Revolution #240, July 24, 2011
Statements in Support of Prison Hunger Strikers
Updated October 27, 2011
The following are statements in support of the Prison Hunger Strikers at Pelican Bay State Prison, and other prisons in California and beyond. More statements are urgently needed. Send statements to be added to this list by using the "Send us your comments" link (be sure to include your name for attribution), or forward your statement to firstname.lastname@example.org. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is calling on people to call and send statements and letters in support of the prisoners’ demands to:
Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento , CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Secretary Matthew Cate
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
1515 S Street
Phone: (916) 323-6001
I support the thousands of prisoners who have once again gone on hunger strike in California, risking their health and their very lives to protest the inhuman conditions in these prisons. Their courage, in the face of retaliation by prison authorities, presents us with a responsibility to support them and to call on all people of conscience to step out and stand with them.
The Prison Hunger Strikers of California have renewed their strike, and I renew my support. Like demonstrators from the Arab Spring to Wall Street, they are using the only peaceful means at their disposal to call attention to injustices; in this case, including long term solitary confinement and other punishments that the Red Cross and Red Crescent would object to were they prisoners of war.
ACLU of California Statement on California Prison Hunger Strike
The ACLU of California supports the striking prisoners’ demands to end cruel and inhumane conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison. These conditions include prolonged, solitary confinement in small, windowless concrete boxes with little to no human interaction and other severe physical deprivations.
Not only are such conditions inhumane and harmful, but they also jeopardize public safety. Solitary confinement causes and exacerbates mental illness, and prisoners who are subjected to such extreme isolation cannot properly reintegrate into society, resulting in higher recidivism rates.
An alarming number of prisoners are released directly from secure housing units into the community. The CDCR must implement policies that enhance safety both within prisons and within our communities. Current practices do not achieve these equally important goals.
The ACLU calls on the State to re-double its efforts to engage in meaningful negotiations with the strikers to bring the hunger strike to a swift and peaceful conclusion. In addition, the ACLU calls on Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary, Matthew Cate, to significantly curtail the use of the SHU at Pelican Bay and other California prisons and to provide all prisoners confined to the SHU items, services, and programs necessary for psychological and physical well-being including warm clothing, out-of-cell time, and participation in rehabilitative programs.
Friday, July 22, 2011
ACLU/SC Executive Director Hector Villagra delivered the following remarks at a press conference at the KRST Unity Center in South Los Angeles.
It has been said that to measure the degree of civilization in a society, you must enter its prisons. If you enter our supermax prisons, you will conclude we are a barbarous and savage society, one where cruel and inhumane punishment is the norm.
The ACLU of Southern California joins its allies today to condemn a situation that is inhumane—not just arbitrarily cruel—and in the name of law and order ultimately makes every Californian less safe. That’s because solitary confinement causes and exacerbates mental illness. Prisoners who are subjected to such extreme isolation cannot properly reintegrate into society, resulting in higher recidivism rates.
The ACLU of Southern California supports the striking prisoners’ demands to end cruel and inhumane conditions in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. These conditions include prolonged, solitary confinement in small, windowless concrete boxes with little to no human interaction and other severe physical deprivations.
Today, 44 states and the federal government have built so-called "supermax" prisons similar to Pelican Bay—housing at least 25-thousand people nationwide. At these institutions, prisoners in solitary confinement face up to 24 hours a day with little human contact or interaction—reduced or no natural light—restriction or denial of reading material, television, radios or other property—severe constraints on visitation—and the inability to participate in group activities, including eating with others. In California prisons, time in solitary confinement can drag on years or even decades.
Prisoners of war or terror hostages say that this type of enforced isolation is as bad as any physical abuse and perhaps leads more directly to permanent psychological damage. According to one study conducted at Pelican Bay itself—prisoners subjected to months or years of complete isolation lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind. In the most extreme cases—they literally stop behaving at all—and become catatonic.
And that puts public safety at risk. In fact, an alarming number of prisoners are released directly from secure housing units into the community. It’s time for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement policies that enhance safety both inside and outside prison walls. Current practices do not achieve these equally important goals.
We call on the state to bring the hunger strike to a swift and peaceful conclusion. We call on Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary, Matthew Cate, to significantly curtail the use of the SHU at Pelican Bay and other California prisons and to provide all prisoners confined to the SHU items, services, and programs necessary for psychological and physical well-being including warm clothing, out-of-cell time, and participation in rehabilitative programs.
To paraphrase Dostoevsky - the character of a nation can be measured by the way it treats its prisoners. I stand in solidarity with the prisoners on strike in California. Please, think about this hunger strike. Please, just imagine getting to that point. Imagine making the decision to starve to death rather than accept things as they are. Imagine how bad things would have to be. The current situation in California's prisons is deplorable. The conditions are inhumane. This monumental violation of human rights is senseless and unnecessary. Something must be done.
America, the Beautiful! What a crock. Ask the over 6,000 prisoners in California who are willing to starve themselves to death to achieve more humane conditions, if not for them, then for those in the future who will be condemned to such vile servitude. The punishment and intolerance meted out to them makes the state more criminal than the prisoners. For God's sake, stop the illegal executions inflicted by the state in its maximum security prisons.
PROLONGED SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN U.S. PRISONS MUST END
We owe a debt of gratitude to the prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California who were on a hunger strike for several weeks. They have raised the issue of inhumane conditions in prisons across the nation, particularly the thousands of prisoners who are held in prolonged solitary confinement which we know can cause long-term psychological damage.
We are well aware that these conditions exist in many Texas prisons. For example, on Texas death row prisoners are held in solitary confinement for many years until they are executed. These inhumane conditions cause some prisoners to go crazy, some to commit suicide, and some to give up their appeals because they no longer want to live.
In Texas, solitary confinement normally means that the prisoner held in a tiny 6 X 10 foot cell for 23 hours a day. He cannot participate in group recreation, church services or work programs. This is not good for the prisoner or for society in general.
There is no doubt in my mind that prolonged solitary confinement is “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
I am extremely disappointed that we allow these conditions to exist and our politicians are silent on the issue. The U.S. is not the civilized nation that we would like others to think we are.
I call on all citizens to speak out loudly and bring these inhumane conditions to an end.
August 1, 2011
The torture of prisoners in California is reprehensible. Prisoners are putting their lives at risk to protest the inhumane and degrading conditions they are subjected to. Their hunger strike is an act of desperation and I urge the prison authorities to listen to the demands and take action to end the torture and abuse within the state penal system.
Greetings from the Texas-Mexico border: On my way to cross again to challenge the USA government illegal and immoral blockage to Cuba. I’m very sorry I can’t be physically present in this solidarity action on behalf of our brothers who are incarcerated in California and that as a way of resisting injustices, human rights violations and oppression, they organize a hunger strike. This is a statement that I want you to make public.
As a priest, as a community activist and as a scholar in the field of criminal justice, these brothers have my support. What they are denouncing is a matter of human rights and human dignity violations. Tomorrow during mass here in Texas I’m going to address this matter to people in Austin, Texas. I also want to raise my voice and solidarity against the Prison Industrial Complex, the one that is responsible for keeping these men in prison. As a spiritual activist, I’m against this capitalist society that is building a class society that at the end produces this type of human segregation for the purpose of social control; incarceration. We know that in the USA rich people get richer and poor people go to prison. Let’s start looking for alternative to incarceration.
In the mean time, we need to support unconditionally our brothers who are in prison in this hunger strike. This type of action in their behalf is only a symptom, let’s deal with the real problems: a class society that produce oppression and exclusion.
In solidarity love, the most important sacrament.
(Father Luis Barrios, Ph.D., is Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice-Department of Latin American & Latina/o Studies; Member of Ph.D. faculties in social/personality psychology, Graduate Center-City University of New York; Visiting Professor of Research & Methodology and Criminal Justice; Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Politicas: Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo-UASD and Universidad Iberoamericana-UNIBE, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Your refusal to respond to the prisoner hunger strike begun on July 1, 2011 only confirms to the people of California the validity of the prisoners' allegations and demands. Your violation of prisoners human rights, their right to live free of cruelty and torture not only harms prisoners, threatens the lives of those on hunger strike to regain these rights but are a violation of international, national and state law. By your actions you debase all Californians and make clear that we live in a barbaric state.
We, the citizens of California, understand that what you are doing to these prisoners and your refusal to respond to the hunger strike violates the public trust we place in you to operate our prisons. You are neither above the law nor our scrutiny. We cannot allow you to stay in positions of power and authority if you abuse them and violate the law as well as prisoners human rights. Therefore we ask that you immediately address the demands of those on hunger strike, see that they receive immediate medical treatment while you promulgate prison policy that is in line with the International Declaration of Human Rights that you are now violating as well as national and state law.
The conditions within the prison system reveal the attitudes of a society and are reflected in the actions of its agents of authority that execute the policies and practices –written or otherwise. There is a lack of humanity and justice in prisons such as Pelican Bay and others across the nation that have driven a brave few of those incarcerated towards desperation to bring these sub-human conditions, brutal abuses and actual torture to light that are dehumanizing. The questions remain: what will those with the power to effect needed changes do to correct these abuses that border on crimes themselves that go unpunished? How are the lives of these men and women to be “corrected” to allow them to return to society, more specifically, their communities, and make a contribution?
There is a deep injustice and cruelty here that have corrupted the prison system and its “corrective” agencies that have become an industry where the pursuit of its own continuation and expansion is paramount over that of serving the public interests and rehabilitating the lives of the incarcerated. It is time for responsible oversight and a re-making of the US prison system at such sights as Pelican Bay which has gone so far awry that prisoners have taken to a hunger strike in search of reform.
This is a request that you, Governor Brown, exercise you authority and responsibility to ensure human treatment at Pelican Bay and other California sites.
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to express my solidarity with the prisoners striking for humane and decent basic conditions in Supermax prisons in California and elsewhere in the U.S. No human being—in the United States of America or anywhere else—should be subject to conditions (such as long-term solitary confinement, deprivation of basic nourishment, etc.) that have been widely shown to cause long-lasting harm and have been disavowed by human rights organizations around the world. The United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and it is my opinion—as well as the opinion of many others across our country and the world—that current conditions in American Supermax prisons are clearly in violation of this Constitutional provision. Even if a citizen has been convicted of a heinous crime in the U.S., he or she is still protected by the Constitution and by basic human rights laws. This is a foundational principle of our democracy. As a citizen, I urge you to do something to remedy this patently inhumane and unjust situation.
(Jessica Blank is an actor, playwright, and novelist; she co-authored the play The Exonerated.)
Dear Governor Brown,
I have been alerted to the indefinite hunger strike of a large number of California prisoners and the perilous state of their health. The conditions of their incarceration have driven them to this desperate action. I call upon you with the greatest urgency to announce to these prisoners that you will heed their five core demands. Your failure to do so places them in even greater risk of bodily harm or death.
I am shocked that these prisoners have been subjected to such conditions. There are absolutely no reasons for this. Even the United Nations has called their imprisonment “inhumane and degrading.”
I would write in greater length if not for the urgency of their condition. The whole world is watching.
I am writing in support of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay Prison. I encourage all strikers to continue pressing forward, we are supporting you guys one hundred percent. We join you in this difficult time, because freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demand by the oppressed.
The Struggle Continues, The Struggle Continues, The Struggle Continues .......As long as one single inmate at Pelican Bay or any facility in any state in any nation of the world faces torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.
We have that responsibility, that duty to ourselves and to the generations that follow, as this nation slides on the slippery slope to fascism to fortify its racism and classism. There was reported by the L.A. Times newspaper an extensive article about police officers being increasingly prosecuted. It is a state of the world in which crooked law enforcement officers' criminal actions are excused as being economic crimes; the natural outcomes and result of the their once prosperous middle class lifestyle now threatened by the budget cuts.
According to BJS,1 at the end of 2009, over 7 million people are incarcerated, on probation, or parole in America today. The vast majority are there for un-acknowledged economic crimes; the forces of which were implemented at the very founding of this country with the enslavement of Afrakan people. That continues to this day as the police state solution. The new slave ships, this time also peopled with other folks brown and white, are packed to the brim with unimaginable torture and horrors, treated like vermin for engaging in economic crimes that are the direct result of laws and policies established concretely to create full employment for the purveyors of injustice.
An evil prison industrial complex feeds tens of thousands of upper income folks while denying the basic human rights of millions then treats their mostly economic crimes with extra-judicial punishment including torture. This includes Prosecutors, Judges, Clerks, Defense Attorneys, prison guards, Janitors, communities that vie for prisons in there towns; the whole system being fed off the bodies of economic prisoners.
We salute those brave souls who initiated the Hunger strike and those who continue the struggle for justice for all of us! We must continue to support them by any and all means necessary!
The struggle continues
July 22, 2011
* [U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics]
We are both appalled by the conditions at Pelican Bay and by the impossibly inhumane treatment given these prisoners in a so-called civilized society—there is simply no excuse. We stand with the inmates in their struggle for decency and justice.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
I the undersigned have taken cognizance of the deplorable conditions prevailing in the California prison system including the hunger strike affecting 13 prisons involving more than 6,000 inmates.
These prevailing conditions constitute a crime against humanity and a violation of fundamental human rights.
The conditions of incarceration and depravation are in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.
How can the U.S. government tolerate the torture and dehumanization of the inmates in Corcoran State prison, Pelican Bay, and other prisons and at the same time condemn other countries for the same violation of human rights? We live in one world and must all fight to eliminate state-sponsored cruelty, beginning with the prisoners in California 's prisons.
Personal Statement Regarding the 2011 California Prison Strikes
When a citizen of the United States is convicted in the criminal court system, the sentence is a number of days, or weeks, or months, or years. This separation from society is the penalty that is the understanding of jurors who reach a verdict to convict a defendant, and is the understanding of the defendant who made personal decisions regarding his or her plea.
Long-term solitary confinement is not a condition understood by the jury nor the defendant. The ill psychological consequences of such treatment have been affirmed by such diverse persons as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Senator John McCain, who spent three of his five-and-a-half POW years in segregation. The acute psychological adverse effects have been affirmed by Human Rights Watch, which has noted “Suicides occur disproportionately more often in segregation units than elsewhere in prison.”
The abolishment of such primitive practices is among the demands of the incarcerated currently on hunger strike in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay prison, as well as of several thousand prisoners throughout the state. Other appeals seem no less reasonable: an end to group punishment, wherein all members of an assumed group are penalized for the actions of one; an end to the debriefing policy—a bribe of better meals or release from SHU to prisoners in exchange for incriminating information against their fellow inmates, which puts innocent and weaker prisoners at risk of being wrongly accused and punished; the provision of food that is adequate and nutritious, and permission for the inmates to purchase out of their own money vitamin supplements; and a handful of small requests that would boost prisoner morale and thus the inmates’ conduciveness to rehabilitation, such as a weekly phone call, hobby items (colored pencils, watercolors), and the allowance of the receipt of two packages per year.
In short, the hunger strikers, who have not eaten since July 1st, are living in such inhumane conditions that they are risking death in order to be treated with the smallest and most basic of dignities, a minimum of which are required to maintain sanity. For those of us on the outside who believe that the incarcerated are deserving of such psychological retribution, it must be remembered that these men may have long prison sentences but most are not lifers, and that their resultant compounded fury and madness will one day be unleashed on the greater society when they are released; it is therefore in all our interests to provide prisoners with the opportunity to rehabilitate. And for those of us on the outside who believe that the incarcerated are deserving of basic human dignities, it is appalling and tragic to discover through this uprising that such paltry demands have not been automatic in the 21st Century American prison system—the entity in true need of rehabilitation.
(Kia Corthron is a playwright living in New York City. Her plays have been produced in New York, London and in theatres across the U.S.)
You could hardly tell by reading the news, but there is a to-the-death hunger strike taking place at Pelican Bay prison, where prisoners have finally tapped out at Draconian 23 hour a day isolation, over-crowding, inability to take correspondence courses, and generalized warehousing and arbitrary punishment of detainees. You might have noticed too, that as the economy tanks, and jobs are outsourced, our country is increasingly using an expanded prison population as a source of income for displaced factory workers, building prisons where useful industries once flourished.
The convicts we are relegating to perpetual holding tanks, will eventually get out—angered certainly, and in many cases ill, and in some cases sociopathic. We are treating these people as “other” and consigning them to oblivion, as if the bill for this callousness will never come due. I urge you to look at the situation, and sign on to support their struggle.
The people on hunger strike in the prisons in California have stood up and declared that they are human beings, not animals, and that they refuse to submit to the torture being enforced by the California Dept of Corrections.
The hunger strikers have put their lives on the line to fight to achieve their demands, and we must support them. They are asserting their humanity and thru doing that, they are challenging us to reclaim our own humanity—by refusing to allow torture to be carried out in the prison system in our name.
A serious hunger strike takes will power far beyond the ability of the vast majority of us. No group can organize one unless the conditions it protests are truly horrific. For one who has worked in prisons, it is implausible that such conditions are merely negligent. Inside a prison such conditions are much discussed, and are worsened in order to injure inmates the staff believes insufficiently compliant. More damningly, knowledge of foul conditions filters upwards from prisons to other state offices, and to the legislature. A detention center for delinquent inner city youth in Boston where I taught in 1985 spent $36,000 a year per adolescent, which was more than tuition at Harvard at the time, and nearly all of that money was spent making them miserable. Meanwhile, the program with the lowest recidivism rate was an outward-bound type program in which kids built trails in state parks and forests. The Massachusetts legislature cancelled the forest program because they thought it wasn't punitive enough. The mania for punishment increases crime while damaging and alienating everyone it touches. And for this a large network of state officials are responsible. If we tolerate such abuse without comment, we are guilty too.
I condemn the horrific conditions under which those prisoners live in the USA. We have a common global struggle against all types of class race gender and religious oppressions, including American-European imperialisms and neocolonialisms. We live in one world dominated by the same military police capitalist patriarchal system. We need to fight together. Unity is power globally and locally. Our Egyptian revolution is winning till today because of our unified power of millions (women men and children from all sectors of the society) who are staying in Tahrir Square day and night, and in all streets and squares all over Egypt from Aswan south to Alexandria north, and Suez Canal cities and villages.
(Nawal El Saadawi is a renowned Egyptian novelist, doctor, and feminist activist. She has been involved in the 2011 uprising in Egypt.)
The U.S. prisons are our greatest shame. We must all stand in solidarity with the brave inmates of Pelican Bay who have risked their lives to make visible the abhorrent conditions, injustice, torture and humiliation that is their daily existence. Their struggle is our struggle.
I believe in human rights in every arena. A moral, civilized, society requires those in authority to set an ethical example even when dealing with individuals, like prison inmates, who may have behaved undesirably. In fact, authorities have a much greater duty to behave morally because their position is only credible if they lead by example. Unfortunately, authorities often do not live up to these important principles. I have been arrested and jailed for short periods, many times, so I know how cruel law enforcement can be to the incarcerated. The inmates, especially those on hunger strike, have my sympathy and support. Everyone deserves to be treated humanely and the demands for which the inmates are hunger striking are not only absolutely reasonable and logical, but essential. Please read more and ask those in charge to fulfill their moral obligations and improve prison conditions.
I support the call in support of the hunger striking prisoners, and you can forward the following statement if you think it is helpful:
"It is sad that it requires a massive hunger strike by prisoners to call attention to the deplorable conditions that have long prevailed in California prisons, and we call upon our elected leaders, citizens, and media to acknowledge the urgency and justice of the appeal, and to take immediate steps to establish prison conditions befitting the inalienable dignity of ALL human beings."
Mike Ferner, Interim Director,
Veterans For Peace:
If you've never been locked up, you cannot have a legitimate opinion about what kind of treatment prison inmates deserve. And that goes for everyone who has ever ignorantly said, "We don't owe these people a hotel room, you know."
If you have been locked up, you know that the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers and the inmates joining them in other prisons are the most courageous people in this land. They are facing possible death and certain retribution from a system and from individuals who literally hold the power of life and death over them.
How many times have we driven past one of the rapidly-expanding number of prisons in our country, feeling a small twinge of the despair that smothers everything inside the razor wire? Usually our minds hurry to other concerns in the realm of the free, but now we are given the opportunity to take a moment and stand in support of our fellow human beings when it could really make a difference.
Please join me in writing to California Governor Jerry Brown, someone with a reputation for compassion and Matthew Cate, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
We owe it to our own souls.
I write to express support for the prisoners of California who are on a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions and treatment. A hunger strike is not something that is done lightly. This hunger strike has unified prisoners who are otherwise at odds with each other. It reflects the severity of their circumstances. Long-term solitary confinement causes permanent psychological harm. Abusive punishment, requiring prisoners to spy on each other and false accusation create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Rather than healing and rehabilitation of the prisoners, these circumstances worsen their condition. I ask the prison authorities to negotiate in good faith with the prisoners. And I hope that the awareness of the situation will spark a broader movement to end the failed drug war and use evidence-based drug policy and to adopt modern prison policies based on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
I think the statement by the ACLU regarding the hunger strike expresses my own view cogently. I hope the prison authorities respond to the situation swiftly, in a humane manner.
If you would just stop and think about the last time you were hungry, truly hungry and could do nothing about it, you would probably have to go back to your childhood. Not a lovely image but a feeling which is easy to disregard once you have reached adulthood and can basically eat whenever you want. As Malcolm said, give a starving man the choice between a naked woman and a steak, the steak wins out every time. Now think about a person choosing to go through the hunger pains, the withering body, the loss of strength, lack of energy, inability to read, think, even sleep. Now imagine this is of your choosing due to conditions and policies which run in direct opposition to acts of decency, humanity, sensitivity. In other words, I would rather starve myself to death then to be made to live under oppressive conditions most human beings would find deplorable if experienced for themselves. To be hungry is perhaps the world's greatest injustice. To bring hunger upon ones self to draw attention to deplorable conditions and even more blatant rules, regulations and policies, is, at the very least, the mark of a true revolutionary. Support the prisoners at Pelican Bay by making your own personal statement of protest. Go a day without a slice of bread, a glass of water, a piece of fruit, a cup of coffee. See the strength it takes to deprive ones self of the BAsics.
Dear Governor and Secretary:
Today's Supermaxes make Alcatraz and the old chain gangs look like resorts.
It is cruel and inhumane to warehouse any person in solitary confinement, much less confine prisoners to the torture of cement box "Supermaxes"—windowless cells devoid of fresh air or sunlight; in which prisoners have no occupation or activities, or any meaningful interaction with others.
Such cruel and inhumane treatment is in flagrant disregard of accepted prison protocol, much less the Geneva Convention. It is time to put an end to brutality in the name of justice, and to reject the primitive, retributive "old testament" notion of punishment for its own sake.
The hunger-striking prisoners' requests are pathetically modest. Why shouldn't they be allowed a weekly phone call or a wall calendar or their weekly meal allotments? Most important is their right as human beings to meaningful contact and activities, and freedom from "extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm."
Whatever any particular prisoner may (or may not) have done or been convicted of, does not provide license to the rest of our society to dehumanize and brutalize a whole class of persons. If, with a light conscience, our society deliberately subjects a captive human being, relentlessly and cruelly, to deplorable living conditions, and physical and mental torture, we rob not only them but ourselves of our humanity.
Close down the disgraceful Supermaxes.
Statement about Pelican Bay
Everybody in America knows someone who is in prison or who has been in prison, or knows someone who knows someone in prison or who has been. At any given moment between two and three million people, adults and children, are in a state or federal prison. When you include people who are locked up in county or metropolitan jails, the number of those incarcerated is more than double that statistic. (At the end of 2009, 7,225,800 adults, about one of every 32 adults in the United States, were incarcerated. In 2006, 92,854 children were held in juvenile facilities, and an unknown number in adult facilities.) When you consider that the level of incarceration began its meteoric rise more than a generation ago, and take into account inmate turnover—people are released and other people come in—you realize that tens of millions of people have served time. Even presidents of the United States have known, or do know, people who are in prison, or who have been.
I went to high school with two boys who had been in prison. One became a high school principal; I don’t know what became of the other one. When I was a child, a cook in one of my parents’ restaurants was a former inmate. One of my closest childhood friends spent a year locked up on a marijuana charge when we were in our early twenties. When I was in the army, a friend went to Leavenworth for several months for having gone AWOL. I ran across him ten years later; he was driving a cross-country bus. There have been others. A mechanic who worked on my car had served time as a juvenile. I met a woman, a state employee, who was locked up when she was a girl, and another woman who had served time in a federal prison for selling drugs. I had a cousin who spent five years in San Quentin, got out and died a few months later from a heroin overdose.
As I write this, I think of still others I have known who had been locked away, though I would not have known had they not told me. Thinking of them, I don’t ordinarily think of the fact of their imprisonment, but see them in my mind’s eye as have known them: as someone I worked beside, telling jokes between phone calls; as a political activist, speaking with irony and rage about an injustice; as a friend describing the sculpture she was working on; as a collector of antiquarian books. I find it hard to believe that the course of my life has been unusual in placing in the proximity of people who have been in prison. I grew up in the middle class. My father was a manager in one of the aerospace companies. Incidentally, all but one of the people I mentioned in the last paragraph are, or in the case of my cousin, were white.
All of this is by way of saying that inmates at Pelican Bay and everywhere else deserve to be treated as we would like to be treated. They are no less human than we are. In fact, given the rate of incarceration in the United States, we, you and I, may one day find ourselves in their place. Predictably, projecting these same statistics, some of us will indeed find ourselves there, as will some of our children and some of our grandchildren. By speaking out for humane treatment now, we are investing in our own futures and in the future of our children and those who follow them.
(Jerome Gold is the author of the book Paranoia & Heartbreak: Fifteen Years in a Juvenile Facility)
The United States does not need another Attica! Our prison system is archaic, racist and inhuman!
The prisoners demands are JUSTIFIED! Respond by granting their demands. Prison Reform is long overdue. Start today with California!
I applaud the men at Pelican Bay for putting their lives on the line in their desperate attempt to show the American people, and the world, the cruel and inhumane conditions in the United States prison system. As Nelson Mandela once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Isn’t it time that we all raise our voice and say “enough?” How many of these men will have to die before action is taken to end the barbarous conditions that these and so many others in this country are held under in our prison system?
I join the inmates of Pelican Bay, Corcoran State and other prisons in their demands for humane treatment of all incarcerated people. I hope the American people will demand the same. The shameful injustice of our horrific treatment of inmates is an ugly stain on our national character.
I am no expert on the complexities of prisons, corrections, crime and punishment. I do not know the stories of the men convicted and confined to Pelican Bay. I am just a citizen. A citizen who believes in living as humanely as possible, a citizen who demands that his government operate in an ethical, lawful manner. Even within a supermax prison, these are fellow citizens, these are human beings. I do not support confining them indefinitely out of sight, out of mind. I do not support prison officials pimping them for information. I do not support prison officials setting them up for retaliation. I do not support locking human beings in boxes (even those convicted of crimes). I am not naive. I recognize power as the currency of our society. And I embrace my power as an engaged citizen. I join my voice to those of the hunger strikers and their demands. I join my voice to those who support the hunger strikers. I am proud to be among the company of the citizens seeking to create a humane 21st Century America of the people, by the people and for the people.
A political system can be judged by the way it treats society's most unfortunate members, including prisoners. I stand with those who protest this inhumane treatment.
Have circulated this widely and stand...
...in solidarity with hunger strikers in the California prison system, noting this also as a warning for the UK, as the con-dem coalition moves to close, crowd and privatize prisons here. I was appalled to read of the conditions in California, and of course was reminded of all the campaigners that have fought so far, and are fighting still, against the racist, white supremacist, corporate (even when its State) prison-industrial-cultural complex that tortures, on camera or in secret, that abuses and insults, that has no legitimacy, that has no respect, that should be torn down.
Solidarity to all: we cannot be free here when there we are in chains.
July 14, 2011
The International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment in Conjunction with The West Coast Coalition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!
STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT FOR THE HUNGER STRIKE AT PELICAN BAY AND THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS FROM OTHER PRISONS WHO HAVE JOINED THE EFFORTS!
Who: International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment in conjunction with the West Coast Coalition.
What: Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
Where: Pelican Bay Prison and the 13 other prisons who have joined in solidarity
Why: Massive Human Rights Violations and Inhumane treatment
Cleveland, Ohio: As the largest National Network of grassroots, faith and community based organization dedicated to Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment we are calling on all of our member organizations and like minded human beings to support the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike. ICUPJE serves as an umbrella organization with over 35 affiliates throughout the United States and globally. For over 17 years, the Council has sponsored several National Urban Peace (Street Organization) and Justice Summits. The Council has initiated prevention, intervention and transformation work all over the U.S. and globally to affect change in the lives of youth impacted by racism, poverty, inequality and injustice.
On July 1, 2011, many of the prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison in California began a hunger strike after all efforts to receive humane treatment fell on deaf ears. These brothers are in the Secure Housing Unit are seeking an end to torture and improved conditions that in their complaint would be increase their privileges to those of the inmates in the Federal Florence Colorado and Ohio Supermax Systems. These brothers have been enduring inadequate medical care, at times being chained down if they ask for medical care, enduring years of isolation and no human contact, inadequate clothing, denial of any chance of taking programs to get their lives on track such as correspondence courses, not being able to have a photograph taken of them to send to relatives-the list of horrors is endless.
One of the most disturbing is the “debriefing” process, which an inmate must do to get transferred out of the SHU or even be given a chance for parole. This process basically demands an inmate become an informant, giving details of gang affiliation and associates of inmates, placing themselves as well as their families at risk for retaliation. Most of the inmates who have been in the SHU for the last 10-35+ years have never been convicted of a single gang-related illegal-act. In some cases this has caused inmates to falsify information on other inmates, causing further restrictions on the inmate.
Inmates cannot hug their wives and children but must see them through a glass, and that is with very limited visitation. Imagine living 20 or 30 years with no human contact or touch. Imagine inadequate medical care, denial of assistive medical devices, imagine horrible food and inadequate clothing. Now imagine that this prisoner of war camp does not exist in Nazi Germany, but in the State of California. Now imagine your son or your brother or your husband or your father was incarcerated there. As human beings, these men are our brothers, fathers, uncles, husbands and grandfathers.
I strongly support the demands of the hunger strikers in California State Prisons. For too long the living conditions in California's prisons have been inhumane and inexcusable. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with this appraisal. In addition, the use of torture and the isolation of prisoners in the Secure Housing Units of prisons like the one at Pelican Bay constitute a violation of basic human rights. People should not be forced to starve themselves to be treated like humans. There is no honest reason not to grant the striking prisoners' demands. If any of the striking prisoners die, their deaths will be on the State of California's hands. I urge Governor Brown and the appropriate authorities to grant the demands of the hunger strikers and their supporters.
I used to teach at Pelican Bay State Prison, and in fact used to teach people who had been housed in the SHU for years. Some had been locked down for decades. By any reasonable definition, holding someone in these conditions of long-term isolation constitutes torture, and as such is immoral.
Before I began teaching at the prison, the person who became my supervisor emphasized the importance of treating those who would be my students with respect. I will never forget what he said to me: "The punishment for their crimes is that they will be removed from society. Their punishment does not include being disrespected by you or by anyone." I would certainly add that likewise, their punishment should not include torture.
On behalf of our production team we fully support and will continually provide air time to the 5 demands of the Prison Hunger Strikers, an action that follows the rich tradition of prisoners civil rights protests to challenge the prison industrial complex. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does neither correction nor rehabilitation and it is to be commended that these brave men regardless of race and status and punishment united on a fundamental principle of human rights the right to safe living environment in fact providing direction to the CDCR. We stand in full solidarity.
As a matter of basic humanity and support for the principles of justice, all Americans should support the protest of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other California prisons. Driven by desperation over the conditions of their incarceration, and double-dealing by the state prison authorities, they are putting their very lives on the line to let the public know about the injurious and inhumane conditions under which they are incarcerated. The solitary confinement and the indefinite terms under which that such isolation is endured is a fact of life in the SHU units. It amounts to torture.
Yet it is not without its diabolical intent, as the psychological coercion of isolation, the weakening of inmate will by providing inadequate food, and the constant and institutional demands to inform on other prisoners, even at the cost of an end to the torture, goes against all domestic and international laws and treaties, and is itself a crime worthy of investigation and prosecution. It is uncomfortably similar to conditions of detention and interrogation implemented at Guantanamo and certain other U.S. Department of Defense and CIA interrogation centers. Such procedures have been a part of the Federal and state Supermax prisons for almost 30 years now. Failure to end such conditions of imprisonment are an affront to humanity, and have ensured the perpetuation of such conditions even to today. It is not clear that one rationale or operation of such prisons has been to research the effects of stress and physical and psychological deprivation upon prisoners. This is something that should be seriously looked into by legislators and judges, as well as the press.
U.S. prison and national security authorities have stepped over the bounds of basic human rights, and should be held accountable. It is most pressing that the demands of the prisoners be met: an end to group punishment of prisoners, an end to the hated "debriefing" system, compliance with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement, independent monitoring of food and sanitation (to ensure adequate provision of each), and the provision of constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates, including opportunities "to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities."
Please add my name to the list of supporters for the hunger strike.
Anyone who believes in human rights, the rule of law, and the sanctity of our Constitution must support the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay State and demand that prison authorities respond to demands immediately. The use of long-term, indefinite solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) is inhumane, a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment, and violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The situation is urgent. The hunger strikers cannot hang on much longer, so we must do whatever it takes to bring this crisis to an end. If prison authorities refuse to abide by the law, I hope the Attorney General, Kamala Harris, might intervene and impose the rule of law on the prison in defense of prisoners' basic human rights.
I urge everyone to take action, make statements, bring this horrific situation to the world's attention.
Fatemeh Keshavarz, Iranian academic, writer and literary figure, Professor of Persian Language and Comparative Literature and chair of the department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis:
I am an Iranian American academic and activist who has worked for peace and justice all her life. One of my chief concerns has always been the harsh conditions in Iranian prisons particularly for Iranian political prisoners. Yesterday, your website was brought to my attention and the California prisoners who are on hunger strike demanding more humane conditions and freedom from torture (including long periods of solitary confinement).
I am writing to you to express my full support for strikers demand to be treated humanely and kept free from physical and psychological torture.
My prayers for peace in the world and best wishes for you.
It's time for the State of California to begin negotiations with the prisoners, whose legitimate demands must be respected.
What we are doing in our prisons is fundamentally immoral and cruel. As a society we have given up on believing that prison can be a time of rehabilitation goaled towards the re-entry of the prisoner back into society as a productive contributor to the civil order. Rather than this prison has become a place of punishment. It is no longer enough to separate the prisoner from society through restrictions of freedom. Today we, as a society, have created places of damnation where prisoners are left to rot while facing enormous abuses and assaults on their safety, their sanity and the very basic structure of their personality. Prison has become a place for ongoing torture, the torment of the human being until complete passivity and despair become the primary characteristic of the prisoner. From the simple basics of receiving visits from family and friends, to the even simpler basics of receiving communications via phone calls or mail become enormously complex interactions with the Department of Corrections which, evidently, has as its primary role the goal of isolating the prisoner from all outside contact. What does this say about the morality of our nation? It is a basic spiritual given that how we treat the least in our midst will become how we treat each other. Without a moral base of basic trust, an earnest desire to heal the wounded, and to reconcile and restore individuals back into the society from which they have come, without a basic affirmation that human beings can be good, without such a moral foundation society itself collapses into a continual war of domination of the stronger over the weaker. That prisoners are so tormented that they engage in the act of hunger strikes, that such actions spread throughout the prison system, and amongst those who personally know prisoners, speaks with a loud, loud voice that something is fundamentally amiss within these secret chambers away from public accountability. I write in strong protest against the systematic torture at the core of our current immoral prison system. I write in stronger affirmation for the prisoners whose actions will hopefully lead to reform and the restoration of civic morality.
I am a retired official of the Federal Ministry of Labour in Vienna, Austria, and a former representative of this organization in the Austrian Board of Paroles for some time. I am in full solidarity with the inmates in their courageous protest against inhumane conditions in the prisons.
Solidarity Without Borders
I, too, am in support of the striking California prisoners. As Dostoevsky said: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." There is no doubt in my mind that the dishonorable, clearly unjust, and viciously inhumane state of our prisons bespeak a kind of artificial intelligence. More plainly, the treatment of fellow human beings who are incarcerated, many of whom are behind bars due to the disparities of our so-called democracy, is due to a lack of opportunity in the outside world. This reinforces the view that our fellow citizens behind bars can be treated as statistics and not as people. The state of California has acknowledged at least this much in the call for the release of 40,000 prisoners due to obviously inhumane conditions that qualify as "cruel and unusual." I stand with all concerned Americans who are demanding reform of our prison system. California is as a likely a place to begin as any other state, for the urgency of redressing this issue has additional purchase of it being the most populous, and therefore the most vulnerable to indoctrinating and repeating, the savage cycle of making criminal behavior habitual as a direct function of the prison industrial complex.
I write with alarm at the desperate situation that prisoners at Pelican Bay and elsewhere face today. Some of the prisoners are already in renal failure, yet the prison administrators continue to refuse to even meet with prison representatives to discuss the prisoners’ just and humane demands.
A society’s level of humanity or inhumanity can be read by looking at how it treats those it incarcerates. By that measure, we as a people and society are in deep trouble. The prisoners who have stood up and said “No more” and I would rather die than see these injustices and this inhumanity continue, are doing what real human beings must do. They deserve our support and solidarity, for they carry the weight of our collective souls on their shoulders.
I am a criminologist and have studied, taught, and written about prisons and jails for many years. It therefore comes as no surprise to me to hear that prisoners are systematically mistreated or that prisons are overcrowded and subjected to the kind of conditions that you would create if you actually wanted to exacerbate the problem of crime and poverty. What is heartrending and striking, however, is observing the startling parallels between how much more savage prisons have become and the impact of the so-called “war on terror” (WOT) on our society more generally.
There is a general degrading underway of public administration and political leadership that emanates from the very highest levels of the U.S. government, with the willing collusion - or at least silence - of much of the major media. In that degrading of public leadership, the most draconian policies are now becoming the standard operating procedure and rule by lies and terror, and indifference to the fates of people who do not toe the official line, are now the rule.
In the WOT people who the government dislikes, both actual terrorists and those who are merely dissenters engaging in or merely contemplating dissenting speech and/or assembly and/or thought are all being labeled enemies of the state. The repressive powers of the state are being expanded and intensified to pre-emptively repress people from exercising Constitutional rights such as free speech. In prisons the prison administrators likewise label prisoners “gang members” as a form of repression, designating people as gang members whether they are actually gang members or not.
In the WOT torture and indefinite detention has been and is being used to extract “confessions” from detainees with the net cast exceedingly widely to include mostly entirely innocent individuals. This is not a mistake or an accident. The purpose of torture is not intelligence. The purpose of torture is terror and that is why capricious treatment of innocents is a core component of torture: you are supposed to be terrorized by its use into complying with whatever authority tells you to do and think because you could be the next innocent victim. In prisons torture and long-term isolation are being used to terrorize prisoners. “Debriefings” are being used in an attempt to get prisoners to “name names,” much as the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of the McCarthy period did. “Naming names” is seen by those who act as inquisitors as the ultimate act of submission to authority because you are implicating your friends and family.
The WOT is a form of collective punishment and prison administrators are using collective punishment in prisons, with punishment meted out to everyone, not just the individuals who have actually violated rules.
These parallels are not a coincidence. They are a natural and inevitable consequence of rule by plutocrats. People who see this must find every way to resist and to support those who are resisting. A new day must come, for the darkness grows ever deeper and malignant.
I stand firm with this Hunger Strike and Solidarity for my Loved ones my friends and All who are in this struggle for human respect and a better life. Just a little note on conditions in prisons ( INHUMANE ). I am a X-Convict and what goes on in there is real. C.D.C.R. Don't give a shit all they want is for those on the outside world to think they have everything under control, WRONG nothing is what it seems and as for what these Men and Loved ones of ours are asking for should not be a problem for C.D.C.R. They can pay a correctional officer the big bucks but what good does it do? The inmates still are treated the same and i should know as many times i have been incarcerated in several prison's I know what goes on. So I give my all SUPPORT TO ALL THE MEN AND WOMAN WHO ARE ON THIS HUNGER STRIKE!!!!! I only hope that we can resolve this issue before we lose our Loved One's. "I pray that God gives them the strength to carry out what they are fighting for AMEN"
July 22, 2011
Dear Gov. Brown,
I’m thinking that the Jesuits who educated you probably told you, as they did me, that Ignatius of Loyola required all Jesuits, including the highly educated ones, to empty bedpans at local hospitals and prisons on a regular basis.
The current crisis in California prisons brings this to mind and prompts my appeal to you to remember what you and I learned in high school and college in the Fifties. A huge opportunity has been dropped on your doorstep to bring Justice for those in prison.
Ignatius wanted to ensure that his followers in the Society of Jesus would not forsake the society of ordinary—often marginalized—folks like the ones Jesus of Nazareth hung out with.
Ignatius, you may remember, was all too familiar with the kind of suffering and oppression in hospitals and prisons. The bedpan requirement was his way of warning his followers not to trade Jesus’s preferential option for the poor for the allure of ivory towers—or for governors’ mansions, for that matter.
Let me fast-forward to one of Ignatius’s more recent successors—Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, S.J., who led the Society from 1983 to 2008. Like so many Jesuits Kolvenbach was over-educated in the Academy. By the time he became Superior General, though, he had gotten Jesus’s main thrust exactly right, saying this:
“Personal involvement with the injustice others suffer is the catalyst for solidarity. This, then, gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.”
And so did Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., get it right. Speaking last November on the 21st anniversary of the murder of his six Jesuit colleagues in San Salvador, their housekeeper and her daughter, Ellacuria warned:
“Cuando la situación histórica se define en términos de injusticia y opresión, no hay amor cristiano sin lucha por la justicia.” ["When the historical situation is defined in terms of injustice and oppression, there is no Christian love without a fight for justice."]
Very much in the same tradition is Dean Brackley, S.J., who was a professor at my alma mater, Fordham University, and also a community organizer in my native Bronx. Dean left immediately for El Salvador to replace one of the slain Jesuits, and has been there ever since. Before he left, Dean put his theology in language we Bronxites could readily grasp:
“It all depends on who you think God is, and how God feels when little people get pushed around.”
Governor Brown, I believe I know “where you’re coming from,” as folks say these days. At Fordham Prep and College during the 1950s in the Bronx, I experienced the best of the Ratio Studiorum and the college curricula the Jesuits had to offer. You had a similar, if not identical, experience in high school and college in California.
But nothing is perfect. I’ve since become aware of one earlier misunderstanding. In Moral Theology we were taught that the basic thing to remember was the mandate to “Do good and avoid evil.”
Taking refresher courses in theology at Georgetown several years ago, I learned that this formula is only half-right. We are not called to avoid evil; we are called to confront it — in the prison system, and anywhere else injustice reigns.
Again, I think I know where you’re coming from, but I cannot say I know where you’re going. It’s hard to see you now in the same frame with bedpans — the ones at Pelican Bay, for example. This may be metaphor, but it is, I would suggest, a telling one. And I would urge you to reflect on it.
Are you afraid that, if you rise to Kolvenbach’s invitation to “personal involvement with the injustice others suffer,” this might leave you no option but to act prophetically—and take the political flak? Please don’t get tied up in political knots. I’m guessing you still believe that the eventual reward for a prophetic stance will be out of this world, so to speak.
I guess what I am really asking you is to go back to your roots. Pay heed not only to the example of Jesuits like Kolvenbach, Ellacuria and Brackley, but also to Bishop Oscar Romero, who so often repeated to the oppressed Salvadoran people what Jesus repeated with similar frequency: “Don’t be afraid.” Romero was quite specific in his challenge:
“Hay cristiano hoy en dia significa no temer, no callar por miedo.” ["To be a Christian today means not being afraid, not silenced by fear."]
Silence, inaction are not options for followers of Jesus and Ignatius, both of whom mandated preferential concern and care for the marginalized—prisoners, for example.
You are in a unique position to do Justice. Do it, Jerry, ad majorem Dei gloriam — AMDG, the emblematic Jesuit motto.
In Truth, Justice, and (then) Peace,
Tell the Word
The Ecumenical Church of the Saviour
The prison-industrial-media-banking complex and the military-industrial-media-banking complex feed on all of us; they both are rooted in lies, injustice, war, and indignity. Today, our policy makers prop up poverty, militarism, and racism with their words and their votes. We, the people, need a revolution of values, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us. You, my brave imprisoned strikers, are at the forefront of that revolution. Your stand is the ultimate stand, representing the dignity of the rest of us in a country whose leadership has gone mad.
I agree with the prisoner strike. I have a son who is incarcerated, his sentence is natural life. Over the years I have not been able to send him money on a regular basis. He constantly complains about being hungry. It grieves my heart the inhumanity that is carried out in the name of justice.
I am appalled to hear about the condition of the inmates of Corcoran State prison. I have been studying the condition of women political prisoners in the Middle East for decades. The voices of these courageous women have reached the international community; they have told us about torture, rape, and overall inhumane conditions of imprisonment. However, and most importantly, they have informed us about resisting the violent act of incarceration through hunger strike or raising their voice loud enough to travel beyond the prison walls. Learning about the hunger strike of prisoners in California has evoked the images of suffering and sacrifice, but mostly hope in building solidarity. I stand in solidarity with the prisoners and request an urgent end to their suffering by addressing their demands.
On Mandela's bday Support Pelican Bay inmates hunger strike! Calif meet their 5 human rights demands! [tweeted July 18th]
Today, at the notorious California super-maximum prison, Pelican Bay, hundreds of prisoners are on a hunger strike. As of July 1, 2011 a number of men ceased eating state meals in protest of horrendously long-term confinement, government repression, lack of programs and the hated gang affiliation rules.
According to California Prison Focus, the health of some the men are dangerously deteriorating. Some have ceased drinking, as well as eating and haven’t urinated in days. Some are threatened by renal failure, which can result in death.
Why? The demands of the strikers seem relatively tame, which gives us some insight into the level of repression. The five core demands are:
- Individual instead of group responsibility.
- Abolition of the “gang-debriefing” policy, which endangers both those who debrief and/or their families.
- An end to long-term solitary confinement.
- Adequate food, and
- Constructive programs, such as art, phone privileges and the like.
A sub-demand is adequate natural sunlight – sunlight. There are few things more torturous than dying by starvation. These men are killing themselves potentially for fresh air and sunlight, and about a third of California prisoners, 11 out of 33 prisons, have joined them.
Contact the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition to find out how to support this effort for human rights. On the web at: prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture sent this notice out to its 9,000 members in California.
Dear NRCAT Supporters in CA:
Hunger strikes are the last resort of prisoners protesting inhumane conditions of confinement. We have seen that happen at Guantánamo, and now it is happening at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California, where hundreds of prisoners are held in prolonged solitary confinement, a form of torture.
Prisoners across the state launched a hunger strike on July 1, demanding changes for prisoners in long-term solitary confinement in the “Special Housing Unit” (SHU). Conditions are so bad they have preferred to starve themselves to death rather than live another week in such torturous conditions and let future prisoners endure the same conditions.
As people of faith committed to ending torture, we must support this call as a part of our work to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
After two weeks, at least 200 prisoners continue their hunger strike at Pelican Bay, where medical staff reported earlier this week:
"The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated."
Please take action today to prevent these prisoners from dying!
Send an e-mail to Governor Brown
urging that the hunger strike be addressed in a humane and rational way.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has so far refused to negotiate with either the prisoners or their outside mediation team and refused to end even the most egregious injustices or improve conditions. If CDCR continues on this path, prisoners may die in the coming days.
Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity is coordinating the statewide campaign to support the prisoners and providing up-to-date information. You can also read the prisoners' five core demands and their "formal complaint," which lays out the foundation for the demands. Amplify your voice - send a message to your friends.
Thank you for taking action today.
Director for Program Coordination
The following was posted at: The Next Front website: thenextfront.com
Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Prisoners
Dated: 21 July,2011
First of all we the revolutionary intellectuals–writers and journalists of Nepal, would like to express our strong Solidarity with the pelican bay hunger strikes, the strikes against inhumanity and brutal injustices. In support of them we are posting a poem of our great martyr, a great poet and a political leader–Krishnasen Ichchhuk.
During the Ten years People's war, the fascist government lead by Nepali Congress declared the period of emergency. During this period a large number of culture activists were shot dead. At that time Krishna Sen, the chairman of All Nepal Peoples Cultural Association and editor of popular daily news paper Janadisha, was captured and murdered brutally in the police custody. Now we have Krishna sen 'Ichchhuk Cultural Academy'.
This is an extract from Krishna sen's popular long poem Chandragiri and Prisoner (2000 AD). Chandragiri is a historic hill in the southward of the Kathmandu valley. He had written this long poem during his long imprisonment.
I tried to live full and true life till I lived
in the dual paths of light and dark
I chose the first
amidst the antagonistic milieu
I adopted truth with full devotion
however, life is not perfect
I may have made mistakes
for my mistakes, forgive me
after a long dark night
the day of hope of liberation
will come once
as the shining light of dawn
from the seeds of our hope
the new plant will sprout one day
flowers of hope must bloom
till human beings are not human
life is not like life
and till this land is not
transformed into charming village
our firm journey of devotion shall persist
with an aim of building a collective world
our dream world of hope
will be materialized into a colorful reality
and this era of twenty-first century
shall be the era of our grand liberation
and this new century
shall be the era of our grand victory.
The conditions in US prisons today are appalling—brutal, violent, and thoroughly inhumane. The inmates on hunger strike at Pelican Bay and other prisons are literally putting their lives on the line, fighting for their dignity and for their right to have rights. I fully support the prisoners at Pelican Bay in their courageous struggle to affirm their humanity—and ours!
Sometimes it takes the least fortunate and most oppressed members of society to act in ways that force the rest of us to see how human beings should treat other human beings. In this case, it is not only for their sake but for ours as well. Does the lesson come too late? I hope not ... for all of our sakes.
The general public has no idea of the horrific inhuman conditions that exist within the United States penal system. A system which has been a breeding ground for crime, violence and drugs. Change / Abolishment of the prison system is long over due. Act now!
Petition To Support The Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
We, the undersigned participants in the 17th Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference being held in Chicago July 20-23, are motivated in our thinking and actions by the theme of this conference “We Are Each Other’s Harvest.” In Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem entitled "Paul Robeson," she writes, "[W]e are each other's harvest: we are each other's business: we are each other's magnitude and bond."
In that spirit, we stand with the prisoners who are in the third week of their hunger strike against the inhumane conditions in Pelican Bay SHU and other California prisons. Decades of solitary confinement with no end in sight, no court to appeal to, no human contact, and no sunlight is torture, and we salute the humanity of the prisoners who are taking their fate in their own hands to protest these conditions. We urge the state officials to meet with the prisoners’ negotiating team, accept their reasonable demands, and save these prisoners’ lives. And we encourage others to join us in spreading the word of this heroic hunger strike and raising our voices in protest. By acting to uphold the humanity of these prisoners, we have an opportunity to reclaim our own humanity and demonstrate that “We are each other’s harvest.”
Signed by 44 participants of the 17th Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference
I express my strongest solidarity with the hunger strike of these courageous prisoners in California (and elsewhere) who are protesting the outrageous and inhumane treatment, which includes torture in the U.S. prison gulag system. "Justice delayed is justice denied;" and it is the human duty of all people of conscience and good will to support these prisoners.
All prisoners deserve humane conditions, no matter what their crime. If Pelican Bay were in a foreign country, we would be horrified. I support the prisoners on hunger strike, and urge authorities to support their demands.
Courage is Contagious
We are here today in downtown Chicago, home to the world’s largest jail complex—Cook County Jail—to show our support to the brave, conscious and determined brothers who are starting their fourth week of an indefinite hunger strike, out west at the Pelican bay Secured Housing Units. They are forced to live under Guantanamo Bay-like conditions.
Their five core demands are:
- End administrative abuse and group punishment.
- Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
- Comply with U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding and end to long-term solitary confinement.
- Provide adequate food.
- Expand and provide constrictive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.
It’s not just the Pelican Bay prisoners who are now on strike! Seven prisons and over seven thousand prisoners have taken their battle stations at their respective Cali gulags.
One hundred brave brothers started this thing, resolving to strike unto death, if necessary! This is on the heels of the largest prison strike in American history, up until now, which occurred recently in several prisons in Georgia, which are nothing more than slave plantations, dolled up with legal mumbo jumbo.
The growing hunger strike movement is already on the level, internationally, of the Irish hunger strikers of the 1980’s – ten of whom painfully gave up their young lives for the cause. Their hearts too were bursting with love for the people.
This is a significant opportunity to put the prison struggle back on the front burner (where it rightfully belongs) of the generalized struggle against this hideous death machine of a government.
It only took one man, who pushed a vegetable cart for a living in Tunisia, to set the spark that lit the flame that is now roaring into a social conflagration in the Middle East. Dictators have been toppled—or are quaking in fear behind the blood-soaked overcoat of Uncle Sam.
The prisoners at Pelican Bay and in every state, are in there for us, it is our historic task to be out here for real, for them. This goes for all the other oppressed people in this country, who are oppressed by this system.
What is it going to take to set off the political prairie fire needed right here in the belly of the beast?
I’ve got an idea and it’s very simple, it goes like this:
Abolish the Prison Slave System!
Down with Criminals who hide behind black nightgowns, expensive suits, badges, guns, gas, cuffs, clubs and cages!
To hell with their million laws that we never agreed to!
Why the hell would we agree to allowing them to extort, kidnap and murder us with impunity?
William Lloyd Garrison had it right! He called the Constitution “a pact with the Devil?” And, to this day, “legal” human slavery is still in the linchpin of that vile rag?
Thank you prisoners for this much needed wake-up call. Now, it is up to us to stop being afraid of our shadows and do some serious organizing. The people I n Syria are facing Assad’s snipers every time they hit the streets. Are we gonna shackle our children’s futures because of some stupid cameras?
On to the social revolution!
Free the prisoners!
Stop the Wars!
Each One, Teach One!
Unplug ALL governments!
Prisoners locked in isolation in the United States penal system are subjected to torturous conditions, without the ability to redress them. This is a question of human rights. It is a sad day when prisoners locked in the hole have to risk their lives with a hunger strike—not to be set free, not for a major change to the prison system, but for the right to be treated with a modicum of human dignity. To have adequate food, and to have it not tampered with by guards. To see natural sunlight. To not be locked in isolation indefinitely. Some people are locked in the hole for decades. We can not turn a blind eye to this. I stand in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strike and I salute those of you who are striking and supporting this fight.
Today prisoners of Corcoran prison, Pelican Bay and several others have joined in a large scale hunger strike to end the inhuman treatment they are receiving in Security Housing Units. Many of them are so deep in their strike for fair treatment they are near dying. Ask yourself what it would take for you to do such a thing? What lowness of suffering would you endure to starve yourself for weeks on end? For all of their wrongs they are still people and we are responsible for their humane care and wellbeing. I support their efforts for fair and humane treatment in our prison system and hope that decency on the part of our jailers prevails.
I support the inmates of Corcoran State prison, pelican bay, and other prisons in their demands to end the inhumane policies of SECURITY HOUSING UNITS. I recognize their humanity and stand with them.
We have long known about the often extreme abuse of prisoners and violations of their most basic rights. Hundreds of prisoners are right now on the 15th day of a hunger strike—they would rather die than continue living with such brutality. We must, we need, we have to support their cause.
(Saskia Sassen is Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, New York City)
I stand in solidarity with the prisoners on hunger strike in my home state of California. That we have such a large proportion of our citizens in prison is a mark of shame, and that we treat them so shabbily even more so.
I lend my voice and support to the courageous prisoners on hunger strike against inhumane conditions, cruelty and torture in Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and other prisons throughout California.
"I support the courageous brothers and sisters who are on hunger strike in pelican bay and other prisons. I am scratching my head trying to understand how these inhumane conditions benefit anyone—obviously just adds to a vicious cycle—these conditions are degrading to all of us and all of our humanity not just the prisoners—something must be done.''
We Need To Know
It's summer. Yesterday I swam one mile back and forth, eighteen times, across Lake Mohonk. I was drifting, just floating and breathing—the water rocking me to sleep in the summer heat. It's so easy to forget everything else and just float.
But I remember when life didn't seem so peaceful in summer. I can recall a time when the evening news jolted my entire generation and me from our waking sleep. We were at war then just as we are now. At night we watched, in horrid disbelief, the images of war played out over and over on the television news. Body bags full of kids my age received by screaming parents, all televised, along with their Vietnamese counterparts who were also screaming and crying. If there was a protest, we watched it. If American Indians demanded their rights, we witnessed it. If students all over the nation took over buildings on their campuses in protest of this country's egregious acts of violence, we heard about it. If prisoners were rising up and forcefully asking to be treated humanely, we knew it. We talked about it. We wanted to be part of it. We were part of it.
Although we are at war, we see no carnage. There are no interviews with maimed soldiers. If there are protests to see, to inspire us to act, to join, where are they?
Instead (at this writing on July18) the whole nation watches as a pathetic, dull girl named Casey Anthony is led out of prison at midnight by her lawyer. That's big news. Ultimately this news will not interfere with my desire to swim. I could be swimming right now. Its 95 degrees out today but I am writing this instead.
I know there are many people in New Paltz, both liberal and conservative who care about human decency. I don't know when this will be published or what you will know by the time it is, maybe still nothing.
One would think that a massive hunger strike going on at this moment in thirteen prisons in California by an estimated 6600 prisoners would trump Casey Anthony's short walk last night from the Orange County Jail in Orlando Florida. It did not.
The hunger strike began July 1 at Pelican Bay Prison and it has spread to 13 other prisons across the state. While many of the striking prisoners have resumed eating, there remains a core group of prisoners (reportedly 1700) who have said they are willing to starve to death.
According to the New York Times, the "California prison system has long been riddled with problems." Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court placed the California prison system into federal receivership due to its deplorable health care provisions. Following that decision, this May, the Supreme Court issued a decision ruling the conditions of California's prisons amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment, intolerable with the concept of human dignity," causing "needless suffering and death."
Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke from the bench about the hundreds of suicidal prisoners being held in "telephone booth-sized cages without toilets and others, sick with cancer or in severe pain, who died before being seen by a doctor. As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, and as many as 54 may share a single toilet."
Kennedy, whose opinion was joined by his four liberal colleagues, said the state's prisons were built to hold 80,000 inmates, but were crowded with as many 156,000 a few years ago."
WHAT THE PRISONERS ARE WILLING TO DIE FOR
They want to stop the practice of being sent into total isolation (security housing units), locked-up 23 hours-a-day, often for decades of enforced idleness and isolation from others without having committed a crime or even an infraction of prison regulations. Sometimes this policy is simply a matter of administrative convenience. It's easier to control them under these conditions.
Psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Stuart Grassian has stated "that the environment in 'the hole' (isolation units) results in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions." In a "60 Minutes" interview, he went so far as to call it "far more egregious than the death penalty." The striking prisoners call it "torture."
Since closing state mental hospitals (also a national shameful human fights failure) many of the mentally ill who should be hospitalized are warehoused in prison. It is often these prisoners who wind-up in solitary confinement since they are difficult to handle.
The prisoners are especially protesting the practice of "debriefing" as a means of getting out of isolation. "Alleged" gang members are asked to name names, snitch on fellow inmates, gang members, and friends in order to be released from the SHU (security housing units) often if they do this, they are in danger of being killed when they return to the general population.
Sometimes a prisoner will lie about his compatriots just to keep from going insane in the SHU. At times a prisoner will have to go into "protective custody" after disclosing information. Protective Custody is merely a euphemism for another form of solitary confinement.
We should feel morally uneasy about this method of attaining information. If you torture someone, give them no view of the outside world from a window, no sunlight, no medical care, few rehabilitative programs, little or no access to family support, and then they give information it is tainted at best and illegally coerced at worse.
All these men can do to address their predicament is to stop eating. They have no other recourse. Allowing them to choose death as a protest against continued inhumane treatment is a travesty of negligence. If you didn't know about this because the media doesn't believe this news will garner as much money as the meaningless and sensational, now you do. If you are still reading, consider this a letter from me to you, personally. There are ways to get involved.
Email your statement back to me at "Plie3@aol.com" and I will forward it to the right party. Also, send this article to your own list of contacts.
Mail a hard copy of your support for the prisoners to:
– Secretary Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95814 AND Governor Jerry Brown, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814.
It's a beautiful day. We have so much freedom and so much abundance in our country. It's not necessary to constantly go about beating ourselves up about what is wrong to be effective in taking action to correct it. We can become informed about what is going on and still be happy. Rather than turn a blind eye to injustice we can find more happiness and peace by trying to fix it in small ways. It's only six o'clock. The sun will be up for at least three more hours. There is still time for me to find a place to swim.
July 18, 2011
A society can be judged on how it treats the least amongst us. The conditions under which the prisoners at Pelican Bay in California are held under prolonged isolation, which induce the disintegration of the human personality, are plainly torturous and an assault on their humanity and an affront to ours. One Guantánamo was one indecency too many. The demands of the prisoners for humane treatment must be met.
* For identification only
I support the courage of thousands of California prisoners who are risking their health and lives to call attention to dangerous and de-humanizing prison conditions. We are all human beings who cannot survive in isolation. Now, even before change comes, please know you are being heard. We ask Governor Jerry Brown and all relevant officials to listen and to create prisons that do not bring shame to this country.
What does it portend for any citizen, incarcerated or not, if their OWN NATION is not held accountable for the violation of its OWN laws, specified in its Own Constitution, that deal with the humane treatment and conditions of incarceration? To continually allow, deny, ignore, even tacitly accept, these deplorable abuses can only lead to the ultimate breakdown of our justice system and the ascendancy of a society ruled by oppression and repression. It can only lead us further into a darkness in which no one person will be able to trust that they are equal under any law. That laws are only the bastinados of the rich and powerful. If we choose to think of ourselves as a just and humane people setting an example for others to follow, then to NOT speak out against this, is corrosively hypocritical. It breeds a communality of cynicism and shame and makes us all prisoners. Simply out of common decency and respect for each other, for the preservation of a fair and just society, the demands of these people must honored.
I'm appalled to learn conditions in California prisons are so inhumane that a hunger strike has been launched. Let's hope it does not need a death like Bobby Sands' in Northern Ireland to bring attention and reform. The unconscionable treatment of human beings trapped in certain American prisons has been a concern voiced by Amnesty International for decades. How can caring citizens in a decent society tolerate such brutality? Torture? This mass injustice denigrates our nation and its concept of law. It diminishes each of us. We must support the strikers in any way we can.
Prisoners Have Nothing to Gain By Eating
By David Swanson
Prisoners risking death by refusing food in the Pelican Bay supermax, and those hunger striking in solidarity in prisons around California are a judgment of our sickness. "The degree of civilization in a society," said Dostoyevsky, "can be judged by entering its prisons."
Civilization is something we no longer seem to aspire to. The United States locks up more people and a greater percentage of its people than anyone else. We lock them in training centers for anger and violence. We subject them to rape, assault, humiliation, and isolation. We throw the innocent in with the guilty, the young with the old, the nonviolent with the violent, the hopeful with those who've lost all interest in life.
And we routinely subject large numbers of prisoners to the torture of near-total isolation. We lock human beings in little boxes for 22 or 23 hours per day. When it's done to an accused whistleblower like Bradley Manning, we protest. But what about when it's done to thousands of people, many of them baselessly accused of being members of gangs? Where is the outrage?
We should be refusing to eat. We should be shutting down our government with nonviolent action. We should be risking the lives we have. Instead the burden has fallen to those who have little or no lives to risk. The prisoners themselves are taking action and gaining power from behind bars.
Look at the prisoners' demands. They want an end to group punishment of individual rules violations. That seems like a basic requirement of justice. Bombing a nation because some terrorists spent time there may make sense to our politicians, but it is horribly unjust to the people living and dying under the bombs. Stopping and searching people who look like they might be immigrants may make sense to those whose hatred of immigrants is distorting their thinking, but it is outrageously unjust from the perspective of the innocent people repeatedly harassed. Punishing everyone in a prison for something one person did make sense if the goal is cruelty. But will the innocent prisoners thus abused eventually emerge from prison believing they've been given fair treatment by a justice system with which they should comply? Or will they be released thirsting for vengeance? Or thirst for vengeance while never being released? And will we be able to keep what we have done to them secret from ourselves? Will we not continue to grow more ill?
They want an end to the use of completely unreliable criteria for labeling a prisoner a gang member and on that basis subjecting them to the torture of isolation. Should a tattoo or the word of someone offered decent food in exchange for a name really be the test of whether a human being should be placed at risk of severe mental damage? Should anything? Would we stand for another nation treating people this way? Don’t tell me it's necessary and responsible. It would cost a lot less money to offer children decent schools and food and guidance than it does to imprison men. This is a luxury. It's a sick indulgence of a wealthy country. We can afford to engage in massive sadistic cruelty. But that shouldn't mean that we have to do it.
They want compliance with the recommendations found in the latest study our government produced to make itself feel better despite ignoring it. They want an end to the long-term solitary confinement that takes people's minds away. They are risking death by starvation to end death by deprivation of human contact. We could risk a lot less to do it for them.
They want adequate food provided to all prisoners and an end to the practice of depriving some and feeding others as a tool for manipulating people like wild beasts. They want basic decency, including the ability to make one phone call per week. They want standards of health and humanity that do not even begin to approach those we are required by international treaty to provide to prisoners of war. For that matter, they want to cease being treated in a manner that would get you locked up with them if you treated a dog or a cat that way.
All the prisoners are asking of us is that we spread the word. But in fact they are not asking this of us. They are offering it to us. They are leading us where we need to go, and doing it from behind bars. We would need to go to this place even if we had no prisons. We are allowing our government to destroy the physical environment. Our children will have no more reason to eat than these prisoners do, if we fail to act. We are allowing our government to murder on a massive scale through what it calls the "Defense" Department, a name as skillfully chosen as that of a "Corrections" Department. We need to do some real defending and correcting. Some of us have plans for October. The least among us are showing us how right now.
(David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie.)
We must always remember that prisoners are human beings. The violation of their humanity is a violation of our humanity. We should all constitute a society for the prevention of cruelty and unusual punishment to prisoners or any acts that deny them their humanity.
This letter is written in support of the prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay and those in other California prisons who are joining in solidarity with them.
Their demands are similar to the recommendations of the bipartisan US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons, which in 2006 called for substantial reforms to the practice of solitary confinement. These recommendations have had no effect on California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation policy and practice.
Solitary confinement treats people who are inherently social beings and must have contact with others to avoid serious mental and physical illness as some other kind of being. Such treatment dehumanizes prisoners and the guards and officials, including yourselves, who impose it. It is cruel and inhuman treatment; it is torture.
The courage of the striking prisoners, some of whom are reported to be nearing death, to refuse food in order to bring attention to their own plight and that of many others is remarkable. These clearly are human beings in spite of the abuse they receive and the efforts of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to dehumanize them.
Furthermore, aspects of prisoner treatment in the California system involve extra-judicial punishment, which the striking prisoners are demanding be changed. I want to point out that this kind of punishment is illegal and must be stopped.
A statement by a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported in the media that the Department would not be forced to accede to demands because the prisoners have other, appropriate ways to communicate. What, I ask, can prisoners held over twenty-two hours a day in complete isolation, possibly do to demand redress of just grievances? That they have chosen the hunger strike is a sign that this is the only way left to them to act with human dignity in the barbaric conditions imposed on them.
I join in their just demands which accord with national policy and I urge that these demands be met immediately before any of these prisoners die.
Act now and you can avoid the stigma of being a responsible party whose inaction led to the deaths of human beings making just demands, as well as the possible legal consequences of the actions of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
As a believer in the protections granted by the United States Constitution, I stand united with the courageous hunger strikers in Pelican Bay, Corcoran and other state prisons. The conditions of prolonged isolation in which many prisoners are kept are violations of basic human rights. We cannot continue to allow these offenses against human dignity to be carried out in our names.
Many Americans believe that the dehumanization of incarcerated individuals has nothing to do with them. But the system affects all of us, as many of our families are devastated by the epidemic of mass incarceration. It helps all Americans to ensure that inmates are given access to education and other tools that will allow them to become productive members of society. Forcing inmates to languish in unspeakable conditions is not only inhumane, it makes America less safe for everyone. The prison system should make people better than they were when they arrived, not worse.
(Boyce D. Watkins, author, economist, political analyst, and social commentator, currently at Syracuse University, has made regular appearances in the media, including CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Fox News, BET, NPR, Essence Magazine, USA Today, The Today Show, ESPN, The Tom Joyner Morning Show and CBS Sports.)
Those of us who fought in wars for Justice are appalled by the conditions in American prisons. I'm a combat vet of WW2, and I've seen the prison camps of the Third Reich. I've worked in prisons in New York State as a counselor and I've seen goon squads dragging their victims hastily out of sight behind curtains and doors. I don't know what the specific situation is in California, but when I hear that the authorities wont talk with their inmates, I suspect the worst, with good reason. The point is not whether or not these inmates are dangerous criminals, the point is that they are human beings, and must be listened to. This is what our Country is supposed to be about.
"I am in full solidarity with my brothers in their courageous protest against inhumane conditions in the prisons."
The five core demands of the thousands of men who have risked their health and very lives in Pelican Bay and over thirty other prisons throughout the California gulag archipelago are demands for the recognition of their fundamental human rights and decency. The hunger strike is a testament to the severity and inhumanity of the conditions inside of supermaximum security prisons and Security Housing Units (SHUs)—these men are willing to risk death to obtain their right to be treated as human beings and not as subhuman objects of control. It is indisputable that the conditions in supermax prisons and SHUs is utterly sadistic and destructive of the bodies and minds of those subjected to its regime - locked up in solitary cells for 23 hours a day, denied physical contact with loved ones during visits that are restricted to once a month, and not provided with adequate food. Other policies that the prisoners demand be altered include an end to collective punishment and "debriefing", wherein prisoners are forced to provide incriminating evidence on other prisoners in exchange for benefits.
There is nothing remotely “rehabilitative” about the supermax prisons and SHUs - prisoners are denied opportunities to access education or job skills training and severed from ties to their families and communities. Many of the prisoners subjected to these conditions are not there for any bad conduct they have displayed inside or outside of prison, but because of their work as organizers for change in the prison system. Some of them are held in isolation because of their status as Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in their struggles for social change in the U.S. Women prisoners have also been subjected to isolation in supermax prisons and SHUs, particularly women Political Prisoners active in the Black Liberation and Puerto Rican Independista movements. Due to acts of Congress and the courts over the last two decades, these arbitrary and capricious decisions to lock prisoners up in isolation (sometimes for decades) have become more and more insulated from governmental and judicial review and challenge. Regardless of why a prisoner was sent to a supermax or SHU, the bottom line is that ALL prisoners must have their fundamental human rights recognized and respected by U.S. and state governments and the growing number of private corporations that outrageously profit from government contracts, prison labor, and prison consumer markets.
In their courageous struggle for justice, the hunger strikers are not simply highlighting their own specific plight, but also the general plight of the over 2.3 million men, women, and children who are locked away in U.S. prisons. As Michelle Alexander has argued, the U.S. prison system is now the dominant institution for the creation and maintenance of a "New Jim Crow" racial caste system that attempts to subordinate large segments of Black, Latin@, and Asian communities to the ideology and demands of white supremacy. The overwhelming majority of prisoners of color have been incarcerated as a result of the racist, selectively prosecuted "War on Drugs". When these prisoners are finally released, they are subjected during the rest of their lives to “legal” forms of discrimination in employment, housing, government benefits, and voting. All people of conscience must stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers in California and with prisoners everywhere in their fight for their human rights and for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.
(Garrett Wright is a staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. The Project provides legal, technical, and research and policy assistance to grassroots community organizations throughout New York City. He is also a co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Anti-Racism Committee and on the Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild-New York City Chapter.)
Debs said you judge a country by how it treats its prisoners. We have steadily moved away from any pretense of humane treatment, let alone reasonable support for rehabilitation, to an absolute and relative enlargement of the number of imprisoned, to the point where we rival the most tyrannical regimes on the earth. Support of the rights of prisoners has become a paramount issue and support of their strike on behalf of minimally humane treatment.
Prisoners are standing up for basic humane conditions, now people must stand with them and say prisoner abuse is unacceptable. The abuse these people are suffering is unacceptable and shows that the U.S. prison system needs major re-revaluation. For too long we have allowed prison conditions to deteriorate while prison populations have increased. It is time to reverse both trends—reduce prison poulations and improve conditions—both need dramatic improvement.
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