Denied meals, forced to endure painful restraints, and subject to retaliation for participating in hunger strikes when he was incarcerated inside Riverside County jails, Salvador Venegas took the law into his own hands when he filed a lawsuit pro se against Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco in August 2019. 

Venegas, who is currently imprisoned in the SATF-CSP in California’s Central Valley, organized and participated in more than one hunger strike while detained in Riverside County (RivCo) between February 2014 and September 2020. In his capacity as a pro se litigant, he also crafted and filed multiple lawsuits against the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and the county – four in federal and three in state courts.   

Others who have been locked up in RivCo, in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, have followed suit, refusing food and taking legal action against a system that uses intimidation, violence, and retaliation to control the county’s incarcerated population. With assistance from outside community organizers and legal advocates, the incarcerated have mounted sustained resistance to the routine cycles of abuse perpetrated inside RivCo jails, sometimes at great risk to themselves.

The county maintains five so-called “correctional facilities” – Blythe Jail, the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center, the Joan J. Benoit Detention Center, the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility and the Robert Presley Detention Center – all of which are run by the RCSD. Bianco, who was elected RivCo sheriff, coroner, and public administrator in November 2018, runs the RCSD and oversees the jails, which hold persons arrested in the county. 

Roughly 70 percent of people inside RivCo jails haven’t been convicted of a crime and remain there only because they don’t have the money for bail, explained Dylan Rodriguez, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside. Rodriguez is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization committed to the abolition of the prison-industrial complex. 

Bianco is a former dues-paying member of the right-wing Oath Keepers organization and assumed the role of sheriff after defeating Stan Sniff. Sniff previously bested Bianco in a 2014 election and controlled the department for a decade beginning in 2007. They butted heads during the last campaign and post-election transition.

A Fox News favorite who started his career in corrections at a county jail in the 1990s, Bianco earned a reputation that now precedes him. 

“Chad Bianco and his administration have stoked a climate of punitive violence, retaliation, and fear that has necessitated acts of resistance and survival among jailed people and their loved ones,” Rodriguez affirmed. 

Hunger Strikes Against RCSD Repression

Food is a major focal point of struggle inside the county jails. 

Some 21 persons inside the administrative segregation or ‘ad-seg’ unit in the Robert Presley Detention Center (RPDC) started refusing food on April 13, 2017, in response to conditions including only being allowed to leave their cells for 30 minutes a day. 

The jail is located in downtown Riverside, a mini-metropolis of more than 310,000 people that serves as the county seat.

“Inmates would customarily be confined to their cells for days without any dayroom time,” Venegas stated regarding his time inside RivCo jails.

The 2017 hunger strike reportedly ended after 19 days, with no noticeable change in conditions or policies. 

Venegas helped orchestrate that one and later assisted in organizing another two years later. 

An August 2019 complaint [PDF] Venegas filed against Bianco and the county while he was incarcerated in the RPDC states that he and 15 others “initiated a collectively peaceful protest in the form of a hunger strike” on January 14 of that year. During the intentionally multi-racial action, detainees refused food “to bring awareness to the conditions of confinement deemed punitive.” 

The suit mentions a 13-page letter that outlined the concerns of hunger strike participants and served as an attempt to facilitate “diplomatic dialogue between inmates and those responsible for participants’ health and safety, and to edify them of illegal policies that can be corrected without litigation.” 

Damon Anderson (no relation to this reporter) said he engaged in four separate hunger strikes while in RivCo custody and coordinated collective actions with Venegas. He said correctional staff subsequently targeted them both for insubordination. 

“They would retaliate against us by coming in and searching our cells every day that we’re on a hunger strike as a way to try to get us to stop the hunger strikes,” he said.

Over the course of three months, the jail returned 12 items mailed to him – periodicals and books from family and friends – for, it appears, “absolutely no reason,” except as a way of retaliating against him, Anderson said. 

Four women incarcerated in the RPDC also refused food for 16 days several months after Venegas and his crew collectively declined to eat. 

The men in the RPDC started receiving a bit more dayroom time as a result of their own hunger strike in January, Yolanda Velasco, who is no longer in custody, wrote after she and the other women ended their hunger strike in mid-July 2019. 

“We had put multiple [grievances in] to be treated fairly. They would not budge. So we [decided] to take drastic measures,” Velasco wrote. 

Chantel Cox, who participated in the hunger strike with Velasco, wrote that they exhausted all formal remedies, like grievances and appeals. 

“For the record, giving up is not an option,” she wrote while still incarcerated in the RPDC. “The treatment, conditions, and misconduct within these walls has gotten completely out of hand.” 

But, Cox added, she, Velasco and two other women stood their ground and in so doing managed to disrupt what had gone on so long it was “normal routine” there. 

“As a form of retaliation deputies have searched my cell,” Cox wrote, “and legal work went missing on 3 occasions.” 

Routine Violence In Riverside County Jails

The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has a documented history of staging “gladiator fights,” pitting incarcerated members of opposing gangs or men with bad blood between them against each other in state prisons. Similar sorts of guard-coordinated fights have taken place within RivCo jails. 

Venegas told Shadowproof he was forced to fight a man inside one of the county jails in February 2017. A jail gang investigator at what was then called the Southwest Detention Center – now commonly known as the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center – threatened to have him assaulted because he was on a hunger strike, he explained. 

“I took that threat seriously and I knew that these threats would be accomplished. The deputies often manipulate the surveillance cameras to omit evidence of such incidents and only save the video footage to prosecute cases against inmates. The Grand Jury (2017-2018) made note of this fact in their reports,” Venegas wrote. He was referring to the Grand Jury’s comment that jail video recordings requested in 2017 “were not provided because they had been reported lost due to a failure of the recording device.” 

Venegas recalled being warned by several detainees that deputies wanted to set him up and have him assaulted when he’d least expect it. 

“The jail allows me almost 30 minutes a day to shower, use the phone, throw my trash and watch T.V. and I am confined to my cell 23 ½ hours a day,” Venegas wrote. “While on the phone talking to my son, I was sitting down with my back towards the sally port slider door. And behind me [a deputy] opens the door.”

He believes the deputy deliberately opened the door and let in a guy who was housed in Dayroom 3. Trying to run did not work, Venegas explained. 

“I knew that at any moment the [Sheriff’s officers] were going to set me up,” he wrote. “When I saw this [6-foot, 11-inch tall] individual at the entrance I knew it was going to be an assault. And I didn’t want to be the victim. This guy was 6-11, almost 7 feet tall, a giant to my [5-foot, 8-inch] stature. He had two stabbing instruments in each of his hands.” 

If the other man attacked him in the relatively wide dayroom space, Venegas believed his defense would suffer, so he needed to contain him inside the sally port. 

“I was a boxer in my youth,” he continued. “I competed in boxing tournaments so I could defend myself. Being raised in the California Youth Authority, I further learned to defend myself and fight smart.” 

The other guy hit his own shoulder on the side of the entrance, according to Venegas, who noted he needed to take advantage of the opening. 

“I capitalized and hit him 2 or 3 times … until he [collapsed] and fell to the floor,” Venegas explained. “I walked away and resumed my phone call with my family. It took the deputies several minutes, I’m guessing 5 -7 minutes, to respond to the incident.”

He thinks the deputies presumed they would find him beaten senseless and therefore took their time to respond. 

He’s not the only one to face physical violence inside RivCo jails. 

Anderson said he acquired a misdemeanor charge after a deputy inside the RPDC told him jail staff would leave him alone and give him his own cell if he assaulted a guy officers disdained because the man was filing lawsuits against the county. Anderson did but said he shouldn’t have. He was just tired of being harassed on the seventh floor of the facility. 

“And that type of shit happens all the time,” Anderson said. But, he added, he’s also been on the receiving end of sadism inside there. 

At one point, while downstairs in holding at the RPDC, Anderson suffered an unidentified medical incident he assumes was a seizure. 

“I woke up with all these officers around me, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. 

One rammed a knee into his head, he said, and they dragged him out of there by handcuffs.

Marlo McGee, who is incarcerated at RPDC, wrote that she “witnessed an inmate who had been ‘jumped’ by three men.” The individual was “absolutely ignored by medical staff after returning from ICU at the hospital. He sustained multiple fractured ribs, facial fractures, and several other injuries. When he got back to the jail, he was given absolutely no pain medication for several days.” 

Maurice Jennings, who spent time in RivCo jails before being sent to Corcoran, corroborated the trend, noting he’d also witnessed men intentionally sent to housing units where they would be assaulted. 

“One man while at the Cois Byrd Detention Center had his face and body sliced so bad with razors he didn’t look human,” Jennings wrote, adding: “I was forced to witness a young man beaten and hazed unconscious while at the Banning Detention Center,” otherwise known as the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility. “This transpired due to the young man having safety concerns that officers ignored, forcing him to house where known enemies were threatening his life. Officers routinely slam handcuffed inmates face-first into walls as well as body slam them.”

Jennings wrote that jail staff kept him confined in a 7-by-3 foot room with no ventilation for a week with 10 other men. 

“It was impossible to sleep as you lost track of whether it was day or night,” he explained. “Men became violent and delirious waiting to be housed and processed. Men are often forced to soil themselves or use the shower as a toilet as staff refuse to allow access to restrooms, creating unsanitary living conditions.” 

In a lawsuit [PDF] Jennings filed against the county in August 2019, he claimed correctional deputies denied him restroom access, too. 

“I’ve been retaliated against and harassed since my arrival at Cois M. Byrd Detention Center,” he wrote in the complaint. 

Venegas told Shadowproof about the RCSD’s practice of applying excessive “cross-chain” restraints, which dislocated his left shoulder on several occasions. X-rays taken within the Riverside University Healthcare system in Moreno Valley revealed shoulder damage – including some six lesions or tears – akin to what one might have after a car accident, he explained. He noted the approximate number of tissue abnormalities roughly corresponded with the number of times he had been cross-chained by deputies when transported from the jail to court. 

A lawsuit [PDF] filed in September 2020 against Bianco and the county of Riverside, along with photographic evidence shared with Shadowproof, indicate Bryonte Virgil endured comparable physical abuse in the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility. 

Herbert Hayden, attorney and partner at Harris & Hayden Law Firm, filed the suit on Virgil’s behalf. It alleges that as Virgil and others laid on the ground facing the wall on jail staff orders, two deputies approached him and told him to stand up and face the wall. 

He complied but asked why he had been singled out. 

“Don’t worry about it you ask too many questions,” he was told, according to the complaint, which also states he was issued the following order: “Shut up you dumb motherfucker.”

When Virgil asserted his rights, he was escorted to a hallway facing the recreation yard. He received a familiar reply – “Shut the fuck up!!! You talk too fucking much!!!” – when he again inquired what he did. 

“Without reasonable cause or warning, one of the [sheriff’s deputies] slammed Plaintiff’s face into the wall and began to repeatedly punch Plaintiff in the head and face,” the complaint states. “One of the [deputies] then took Plaintiff’s right hand and jerked it upwards, ‘chicken-winging’ him.” 

Hayden said the ‘chicken-winging’ almost broke his client’s wrist. “I think he had to have his wrist in a sling for about a month after that,” he said. 

Although Virgil complied with orders and remained restrained throughout the ordeal, the complaint notes that one deputy claimed he was “resisting” and threatened to hit him. 

“The deputy who claimed Plaintiff resisted proceeded to punch and beat Plaintiff in the head, face, and body although Plaintiff posed no threat to either of the [deputies],” the complaint reads. “While one deputy assaulted and battered Plaintiff, the other deputy held Plaintiff down with his knees on Plaintiff’s back and legs. After the beating, the [deputies] handcuffed Plaintiff, picked him up and took him to the infirmary. The [deputies] proceeded to punch, kick and beat Plaintiff repeatedly while he was pinned to the ground by them.”

Hayden, who said he believes the facts in the complaint to be accurate, also referred to video footage he viewed but was not at liberty to share. He claimed it shows that after Virgil had already been severely beaten and carried “around like a rag doll,” an officer kicked him like a punter would a football. 

Before his transfer to the SATF-CSP, Anderson, who earned a diploma in paralegal studies, assisted McGee and her father with a lawsuit that ended in a settlement and payout. 

Anderson, who started a fundraiser in early 2022 to help support his pro se litigation, recommends the “Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual” to anyone on the inside interested in pursuing legal action. 

Incarcerated persons filed at least six of the active lawsuits concerning RivCo jails last year. Anderson filed one last April and McGee filed one in October. 

A few Southern California-based attorneys like Agavni Tulekyan, Kevin Shawn Conlogue, and Ralph Rios took legal action against the RCSD in 2021 over jail conditions and detainee mistreatment. Legal and historical precedent suggests outside aid can make a difference. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against RivCo and the RCSD in March 2019 after the RCSD denied Noor Hussain, a practicing Muslim, proper religious accomodations. 

Amr Shabaik, a civil rights managing attorney with CAIR-LA who helped represent Hussain, told Shadowproof the lawsuit alleged the county violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act as well as his client’s constitutional rights. 

The suit proved successful. Shabaik and colleagues obtained a monetary settlement on Hussain’s behalf and prompted a policy change within the county so that detainees will be provided religious coverings upon request. 

Other jail-specific litigation against the RCSD has produced mixed results. 

The Prison Law Office (PLO) and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against RivCo in 2013 in regards to the mental and medical care inside the jails, then under Sniff’s purview. 

Scott Allen, MD, a professor emeritus of clinical medicine in the UC Riverside School of Medicine, assessed the medical care provided in the jails at the request of counsel representing both sides of that 2013 case, Gray v. County of Riverside. 

“The current level of care in the Riverside County Jails is inadequate, poses a significant risk of serious harm to inmates confined there and in the opinion of this expert does not meet minimal constitutional standards,” Allen concluded in his July 2015 review.

The court approved a settlement in April 2016, which required RivCo and the RCSD to make the changes spelled out in the Consent Decree and the Remedial Plan the parties agreed upon. 

Sara Norman, a managing attorney at the PLO, said a medical and a mental health expert have been appointed by the court to monitor treatment within the facilities overseen by the Sheriff’s Department . 

The RCSD has come into compliance with some but not all of the aspects of the settlement, Norman said. 

In early April 2020, two RCSD deputies died after contracting COVID-19. A few days later, the PLO filed an emergency motion in federal court in an effort to get RivCo jails to implement physical distancing and to get supplies to help prevent the spread. The court granted the motion less than two weeks later and ordered the county to develop a pandemic plan. 

More recently, the ACLU of Southern California sent a nine-page letter to the California Office of the Attorney General requesting an investigation into the sheriff’s department. Two local community organizations, Riverside All of Us or None (RAOUON) and Starting Over, Inc., co-signed the letter. It cites testimony from those in RivCo custody that suggests the department violated the aforementioned Consent Decree multiple times.

The letter, written in the style of a damning report and dated September 16, documents the experience of community members incarcerated in RivCo jails during the pandemic, “including, but not limited to, the denial of soap, cleaning supplies, masks, clean clothes, phone access, regular showers, COVID-tests, and life-saving medications and medical care.”

The letter notes that nine people died while in custody between March 2020 and May 2021.

It also explains how the RCSD denied Nelson Sims, a 62-year-old man, access to medical treatments and his breathing machine for several weeks after he was booked into the Murrieta detention center in January 2020. Sims, who is now in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, suffered a brain aneurysm while in RivCo custody. He was brought before a judge while disoriented and given a five-year sentence. 

The press office for the California Attorney General told Shadowproof they received the ACLU letter and were reviewing it, but the office stated that they could not “comment on a potential or ongoing investigation.” 

Luis Nolasco, a senior community engagement and policy advocate with the ACLU of Southern California, said the authors of the letter hope an Attorney General investigation energizes RivCo residents and jumpstarts a movement. 

He spoke of getting “folks up to speed, educated, and hopefully angry enough about what’s going on and using that as leverage to do broader organizing and advocacy with the Board of Supervisors to decrease the footprint of the Sheriff’s Department.” 

Nolasco noted the department also patrols a lot of the county because several municipalities in the area do not have their own police. One related aim, then, is to diminish the RCSD’s foothold by encouraging cities to stop contracting with them without replacing them with another police force. 

“All They Do Is Pull Teeth”

Beyond a reduction in the RCSD budget, sources and records intimate an urgent need to, in lieu of immediate mass release of people controlled by RivCo custody, improve the medical and mental health care (or the lack thereof) inside RivCo jails. 

In June 2020, ProPublica reported on the preventable death of Philip Garcia after staff failed to address his pressing medical and mental health needs while he was incarcerated in 2017. Despite staff determining Garcia to be experiencing a psychiatric crisis, video ProPublica obtained through public records requests shows violent force deployed against him. 

Anderson had a similar experience. He wrote that when he was arrested and booked in February 2017, he told deputies about his disabilities. But because of the jail’s dearth of accomodations, he fell from a top bunk as well as in the shower at Indio’s Joan J. Benoit Detention Center

Later, as he writhed in agony, Anderson averred that his “cries for help were ignored and even laughed at.” He recalls being in so much pain he curled up crying on the floor one morning in June 2017, and a nurse told him he couldn’t see the doctor if he couldn’t walk. 

“I wrote a suicide note saying please tell my wife and mother I’m sorry but I cannot take this pain no more,” Anderson recounted. “I made a noose and attempted to take my own life.” 

He woke up in the emergency room and told the doctor he would rather die than continue to endure the pain and humiliation he had been subjected to in the jail. 

The mistreatment prompted him to file lawsuits against the county. Anderson said he was treated worse inside RivCo jails than he had ever been in jails in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties. 

McGee told Shadowproof some of the worst aspects of RivCo jails include not having input in one’s own medical treatment and not being taken seriously by staff who often minimize medical complaints. Correctional staff seem to believe incarcerated persons do not deserve competent care, she lamented. 

“I witnessed a woman withdrawing from heroin having seizures and the medical staff simply looked down at her and said she was faking,” McGee wrote, adding: “If you have a medical issue on the weekend that is not an emergency, the vast majority of nurses will not call the doctor on call to get the patient medication. You have to wait until the doctors are in the jail. They also allow your medication to expire – leaving you without meds for several days.” 

Her father, Ernie McGee, a citizen of Riverside County since 1962, said his daughter, who has sickle cell disease, has frequently had to fight to see a doctor. 

McGee said the disease has caused his daughter intense, excruciating pain, but staff did not expedite treatment. 

“And myself, well they used to completely ignore me when I’d have a sickle cell crisis, however, because my father advocated for me, they no longer ignore me,” his daughter, who still struggles to receive appropriate medical care for her condition, explained.  

Her father said she started receiving blood transfusions about every four weeks when a specialist finally arrived. But then they transferred the doctor to UC Irvine, putting a halt to her treatments. 

The elder McGee spoke with jail and hospital staff before the doctor specializing in sickle cell left, but to no avail.  

“She suffered her first crisis after three years, because they waited so long,” he said.  

He also chided the abject misery of dental care on the inside. 

“All they do is pull teeth,” McGee said. “They don’t put in crowns.” 

His daughter agreed, saying dental treatment only includes extractions, dentures, and fillings. Procedures dentists agree are essential to the maintenance of oral health, like a deep cleaning every few months, are denied. 

Disability and illness are also used as justification for withholding food and exerting authoritarian control, sources attest. 

In addition to the two suits he settled and the one still in litigation, Anderson explained that he lost a separate lawsuit he filed after jail staff denied him food when he was in too much pain to get dressed.

The same repressive RCSD tactic provoked a lawsuit [PDF] from McGee, who claims the RPDC deprived her of food “as punishment for violating jail policy without due process.” She violated policy because her disease made it difficult to get fully dressed when staff demanded, according to her suit. 

“Our eyes would burn. Our noses would burn.” 

In Venegas’s view, his problems with RivCo jails started when he was first booked and assigned the adverse ‘ad-seg’ classification based on alleged prison gang validation without due process circa 2014. 

When detainees are booked, they remain inside intake holding cells for days, Venegas told Shadowproof. 

“The holding tanks are very unsanitary,” he explained. “The tanks are extremely cold. Many inmates sleep on the floors, which are filthy. Inmates are not permitted showers. The toilets and sinks are constantly [malfunctioning]. Most inmates do not complain of the unsanitary conditions because deputies threaten them to not house them for days for complaining.”

After submitting numerous grievances without a response, Raymundo Ramirez filed a lawsuit [PDF] against the county of Riverside, the Sheriff and the Undersheriff in July 2021. The complaint includes four grievances submitted throughout February 2021 when Ramirez, who is now in the Orwellian-named Pleasant Valley State Prison, was incarcerated at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center. 

“I was confined in my cell with toxic waste water that kept pouring in my cell,” Ramirez wrote on one of those grievance forms, dated February 13, 2021. Deputies stepped in the waste water, which splashed onto the fruit and milk on his meal tray, he wrote. 

“They would feed us in the cells with it being flooded,” he told Shadowproof. “Our eyes would burn. Our noses would burn.” 

Anderson corroborated claims about poor sanitation, specifically lambasting the literal shit with which those inside have to contend. 

“While at RPDC on the medical floor none of the cells got cleaned and even the showers were known to have [feces] in them on a regular basis,” Anderson wrote. 

Shit showed up in the shower on several occasions, but staff typically did not view it as a pressing problem.  

“A minimum of 15 times I’ve gone there and there’s a turd, just right there on the floor,” he said. He recounted how one time, when he was wheelchair-bound, he informed a deputy about excrement in the shower only to find it there on the floor the next day.  

According to Venegas, persons suffering from mental illness would urinate and defecate inside both showers and cells, and indifferent correctional deputies consistently let the problem pile up, leaving detainees without sufficient cleaning supplies to deal with or dispose of it.  

“Toilets had a known problem of spilling into the adjacent cells,” he shared. “For example, when my neighboring cell would flush his toilet, his urine and feces would spillover into my cell. Many times I [awoke] to feces and urine flooding my cell.” 

Anderson wrote that when he told a deputy in the Banning facility he wanted to file a grievance to challenge the jail’s policy of making detainees clean showers and toilets without gloves, deputies rushed into the living quarters and destroyed personal belongings. They told everyone that would happen daily if they continued to grieve, he added. 

In early 2022, Anderson wrote that RivCo jail staff told detainees writing up a cop would make them “a snitch” and that grievances are further discouraged by incarcerated persons willing to assault those who complete the paperwork. In exchange for roughing up other prisoners, Anderson claimed deputies provide those persons with extra meals, additional phone calls, and a variety of other privileges.

Bringing In The Community 

Since the RCSD failed to protect the incarcerated as the pandemic raged despite receiving millions of dollars for COVID-19 relief, members of the RAOUON chapter launched a #ReleaseRiverside campaign, urgently demanding releases. They’ve also repeatedly called on the county Board of Supervisors to defund the Sheriff’s Department. 

A movement to #BootBianco emerged in June 2020 to demand defunding the RCSD and to raise awareness about the sheriff treating people as disposable. 

A Sacramento-based anonymous member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the Industrial Workers of the World – an anti-capitalist union that endorses prison abolition – said solidarity with those inside is more important than those outside often realize. 

The organizer said IWOC, which does not yet have a Riverside branch or local, generally focuses more on state prisons, but those incarcerated elsewhere are also welcome to join. Those on the inside often express greater interest in becoming a member of a militant union working toward the abolition of incarceration and class society than do those who have never been locked up. 

Abolition and solidarity also require more than advocacy aimed at getting the government to release a lot of people from jails and prisons. 

“If we’re not about social revolution and overthrowing capitalism, then we’re basically not about shit, and it’s literally just a revolving door,” the Sacramento IWOC member said, adding: “Is the state ever going to just abolish its repressive wing just because you ask it to? Obviously fucking not.” 

Rodriguez, who last year helped formalize an Inland Empire Abolition Network – a coalition of persons and organizations across the region who support each other’s work geared toward transforming justice and getting rid of police, prisons and jails – stated resistance among jailed persons indicates those targeted by local state violence have “no choice but to adopt whatever means are at their disposal to survive and publicize the severity of their situation.”

“It is an obligation for those of us professing to be on the right side of history, or in support of true justice, to build public solidarity with these struggles!” Rodriguez proclaimed.

Giving Advice From Inside 

Anderson offered suggestions for those facing the Herculean task of transforming power relations on the inside through direct action and disobedience, be it with hunger strikes or other synchronized efforts. 

“If you’re going to organize something like that now, you just got to be really discreet about it and hit ‘em all with it all at once, and do it that way,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re going to do to them like they did with me and Venegas and keep us separate from the general population just for that purpose.” 

As McGee made clear, the humans held under RCSD authority, ripped from the communities from whence they came, try to contact each other’s loved ones as needed and inform them about what goes on inside there.

“We will try to speak to staff on behalf of the inmate in need but are usually met with ‘mind your own business, they can speak for themselves,’” she added. “We will care for one another to the best of our ability – provide food, OTC medication and emotional support.” 

Beyond calling for additional rehabilitation programs, greater freedoms for detained persons, and access to technology like tablets that could make confinement a bit more bearable, McGee also encouraged community members outside of custody to listen closely to all those they hope to help free. 

“I would advise the staff and activists to take the time out to consult with the inmates to understand better what their needs are,” she wrote. 

For his part, Venegas hopes to convey to all who might care that the RivCo jail system is constructed “to break you in every conceivable way prior to a conviction” so as to monopolize control over lives. 

“So you better stand on solid ground because they aim to break you, guilty or not,” he advised.

James Anderson

James Anderson

James Anderson is from Illinois but now resides in Southern California’s Inland Empire. He has worked as an adjunct professor and has freelanced for a number of outlets. You can view and subscribe to his newsletter at waywards.substack.com.