Support grows for California prisoners’ hunger strike

From: Workers World

By Sharon Danann
Published Jul 13, 2011

Even California prison authorities acknowledge that 6,600 prisoners were participating in the hunger strike called by inmates in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit over the “Fourth of July” weekend. (Los Angeles Times, July 9) Pelican Bay is California’s supermax prison. The prisoners in the SHU are in solitary confinement, some for decades.

(Photo: Cleveland activists hold informational picket
and leafleting July 9 in solidarity with
California prisoners. WW photo: Susan Schnur)

More than one-third of California’s 33 prisons had inmates refusing food, many of whom are also in SHUs. There is widespread support for the hunger strikers’ demands for such basic human rights as an end to collective punishment and to long-term isolation, adequate food and a phone call a week.

Support for the hunger strike spread worldwide. On July 3 in Perth, Australia, as part of a celebration of Aboriginal survival, the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee held an action in solidarity with the hunger strike. On July 4 activists in Kingston, Ontario, unfurled a huge banner saying “Collins Bay to Pelican Bay, Solidarity for Prisoners on Strike.” Inmates in Collins Bay Federal Penitentiary there started a work stoppage June 28 to address the issues of overcrowding and prison conditions.

Dancers from Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc in Los Angeles performed ceremonial dances in front of Pelican Bay prison on July 4. Supporters held rallies in cities in the U.S. and Canada almost daily from July 1 to July 9, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Eureka, Calif.; Seattle; Harrisonburg and Blacksburg, Va.; Cleveland; New York; Montreal and Toronto.

Activists in Montreal are hosting a “Contractor Crawl” to “discover some of Montreal’s prison contractors on July 16. On July 23 there is a rally at Ohio State Penitentiary at 2 p.m., followed by a program on torture in today’s prisons at 4:30, both in Youngstown. For more information contact

Solidarity from behind the walls

In the supermax unit at OSP, prisoners went on a 36-hour solidarity hunger strike from July 1 to July 2. Among these was Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan, one of three OSP prisoners who were able to improve the terms of their confinement through a hunger strike in January of this year. All three were sentenced to death as the result of their alleged roles in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio.

In his solidarity message to the California prisoners entitled “United We Stand,” Imam Hasan proclaimed,

“Their injustices have been going on for far too long. … Twenty-five years is too long for human beings to be subjected to the cruel terms and dictates of their oppressors.”

Lucasville uprising hunger striker Jason Robb wrote,

“I can fully understand and respect the path [the Pelican Bay hunger strikers] chose. They have made a decision that is not easy at best, but men must stand as men or be subject to being treated as less.”

The third Lucasville uprising hunger striker, Bomani Shakur, posted in his “Letter of Support” at

“In a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world (over 2.6 million men and women behind bars), human rights violations are inevitable, and it falls to those of us who must suffer through the experience to stand up and speak truth to power, for as Frederick Douglass suggested: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ In the days to come, the men at Pelican Bay will need each and every one of us to support them, to stand with them as they seek to bring their situation to a tolerable level.”

For the complete list of hunger strike demands, a link to an electronic petition, up-to-date event information, and what you can do to help, visit

Danann is a member of the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network and visits prisoners in OSP, Ohio’s supermax prison.

Letters of Support from Ohio: Bomani Shakur of the Lucasville 5, and Sharon Danann to the Pelican Bay Prisoners on Hungerstrike

Letter of Support from Bomani Shakur of the Lucasville 5
Via Kersplebedeb:

Ask anyone who has ever been on a hunger strike, and they will tell you that the process of intentionally starving oneself is a very painful ordeal. Typically speaking, it is a protracted form of suicide; taken too far, the body will shut down and die. And yet, there are places on this planet where the idea of death is preferable to continuing down a path that offers no hope or relief from suffering. I live in such a place; I know.

In January of this year (2011), and after almost thirteen years of solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), I and several others went on hunger strike. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, after countless appeals to reason had failed, and after coming to the end of all that we could do (law suits, greivances, petitions, etc.) we made the decision to risk our very lives in order to bring about the necessary changes that would allow us to live as human beings. In the end, we stood firm, garnered world-wide support, and prevailed. Now prisoners in California, confined in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, have decided to undertake a similar course of action. To them, I say: Bravo!

In a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world (over 2.6 million men and women behind bars), human rights violations are inevitable, and it falls to those of us who must suffer through the experience to stand up and speak truth to power; for, as Frederick Douglass suggested: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

In the days to come, the men at Pelican Bay will need each and every one of us to support them, to stand with them as they seek to bring their situation to a tolerable level. What they are demanding is basic:

Individual accountability
Abolish debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
Comply with US Commission 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement
Provide adequate food
Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates

Let’s come together to assist these men in their time of need and show them that their status as “criminals” does not automatically disqualify them from being human beings. In my time of need, I found this to be the truth and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Give these men the opportunity to feel that outpouting of compassion.

And to the men at Pelican Bay (Todd, Danny, et al), I simply want to say: Stay the course; pay attention to what you are doing; and when things get rough (and they will) , know that you are not alone. By and through the activation of what he called “Satygraha,” – or truth force – Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy in the world. In every evil that threatens us, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free. Hold on to that.

The system as it currently exists must change, and this, what you all are doing right now, may very well be the catalyst to bring about that change. Remember that.

And remember this: the first three days are the hardest; after that, it’s mind over matter. When the body is brought under control, the mind is set free to receive revelations. Be on the lookout for that; and when they come, when the truth of your situation is revealed, stay in that space. Drink as much water as you can, stay hydrated (read: coffee is a diuretic). And when the time comes, be sure to get everything in writing!

Calling all arms * Calling all arms

Bomani Shakur
Ohio State Penitentiary (2011)

Statement of support from Sharon Danann for the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network:

As supporters of the Lucasville uprising prisoners who engaged in a victorious hunger strike in January 2001 in Ohio’s supermax prison, Ohio State Penitentiary, we extend our support to the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers. The violations of human rights of prisoners must end. The punishment of prisoners for their beliefs and for activities to improve their conditions must end. The illegal, unconstitutional and inhumane use of long-term solitary confinement must end.

The treatment of prisoners in the U.S. is an international scandal. We will do all we can to get the word out about the courageous Pelican Bay hunger strikers. We will be turning up the heat on all levels of government. We are proud to be a part of the prisoners’ movement that is rising up in many parts of the country and world. Onward to victory!!

Click here for an article on the Lucasville struggle by Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network