Thursday, February 23, 2017

"My Arrival At Preston" -- Guest Contributor's Very Own Preston Story

I want to announce a first for this blog, a post from a guest contributor who goes by the name "Alan CYA- # 65085" who I have been in contact with a couple of years now. I first came across his posts on a site called "Solitary Watch," where he chronicled many experiences he had during his time in the California Youth Authority system, at the Preston School of Industry.

 Although my book, "Behind The Walls," goes into the history of the school from its beginnings up to the time the Castle's Administration building closed, I am still very much interested in all things "Preston" related, so I was very enthusiastic to hear about his personal experiences while incarcerated at PSI, along with his thoughts on the youth authority correctional system itself based on his years of reflection and research.

It has taken some time for me to get back to writing and posting on this blog so I am thrilled to be sharing this now.  As my first post in a long time, I am excited to finally be publishing part of his experience at Preston and his personal reflections here in this special blog post, in his own words. 

(Photo Credit: Bill Thiry, c/o Alan)

The watchtower can be seen between the trees on the right of the Castle.

My Arrival at Preston  -- by Alan CYA #65085

"That toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of Boyhood changing into man;
 The unfinished man and his pain."--

The Dialogue of Self and Soul, William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

From the first day it opened on July 1, 1894, until the day it closed on June 2, 2011, Preston was known as a place that you didn't want to go. Our bus had arrived at the Preston School of Industry in Ione, California, on November 12, 1968. Nearly a half century later, I can still remember my escort taking me down the hill to my new residence in Sequoia Lodge, which was located a good distance away from all the other lodges in the far left hand corner of the institution from the main gate. Preston’s topography of gently rolling hills had two noteworthy landmarks, the first was an extremely high watchtower, and the other was Preston Castle with its ominous facade. The Romanesque Revival architecture of Preston Castle is both eerie and spectacular. Inmates were housed in this intimidating decaying structure until 1960, when the new facilities were completed.

Several days after my arrival I learned that Sequoia Lodge housed the most violent wards in the CYA system. Other lodges at Preston specialized in housing gang members, or drug offenders but Sequoia held the murderers, rapists, and child molesters. My parole was revoked for disturbing the peace. So when I first learned of Sequoia’s purpose, I was surprised because I had never considered myself to be a violent person. Although I had my share of fights, I had done my best to avoid them all and I never used excessive force in a fight. However the unwritten rule of incarceration is that you have but three choices you can “fornicate, fight or flee.”

The Newer Sequoia Lodge 
All photos of Sequoia Lodge were taken in February of 2017 just shy of six years after Prestons closing.

When I entered my 6’ X 9’ cell, the door opened towards the steel bed frame that was bolted to the ground against and parallel to the left wall. The head of my bed was against the rear wall. The toilet sink combo was mounted against the right wall near the door, and a desk sat in the far right hand side next to the only window. The cells were later modified to resemble those of a supermax prison.  The cell doors were also modified at some point to be able to open them remotely and to add a slot for a food tray/cuff up access. Again, something you’d find in a supermax prison but wouldn’t expect in a juvenile rehabilitation center.

(example of Sequoia Cell)

Actual cell at Colorado's supermax prison
example of Sequoia sliding cell 

My cell faced inward towards an open grassy area which was free of obstructions that might conceal an inmate’s attempt to escape. In the distance I could see only the fifteen foot security fence which encircled the entire perimeter of Preston. The fence had the standard razor wire on top with fine wire mesh covering its chain links which reduced the visibility of objects on the other side.  

A perimeter road on the other side of the fence allowed for easy access by maintenance and security vehicles. Regular patrols monitored the condition of the fence to prevent escapes. The only time I would observe wards other than Sequoia’s was during trips up the hill to, the gym, auditorium, or clinic but no interaction of any kind took place between us. All Sequoia’s residents were isolated from the rest of the wards even in this society within a society.

Notice the new brick around the slot windows where old windows once were.
I was held at Preston for just shy of 8 months which is nothing compared to those that followed me. It is hard to see the forest for the trees when one is in such institutions, only afterward, and with a lot of research can one hope to make sense of things. 

Whether or not the violence by the wards brought about the changes to their environment one must ask if the changes only contributed to more violence? Whatever the case, Sequoia Lodge was transformed into something closer to a supermax prison pod than the juvenile rehabilitation unit that it was billed to be.   I found two reports which reflect the effects of the changes. In July of 2005, the California Department of Corrections issued a report on staff assaults.  

“DISCUSSION: Thirty-seven of fifty-four incidents involved wards with serious mental health issues. Twenty-nine of the incidents occurred in Sequoia Lodge (roughly 54% of the total)....Only 7 incidents involved wards on general program status."

 During the year 2004, twenty-seven incidents occurred in Sequoia Lodge, per the report. "These statistics support the immediate issuance of vests to officers assigned to Sequoia." 

The fact that the wards housed in Sequoia Lodge were responsible for more than half of all the assaults on staff, while those involving wards on general program status were under 13%, could be viewed as an indictment of the wards more restrictive environment. (In several states, where the use of solitary confinement was reduced, the violence level also decreased.) By 2004, Tamarack Lodge (the solitary confinement unit) below was listed as closed.    

            By 2005, Sequoia Lodge had been configured for "close" security living but was not designated as being administrative segregation housing. Sequoia had by this time staffing up to three times the number of other lodges.

          The ward population had dramatically changed at Preston by the time of this report more than 82% of the wards claimed gang affiliation. This also closely followed the trend in the CDRC population.

          Staff has used several factors to decide placement. Age, program needs and gang affiliation appear to drive the process of housing wards.

         Another classified a given ward using a security level.

         Categories 1-2 were the highest security level and included wards committing murder and serious assaults.Many of the wards that I personally knew in Sequoia Lodge fell into this category.

         The interview team conducted interviews with staff assigned to the Specialized Behavioral Treatment Program in Sequoia and found that the Specialized/Intensive Treatment programs treated the most difficult and troubled wards.

The entire report can be read here:
Tamarack Lodge, originally Company G (built 1929)


View from second floor of Tamarack

 Interior of a Tamarack Isolation Cell here too they replaced the bed with a concrete slab.

         After I left, the wards remained totally isolated from the rest of Preston’s population.  This is confirmed in a 1977  CYA  report which reported: 

"The Sequoia Counseling Program is an intensive counseling milieu and educational program that is designed to deal with 48 wards.... This program is primarily segregated from the other programs at Preston. The Special Unit Academic Program provides education...within the Tamarack Intractable Unit, the Sequoia Counseling Program, and the Ironwood Protective Custody Program this allows the special treatment programs, to maintain their isolation where necessary.

         Tamarack Intractable lodge is a 40-bed living unit which provides a secure setting for older more sophisticated wards of the Preston population who are considered intractable. Tamarack does not contain program elements designed to deal with weak, psychotic, or suicidal wards.  Also included on Tamarack Lodge is a 21-bed Crisis Intervention Unit for use as a temporary program for other Preston lodges.”

Classroom cages, called “secure program areas”, were first introduced in 1998 in Preston and Stark both high security CYA facilities located in Ione and Chino respectfully. Caged like animals some belligerent wards began to expose themselves, make treats, or “gas” the teaching staff (dousing them with urine).

These 21 beds in Tamarack were used as Solitary Confinement.  I wrote about my Tamarack experience on Solitary Watch which took place during Christmas Day 1968.  That experience can be read here:

          The suicidal young boy in my story needed expert help which the report above admits was lacking. During my nearly eight months at Preston’s Sequoia Lodge, no staff members were attacked and the only disturbance in our classroom was a fight between me and another ward for which I spent two weeks in Tamarack’s solitary confinement unit. It is notable however, that after our altercation all our cells were searched and numerous weapons were found mostly in my opponent’s cell room. He was asked why he had so many weapons, he replied that he planned to kill me and then attack the staff.  I received no counseling or medications during my stay, leaving me to believe more than the architecture of Sequoia Lodge changed after my release.

Such rage against the system that had begun during the 1960’s, was by 1970, frequently leading to violent confrontations with the men running these prisons. With so many losing hope of ever reentering civil society, the number of violent incidents increased dramatically in the 1970’s leading to ever more draconian measures being deployed against inmates.

Unknown to me at the time, the legendary George Lester Jackson, commonly referred to today as the Dragon, had been transferred from nearby San Quentin Prison to Soledad Prison in January of 1968. He would later be charged with killing a guard in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three black inmates. The inmates had been shot by a lone white guard during a brawl three days prior in what is now known as “The Soledad Incident” of January 13, 1970.  Jackson along with two “Soledad Brothers” Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette, as they were called by the press at the time, would dominate the newspapers of the era.

Following the “Soledad Incident” Jackson’s revolutionary, ideology took hold on both sides of the prison walls and resulted in the deaths of nine more prison guards and 24 inmates over the next year earning him the rank of Field Marshal in the Black Panther Party.

On August 21, 1971, Jackson himself died a violent death in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, reportedly during an escape attempt. Three guards and two white building tenders also died in what is now called the “Bloodiest Day” in San Quentin’s history, after being repeatedly stabbed and having their throats cut. Three other, similarly wounded, guards would recover. Jackson’s co-conspirators Hugo Pinell, Johnny Spain, Willie Tate, Luis Talamantez, David Johnson, and Soledad Brother Fleeta Drumgo were known as The San Quentin Six, and would go on to dominate the news cycle during their trials. 

            In response to this rise of institutional violence, the Control Unit was created at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois in 1973. Marion was designed as the place where prisons across the nation could send their most radicalized inmates and violent gang members.  As Marion’s Control Unit received more and more, of the worst of the worst, Marion’s security deteriorated to the point where violence became the new norm. Marion’s warden may have indeed been seeking an excuse to lock down the whole population at the institution when in October 1983, Aryan Brotherhood members Thomas Edward Silverstein and Clayton Fountain supplied him with a politically correct excuse to do so when, in two separate incidents, they brutally murdered two guards. The supermax Prison model was thus born.  As Oscar Wilde wrote in the Duchess of Padua (Act 4), “We are each our own devil, and make this world our hell.”

As the Mecca of the prison reform movement the California Department of Corrections choose not to address the prison movements concerns but instead the state took the lead and opened the countries first supermax prison in Crescent City, CA in 1989 designed especially for the isolation of troublesome inmates.

It is obvious to me that Preston’s modifications to Sequoia Lodge were inspired by, and modeled after, the CDC’s efforts to isolate those they considered disruptive regardless of its effectiveness. It is also clear to me that George Jackson’s ideology of violent resistance and a culture of gang violence that it inspired had taken hold in Preston.  Preston was finally closed after a long battle in which the public refused to be silent over the reported abuses of wards and the “increased violence” that it produced. 

Peaceful protest by the public can indeed bring about change, where as violence only begets violence.   --------- By: ALAN CYA # 65085


Thank you Alan CYA # 65085 for contributing your experience at the Preston School of Industry, as well as your own thoughts on how the system has worsened over the years. And thank you to Bill Thiry for permission to publish the photos of some of the old buildings at Preston.  

Update: Per an email from Alan CYA # 65085, some of the photos of the Sequoia Lodge posted are of a different building that he states was later renamed the Sequoia Lodge. The buildings are the same, although this is not the original Sequoia Lodge, per his understanding. The photos are examples of what many of the buildings at Preston appeared to be at the time.---

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