SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — An alleged South Bay gang leader known as ‘the rabbit’ is opening up about spending over 1,500 days in solitary confinement and a hunger strike that he hoped would cultivate change.
Larry “Conejo” Lucero is an alleged gang leader and one of hundreds of inmates in Santa Clara County jail who’ve been on a hunger strike to protest conditions behind bars.
He’s been in solitary confinement and refused to eat for days.
The hunger strike at the Santa Clara County jail was set to end Friday at dinner.
“This is my fifth day on a hunger strike. I’m getting cramps, headaches, my vision is blurry right now,” Lucero said.
Lucero was arrested in 2013 for allegedly running a local regiment of the Nuestra Familia gang which the D.A. says is responsible for murder, robbery, drugs and weapons charges.
He says since his 2013 arrest he’s been kept in virtual isolation while awaiting his trial.
“I’ve been housed in solitary confinement for approximately 1,500 days without any discipline or type of action to put me there. Straight from booking which is my arrest date. From day one I’ve been in solitary confinement without any form of due process,” he said.
He says he has no problem with the deputies.
“Our complaint is not with the staff in general, it’s with administration,” Lucero said.
The administration, he says, won’t reclassify him, to allow him to be around other inmates, get help or classes.
“It’s pretty much existing instead of living and that’s what we’re trying to change,” he said.
Lucero said, “There’s really nothing there to stimulate the mind, no educational classes or vocational classes, or things to help us with substance abuse.
During our interview I was informed by jail staff of a major breakthrough that could end the hunger strike tonight.
Santa Clara Co. Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Rich Glennon said, “One of our assistant sheriffs met with over 100 inmates today, to kind of go through some of the reforms that have taken place and also some of the reforms that are going to happen in the future, just so that everyone is up on the same page, and they agreed to end the hunger strike.”
The inmates planned to break their fast with dinner.
KPIX 5 asked Lucero why he thinks people on the outside should care about the conditions inside the jail?
Lucero said, “Because today it’s me experiencing these injustices, tomorrow it may be them. Tomorrow it may be their sons, tomorrow it may be their father, or their brother, their sister. Today it’s us. We’re trying to create change that not only affects us but those who come after us.”
Part of the reason for the lengthy delay in Lucero’s case is the sheer size of it. The indictment includes 48 defendants and 77 counts.
The hunger strike was suspended Friday as sheriff’s authorities have addressed some of the strikers’ demands.
The strike that began on Monday with about 100 inmates to protest unfair conditions at the custody facility grew to about 300 inmates by Thursday, according to community organizer Jose Valle of Silicon Valley De-Bug.
About two-thirds of the inmates on strike were already in isolation, according to Valle.
On Friday afternoon, Valle spoke with one of the strikers who told him the strike was suspended because correctional administrators met three of their five demands: more clothing exchanges and providing enough clothes to inmates; setting equal prices as listed for items at the commissary instead of overcharging for the products and stop misappropriating the inmate welfare fund.
The group is still looking for custody staff to adopt the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s classification system and end solitary confinement, Valle said.
Many inmates are placed in isolation indefinitely as their case goes through the court system, at times for many years before they’re convicted, according to Valle.
Some people are in solitary confinement based on opinions of jail guards and the group is seeking that those inmates be given the opportunity to be placed in a lower class based on their behavior, Valle said.
“It’s going to take more than one day to end this,” he said.
The strikers are also looking for community involvement in the decisions to make sure their requests are met, he said.
The group on strike was allowed more program time with other inmates Friday outside of their cells where they met with jail administrators and shook hands with them, according to Valle.
“The hunger strikers are appreciative of the sheriff meeting their demands, [but] at the same time they want to make sure this is a permanent change,” he said.
An assistant sheriff met with the inmates today to discuss the changes already made and future reforms, sheriff’s officials said in a tweet Friday afternoon.
The Sheriff’s Office has also reduced prices for phone calls, among other changes, sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Glennon said.
During the strike, non-heated boxes of food were given to a local homeless shelter run by The Salvation Army, according to Glennon.
The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County, a union that represents the deputies, endorsed the strike.
“The issues raised by these inmates are not new concerns, nor are they concerns unique to the inmates. We find ourselves in agreement with the striking inmates,” union vice president Roger Winslow said in a statement
The union also called out Sheriff Laurie Smith’s lack of leadership that has also been expressed by the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission On Improving Custody Operations, the Prison Law Office in Berkeley and the National Institute of Corrections, according to Winslow.
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