Revolution #240, July 24, 2011
From the Gates of Pelican Bay State Prison
We received this correspondence:
Friday, July 15
The internet said it was 6½ hours drive but it took us 9 hours to get from SF to Crescent City where Pelican Bay prison is located. We passed beautiful redwood parks where families are camping and exploring the ancient trees. We read the coverage aloud we had printed off the Revolution website that morning. We were missing a protest in SF that evening, but we wanted to go to where this was all happening and get as close as we could get to the brave men who were beginning their third week of the hunger strike. During the last part of the trip we wound up and down a dark highway, listening to Jimi Hendrix and thinking about the families of the prisoners who make this trip when they can. Julie Tackett, who has a friend inside the SHU, met us at a McDonald's. She welcomed us, embraced each one of us and we caravanned to her camp where we pitched a tent next to hers, and talked with her until after midnight. Julie has been at the campsite since June 24.
She told us she supported the hunger strike and that she was here to be with her friend until he died, if it came to that. He and others in the SHU had gone through an extensive process within the prison system to raise complaints about their conditions and the torture they had endured for years, and this was all they could do as their last resort. She had emails to send and calls to answer, mostly from families of prisoners, so we thanked her for getting us settled and said goodnight.
* * * * *
Saturday, July 16
At 7:30 AM, Julie sat down with us and we interviewed her. She also read us “Bryan’s” most recent letters, written during the hunger strike. In these, he speaks frankly of his weight loss, the nights of starvation-induced insomnia, and his commitment to go forward until the demands are met. After apologizing for his lack of energy during their last visit, he speaks of gaining inspiration from reading Bobby Sands’ prison diary, and his deep appreciation for Julie’s support for him and the rest of the men.
After the interview, we followed her out to the prison. The Pelican Bay State Prison gate is at the edge of a beautiful redwood forest; if you are not expecting it, you probably would not even notice it through the trees. Julie drove through the gates to see her friend and we quickly made a banner with the words “We Support The Hunger Strikers and their 5 Demands. CDCR Negotiate Now.” We parked in a turnout and walked to a spot on the highway directly across from the prison to display it. Many people passed us in their vehicles, some with boats on trailers, others with bike racks on their cars, on their way to summer recreation. We waved at every car passing and many people gave expressions of support, thumbs up, and some fists. Only one woman was hostile—she stopped her SUV in the middle of the road to yell at us “are you crazy?...They should all starve to death.”
Almost immediately after we set up, the guards at the gates noticed us, and we saw them making phone calls. Then they set up a video camera on a tripod and filmed us the whole time we were there. Soon a man who said he was the Public Information Officer came across the highway with a camera, took our picture, and asked us who we were, where we were from and told us that the CHP [California Highway Patrol] had been notified and would soon be there. Since he was the public info officer we asked him about the hunger strike and how many were on strike today and he said “several.” The CHP showed up in several cars and after conferring with the guards they came across the street and asked us if we had a permit. They said they would allow us to stay there with our banner, even though we did not have a permit, but that we had to stand in the ditch, because, they said, we were in a bike lane (this is a straight road where you can see about a mile in either direction, so we were not a hazard to bicyclists).
After they left some cyclists did come by on touring bikes. They were from Sweden and stopped to talk with us, expressing their sympathy with the hunger strikers when they found out about them. They were shocked about the facts about conditions in the SHU. They took a flier and a Revolution newspaper and promised to spread the word. A couple hours later the friends and families of the prisoners on D corridor were exiting the prison in their cars after their visits. When they saw us and the banner they waved, honked their horns, and yelled “thank you,” “thank you for being here” out their windows. One car stopped and the young women inside told us that their brother was in the SHU and their mom was visiting him. They knew about the hunger strike but wanted the list of the demands which we gave them and told them about the protest on Monday in Sacramento.
We left the prison and are looking forward to meeting with Julie and perhaps some other family members of hunger strikers about what they learned from today’s visit with their loved ones on strike. Tomorrow we will return to the prison gates with our banner and will add to it the words “Day 17.”
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