My name is Pedro Chairez and I am one of the V-17 comrades who was publicly persecuted, vindictively indicted and quietly exonerated. All at the hands of a corrupt and incompetent justice system.
But the injustice, abuse and oppression that preceded that monumental event and saturated every facet of our arrest, still lingers on…as our new captors enforce their own brand of internal retribution. Passed around like cheap liquor we were shipped off to different states with a wink and a nod. The meaning clear: teach these boys a lesson! We may have been exonerated in a court of law, but as far as prison officials go, we are guilty as hell. Like the stigmata, we will forever be stained with labels such as; instigators, trouble-makers, agitators, ring-leaders, gang-members, etc.
I was banished from my home state of Arizona and exiled to a foreign land, thousands of miles away from my family and friends. Not for my safety or better living conditions or rehabilitation. Nothing so magnanimous. It was purely punitive. It is a tool and instrument to inflict psychological harm. They want to break down one’s mental fortitude, severe him from his foundational support, weaken his resolve, silence his voice, and crush his spirits. “Why,” you ask? Simple. To make one more pliable and obedient.
Now I reside in Pontiac, Illinois. At their most restrictive and isolated prison facility. I am currently in Administrative Detention. A nice way of saying solitary confinement or segregation. Here, I am warehoused like you would food products in a pantry. There are no programs, jobs, schools, or any other meaningful treatment available. No contact visits, chow halls, or religious groups. I live in a windowless cell, five feet wide and ten feet deep. With a tv to pacify me and a fan for the summer.
Furthermore, there’s no legal justification for placing me here. Because my institutional behavior and 10yr sentence qualify for me minimum custody status.
However, when one challenges their procedures and reasoning, we get the intentionally vague and overused catch-phrase “institutional security”. Which means everything and absolutely nothing. They know the courts are disinclined to intrude upon prison security matters. It is an unassailable position.
Equally important is that once we are entombed within these gulags, under the false pretense of being a security threat, they offer no viable means to work our way out of segregation. There are no rehab programs, step-down programs or “corrective” measures in place to help us transition back into the general population. We are in penitentiary purgatory. Stuck. There are people who have been in here for decades. Without any tickets or gang-activity. Yet we are continually denied release without rhyme or reason. For some it becomes hopeless. Suicide and serious mental illness are at an all-time high.
The purpose of explaining all this is because these are the same oppressive and draconian conditions that plague the prison systems across the nation, and which gave to the V-17 movement. When you dehumanize people long enough they have a tendency to become inhumane. The government has marginalized and abandoned our Constitutional Rights. But the 8th Amendment is based on the fundamental premise that prisoners are not to be treated as less than human. It is a right animated by broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency. Something our congressional representatives have failed to uphold. But we have not. Nor will we bow down or cower under the weight of oppression.
But I ask myself…why does violence have to erupt before it garners national attention? Why does tragedy have to precede accountability? Why is change so intimately linked to pain? Why is transparency so heavily shrouded in darkness? Why do we have to lose (fallen friends or buried alive) to win? I wish I had the answers, but I know why its called a struggle.
To write to Pedro send letters to:
Pedro Chairez Y35814
P.O. Box 99
Pontiac, IL 61764