By Ruby Wilks & Davis Vanguard
At age 63 and during a pandemic, Paul Redd begins to build his life outside of prison after 44 years of incarceration despite serious health problems.
In 1975, a San Francisco jury found then the 19-year-old Oakland resident guilty of first-degree murder of a local drug dealer; he was sentenced to seven years to life in prison.
One of the two other men arrested for the same crime pled guilty to a lesser charge and testified at trial that Redd committed the murder. For this deal, he served no time in jail or prison.
This man’s testimony was the only evidence against Redd, who has always maintained his innocence.
Redd spent over 30 of his 44 years of incarceration in solitary confinement. He was kept alone in a concrete, windowless, poorly ventilated cell for between 22 and 24 hours a day.
“Paul lived in conditions that were at the time the worst prison conditions in the United States,” stated attorney Charles Carbone, who represented Redd and other inmates in a class-action law-suit.
Rudd was forced to live in an environment “designed to maximize sensory deprivation, designed to basically maximize mental suffering, pain, and anguish, and for individuals to mentally decompensate as a consequence,” commented Carbone.
Prison officials claimed they placed Rudd in the SHU because, despite a lack of any real evidence, they deemed him a Black Guerrilla Family affiliate.
This practice termed “gang validations,” gave CDCR the legal license to place people in solitary confinement for decades, not based on any criminal or unlawful activity, but because of a supposed gang association.
Association could be as simple as “having artwork or a book that supposedly had gang connotations associated with it, talking in a law library, (or) communicating through mail with people who supposedly had gang connections, even if you’re talking about the most in-nocuous, ordinary incident,” pointed out Carbone.
During his time in Pelican Bay’s Secured Housing Unit, Redd participated in the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes that united prisoners of many races, making national news and demanding attention to the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement.
He later became a plaintiff in a prisoner-led class action lawsuit, Ashker v Newsom (2015), that, among other reforms, ended indeterminate solitary confinement and the practice of “gang validations” in California prisons.
Despite serious weaknesses in the case against him, his impressive prison record and resume, his serious health conditions, and his solid re-entry plan, he was denied parole more than 18 times before he lost count.
San Francisco Public Defender Danielle Harris came to visit him and explained that he was, instead, pursuing release through 1170(d). Redd cried tears of joy.
Harris assembled a pack-age, strengthened by sup-porting letters from nurses, psychologists, and others who worked with Redd in a prison hospice center. Harris then submitted the package to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who recommended the court recall Redd’s sentence.
“I want people out now,” said Harris.
By mid-May 2020, Redd said, “The judge vacated my murder conviction, gave me manslaughter credit for time served, and ordered I be re-leased immediately. Within four or five days, I walked out of Vacaville.”
Harris said Redd’s release was possible because of a 2018 law that gave prosecutors’ power to recommend resentences and the election of DA Boudin.
After Redd’s release, Harris helped him connect with the Five Keys Re-Entry Program in Oakland. The program staff is helping Redd get his Social Security, Medi-Cal, medication and driver’s license.
Redd has a strong family network and has developed meaningful personal and professional relationships inside and outside of prison.
Redd accepted an offer from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Oakland, a social justice and activism organization.
In 2015, Redd found out he had a tumor on the top of his right lung and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
Battling cancer inspired Redd to create a cancer support group in California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
Elaborating on the utterly inadequate health services in prison, Paul said, “there is no regard for the human life of prisoners inside these prisons.”
“That’s why a lot of these people have a lot of these ailments: they’re elderly, they’re at high risk, with a number of medical conditions as a result of the shabby medical program that existed because CDCR doesn’t want to spend the money to send you to see the necessary specialists, to get the necessary tests done, etc.”
When he sought mental health support at CMF, he was told that since he was not on psych medication—“what they call triple CMS,” he told me—he wouldn’t be provided with mental health assistance.
He hopes to help others find a way to freedom through 1170(d) and to work against the stigma and harmful stereotypes that surround those convicted of crimes.
“I want to see if I can put together a team to work with me to file a class action law-suit for money damages for all those decades they kept us in solitary confinement, like they did. It contributed to a lot of our health problems today—the sleep apnea, the cancer, etc.”
He said he also wants file a class action lawsuit on behalf of cancer patients that he believes developed cancer from asbestos exposure in prison.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the Davis Vanguard. The original version of this article appeared on the DavisVanguard.org website on July 8, 2020. The version printed here has been edited for length by a San Quentin News advisor