Calipatria shows the way: ASU prisoners win their demands while on hunger strike

Sept 29th 2013, in: SF Bay View
by Kendra Castaneda
When the California prisoner hunger strike began on July 8, 2013, CDCR officials were repeatedly quoted in the mainstream media telling the world that CDCR does not negotiate with prisoners. CDCR portrays the organizers as gang leaders – terrorists whose demands are unworthy of consideration.
Calipatria State Prison signBut on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, the warden at Calipatria State Prison did negotiate with prisoners in the Administration Segregation Unit (ASU), a form of solitary confinement similar to the notorious SHUs (Security Housing Units). Those prisoners were hunger striking to have their own demands – unique to that institution – met while in solidarity with the five core demands made in 2011 and still to be negotiated.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, the warden at Calipatria State Prison did negotiate with prisoners in the Administration Segregation Unit.

The warden promised that day that the agreement they worked out would be put into writing and implemented. On Sunday, Aug. 18, the Calipatria ASU prisoners resumed eating on the condition that if the state did not negotiate with the main reps from Pelican Bay State Prison who wrote the five core demands for some type of change to end perpetual isolation, then the men at Calipatria ASU were going to resume their peaceful hunger strike on Monday, Aug. 26.
Below is a letter from the Calipatria ASU hunger strikers written Aug. 20, shortly after they temporarily ended their hunger strike on the 41st day:
“Greetings to all in solidarity,
“High salutes, best wishes to all of the men and women who supported this historic peaceful movement for human rights, hunger strike 2013!
“Here at Calipatria we are counted and remain determined to bring humane treatment even if it takes sacrifice. Our personal demands have been promised to be met within a month, by the start of September: expansion of canteen; SHU privileges: pictures, sweaters and shoes; pull-up bars; two packages a year; and installation of phones in ASU.
“For these reasons we have stopped after over a month – 41 days – of hunger striking in high hopes the five core demands will be met soon along with all the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective’s demands. Most important, if we see no attention is being given to the five core demands, the majority of like minds will resume hunger striking in solidarity.
“We men are ready to jump back into the hunger strike full throttle to stop the torture to all men and women through peaceful demonstration. Just because our own personal, superficial demands are being met does not mean we lose focus on the five core demands. All five are just, reasonable and most important.
“In the meantime, the real ‘worst of the worst,’ CDCR officials, have shown their true colors, calling this peaceful hunger strike a hostage situation. Also, CDCR’s notice they will not negotiate – does that mean they’d rather see humans die? Only because we won’t sit back and be tortured in silence? Let alone Short Corridor prisoners have been tortured for decades upon decades – all because we want human contact with our love ones?
“Who is really the ‘worst of the worst’ [a phrase officials often use to describe the people they condemn to solitary confinement torture]? Under CDCR, California is in violation of international laws and treaties and with United Nation agreements.

We men are ready to jump back into the hunger strike full throttle to stop the torture to all men and women through peaceful demonstration. Just because our own personal, superficial demands are being met does not mean we lose focus on the five core demands.

“Where is Jerry Brown? Is he another bought politician under the belt of CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the guards’ union, often called the most influential lobby in the state) for the money they donate to his campaign? They do donate millions to protect their job security by keeping governors in their pockets.
“CDCR wastes double or even more taxpayer money to warehouse humans in torture chambers called SHUs and ASUs rather than in general population. The purpose of solitary confinement is big profit only! No type of rehabilitation is provided, period!
“Therefore, we remain steadfast in solidarity for the end to long term isolation. Si se puede is our motivation chant!
“Thanks to all the loved ones, activists, gente at rallies and protests in the rain or sunshine. All that support carried and fed bodies while we hunger struck. Muchisimas gracias! Si se puede! We thank you all.
“Humbly in solidarity,
“ASU Calipatria”
On Monday, Aug. 26, Calipatria ASU voluntarily resumed their peaceful hunger strike in solidarity, refusing meals due to CDCR Sacramento’s failure to keep their word to negotiate the five core demands. Resuming their hunger strike debunked what CDCR officials had told the press: that the main reps forced others to starve. Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “Hunger strike in California prisons is a gang power play”: “Don’t be fooled. Many of those participating in the hunger strike are under extreme pressure to do so from violent prison gangs, which called the strike in an attempt to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners, prison staff and communities throughout California.”
Beard goes on to state: “Many say they want to resume eating but are afraid of the retaliation they will suffer at the hands of other inmates acting on orders from their gang leaders.”

On Monday, Aug. 26, Calipatria ASU voluntarily resumed their peaceful hunger strike in solidarity, refusing meals due to CDCR Sacramento’s failure to keep their word to negotiate the five core demands.

Calipatria ASU prisoners know the inhumane conditions those in the SHUs endure because they too live in horrific conditions daily with no rehabilitation in solitary confinement, and Calipatria is known for corruption at the hands of the prison guards, so why would these men have to be forced to starve themselves when they are being tortured too?
How is it that 30,000 prisoners – men, women and youth – throughout the state of California at numerous prisons refused meals on July 8, 2013, in peaceful protest to stop their inhumane conditions and torture in solitary confinement under CDCR, but on Sept. 5, when the strike was suspended, it was CDCR stating that only fewer than 100 prisoners were hunger striking?
That would mean what Beard told the Los Angeles Times about this hunger strike being a “gang power play” is not accurate, and Beard stating, “Many say they want to resume eating but are afraid of the retaliation they will suffer at the hands of other inmates acting on orders from their gang leaders,” is inaccurate as well. If the hunger strike was a gang power play that started with 30,000 participants and was suspended when fewer than 100 were still starving themselves, what happened to the other 29,900 prisoners throughout the state who resumed eating? How come they were not retaliated against as Beard predicted?

Why would these men have to be forced to starve themselves when they are being tortured too?

What Beard told the Los Angeles Times was a way to cover up the inhumane conditions these prisoners face daily for years, for decades upon decades, entombed within concrete walls in a dungeon. The only way for these human beings’ voices to be heard was to starve themselves to expose these CDCR officials, who claim rehabilitation but practice torture.
In the Aug. 19 Los Angeles Times article by Paige St. John, “Calipatria prison hunger strikers resume eating, get more calls, cable,” CDCR put its spin on the successful negotiations between the Calipatria warden and the ASU prisoners: “California prison officials insisted the expanded privileges at Calipatria State Prison, near the Mexico border, did not signal a willingness to negotiate with inmates.
“’The warden at CAL did not “reach an agreement” with the hunger strikers,’ said department spokesman Jeffrey Callison. ‘The warden simply informed the inmates that local issues would be discussed only after they ceased their involvement in this disturbance.’”
Contrary to what Callison told the LA Times, the Calipatria warden did negotiate with the men in ASU and verbally met their demands BEFORE they suspended their hunger strike. The demands were not met as a reward for abandoning the strike. Once their own unique demands had been promised, the men chose to temporarily suspend their strike to regain some of their strength but promised to resume it on Aug. 26 if the five core demands had not also been negotiated. They made good on that promise.
On Sept. 3, while the men in Calipatria ASU were again on hunger strike, an official memo was issued regarding Calipatria ASU living conditions in response to the ASU hunger strikers humane demands:
Calipatria memo granting demands 090313
Note: A5 is another segregation unit.
While CDCR officials publicly deny that the prisoners were hunger striking for better conditions, the warden at Calipatria issued and signed a memo during the hunger strike stating they are addressing the concerns about such issues as the cleanliness of their pods and showers. That memo confirms that Calipatria State Prison ASU prisoners have issues concerning cleanliness.
The fact that Calipatria ASU prisoners were indeed hunger striking on Sept. 3, the date of the memo, is proven by the medical receiver’s office daily updates reporting that some of those prisoners were receiving IV fluids due to starvation.
One statement in the memo, however, needs to be addressed and corrected: The Security Threat Group (STG) Pilot Program does not satisfy the five core demands, as the second paragraph implies. The warden’s statement, which must have been approved by CDCR, repeats similar assertions made throughout the strike. Here are the five core demands; compare them to the Security Threat Group (STG) Pilot Program and decide for yourself.
The original five core demands:
  1. Replace group punishment with individual accountability.
  2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
  3. Comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.
  4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
  5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.
Inside Calipatria ASU video frame 0211 by KMYA Titan TV, web

The dungeon known as Calipatria ASU – Photo: KMYA Titan TV

The equivalency CDCR claims between the five core demands and the STG Pilot Program should be debated during the upcoming legislative hearings to be held beginning in October.

The fact is that 30,000 men, women and youth of all races went on a peaceful hunger strike in unity for all or part of 60 days, risking their lives to make their voices heard protesting their inhumane conditions. Why wouldn’t society believe them over state officials who repeatedly prove they are not credible?
If Calipatria State Prison can peacefully negotiate humane demands with prisoners in segregation, then I believe ALL California prisoners, especially those in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, need to be negotiated with, and CDCR needs to meet the prisoners’ demands – the five core demands – once and for all. These are human beings held in a system that’s supposed to rehabilitate. Let’s not forgot that.
Kendra Castaneda is a writer and prisoner human rights activist. She can be reached atkendracastaneda99@gmail.com.

Statement Suspending the Third Hunger Strike

Posted on September 5, 2013

Greetings of Solidarity and Respect!

The PBSP-SHU, Short Corridor Collective Representatives hereby serve notice upon all concerned parties of interest that after nine weeks we have collectively decided to suspend our third hunger strike action on September 5, 2013.

To be clear, our Peaceful Protest of Resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly. This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met (despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable). The core group of prisoners has been, and remains 100% committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory, even if it requires us to make the ultimate sacrifice.  With that said, we clarify this point by stating prisoner deaths are not the objective, we recognize such sacrifice is at times the only means to an end of fascist oppression.

Our goal remains: force the powers that be to end their torture policies and practices in which serious physical and psychological harm is inflicted on tens of thousands of prisoners as well as our loved ones outside.  We also call for ending the related practices of using prisoners to promote the agenda of the police state by seeking to greatly expand the numbers of the working class poor warehoused in prisons, and particularly those of us held in solitary, based on psychological/social manipulation, and divisive tactics keeping prisoners fighting amongst each other. Those in power promote mass warehousing to justify more guards, more tax dollars for “security”, and spend mere pennies for rehabilitation — all of which demonstrates a failed penal system, high recidivism, and ultimately compromising public safety.  The State of California’s $9.1 billion annual CDCR budget is the epitome of a failed and fraudulent state agency that diabolically and systemically deprives thousands of their human rights and dignity. Allowing this agency to act with impunity has to stop! And it will.

With that said, and in response to much sincere urging of loved ones, supporters, our attorneys and current and former state legislators, Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Tom Hayden, for whom we have the upmost respect, we decided to suspend our hunger strike.  We are especially grateful to Senator Hancock and Assembly Member Ammiano for their courageous decision to challenge Governor Brown and the CDCR for their policies of prolonged solitary confinement and inhumane conditions. We are certain that they will continue their fight for our cause, including holding legislative hearings and the drafting legislation responsive to our demands on prison conditions and sentencing laws. We are also proceeding with our class action civil suit against the CDCR.

The fact is that Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary Beard have responded to our third peaceful action with typical denials and falsehoods, claiming solitary confinement does not exist and justifying the continuation of their indefinite torture regime by vilifying the peaceful protest representatives. They also obtained the support of the medical receiver (Kelso) and Prison Law Office attorney (Spector—who is supposed to represent prisoners interests, and instead has become an agent for the state) to perpetuate their lie to the public and to the federal court — that prisoners participating in the hunger strike have been coerced — in order to obtain the August 19, 2013 force feeding order.

We have deemed it to be in the best interest of our cause to suspend our hunger strike action until further notice.
We urge people to remember that we began our present resistance with our unprecedented collective and peaceful actions (in tandem with the legislative process) back in early 2010, when we created and distributed a “Formal Complaint” for the purpose of educating the public and bringing widespread attention to our torturous conditions.

After much dialogue and consideration, this led us to our first and second hunger strike actions in 2011, during which a combined number of 6,500 and 12,000 prisoners participated. We succeeded in gaining worldwide attention and support resulting in some minor changes by the CDCR concerning SHU programming and privileges. They also claimed to make major changes to policies regarding gang validation and indefinite SHU confinement by creating the STG/SDP Pilot Program. They released a few hundred prisoners from SHU/AD SEG to general population in the prison.  But in truth, this is all part of a sham to claim the pilot program works and was a weak attempt to have our class action dismissed. It didn’t work.
In response we respectfully made clear that CDCR’s STG-SDP was not responsive to our demand for the end to long term isolation and solitary confinement and thus unacceptable.  (See: AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES)

Our supporting points fell on deaf ears, leading to our January 2013 notice of intent to resume our hunger strike on July 8, 2013 if our demands were not met.  We also included Forty Supplemental Demands.
In early July, CDCR produced several memos notifying prisoners of an increase in privileges and property items, which are notably responsive to a few of our demands, while the majority of our demands were unresolved, leading to our third hunger strike, in which 30,000 prisoners participated and resulted in greater worldwide exposure, support and condemnation of the CDCR!

From our perspective, we’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals.  However, there’s still much to be done.  Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.

Respectfully,

For the Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement

Todd Ashker, C58191, D1-119
Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117
Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106

And the Representatives Body:

Danny Troxell, B76578, D1-120
George Franco, D46556, D4-217
Ronnie Yandell, V27927, D4-215
Paul Redd, B72683, D2-117
James Baridi Williamson, D-34288. D4-107
Alfred Sandoval, D61000, D4-214
Louis Powell, B59864, D1-104
Alex Yrigollen, H32421, D2-204
Gabriel Huerta, C80766, D3-222
Frank Clement, D07919, D3-116
Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, D1-219
James Mario Perez, B48186, D3-124

Link to original

Article on SF Bay View on the suspension of the 2013 hunger strike
Article on Alternet about the suspension of the 2013 hunger strike

Hunger strike in 8th week: Don’t let them die

Hunger strike in 8th week: Don’t let them die
SF BayView, September 1, 2013 by Ikemba Mutulu (Marritte Funches)
Off top, salute to my rilla ones out in them streets and the prisons, comrades unknown but most appreciated. Your recognition of our human and civil rights has been beautiful to see. We are truly grateful. The work you are doing for prison and judicial reform is vital to the future generations and promises of what this world can be.
The genius being repressed inside some of these cells, the humanity often hanging by a thread, but still alive, is worth it. It’s worth standing in the cold to protest this torture; it’s worth leaving your comfort zone to voice your opinion, educate your friends and the strangers you meet.
The men and women participating in this hunger strike, risking death, are in the last years of continued torture. Some are in prison because they fought on the front lines for you – your freedom, your right to vote, your civil rights and equality – now labeled criminals, written out of history, locked in a dungeon for decades. They sacrificed for you.
Without their contributions, there would be no Black president, Black billionaires or any of these so-called symbols of progress. And there are thousands of others – like myself – rescued from our designed ignorance through the teachings and love of these brilliant men and women, all of us suffering the same tortures. Not because we were gangsters or thugs. Our punishment is for picking up the torch, so those who make it out can join you, shoulder to shoulder in the struggle.
The state relies on its prisons to shut us up, keep the poor politically inept, breed racial hatred and dismay, keep the middle class in check and fund this fundamentally flawed and increasingly militarized system of corruption, where not only their killer cops can murder us with impunity. Now it seems so can any so-called law-abiding middle class citizen with a gun.
The state will not “give” us anything. It’s important people understand prisons are the ultimate symbol of oppression. The state tries to discredit the organizers of this hunger strike with all manner of lies and defamatory comments.
But the very fact these men and women refuse to surrender their beliefs or to inform on their friends is a direct contradiction of the state’s mischaracterizations. These are men and women of principle who have given everything to the struggle.
True, some of us are reformed gangsters, thugs etc., but whatever the state says, we are all human beings and without your full support these men WILL die because these pork chop state officials will not make any meaningful changes until several of the men and women starve to death – or until YOU make such a showing that it can’t be ignored.
So get on your computers, saturate those government leaders with letters and emails demanding an immediate end to the political crucifixion and torture, the indefinite isolation, denial of meaningful programs and the criminalization of our own efforts to educate and organize ourselves on a positive path inside the prisons.
Demand an end to the legalized slavery of prisoners. How slavery, in any shape or form, can still be on the books in America, I don’t know. But there it is, in the 13th Amendment. The concessions of Abraham Lincoln to the Confederate slave masters, allowing them to keep a workforce of slaves – free labor through incarceration – is still being enforced until this day and taking good jobs away from you.
Pull out your picket signs and bullhorns, protest in front of the TV stations, government offices, city jails and county lock-ups. Keep it in the new and on the minds of the people every day.
Prisons do not stop crime. An equal distribution of wealth, resources, education, housing and medical care, solving the real social ills of a profit-driven society – that is what stops crime.
We all know someone affected by this corrupt judicial prison system. Support hunger strikers. DON’T LET THEM DIE.

Send our brother some love and light: Marritte Funches, 155850, 3C/2-15, P.O. Box 6000, Sterling, CO 80751.

Joint statement of California Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning the current prisoner hunger strike and state policies on prisoner isolation

CA BISHOPS ISSUE STATEMENT ON PRISON HUNGER STRIKE AND ISOLATION POLICIES

Bishops offer to serve on any oversight committee convened to investigate alleged human rights violations and propose corrective measures.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Debbie McDermott,  916-313-4015
Thursday, August 29, 2013                                                                                                                        
SACRAMENTO –The following joint statement was issued today on behalf California Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning the current prisoner hunger strike and state policies on prisoner isolation.  Please attribute to the “California Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

“Today marks Day 52 of the California prisoner hunger strike.  We, the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, once again extend our offer to Gov. Brown and Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to assist in the resolution of this urgent life threatening situation. We offer to serve Gov. Brown and Dr. Beard on any outside oversight committee that may be convened to investigate any alleged human rights violations in the California’s prisons in order to propose the necessary corrective measures.

“As the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (dated November 15, 2000),  ‘We oppose the increasing use of isolation units, especially in the absence of due process and the monitoring and professional assessment of the effects of such confinement on the mental health of inmates.’  No one affected by crime is helped when a human being is subjected to this inhumane form of punishment. The California Catholic Bishops have voiced concerns and have been in dialogue with the CDCR for 12 years on the very issues being surfaced now.

“We stand opposed to any form of unjust, inhumane treatment. While it may be that isolation mitigates gang activity, placing humans in isolation in a Secure Housing Unit (SHU) has no restorative or rehabilitative purpose.  It is not a sustainable solution to legitimate security concerns.  Some of the men on this hunger strike have been in isolation for up to 35 years with very minimal human contact. International human rights standards consider more than 15 days in isolation to be torture.

“Our prayers and concern go out to the men involved in this hunger strike and their families. Our prayers and concern also go out to all who are affected by the criminal justice system: prison leadership, staff, correctional officers and administrators; as well as to crime victims and their families, who have endured the pain and suffering of criminal violence.  We offer our assistance to state officials to resolve this terrible situation.”

(Eds: The California Catholic Conference is the public advocacy office of the Bishops of California. Representing the Archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the Bishops of Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton, it is the official voice of the 10 million Catholics and their many parishes, schools, universities, social service agencies in California.)
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CA Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano Promise Hearings in Response to Prisoner Hunger Strike

Press Release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition:

Press Contacts:
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
Azadeh Zohrabi, 310 612 9706
Isaac Ontiveros, 510 517 6612

Oakland—As prisoners’ endure their 54th day without food, California state senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano issued a statement today where they vowed to hold hearings in response to the hunger strike.

“The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – are real and can no longer be ignored,” Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano said in a joint statement. Assemblymember Ammiano said further, “The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed. The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.”

“We appreciate Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s promises to take action. Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest. But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments,” said Dolores Canales, who is a member of the strikers’ mediation team and whose son is in Pelican Bay.

Hancock and Ammiano’s statement represents the strongest steps forward in addressing the prisoners’ peaceful protest, and advocates and lawyers representing the strikers say they are eager to communicate this development to the prisoners. “The prisoners on strike have always been clear that there is a viable pathway toward resolving the crisis created by the CDCR,” Said Anne Weills, a civil rights attorney representing some of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. “I look forward to talking to hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay to get their thoughtful input around the Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s proposal.”

As advocates work to communicate with prisoners on strike around this development, they are also encouraging a cautious attitude. “The strike is not over yet and it is still at a very dangerous moment given that we are entering a long weekend where people have gone 54 days without eating,” said Marie Levin, whose brother is one of the 4 remain strike representatives locked in Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay. “We hope that the CDCR will not act to disrupt this potentially positive development by spreading false information to strikers or continuing to retaliate against their peaceful protest.”

Lawyers visited New Folsom Prison north of Sacramento yesterday where they discovered nearly 80 Pelican Bay strikers had been relocated. They reported that health conditions are poor but that many are still on strike. Some prisoners that had come off strike have resumed the protest due to mistreatment at that facility. Lawyers also reported that other prisoners at New Folsom also joined the protest when they learned of the mistreatment of their fellow prisoners from Pelican Bay.

Concern for the strikers and condemnation of the CDCR is spreading internationally. Earlier today Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International said,“it’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities.” Meanwhile the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they would “again extend our offer to Gov. Brown and Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to assist in the resolution of this urgent life threatening situation. We offer to serve Gov. Brown and Dr. Beard on any outside oversight committee that may be convened to investigate any alleged human rights violations in the California’s prisons in order to propose the necessary corrective measures.”

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Amnesty International: USA: California prison authorities ‘toying with the lives’ of inmates on hunger strike

From: Amnesty International, August 30th 2013:
The refusal by California’s prison authorities to explore options to resolve the hunger strike crisis in the state’s high security units is a dangerous move that could lead to the deaths of inmates in their custody, Amnesty International said.
More than 30,000 prisoners joined a hunger strike last July over inhumane detention conditions in California’s security housing units (SHUs). More than 70 are still refusing food.
“It’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities,” said Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International.
“No one should be punished for exercising the right to peaceful protest. California prison authorities must stop toying with people’s lives and meet with the mediation team to begin a meaningful process of negotiation.”
Amnesty International has also received reports that some of those on hunger strike have been denied medical care.
This week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a press release saying that it had addressed some of the inmates’ demands.
“Recent proposals by California’s prison authorities do not go far enough to address the inhumanity that permeates many aspects of the security housing units, including lengthy periods during which inmates are held in isolation and excessively harsh conditions of confinement including lack of social contact and programming,” said Tessa Murphy.
“The rehabilitation of prisoners is absolutely essential for their positive reintegration into society at the end of their sentence.”
Amnesty International is calling on CDCR to reduce the length of the step down programme and to make meaningful changes to the isolation units, particularly in Pelican Bay prison, with an emphasis on increased social contact and rehabilitation.
On 19 August, a federal court issued a decision that would allow the state to force-feed hunger strikers “at risk of near-death or great bodily injury”. The court also ruled that the state may ignore “do not resuscitate” directives if they were signed for the purpose of the hunger strike, or if the state believes they were achieved through coercion.
The force feeding of mentally competent hungers strikers is contrary to medical ethics and breaches their right to freedom of expression.

Why I joined the multi-racial, multi–regional Human Rights Movement to challenge torture in the Pelican Bay SHU

From: SF Bay View
August 29, 2013

by Antonio Guillen, Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor Collective

I’ve been asked several times how it was possible that rivals from different racial and/or regional groups were able to see past differences and come together to form the Human Rights Movement. The Human Rights Movement is a concerted effort to end long term solitary confinement and make better the living conditions in all SHU and Ad Seg housing facilities across the state of California and the nation as a whole!

Prominently displayed at recent hunger strike support rallies, such as this one outside Corcoran State Prison on July 13, are photos of Antonio Guillen, one of the four main representatives among the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective and the author of this statement. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
I will try my best to explain how it was possible for me to get past old attitudes and mindsets in hopes of reaching a better tomorrow. I do understand that others, pushing right alongside of me, may have experienced it differently and cut their own path to reach this point in their lives, but this is how I was able to get there.
Now, before I share my venture I would like to take a moment to say that this Human Rights Movement has always been meant to be something positive, inspiring and groundbreaking for the betterment of all people on both sides of the wall. I did not expect such heated opposition – aside from CDCR – or the level of personal attacks on prisoner representatives and our outside support systems.

Our efforts and motivations have been demeaned, criticized and outrageously misconstrued. But, as I learned long ago, “If the powerful cannot meet you on the merits of your claims, then they will have no other option than to attack you on your person.”

My story

When I came to prison I was young and brought with me the attitudes and mindsets that were shaped and hardened by the years of gangbanging in the streets of San Jose and the several years spent in the California Youth Authority. Much like a blacksmith will pound his hammer repeatedly against an anvil to mold and shape a piece of iron into an object of symbol and strength, so too were my beliefs.

Once in the yard, in prison, I soon realized that life here at its core was no different from any other hostile environment I had experienced. And to survive I relied on the tenet I found to be true and have yet to fail me: Keep quiet, identify the danger and stand up when challenged.

Most of the traditional groups were separated by invisible boundaries that acted as territorial borders. Although there were those who maintained lines of communication between the groups for diplomatic reasons, there was no real and constructive interaction between the groups.

When I arrived to Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) and then the Security Housing Unit (SHU), those same invisible boundaries between the groups existed, albeit in a different way due to the design of the Ad Seg and SHU facilities, but existed nonetheless. In fact, to some extent they appeared to be more prominent because of the anger, frustration and despair that modern day dungeons tend to induce within the human psyche.

Much like any other torture chamber, Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) SHU was designed to break the mind and spirit of those it had captured. The powers that be, which include the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), wanted nothing more than a docile and submissive creature to be pushed around and manipulated.

And unfortunately in most cases it did exactly that, causing a multitude to suffer new emotional and physical damages – the mentally ill to have their conditions exacerbated. And of course, let’s not forget those who were COERCED into taking part in the infamous debriefing program.

Much like any other torture chamber, Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) SHU was designed to break the mind and spirit of those it had captured.

In an effort to achieve the intended purposes of PBSP SHU, which is to create an environment that discourages a man’s ability and/or desire to socialize with other human beings, the powers that be took the following steps:

A) Modeled the design of PBSP SHU on out-of-state SHUs that divided each housing unit into six pods of eight men each;

B) Implemented local operations procedures that prohibit a prisoner from stopping at another prisoner’s cell to converse or pass items from one cell to the next (PBSP O.P.);

C) Utilized a CDCR regulation to prohibit a prisoner from conversing with another prisoner in a different pod (CCR Title 15, Section 3005 Conduct, Subsection (b) Obeying Orders);

D) Utilized practices used to maintain single cell occupation in order to reduce the head count per each pod, thus limiting the number of persons one has access to converse with, and;

E) Intentionally assigned rival prisoners from different races and/or regional groups to a pod. The idea being, if a pod were populated with those who didn’t socialize with each other to begin with, then this would further serve the intended purpose of discouraging their ability and/or desire to socialize.

Now let me be clear, when I speak on men’s ability and/or desire to socialize with other human beings, I am not referring to common tier courtesies such as letting your neighbor know whether or not you’re attending yard that day – just in case you pass on yard and his time slot gets pushed up. But rather I’m referring to one’s ability and/or desire to engage in deep, meaningful and stimulating conversation about similar interests – family, politics, sports, religion etc. – the sharing and debating of thoughts and ideas, and offering moral support in times of personal loss or tragedy. All of the things that make human beings, human beings.

In the beginning this approach worked surprisingly well, and to this day, many if not all of these policies and practices remain intact and in full effect. What the powers that be failed to realize, however, is that the mind and spirit of the human being can often times prove to be stronger and more resilient than concrete and steel. Several years after my arrival to PBSP SHU, I noticed that the attitudes and mindsets of many men who have long been a part of everyday life started to shift, including mine, in a monumental way!

Being enclosed in such a small environment – a pod of eight cells – where at any given time a man only has maybe seven other people in his immediate surroundings for many years, one cannot help but to get to know his neighbors. Whether this is motivated by survival instinct or because he is familiar with the next man from a different prison or if it is just basic human nature to reach out to another human being, I cannot say for sure. Maybe it’s a combination of all or something entirely different.

I’m referring to one’s ability and/or desire to engage in deep, meaningful and stimulating conversation about similar interests – family, politics, sports, religion etc. – the sharing and debating of thoughts and ideas, and offering moral support in times of personal loss or tragedy. All of the things that make human beings, human beings.

All I know is that, in spite of CDCR policy or procedure, people, regardless of their race, ideologies or regional background, gradually started to socialize with one another.

At first it seemed to start off with common tier courtesies, then to casual conversations which lead to more in depth discussions about a variety of topics. This allowed each of us to gain a better understanding of the next man – who he was, the things he cared about or believed in and his way of thinking. At least for me, I soon realized that many of these men were no different from who I am. We shared the same interests and things of importance, and some of us even thought along the same lines.

As time went by, we soon started to share reading materials – books, magazines, newspapers etc. – and providing legal assistance – filing prisoner grievances and court litigation. And for those men who didn’t have the means to purchase items from the prison commissary – writing materials, personal hygiene, food, beverages – the rest of the pod would get together and help out when we could.

This aid would also extend to yearly packages, and often men asked their families to send a package to someone in need. And, when we were able to several years ago, if one was fortunate enough to purchase a new appliance – TV or radio – he would often donate his old appliance to someone who didn’t have one.

Of course this didn’t work for everyone – there being some who are naturally reclusive and tend to keep to themselves and others whose suffering has affected them differently, possibly more severely than the rest of us, and have, by choice or otherwise, withdrawn from reality. But for those of us who were able and willing, we gradually came together in much the same way as a growing community would. We formed strong connections and understandings and looked out for each other.

Now this is not to say that everything has been sunshine and roses since then. There are still many negative forces that we routinely contend with – namely, those that have led to the evolution of these hunger strikes. It was, however, the courage and determination of the men who chose to stand up to the CDCR and challenge the torturous intent for PBSP SHU on all fronts – but specifically in the area of men’s ability and/or desire to socialize – that ultimately forged strong and respectful relationships between men of different races and regional backgrounds that in turn allowed many of us to come together and bring this Human Rights Movement!

I hope this has shed some light on the question at hand. But, more importantly, I hope that I was able to clearly communicate my thoughts and experience. Power to the people!

Antonio Guillen is one of four main hunger strike volunteer prisoner representatives. Send our brother some love and light: Antonio Guillen, P-81948, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. This statement was written on Aug. 26, 2013, Day 50 of the hunger strike.