Keramet Reiter

City Lights and Uncommon Law welcome Keramet Reiter in conversation with Keith Wattley of UnCommon Law to discuss 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement from Yale University Press.
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Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators’ discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one “supermax,” California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention.

Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, has been an advocate at Human Rights Watch and testified about the impacts of solitary confinement before state and federal legislators. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Keith Wattley is the founder and executive director of UnCommon Law. He has been advocating for the rights of prisoners and parolees for nearly twenty years. Prior to launching UnCommon Law in 2006, Keith was a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley. He has represented thousands of prisoners in impact litigation and individual matters involving mental health care, gang validation, religious freedom, prison infirmaries, medical care, excessive force, visitation, parole consideration and parole revocation. He has also trained hundreds of lawyers, law students and others in prisoner and parole advocacy. Keith is also co-chair of the Institutional Review Board (human subjects committee) for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. He was also a member of the Founding Board of Directors for the Prison University Project (San Quentin’s College Program) and a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

UnCommon Law is a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released. We work with prisoners for months or years in advance of their parole board hearings, and we represent them in those hearings and in court petitions challenging the parole board and the Governor.

Ryan Gattis

Ryan Gattis reads from his latest and best work to come, All Involved, a historical fiction novel that details the brutality of the Rodney King riots at City Lights.

A propulsive and ambitious novel as electrifying as The Wire, from a writer hailed as the West Coast’s Richard Price—a brutal and mesmerizing epic of crime and opportunity, race, revenge, and loyalty, set in the chaotic streets of South Central L.A. in the wake of one of the most notorious, incendiary, and racially charged trials of the 1990s, involving the severe beating of a civilian black man and three white LAPD officers

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During the infamous 1992 Rodney King Riots in LA, 4,000 California Army National Guardsmen patrolled the city to enforce the law.

At 3:15 p.m. on April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted two Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with using excessive force to subdue civilian Rodney King, and failed to reach a verdict on the same charges involving a third officer. Less than two hours later, the city of L.A., a powder keg of racial tension, exploded in violence as people took to the streets in a riot that lasted six days. In 144 hours, fifty-three lives were lost. Yet, that number does not account for the murders that occurred outside active rioting sites—some committed by gangbangers who used the chaos to viciously settle old scores.

A gritty and cinematic work of fiction, All Involved vividly recreates this turbulent and terrifying time through seventeen interconnected first-person narratives. Focusing on a sliver of Los Angeles almost completely ignored by the media during the riots, Ryan Gattis paints a portrait of modern America itself—laying bare our history, our prejudices, and our complexities. Resonant with the voices of gang members, firefighters, graffiti kids, and nurses caught up in these extraordinary circumstances, All Involved is a literary tour de force that catapults this edgy writer into the ranks of such legendary talents as Dennis Lehane and George V. Higgins.

All Involved is a symphonic, pitch-perfect, superlative novel.  It is visceral and adrenalin-fuelled, yet tender and even darkly comic.  It is audacious, unflinching and subversive.  It doesn’t judge.  It swallowed me whole.”—David Mitchell, author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas

Ryan Gattis is a novelist, lecturer at Chapman University, and Creative Director for urban art crew UGLAR

(uglarworks.com). He is the author of the novels Roo Kickkick & The Big Bad Blimp; Kung Fu High School, The Big Drop: Homecoming and The Big Drop: Impermanence. He lives in Los Angeles.

An Evening with Tony Serra

Tony_SerraTony Serra recently came by City Lights to read from his new memoir, Tony Serra: The Green, Yellow and Purple Years in the Life of a Radical Lawyer. What followed was an entertaining, educational, and emotional evening as one of San Francisco’s most luminary intellectuals talked about his life, his work, and his passion.

Tony Serra is a life long civil rights activist and attorney. He is the epitome of a counter-cultural hero. He has spent his life defending society’s marginalized citizens in the courtroom. His role in the Chol Soo Lee case was depicted in the film True Believer and he has gained national prominence for his closing argument techniques. Mr. Serra has consulted with hundreds of professional organizations on various legal issues in multiple forums in 14 different states. He is a life-long tax resister who has spent time in federal prison in protest of what he perceives to be an unjust political and legal system.Serra has served the community as a practicing criminal defense attorney for over 45 years. He has represented: Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, The White Panthers, The Hell’s Angels, Chol Soo Lee, Hooty Croy, Brownie Mary, Bear Lincoln, and many others. He is the recipient of numerous awards that include: ACLU Benjamin Dreyfus Civil Liberties Award, Gideon Equal Justice Award from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Lawyer of the Year from the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, as well as numerous others.

Tony Serra: The Green, Yellow and Purple Years in the Life of a Radical Lawyer is available from Grizzly Peak Press.

Tony Serra discussing Walking the Circle: Prison Chronicles

Tony Serra came to City Lights Bookstore the evening of September 26th, 2012, and spoke of his new book, Walking the Circle: Prison Chronicles (Grizzly Peak Press).

Walking the Circle: Prison Chronicles

from Grizzly Peak Press

Tony Serra is the epitome of counter-cultural hero. He has spent his life defending society’s marginalized citizens in the courtroom. His role in the Chol Soo Lee case was depicted in the film True Believer and he has gained national prominence for his closing argument techniques. Mr. Serra has consulted with hundreds of professional organizations on various legal issues in multiple forums in 14 different states. He is a life-long tax resister who has spent time in federal prison in protest of what he perceives to be an unjust political and legal system. His recent stay in Lompoc Federal Prison Camp yielded the release of this new book that sheds light on the conditions prevalent in the prison system. Not one to be content with fighting for a more civil and just society only in the court-room, Tony Serra has taken the fight to the front-lines. His examination and criticism of the prison system complex adds to the ongoing dialog for prison reform.

J. Tony Serra has been a practsing criminal defense attorney for over 45 years. He has represented: Heuy Newton and the Black Panthers, The White Panthers, The Hell’s Angels, Chol Soo Lee, Hooty Croy, Brownie Mary, Bear Lincoln, and many others. He is the reciepient of numerous award that include: ACLU Benjamin Dreyfus Civil Liberties Award, Gideon Equal Justice Award from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Lawyer of the Year from the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, as well as numerous others.

What has been said about Walking the Circle: Prison Chronicles:

A life filled with passion, trouble, and general shit-kicking may be the best life to have, but probably only if you are Tony Serra, wily defense lawyer, generous supporter of perilous causes, devoted custodian of just about everyone except himself. Recently, he continued his mission of disruptive merry-making while ioncarcerated fora little matter of federal taxes he decided not to offer a federal government he considers hostile to the poor, immigrants, Native Americans, and folks who enjoy a bit of inner transportaion by means of forbidden substances. In the matter of Tony Serra vs. the System, the conflict has gone on for more than forty years.” -Herb Gold

Tony Serra’s Walking the Circle: Prison Chronicles, is a wonder, as is the author. Not since Clarence Darrow has a trial lawyer attracted such envious attention in court, Nt since Byron has there been a more poetic, passionate defender of liberty. Tony’s book almost akes you want to spend time in jail.” -John Keker, Esq.