of California) lawyers have not been helpful to him during these troubles. As it turns out the system regularly transfers lawyers and for inmates (who have spent years bringing new lawyers up-to-date on their legal appeals) it means they must start all over again. A vicious cycle where nothing gets done and inmates have little chance to prove their innocence.

Anderson understands this routine quite well so he fights each time one of these unfair charges are made against him. He works hard to document the truth about each situation in hopes that someday he will have a chance for an appeal against his original sentence without these ‘internal prison entanglements' weighing him down. He relies on friends and supporters (like Louis Wolf) on the outside to help him correct the record.

Wouldn’t any person demanding real dignity and real justice do the same thing? I know that I would. But inside San Quentin they figure that no one on the outside knows or cares about these cases and these inmates. 


A T-shirt design by Anderson entitled 'I didn't have to die' that lists the names of many citizens killed by cops in recent years. One of his supporters is printing the shirts and distributing them


Out here in the ‘land of the free’, people are increasingly re-evaluating the entire ‘criminal justice system’ – from the cops to the courts to the prisons. We don’t like much of what we see and hear. And what I am learning from James P. Anderson does not make me feel any better.

After all these years, since his imprisonment on death row in late 1979, Anderson still wants to make his mark on life, for the better. And he wants to be treated with due respect, as called for under California law. I am impressed by his drive for fair treatment and his stick-to-it-ive-ness.  

Just imagine how you’d feel if you were in his cell on death row?


James P. Anderson with his granddaughter


For further information about Anderson, and life in San Quentin, see his article entitled A Rebuttal to: ‘A Day on San Quentin’s Death Row’ dated January 17, 2016.

See more of his art work here



Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the US of A, racism doesn't exist - it thrives

8/24/21, 10:36 AM  

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