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.

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.

Updates from Pelican Bay State Prison SHU and Corcoran SHU hunger strikers

California Prison Focus News Digest – July 25, 2013
From Pelican Bay SHU prisoner in Ad Seg and HS rep 7/21/13
Arturo Castellanos
I hope this short note finds you and all our supporters in high spirits.  Myself and the rest of the Reps are doing ok in ASU although they do have cold air blasting through the vents.  We covered them but as time goes by on this HS the lack of warm air circulating in these cells will cause adverse effects.
Also you must remember that some or most of the Reps are over 50 and are considered high risk for medical complications because of their chronic illnesses like high blood pressure.  And what adds to the risk is that Doc. Sayers *again* discontinued all medications, even the baby 81 mg aspirins… Even though he is no longer head medical official, it is obvious he still contains some power here among medical staff who distain him.
However, our spirits are high and our determination is solid and we will see this through until CDCR officials settle our Demands in our favor.  And our strength and positive attitude is even greater with all the news on how our outside supporters, including those in other countries, are putting pressure on Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard to bring a settlement offer that we can accept for real changes to long term confinement, which destroys one’s mind and health and relations.  So all our love and respect goes out to all our supporters.
And, even though the numbers go down—last count was 1200—we are not discouraged, we have broken the record and put another wake-up call where general population also see the STG-SDP as a threat to them once it gets placed in the CCR Title 15.
————————————————————-
[from prisoner at PBSP SHU, 7/20/13]

He was moved from Corcoran SHU to PBSP and does not know why.  Not put in PB SHU, but rather in ASU—with hunger strikers.  If someone takes a tray, he’s moved out of ASU.
_____________________________________
[from prisoner in CCI SHU, 7/17/13]
Staff in 4B of CCI SHU are still using sandbags about 5’ long and 6” wide to seal people in their cells. Also, cells are ransacked every time a prisoner leaves, e.g. for showers, medical, or visits.
Some prisoners are doing rolling HS: a week on, a few days off, back on.
Prisoners have received no incoming mail in the last week, and visitors have said they have received nothing from inside. (He thinks legal mail is unaffected but is not certain.)
Some guards are “threatening to pepper-spray any cells  caught passing food through open tray slots.”
_____________________________________
[from prisoner in PBSP SHU, short corridor]
An officer threatened today that whoever doesn’t eat will be moved to AdSeg or to C12—where debriefers and informants are housed. 
The ombudsman Jean Weiss visited, but he got no information of value from his 20-minute talk with her. 
He said that “the Mediation Team reported” on ch. 9 “that [prison staff] were reading all our legal mail.”
_____________________________________
[from prisoner in PBSP SHU, 7/18/13]
A C/O said as of 7/18 there were 200 inmates on HS in the SHU.  The letter writer gave these numbers:  In D1: 13 or 14.   In D5: 25.   In D6: 7.  In D9: 20.
“Sergeant came around this evening telling staff plans were underway to move inmates still participating to C-12 (Debriefing Block – three or four pods are supposedly regular SHU inmates).  Inmates believe this is a tactic to get inmates to stop their fast.  No one wants to be associated with a block of debriefers.  It may also be an attempt to incite violence as many inmates would resist such a move.  Please ensure that this is addressed.  I figure it is a bluff.  There are many inmates hanging on.  Don’t  know about general population or Ad Seg.  I know CDCR is having daily conferences between Sacramento and 4 prsions with SHUs.”
—————– 
Here are some updates from hunger strike prisoners in California SHU’s:

[from Corcoran SHU prisoner 7/21/13]

“Here’s an update on the hunger strike here in Corcoran.  Since our last letter the following has occurred:

*The RN has been making daily rounds and checking all inmates’ vitals.  Also weigh-ins started on the 15th.

*Showers started for all on July 17th

*Still not yard or law library.  Solely paging service is being run for PLU inmates

*Medical runs to 4B clinic is operative, however, one inmate at a time into clinic, so no communication among inmates.  So this does slow the use of the clinic down.

*This week they (CDCR) have been shipping inmates to new Folsom SHU from 4B yard here.  Reason unknown!  We assume to break up the spirit of the protest.  C.O.’s have actually come to our cells and asked us if we want to go voluntarily, if not they will pick and you must go.  Many of us have declined to move.

*Also we are being issued write-ups (115s) for the hunger strike.”
[from prisoner in Corcoran SHU via lawyer visit 7/25/13]

A phone call from a lawyer who met with his client on Thursday morning (July 25) reports that his client had counted at least 10 times when they heard calls for “man down” which required men to be taken out for hospitalization.  Showers were denied at Corcoran for ten days straight, but were recently reinstated, though without hot water.  Most of the water pressure comes from the hot water, however, so it’s only a small amount of cold water that is available.  At other times not during a hunger strike, hot water is available.

The air venting system is problematic.  It is blowing air, but not cold air.  The current temperature in the prison is hotter now than it was during the extreme heat wave in June.  It is also hotter than it normally is.  Prisoners are still being denied law library, and only started to get yard against last Saturday after being denied.

Prisoners on hunger strike had all food out of their cells confiscated [as per the regulations].  As of July 24, no one in 3R is being weighed.

Prisoners are being informed that they have a 115 [Serious Rules Violation] without going through the stipulated process of asking for a investigative officers and being able to respond to the charge.  Apparently the officer is simply stopping at the door, informing the prisoner that they are receiving a 115 and finding them guilty immediately.
—- 
[from Corcoran SHU prisoner 7/21/13]

“Since the resistance of the hunger strike has begun, various tactics to break, disarm, dismantle the spirit of the struggle has been a consistent theme conjured up by the officials as a combative movement against a peaceful protest.
“Allow me to fill you in.  To disrupt the peaceful protest the officials have resorted with false propaganda saying so-and-so in such-and-such building are eating so you all should as well.  They (officials) have become confrontational and verbally combative to all those participating as if those participating in the peaceful protest have offended them (officials) personally behind it all.  The officials continue to utilize the (non-program) of not receiving yard, lack of a shower program and even passing out of canteen to those who are not participating in the peaceful protest allowing (five to seven) days to pass before even passing it out.
“If you complain they always project the bad program out to the hunger strikers rather than them just taking the responsibility for not doing their job.
“Those who began the hunger strike but couldn’t fulfill the longevity due to medical reasons were still written up for a 115 (serious) rules violation, stripped of yard and canteen privileges without the due process of the 115 even being process.  The officials stress that per captain’s orders even if you participated in the peaceful resistance for one day you will be issued a 115, not allowed showers, no yard, no canteen until the peaceful resistance is over…”
— 
[from Corcoran SHU prisoner 7/16/13]

A prisoner reports that they are not being evaluated except that they weighed them once after the 8th day.  He reports they have not received showers
—- 
[from Corcoran SHU 7/19/13]

At first hunger strikers were told they could request to see the doctor, but then they were told that was changed and that they would only be seeing prisoners every seven days.  They were told “We might do Monday, 7/22.”

He also reported receiving a 115 through their slot and being told that they would not be assigned an investigative officer or have a chance to respond.  He notes the 115 have language on them that he suspects will be used for further validation as it says that “..ordered by STG1 [Security Threat Group 1] members housed in PBSP and Corcoran,” “Gang related activity,” etc.  The administration also wants to confiscate televisions as retaliation for the hunger strike and single cell protests.  The staff are constantly repeating the rumor that the “Director” and “Sacramento” are not going to “negotiate.”  “Every time we go to medical the Commanding officers are putting this in our ears.”
——– 
[from Corcoran SHU prisoner 7/15/13]

“Hello, very tired and very weak on the 7th day.  Today a bus full of inmates were taken from their cells and sent to Sacramento (Folsom).  I can only assume the bus was full of inmates Corcoran believes instigated and are probably switching them with inmates in Sacramento.  What CDCR does not understand is that this is not a gang issue.  This is a human rights issue and we are a collective of all races who will not rest, will not stop, until we have put an end to long term isolation and false validation procedures.”
They transferred the prisoners without their property, which usually is shipped to the new institution within 14 or 15 days, but often some property gets broken or goes missing in the process.  The first time he was offered to be weighed was July 15.

Update – July 16.  They took another bus of inmates today and offered to weigh us again.
“We appreciate all the help and concern.  I’m very tired and extremely dizzy.  I’m not sure how long my body can go, but I will not eat.  I know some have stopped.  We will go until they find us unresponsive.  Just so future inmates don’t have to suffer a never ending isolated torture…. (that is against the law to being with.”

To date:  staff/C.O.’s have:

1)      thrown away personal property

2)      denied showers, yard

3)      shipped inmates to other prisoner without their personal property

4)      taken pain medications:  so that inmates with chronic pain have no reprieve.  This is equivalent to beating inmates—deliberately putting inmates in pain.

5)      Shut down property: I have been waiting for a book for almost three months.

6)      Write ups threatening the hunger strike as gang activity.
##

California prison hunger strike is call for justice

Alleged gang members in the California prison system are forced into ‘living graves’. It’s inhumane and without review

Taken over from: The Guardian, July 17, 2013

Sadhbh Walshe

California houses alleged gang inmates in 7 by 11ft cells. Photograph: Creative Commons

Shortly after two statewide hunger strikes rocked the California prison system in 2011, I began corresponding with several of the men who had participated in the protests. They were mostly alleged prison gang members who have been sentenced to indefinite terms in California’s Secure Housing Units, known as SHUs. They spend 22.5 hours of every day in 7 by 11ft windowless cells. If they’re lucky, the remaining 1.5 hours are spent alone in a barren exercise yard with 15 foot high concrete walls and a covered ceiling that prevents them from catching a proper glimpse of the sky.

They are allowed no phone calls, no contact visits with loved ones and their only physical interactions with fellow humans is when they are handcuffed or strip searched by guards. The worst part of this intolerable existence, they say, is that because of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s gang policy, once a prisoner is sent to the SHU, it’s next to impossible for him to get out again. One of my correspondents, Patrick, explained his motivation for going on hunger strike:

I have been in the SHU for 14 years, I’ve been in the short corridor here since its opening. I am validated (as a gang member) and have an indefinite SHU term. I have a life sentence. If the gang policy doesn’t change, I will die in this unit. I am 41 years old.

The first two hunger strikes both eventually ended after approximately three weeks when the CDCR agreed to make some changes to the policies that keep men like Patrick in the SHU for decades. Two years later, however, it seems that little meaningful reform has taken place and so, on 8 July, nearly 30,000 prisoners across the state began a third hunger strike, which may end up being the largest and longest in California’s history.

Despite the gravity of the situation and the prisoners’ evident desperation, so far the CDCR has shown little willingness to cede any ground.

At the heart of the protest is the CDCR’s policy of taking validated gang members and associates out of the mainline prison population and handing them a one way ticket to the SHU. This policy was borne out of an effort to curb gang control of prison yards and to keep other inmates safe from violence.

There is no external review of the validation process, however, and many prisoners, and their legal representatives, claim to have been falsely validated on flimsy evidence such as possessing the wrong kind of book or the wrong kind of tattoo or simply greeting a known gang member. The CDCR’s own former under-secretary, Scott Kernan, (who retired after the first two hunger strikes), admitted in an interview that the department was guilty of “over-validating” inmates, and that their SHU policies had “gone too far”. Yet, once a validated prisoner ends up in the SHU, his only way out is to become a state informant debrief), or in prison parlance, to snitch on other inmates.

This is something of a non-option for SHU prisoners who have no valuable information to offer the authorities in exchange for their release. It’s also a non-option for most gang members who do happen to have valuable information, because becoming an informant will almost certainly put their lives and the lives of innocent family members in serious danger. So SHU prisoners who may have long since dropped any gang affiliations and simply want to serve out their time are faced with an impossible choice: debrief and risk death, don’t debrief and remain buried alive.

I raised this Catch-22 with Pelican Bay’s Warden Greg Lewis when I visited the prison’s notorious SHU last year. Lewis acknowledged the dangers associated with debriefing but said, “the men who choose to debrief tend to recognize that they put their families at risk by joining the gang in the first place”. A fair point, I suppose, but hardly a constructive one. Lewis also emphasized that debriefing was a vital component of the prison’s overall gang management strategy and would remain so, regardless of that risk.

After the first round of hunger strikes, the CDCR did make some concessions to prisoners, however, promising to use new criteria for placing inmates in the SHU and to institute a step down program that would allow inmates an opportunity to get out of isolation that didn’t necessarily involve debriefing. Since these changes were implemented, vorrections officials say they have reviewed nearly 400 cases and around half of those have been returned to the general population. That is welcome news for those lucky few but has had no impact on the vast majority of long term SHU inmates.

According to Alexis Agathocleous of the Center for Constitutional Reform, which has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay “not a single one of our clients has experienced any change in their situation whatsoever”. Even more disturbing is the fact noted by Shane Bauer in the Los Angeles Times recently, that in the past year, despite the reforms (or possibly because of them) the overall SHU population has actually increased by 15% to a total of 4,257 statewide.

Read the rest here.

Solidarity with the 30,000 from across the world

Solidarity with the hunger strikers from across the world: 

“The policy of isolation exposes the ugly face of these false democracies that are guilty of occupation, tyranny and social repression…
I fought in a hunger strike for 66 consecutive days against the policy of administrative detention, my detention without charge or trial. I announce my full solidarity with my 30,000 oppressed brothers in the American prisons…” – Khader Adnan

From Ohio:
7-1-13 For Distribution:

Why should a prisoner in Ohio or Minnesota, or New Mexico, support California prisoners as they move into a crucial stage of struggle for their just do?

My humble opinion is: how could any prisoner think that these apartheid-style policies being used in California won’t come knocking in Florida, WV, Illinois, or any prison system, at any given time? Remember California is said to be a liberal (in terms of political policy) state. How many conservative governors are envious of such harsh prison policies right now?!

I urge all of you in every prison and your able-bodied supporters (each of you can ask one of your friends, supporters outside who are in good health) to support this July 8th hunger strike in some form, but don’t wait till this kind of policy pays you a visit…

Remember Lucasville

Greg Curry (Ohio State Penitentiary)
————-
Nora’s blog – Electronic Intifada
Prisoner solidarity from Palestine to Pelican Bay
Via: ElectronicIntifada, July 8 2013

Persons incarcerated in Pelican Bay prison in northern California are preparing to go on a mass hunger strike starting today, 8 July, demanding the end of human rights violations including long-term solitary confinement.
Palestine activism groups are also launching days of action in support of the US hunger strikers in California, strengthening solidarity between Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons who are calling for an end to the similar methods of mass incarceration, abuse and torture inflicted upon them.

This is not the first time prisoners inside California’s Pelican Bay will go on hunger strike to demand the end of abuses. In July 2011, approximately 6,000 prisoners across twelve prisons in California took part in a three-week mass hunger strike that was launched by persons imprisoned inside Pelican Bay. The California Department of Corrections (CDC) pledged to implement reforms, and the hunger strike ended.

But later that year — after the CDC failed to change their treatment of prisoners — another hunger strike was launched by prisoners across the state. This time, 12,000 persons took part in the mass hunger strike, which lasted from 26 September to 13 October 2011. Again, prisoners in Pelican Bay say that the state promised but ultimately failed to change their policies.

Today, Truthout published a testimonial by Richard Wembe Johnson, who is imprisoned in long-term solitary confinement at Pelican Bay. Johnson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge such practices.

Persons inside solitary confinement units are isolated for at least 22.5 hours a day “in cramped, concrete, windowless cells,” Truthout writes. “They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, any kind of programming, adequate food and, often, medical care. Nearly 750 of these men have been held under these conditions for more than a decade, dozens for over 20 years.”

In his brief testimonial, Richard Wembe Johnson writes that being in long-term solitary confinement has made him feel he could “descend into madness.” He adds:

It is a challenge each day just to remain sane. I experience a wide and shifting range of emotions, including depression, hopelessness, antipathy, anxiety and humiliation, and I have chronic insomnia. It is difficult even to concentrate from moment to moment; my thoughts are mixed and perplexing, even in my sleep (when I am able to sleep at all).
Under no circumstance should anyone be treated like this. We are human and should not forfeit basic human rights because we are in prison.  Of course everyone should be held accountable for their actions. However, punishment for a crime should never amount to torture. What’s more, [security housing unit] confinement is additional punishment, on top of imprisonment, not for any crime or violation of prison rules, but for unsubstantiated claims that we have associated with gang members.

Core demands

Representatives from inside Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have initiated this latest call for a mass hunger strike and have notified California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, that such a protest will take place beginning today.
The prisoners’ core demands include:

  1. End group punishment & administrative abuse
  2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
  3. Comply with the US 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 those living in the SHU

In addition to the five core demands as laid out in the original 2011 protest, the prisoners have also presented forty supplemental demands that “are part of and/or related to our five core demands.”
They state in a press release posted on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:

Governor Jerry Brown; CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard; and all other parties of interest,

In response to CDCR’s failure to meet our 2011 Five (5) Core Demands, the [Pelican Bay Stae Prison – Security Housing Unit] Short Corridor Representatives respectfully present this notice of, and basis for, our individualized, collectively agreed upon, decision to resume our nonviolent peaceful protest action on July 08, 2013.

The upcoming peaceful protest will be a combined Hunger Strike – Work Stoppage action. Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely—until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met.

From Pelican Bay to Palestine

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoners’ Solidarity Network issued a call of solidarity with the US prisoners in Pelican Bay, and offered ways to take action.
Samidoun states:

[W]ithout progress over almost two years, the prisoners in California are launching their strike again. Prisoners continue to be sentenced to lifetimes in solitary confinement because they are labelled “gang affiliated” over such matters as tattoos, cultural art, or reading material. Youth prisoners in Washington have also announced their intention to join the strike.

Over 2 million people are imprisoned in the US and over 60 percent of those people are people of color, subject to a distinctly racialized system that routinely criminalizes youth of color, in sharp contrast to the crime rate, which has fallen while imprisonment has risen. Mass incarceration is deeply racialized, as 1/3 of young Black men are in the criminal justice system. The US holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners with 5 percent of the world’s population, and prisoner resistance and political action has been sharply repressed.

As we stand against apartheid, racism, and Zionism in Palestine, we stand against racism and oppression in the US and around the world. Solitary confinement is a mechanism of torture, from Palestine to Pelican Bay to Guantanamo, and we stand in solidarity with the courageous prisoners who challenge isolation and oppression. The US is Israel’s key international supporter, ally, and economic/military supplier, and maintains regimes of mass imprisonment for social control both in occupied Palestine and in its own prisons.
Take action and sign the Pledge of Resistance with the California Hunger Strikers.

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) also issued a call of support and solidarity with hunger strikers from California to Palestine.
IJAN states:

Members of IJAN have been following and supporting the organizing of California prisoners, who are prepared to go on indefinite hunger strike starting July 8 to demand an end to long–term solitary confinement and other abuses.

Both Israel and the US use policing, imprisonment (and especially solitary confinement), and surveillance as tools of political repression—often sharing technology and training. In the US, the prison industrial complex plays a central role in American racism—harassing and incarcerating Black and Brown youth, brutalizing Black and Brown bodies, and devastating communities of color.

Israel plays a significant role in the training of police forces in the United States and elsewhere in population control and Israel and the US share technologies and strategies of surveillance and repression across borders (for more information on Israel’s Worldwide Role in Repression follow this link).

As people who support the liberation of all peoples, and oppose all forms of racism, it is imperative that we stand behind striking prisoners, who are willing to risk their lives organizing for their rights and dignity.

… People who stand up to organize events on the Day of Action (or any other date) are asked to act in true solidarity by following these guidelines from the Coalition based on communication with the prisoners:

  1. Support the prisoners by advocating for the Five Core Demands rather than agitating for other goals or our own demands
  2. Remember that the prisoners chose a “nonviolent peaceful protest” and plan your solidarity actions with that spirit in mind
  3. Honor the strikers, their loved ones, supporters, and the larger community of prisoner-rights and anti-prison organizations by refusing to claim leadership of the solidarity campaign

Palestinian prisoners still on hunger strike

Addameer, the Palestinian prisoners’ advocacy organization based in the occupied West Bank, reported on 18 June that:

Individual hunger strikes of Palestinian political prisoners have escalated dramatically since the beginning of 2013, with over 33 prisoners engaging in hunger strikes for various reasons.
This week, Addameer has confirmed that four new prisoners have started hunger strikes. Currently, there are 13 prisoners on hunger strike in the Occupation’s prisons, the highest number of individual hunger strikers in over a year.

In a summary of their latest quarterly report, which came out last week, Addameer stated that:

Key issues this quarter were the Israel Prison Services’ (IPS) continued medical negligence, use of isolation, increase in raids, the military court’s use of Article 186 of Military Order 1651, detention and torture of child prisoners under the age of 16 and increased detention of journalists, Jerusalemites and human rights defenders.

Addameer maintains that increased international pressure and forceful actions must be taken to oblige Israel to act within international law parameters until the imminent abolition of the military prison system.

Yasiin Bey demonstrates Guantanamo force-feeding

In related news, more than 100 detainees languishing inside the Guantanamo Bay prison continue their hunger strike protest against the Obama administration’s ongoing policies of indefinite detention, the UK Guardian reports, adding:

More than 40 of them are being force-fed. A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees.

Hip hop artist and activist Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, recently elected to experience force-feeding under the same conditions in which detainees at Guantanamo are being subjected. He filmed the shocking procedure in a four-minute video produced by the human rights organization Reprieve.
The Guardian adds in a related article:

The four-minute video, directed by Bafta award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, seeks to reconstruct the specific force-feeding instructions set out in standard operating guidelines from Guantánamo leaked to al-Jazeera. It shows a plastic tube being inserted through Bey’s nostril into his stomach. The “Medical Management Standard Operating Procedure” document leaked from the detention camp defines a hunger striker as a detainee who has missed at least nine consecutive meals or whose weight has fallen to less than 85 percent of his ideal body weight.

You can watch the incredibly disturbing — but important — video here.

Support the Pelican Bay hunger strike

Support the Pelican Bay hunger strike

SF Bay View, July 3rd 2013

by Shaka At-thinnin

In their ongoing plea for justice and humane treatment, the inmates confined in the Security Housing Unit program at Pelican Bay State Prison must continue to use the only peaceful means available that will draw proper attention to their plight, a hunger strike. Going through a long term hunger strike involves every aspect of your being, physical, mental and emotional.

'Black August' by Rashid Johnson
“Black August” by Kevin Rashid Johnson

It requires a very strong will, determination and a true purpose as a driving force. The driving force in this is showing the world what actually goes on within the concentration camps outside the view of those this forced treatment would purportedly serve and bring an end to this cruel and inhumane reality once and for all.

Read the rest here

Hungry for reform | SF Bay Guardian

Hungry for reform | SF Bay Guardian

California prisoners prepare for another hunger strike to protest persistently deplorable conditions

Sitawa Jamaa is among the thousands of California inmates who, two years ago this summer, took part in the largest prison hunger strike in US history to protest harsh conditions and their invisibility to those outside prison walls.

Now, Jamaa and other prisoners are about to launch another hunger strike to highlight the system’s unfulfilled promises and the persistence of inhumane conditions.

Read the rest here