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Inmate Javier Zubiate, formerly a lieutenant of the gang Nuestra Familia, is a convicted killer serving time in the Secure Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

A tour of Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City begins with a briefing about the dangers of prison life and includes examples of prison-made weapons confiscated by officials.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Inmate Javier Zubiate stands in the concrete recreation area where he is allowed periods of controlled and highly monitored exercise.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Javier Zubiate watches television while writing a letter. He has agreed to provide evidence on other gang members in order to be released from the Secure Housing Unit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Javier Zubiate waits in a holding cell.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

The prison's security includes razor wire, cameras and gun-toting guards.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Javier Zubiate is led away from the Secure Housing Unit to a holding area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Inmate Jeremy Beasley, 39, was a member of the Nazi Low-Rider and was elevated to the Aryan Brotherhood. He's serving a life sentence for murder, tried to kill another inmate and assaulted a guard, authorities say.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Inside Pelican Bay State Prison

By Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times

As a photojournalist I walk into and out of people’s lives on a daily basis and, in the course of doing so, witness the high points of life as well as the lowest. My intention is to share stories of great triumphs as well as the lowest moments of tragedy.

Several months ago I was given the opportunity, along with Times staff writer Paige St. John, to tour the Secure Housing Unit  at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.

Crescent City is one of the most beautiful places in Northern California. The rugged, rocky shoreline, shrouded with fog, renders classic postcard coastal views. Inland, a tree-lined road meanders past farms and fields and leads to a maximum-security prison. Pelican Bay State Prison is home to some of the most notorious convicted criminals in California.


Mark Boster with inmate Javier Zubiate in the Secure Housing Unit.

Without prejudice and without passing any judgement, I knew going into this project that my job was to show a small slice of their life and to tell a story that few are allowed to see.

Paige and I were given an official briefing by the warden, shown examples of the various prison-made knives and weapons and fitted for our Kevlar protective vests. After almost two hours of the required briefing we started our tour.

Crossing from an office area into the actual prison complex, a giant steel door slammed behind us and we were suddenly in an area with very tall electrified fences, topped with razor wire and towers manned by guards with rifles. That is the moment when the talk stops and you realize you are in a different world. This is the world of convicted murderers and many people who made some very poor choices.

A short time later we met and chatted with two men who were probably never going to see the outside world again.

Javier Zubiate, with his shaved head, sunglasses and numerous tattoos, gave us a glimpse of his life as a lieutenant of the Nuestra Familia gang. He was soft-spoken and well-mannered. I had to remind myself that he had been convicted in a 1995 murder and there is a good reason why he is now in isolation on the Secure Housing Unit.

Our second inmate interview was with Jeremy Beasley, 39, a member of the Nazi Low-Riders and then elevated to the Aryan Brotherhood. At Pelican Bay since 1998, Beasley is serving a life sentence for murder.

Both men agreed to debrief with prison officials and to provide evidence on other gang members in order to be released from the Secure Housing Unit. We later went to Zubiate’s cell on one pod  and witnessed for ourselves how the inmates live there. The small concrete cell with concrete bunk racks, a toilet and a sink are home for him for the rest of his days.

After the tour was over I made the beautiful drive along the coast. I parked my car at a motel and walked along the wet sand and waited for the sunset.


  1. July 27, 2013, 12:22 pm

    thanks for the pics

    By: sawyer
  2. August 6, 2013, 3:13 pm

    is very disgusting for me to read your article , you base your story on what the warden told you and debriefers told, prisoners that before they debrief their word didn’t have validation for the warden,so why now we have to believe on them, we all know who they are and that is why they are in jail, but why You didn’t investigate Judge sentence them to solitary confinement,no warm clothes or calls to the family,or contacts visits with family,( note that i only saying family) education programs, Even United Nation say Solitary Confinement is CRUEL, interview the prisoners that haven’t debrief ,and don’t take sides, i buy your newspaper,i dont support the Torture,talk the Truth,interview family members, WE WANT REHABILITATION NOT TORTURE,

    By: martha
  3. August 7, 2013, 9:37 pm

    If this is journalism, then it's pretty bad journalism.

    By: galenb
  4. August 7, 2013, 10:15 pm

    If you think this reporting is just repeating what the CDCR is saying, and you want to fight for treatment of the prisoners as human beings, and support the hunger strike and the five demands, contact

  5. August 8, 2013, 6:37 am

    Does that guy look tortured to you? I'd say 3 meals a day and a TV are definitely NOT torture. If he were strapped to a table in a dark room all day every day…that would be torture.

    By: Brittany
  6. August 12, 2013, 12:58 pm

    If either of these guys killed your family member or friend, would looking at this photo of this guy smiling and comfortable make you feel good? What is so wrong about being punished for doing a murderous act?! Why are you people for "anything goes" in this country? That's exactly what is WRONG. Attorneys, lawmakers, government ,etc have gotten such a blurred stance on what is right and wrong, and Americans in general are full of apathy in the process. One day your children or grandchildren are all going to wake up and wonder how America became so poor and so dangerous. Think about it.

    By: cruisemem
  7. August 15, 2013, 6:51 pm

    As the wife of a convicted felon who spent 3yrs in the SHU it is torture. It is cruel. Im not saying these men dobt belong in prison, they do and so does my husband they just dont deserrve to be isolated for decades.

    By: pam jones
  8. August 23, 2013, 7:04 pm

    The prison gang leaders are housed in the SHUs. They control all of the gangs in California. They order the murders of people both inside and outside of prison from their SHU cells. They are housed in the SHU so their correspondence can be more closely monitored. (They write with urine which is invisible to the eye, etc)

    By: Prison Minister
  9. October 2, 2013, 6:35 pm

    ha ha ha what a pathetic life, my heroes, yo yo yo say ghetto! ghetto! ghet ghet ghet ghetto!

  10. January 21, 2014, 9:51 am

    Your statement is not accurate CDCR by their won admission places people there simply because someone said so, and why wouldn't they it reduces their time , they place people there "for their own protection". No one is saying that anyone should have a free pass, we are all saying that people should be treated as humans and not abused and tortured. They go to prison as a punishment the judge did not order that they be further punished and abuse.

    By: bbbbbbda
  11. August 26, 2013, 12:50 am

    Lousy article. A newspaper reporter? You sir are a disgrace. It is quite obvious you are pushing the agenda of the prison officials. Isolation is cruel and unusual punishment no matter how you try to twist it.

  12. September 27, 2013, 10:20 am

    Javier is my foster brother. before he chose his current course of action he was a different person, kind warm hearted caring and loved life and his family, unfortunatly
    the desicion he chose was kill or be killed along with his family. so he killed to save the lives of his family. this doesnt make it right but never the less this is what it was. javier took someones life because they were going to take his……….. so ask yourself this, what would or could you have done in his position

  13. September 27, 2013, 1:18 pm

    Javier lived with my family for several years as a young teen, I was his foster Mother. By the time we came to know him, a great deal of damage had already been done to this child's life. He made his choices and is paying the price. Now on the human side, he was a kind, caring and funny guy who would do anything for my family. I still consider him my son, I still miss him, and I still love him with a big chunk of my heart.
    Flip that coin, and I still think of the young man who lost his life that day, and the family who loved him. No parent should ever have to lose a child to crime.

    By: nanadawn56
  14. October 23, 2013, 9:31 pm

    No matter what these men did, we are responsible for how we treat them. Once safety and security is met, the rest is straight torture. We can do better.

    By: Christine
  15. January 21, 2014, 9:56 am

    What this reported fails to tell us is that this inmate smiling in the picture probably got his time in the SHU reduced for taking this pictures and saying what he has said. WE will Never get that story. Thanks for attempting to report on prison issues but they are way too deep for you to only represent one side do some investigation and you will see. I like the time and all the truth they put out there follow the example of others that work for the times and you will see what I mean.

    By: abbbs
  16. September 6, 2014, 3:52 pm

    are you kidding me, these people aren't only in solitary confinement because of their crimes outside of prison. They are threat inside of prison, to other inmates and to guards. If they are a danger to guards and have hurt or killed in prison. Obviously they aren't going to learn there lesson and should sit in there forever.

  17. September 24, 2014, 6:05 pm

    Number 1: This is VERY poor journalism my friend, very poor. There are a thousand ways this could have been done professionally and done really well. I could detail into them but you have likely heard that by now. Number 2: Regarding the prisoners in SHU, this is cruel and unusual punishment. It is relatively easy for any prisoner to be placed in SHU and few realize this. For example, homosexual prisoners who do not conceal their identity or "look too gay" are often placed in SHU simply for "their own protection". Once there they're subject to all the same ill treatment and isolation.


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