YOGI’S 1969 LETTER FROM SOLEDAD PRISON
Statement of Facts
Soledad Central, CA
I swear on my life and on those who have perished unmercifully under the cruel hands of these racial anti-Black officials, that what you are about to read is the pure, honest truth and nothing but:
To All (Blacks) Concerned:
(1969) On October the 27th, Eugene Grady, Eddie Whiteside and myself (Hugo Pinell), were transferred to Soledad Correctional Instiutuion Facility, from Folsom Prison. We were place in the Max Row section of O-Wing. Immediately entering the Sallyport area of the section, I could hear inmates shouting and making remarks such as; “Nigger is a scum low down dog, etc.” I couldn’t believe my ears at first because I know if I could hear these things, the officers beside me could too and I started wondering what was going on (?). Then, I fixed my eyes on the Wing Sergeant and I began to see the clear picture of why those inmates didn’t care if the officials heard them instigating racial conflict.
The Sergeant was and still is Mr. M., a known prejudice character towards Blacks because of previous unforgettable experiences with Blacks. I was placed in cell #139 and since that moment up until now I have had no peace of mind. The white inmates made it a 24 hour job of cursing Black Inmates just for kicks and the officials harassed us with consistency also. On October the 28th, my personal property was handed to me and I only received one third of what I had in Folsom, plus it was torn along with half of the photographs they allowed me to have. But, I still kept collectively at ease.
Soon, on November the 12th, they had the first shake down since I was there. The officials went straight to Whiteside’s cell and I didn’t believe my eyes at how they operated. They only went in the cell for seconds while Whiteside was hand-cuffed in another cell. They came out and without a cause, took Whiteside to the other side of O-Wing which is considered Isolation. I asked the officers where they were taking Whiteside and one of them told me to shut-up. About two minutes they came back and shook my cell down and I figured they would take me to the other side also, but they didn’t!! They only accused me of having a torn sheet in my cell and they charged me $1.26 for it. In their records shows that the set of sheets on my bed were untouched, so I asked them how they came about with a torn sheet and again I was told to shut-up and was given ten (10) days cell exercise which means I don’t come out of my cell for ten days! I still didn’t say anything.
The next day, I got a visit in a visiting room and when I came back, inmate Meneweather (a Black) told me that the police had attacked W.L. Nolen (a Black) while being hand-cuffed and he had been taken to Isolation! Now, this was a little too much to accept, so Edwards (a Black), Meneweather and myself protested accordingly to their ways; we threw some liquid on officer D. since he was the cause of W.L. Nolen getting attacked. We didn’t have any meanings of defense. No one knew how we were doing down here, so, we could only respond in protection of each other! They came back and threw gas in our cells until we almost died-seriously-I had to wave a towel since I was choking from the gas.
They told me that they wouldn’t open the door until I undressed, back up to the door and stick my arms out. I did just that, they hand-cuffed me and dragged me to the other side, naked. Meneweather and Edwards received the same treatment. We were placed in the so called strip-cells in the back of the tier. The next day the doctor came by, not specially to see us, but mainly making his once a week routine. he asked me if i was okay and i told him, “yeah,” I’m alright. I wanted to say “No sir, my eyes and skin are burning from the gas,” but I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have any hopes of getting help from anyone except my own people. Then, we were given 29 days isolation, including 15 days R.D. (Restricted Diet). This R.D. is served twice a day and believe me, even a dog wouldn’t eat it, perhaps not even a pig!
In that dark cell I did a lot of thinking on what all this harassment would lead to because surely, the officials could see how well together we were and we didn’t let the White inmate’s fat-mouthing affect us in the least. Then, my visits were restricted to the Captain’s Office and I kept cool because all my brothers were being mistreated, some worse than me. For instance; W.L. Nolen was disliked by all the officials and what angers me is that, these officials don’t hide it, they just come out in the open and let you know, you are not appreciated in O-Wing if you are Black.
After our 29 days were over we returned to Max Row but before that they had brought inmate Grady to Isolation trying to frame him also-I asked him why they (officials) did so many petty things and he said he couldn’t understand it either but in our eyes we could see the answer-we were Black and we weren’t fooling ourselves, we merely try to give each other encouragement.
When we came back to Max Row (Edwards, Meneweather, and myself) Whiteside and Nolen were already back. Again we layed back and accepted the insults from White Inmates. These officials didn’t allow no one to exercize except inmates of their own race in group of three at one time-so that no mexican, white or black inmate came in contact with one another at any time. They violated this rule by letting whites and mexicans exercise together and get haircuts on the same day so that this way it made it obvious what they meant to plant in people’s mind by segregating Blacks from everybody else.
So, it was no secret that racial tension existed on Max Row and Blacks were housing as follows; Nolen (#134), Satcher (#144), Whiteside (#140), Myself, Pinell (#139), Randolph (#137), Meneweather (#134), Edwards (#132), Miller (#130), and Anderson (#126). Anderson was harassed the next day (around the 16th of Dec.) and taken to Isolation. On the 18th day, Nance (a Black) was brought in from Isolation and placed in cell #128. That same day I was informed by officials that I was to go to Sacramento County Jail, the next day. I couldn’t figure out what would be the reason for me going to Sacramento. So, on the 19th, before I left, Grady was returned to Max Row and house in #127.
Now, we were all wondering why all of the sudden so many Blacks were being moved on our side, because, really, when I first came on this tier, there were only four (4) Blacks (Nolen, Meneweather, Edwards and Anderson) and they have been there for quite a while putting up with officials, as well as inmates’ insults. The only thing we had going for us, was ourselves, and we behaved so civilized that it enraged everyone to try more mischievous plots against us hoping we would react savagely as they did, but without triumph! Anyway, on the 19th I left for Sacramento, it was a Friday and I didn’t return until Tuesday the 23rd. I was put in the same cell #139. It was the same environment-the air stayed stuffed with “Nigger here”, and “Nigger there.”
On the 28th of Dec., a list was passed out announcing the opening of the Max Row yard on the 29th. But it didn’t open because there was still some work yet to be done. But I did notice that white inmates and officials were awfully cheerful for some reason or another and they continuously didn’t forget to remind us of the yard opening soon. Nolen kept telling me that these officials were up to no good and the white inmates would pass my cell asking me, “are you coming out when the yard opens?”-most of the time I would laugh at them and sometimes I would just sigh and roll on my other side trying to sleep.
Days went by and on Monday the 12th, I left for Sacramento County Jail again. It was raining like hell up that way so I figured the weather was the same at Soledad. Tuesday morning I was taken to Court, but someone said it was a mistake, that I was supposed to appear that afternoon, so I was taken back to County Jail where I met other friends of mine. Well, me and my friends (not from Soledad) went to court that afternoon, when we returned, we happened to hear the news on the radio where it announced the killing of three inmates at Soledad Institution while scuffling in the yard. Damn, for some reason I knew what yard that man on the radio was referring to, because I fell to my knees against my will, and tears rolled out of my eyes. Believe me, I’m a man in every respect, but if you felt the tension we live under, you could easily understand a grown man crying. I was sad, glad, angry, and hateful; Gordon (a Black) also cried and he wasn’t even at Soledad and yet we know how it is for Blacks in prison.
Everybody stopped and stared at me not understanding. I cursed people out for no reason because, after all, it wasn’t their fault. I returned here the next day and I could smell death in the air. The tier was like a tomb-I was put in my, what used to be, personal friend’s cell; W.L. Nolen. I asked what happened and they told me (Blacks) that W.L. Nolen, Cleveland Edwards and Alvin Milller were shot down like ducks in a pond. Pay full attention to what I have said, because even today we live under the same conditions and that murder out in the yard could have easily been me or the rest of the Blacks down here. Or maybe we get it next time? All I do is ask myself, “Is this the price a man has to pay for wanting to be Black and respected as such, as he respects others?” I tell you, it is cold blooded!
I speak on behalf of all Blacks who know and understand the meaning of being Black and in Prison. If it wasn’t for those killings of W.L. Nolen, Edwards, and Miller, I would have never sat down to write this, but if my people keep on getting killed in this fashion, what is the sense in me living when their heart is also my beat?!
Hugo A. Pinell
Thomas Lopez Meneweather