Largest hunger strike in history: California prisoners speak out on first anniversary

This is from the SF BayView, July 7th 2014.
[Note by CAPW: Not only do we commemorate the first anniversary of the largest hunger strike, but also the third anniversary of the first hungerstrike in 2011, that commenced on July 1st 2011]

One year ago, on July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners initiated the largest hunger strike the world has ever seen. Sixty days later, 40 prisoners, who had eaten nothing in all that time, agreed to suspend the strike when state legislators promised to hold hearings on ending solitary confinement, the heart of their demands.

Hundreds braved blistering heat to rally outside Corcoran State Prison, where hundreds were on hunger strike, on July 13, 2013. Spirits were lifted as the supporters shouted loud enough to be heard inside. The 2013 strike made headlines around the world, and support rallies were held as far away as Philadelphia, Mexico City and Berlin. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Hundreds braved blistering heat to rally outside Corcoran State Prison, where hundreds were on hunger strike, on July 13, 2013. Spirits were lifted as the supporters shouted loud enough to be heard inside. The 2013 strike made headlines around the world, and support rallies were held as far away as Philadelphia, Mexico City and Berlin. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

The 2013 hunger strike followed two in 2011 in which participation peaked at 6,600 and 12,000. In the interim, effective October 2012, the hunger strike leaders, representing all racial groups, issued the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, which has held with few exceptions throughout the California prison system ever since.

These statements, most by hunger strike participants, arrived in time for the July 8 anniversary, and more will be added as they arrive.

We the people

by Mutope Duguma (James Crawford)
What we learned this far in our protracted struggle is that We the People are the vanguard. We the People have to demand what we want for ourselves. No government, no power, no authority and no one should be able to trample over the People without the People rising up and saying, “Under no circumstances do We the People accept this in our home.”
We the People reject torture of human beings,
We the People reject mass incarceration of our sons and daughters,
We the People reject police brutality,
We the People reject poverty,
We the People reject solitary confinement,
We the People reject Security Threat Groups and Step Down Programs,
We the People reject oppressive prison conditions
In solidarity.

We the People reject violence

Incarcerated artists rose to the occasion, encouraging participation inside and support outside. – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532

Incarcerated artists rose to the occasion, encouraging participation inside and support outside. – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532

Our unity is our strength. If we learn to cultivate our unity, we can begin to reshape this world – back into a world that reflects our humanity – because there is too much pain and suffering in the world today that only our unity will end. We’ve got to be unapologetic and always be dedicated and serious about the revolutionary change we seek.

Violence only perpetuates more violence inside of the vortex of violence, the senseless taking of lives, like a timeless hour clock that never ends, feeding on the very lives of our families and friends.
An end to all hostilities means peace amongst the oppressed, where our children can focus on school and living their lives peacefully, while they develop into strong young men and women.

An end to all hostilities means peace for the elderly and worrisome minds, where they can take peaceful walks during any time of day or night, sit out on their porches and watch the moon and stars in the sky.
An end to all hostilities means peace where young men and women can go into any neighborhood to socialize with fellow human beings without fear of being attacked or murdered.
An end to all hostilities means peace where all races in the free society can coexist without worrying that their race or class will be a hazard to them.

During our strikes to end all hostilities – July 1 to July 20, 2011; Sept. 26 to Oct. 14, 2011; and July 8 to Sept. 4, 2013 – we men and women got together and said enough already!
An end to all hostilities is solidarity.

Send our brother some love and light: Mutope Duguma, s/n James Crawford, D-05996, PBSP SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

Weighing sacrifices against successes, the price was too high, but the struggle moves forward

by Antonio Guillen
Greetings to one and all,
It has been three years since the commencement of the first hunger strike.
As I look back over that time to weigh our sacrifices against our successes, I have to admit that the accomplishments we’ve achieved thus far do allow me to be somewhat optimistic about the future. I cannot help, however, but remain angered at the cost of human life and damaged health we suffered simply to enact change – the price was way too high!

Hunger strike street altar feat. Christian Gomez at 40th & Clarke, Oakland by Molly Batchelder

The hunger strikes claimed at least two lives, both at Corcoran State Prison: Christian Gomez in 2011 and Billy Sell in 2013. These memorials were set up at a street festival in Oakland. – Photos: Molly Batchelder
Hunger strike street altar feat. Billy Sell at 40th & Clarke, Oakland by Molly Batchelder

And, although our accomplishments appear promising, in no way am I suggesting that we’ve succeeded in our overall struggle, which is to end long term solitary confinement and to better the living conditions of all SHU facilities – we are on our path, though!

As always, it’s of the upmost importance to acknowledge family and friends on the outside, who through your unwavering support have made it possible for us to be who we are today. Each of you, through your contributions and sacrifices, be they personal or collective, have helped pave the way for this struggle to move forward. And we on the inside will forever be grateful!
Power to the people.
Strength and respect,
Antonio Guillen

Send our brother some love and light: Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

Work together to keep the pressure on

by Phil Fortman
July 8th is a date that made history around the world last year – 30,000 prisoners began a hunger strike in the state of California due to the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement.
The strike did not come about as a spur of the moment idea. No, these inhumane conditions have been worsening year after year, decade after decade until the outside and inside finally joined together in a movement for change.

This drawing, the icon for all three California hunger strikes recognized around the world, was contributed by the renowned prison artist Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, then held in solitary confinement in Virginia, now in Texas. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107

This drawing, the icon for all three California hunger strikes recognized around the world, was contributed by the renowned prison artist Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, then held in solitary confinement in Virginia, now in Texas. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107

The change started on July 1, 2011, and Sept. 26 of the same year, which set the course for the Big One – the one that got the attention of the world to show how prisoners are being treated, not only in California, but in most states of this country.

Speaking as one of the four main representatives for the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU, I applaud us all, prisoners and advocates alike, those who participated in the hunger strike and worked so hard for our case.
Looking back on this year, I see progress being made toward closing these holes – not as fast as we’d like, but the crack has been formed. The light is now beginning to seep in upon these dark, dreary walls for once.
In order to widen the crack until these walls come crashing down, we need to work together to keep the pressure on and on. We, as prisoners inside these places, have been advocating an end to hostilities among us. This attitude, along with the continued help and support of you good folks out there, will hopefully bring about a more civilized society and for us to live in peace and harmony.
I thank us all.

Send our brother some love and light: Phil Fortman, B-03557, PBSP SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

Women prisoners speak out on solitary and hunger strike anniversary

Solitary is torture. It humiliated me. They strip you of everything – I was only given a mumu and half a mattress. You are locked away with no answer. I was cold, tired and hungry. The other ladies in Ad Seg helped me out and also the ones on Death Row, which is right nearby, gave me stuff to survive.
The hunger strike last year was amazing. The guys went through hell, but it was so good for them to come together!
Send our sister some love and light: Alicia Zaragoza, X-07564, CCWF, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA  93610.

Solitary confinement in all ways is cruel. If it is a form of abuse to keep a child locked away in a closet for long periods of time, then why is it not abuse to keep that same child, who is now a man, locked in a cell for years? Put yourself in their shoes! I supported the hunger strike.

Send our sister some love and light: Natalie De Mola, X-12907, CCWF, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610.

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.

Letter to the Editor by Antonio Guillen

From: Del Norte Triplicate
Aug. 8, 2013

Prison series misrepresented inmates, reasons for strike

I write this letter in response to the four-part series about Pelican Bay State (“Inside the SHU,” June 22–29). I participated in the interviews because I was told that it was a story about the hunger strike from a “humanist” standpoint. As it turned out, it was, yet again, another unbalanced piece that plays off the fears of the public and furthers the CDCR propaganda campaign against the SHU population.

There was very little about the lengthy conversation regarding the hunger strike movement, validation process, the abuses conducted by the Institutional Gang Investigation Unit (IGI) and the Investigative Services Unit (ISU), the suffering caused by long-term solitary confinement of prisoners and their families, or the end-hostilities agreement. It appears that many of my words were selectively chosen and carefully placed in a way to paint a very different picture than that which was conversed.

I know that there are those who will not agree or understand our struggle. But, to be clear, our fight is against the abusive policies and practices that are routinely manipulated by the IGI and ISU to justify long-term solitary confinement and inhumane living conditions.

All we are asking is that CDCR incorporate rules and regulations that cannot be manipulated by the IGI and ISU to keep people in solitary confinement indefinitely, and more humane living conditions for these SHU facilities.

CDCR has stated, several times, that our five core demands are “reasonable,” and to be fair, CDCR is making some changes. However, these changes still fall way short than of what CDCR originally deemed reasonable, and that’s why we have engaged on this third round of hunger strikes.

Antonio Guillen,

Pelican Bay State Prison

Editor’s note: Antonio Guillen is one of four members of the Short Corridor Collective that has organized the hunger strikes.

July 9 Message from Short Corridor Hungerstrike Reps

Reblogged from: Kersplebedeb:
See also: SF Bay View for a broader summery!

July 9, 2013

Greetings to our supporters and all people of conscience.

We are grateful for your support of our peaceful protest against the state-sanctioned torture that happens not only here at Pelican Bay but in prisons everywhere. We have taken up this hunger strike and work stoppage, which has included 30,000 prisoners in California so far, not only to improve our own conditions but also an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.

We encourage everyone to take action to support the strike wherever they live. Sign the petition demanding California Governor stop the torture; plan rolling solidarity fasts if you are able; use every means to spread the word; and participate in non-violent direct action to put pressure on decision-makers.

If it was not for your support, we would have died in 2011. Thank you everyone. We are confident we will prevail.

In Solidarity,

– Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP-SHU, D4-121
– Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP-SHU, D1-121
– Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP-SHU,D1-117
– Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP-SHU, D2-106

The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Representatives