Reportback: Phone Zap for Tikisha Upshaw and Santa Rita Jail Kitchen Workers

Monday, December 7

Dear friends, comrades, and community members – 

Thank you for participating in last week’s phone zap regarding the quality of food in Santa Rita Jailand in support of Tikisha Upshaw, a long-term advocate who has been repeatedly targeted by the Sheriff for her for her activism. The retaliation Tikisha has experienced is representative of a larger effort by ACSO to discredit whistleblowers, and to regain control of the narrative by using prisoners’ convictions to deflect concerns away from conditions in the jail.

We are writing to let you know that this phone zap had an impact! Together, we succeeded in taking Aramark and ACSO by surprise. Callers reported that voicemails for Robin Weiss and Ray Kelly were full, indicating that many people mobilized to demand an improvement in conditions and withdrawal of the discipline against Tikisha. Many callers reported that ACSO Public Information Officer Sgt. Ray Kelly was on the defensive! We also have reason to believe that word of the phone zap reached well beyond Ray Kelly’s desk: a jail support crew on the ground on Saturday, December 5 reported that an ACSO Deputy approached them in an intimidating manner and made defensive comments about food in Santa Rita Jail.

We also want to share with the community the sad news that ACSO is moving forward with discipline of Tikisha Upshaw. Tikisha called on Saturday, December 5 to report that she received her disciplinary citation and will now be denied visiting, phone, and commissary privileges for 25 days. We are enraged but not surprised that ACSO is punishing the simple act of sharing food between hungry people. Tikisha’s justifiable distress at this abuse was met with an increase in her Prozac dosage and a dose of Benadryl for “anxiety.” Tikisha’s advocates are disturbed to report that she is sleepy, confused, and disoriented. This is retaliation, plain and simple. It is clear that what passes for mental health care in the jail is not designed to help people but to sedate them so that they are no longer a “problem.”

When faced with pressure from the community, ACSO and Aramark chose not to address prisoners’ clear demands but to deflect and manipulate the narrative regarding its cruel policies and torturous conditions. This is clearly illustrated in the following selections from reportbacks of a few of these conversations with Sgt. Ray Kelly and Robin Weiss:

Robin laughed at me and said that it was all a lie and a ploy to win a lawsuit and ‘it will all come out soon.’

Sgt. Ray Kelly claimed: it is Tikisha Upshaw who is stirring up all these lies. She is a murderer so can’t be believed. The kitchen has passed numerous federal, state and county investigations and has always passed these inspections and been told they are doing an excellent job.

I told Sgt. Kelly that I am a community member concerned that people’s 8th Amendment rights were being violated, and that punishing people by taking away their access to safe, edible food is unacceptable. He responded by saying “I think you’re talking about Tikisha Upshaw, she is a problematic inmate and convicted murderer who I know is at the root of these calls today.” He tried to convince me that what she did merits her commissary being taken away. He explained that he was a first responder on the scene and that what he saw of Ms. Upshaw’s alleged crime left him traumatized. I told him that information is not relevant, since she is already serving time, and that taking away access to food is a violation of constitutional rights. I also asked what the Sheriff’s Office was doing to restore her privileges and he said that they will be restored when the period of time for her loss of privileges runs out.

Further Context for Tikisha’s Situation

In light of Sgt. Kelly’s aggressive response to callers and his personal attacks against Tikisha Upshaw, we would like to be fully transparent regarding who we are advocating for, so that the community can understand what Tikisha Upshaw represents to ACSO and their long-term investment in persecuting her.

Tikisha Upshaw was convicted of “murder for hire”: the County alleges that she paid someone to commit a murder. These allegations were based upon cell tower pings to a phone which the County could never identify, except for the company. Tikisha was in the vicinity (5 miles) of the phone at the time of the calls. The County cannot prove she made any calls, nor that she gave anyone any money or had a discussion with anyone about the murder. The only proof are cell tower pings. Tikisha has repeatedly stated she is factually innocent, had nothing to do with the murder, and didn’t know anything about it until after it took place. Nevertheless, ACSO spent around $400,000 of their own money to prosecute her.

Tikisha was the lead plaintiff in Upshaw v. ACSO, for which the court issued a preliminary injunction to stop the jail from inflicting torture like sleep deprivation and sleep disturbance. Until June 2019, no prisoner in Santa Rita was ever allowed to sleep for more than 4.5 hours a night. Prisoners were frequently woken up at night by maintenance and cleaning noise. Sleep deprivation is shown to cause mental confusion, and disruption of our neurological and endocrine system, leading to diabetes, breast cancer and dementia.

The jail has also accused Tikisha of threatening the safety of the jail when she tried to organize women to write grievances. Fearful of her organizing, they have tried to get rid of her by having 2 deputies drive her to the Central California Women’s Facility, only to have CCWF reject the transfer because the Sheriff did not do it properly. This trip – with two deputies driving 7 hours in a jail vehicle – cost the County in excess of $2,000 for salaries and gas.

Next Steps to Support People in Santa Rita Jail

It is clear that Aramark and ACSO will go to great lengths to deflect the community away from the clear demands made by prisoners. Whatever misleading claims Sgt. Kelly may make to the pubic, we know: Taking food from hungry people is torture! Serving inedible food to hungry people is torture!

What supporters can do now:

  1. Share this reportback and ask your community to continue making calls.

Call Sgt. Ray Kelly at 510.272.6901

Call the jail at (925) 551-6500 Ext. 0 to speak with an assistant. 

Email Richard Valle at Richard.Valle@acgov.org 

  1. Read declarations made by kitchen workers regarding food, sanitation, and nutrition at the jail at https://srjsolidarity.org/ 
  2. Call in to Supervisor Richard Valle’s conference call at Santa Rita Jail on Friday, December 11 at 10:00am to let him know that we will not give up until these torturous conditions are addressed.

One-click dial from a smart phone: +1 415-915-3950

Conference ID: 271 621 247#

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