Revolution #247, October 9, 2011
Prisoner Hunger Strike Now in 11th Day
Prisoners Vow to Continue in Face of Outrageous Repression
Support Urgently Needed
Prisoners in California state prisons are now in the 11th day of their hunger strike, in the face of vicious efforts by prison officials to crush it (See "Hunger Strike to Resume September 26—Support the Just Demands of the Pelican Bay Prisoners," Revolution #246, September 25, 2011.). According to an October 5 press release from Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity:
"Over 1,200 prisoners continue to refuse food in an effort to force the CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] to address their five core demands, in particular those related to long term solitary confinement, gang validation, debriefing and group punishment. Over the course of the last week, nearly 12,000 prisoners participated in the strike from thirteen California prisons, as well as California prisoners housed out of state in Mississippi, Arizona and Oklahoma, making it one of the largest prisoner hunger strikes in US history. From the very northern most tip to the very southern most tip of California, prisoners in Security Housing Units (SHUs), Administrative Segregation Units (Ad‑Seg) and general population are starving themselves because their human rights are being violated,' says Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 'We are not going to stand by while the CDCR tortures our loved ones.
"Advocates have significant concerns about some of the measures that the CDCR is implementing in response to the strike. 'Prisoners are being denied both family and legal visits, they are receiving serious rules violations and their mail is being stopped,' says Carol Strickman, a legal representative of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, 'CDCR is clearly trying to further isolate the hunger strikers in the hopes of breaking the strike.' Other reports indicate that striking prisoners throughout the system are being moved into Ad‑Seg. 'We don't know if they are being removed from their cells to some other location or transferred. It's really terrifying that your loved one could be taken away like that for participating in a peaceful protest,' said Irma Hedlin, who has family members in the Pelican Bay SHU. While communication has been limited, recent letters from hunger strike representatives indicate that they remain committed to moving CDCR and winning the five core demands."
The CDCR has confirmed to Revolution that "Fifteen inmates were removed from their Security Housing Unit cells and placed in the Administrative Segregation Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison after they had missed nine consecutive meals.... The 15 inmates were inmates identified as hunger strike leaders and their cellmates." This represents a blatant effort to attempt to crush the prisoners' struggle. By further isolating prisoners who have already been subject to conditions of isolation in the SHU, the CDCR is, in effect, further torturing prisoners who are non-violently protesting torture.
In an October 4 statement calling for "swift implementation of reforms to California security housing units," Amnesty International criticized the targeting of hunger strikers:
"Amnesty International is concerned by reports that the California corrections department is treating the current hunger strike as an 'organized disturbance' and disciplining those who participate. Such disciplinary action reportedly includes removing prisoners in the general population who support the strike to solitary confinement in Administrative Segregation units. The organization has written to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to urge that prisoners seeking humane conditions are not subjected to punitive measures."
Amnesty International noted that the hunger strike was protesting "conditions in the SHUs at Pelican Bay and other facilities, where several thousand prisoners are held in isolation, confined to windowless cells for more than 22 hours a day, with minimal human contact and no work, recreational or educational programs," conditions which even U.S. courts had found "may press the outer bounds of what humans may psychologically tolerate." (Amnesty report available at: www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/085/2011/en)
Prison officials claim the number of prisoners on hunger strike is dropping. However, there is no way to independently verify these numbers as access to the prisons is severely restricted (and many prisoners take up the hunger strike for a period, then go off hunger strike and then come back on). Further, a family member with a loved one in Calipatria State Prison writes that she can "confirm from numerous letters I have received within the last few days from Calipatria men," that "There are MORE than 63 inmates [officially reported] currently on hunger strike in Calipatria. Close to 150."
She goes on to describe the situation:
"The men at Calipatria segregation are also being denied medical treatment, being denied Medication and Calipatria Administration Staff is threatening the medical staff that they will lose their jobs if they help inmates.
"Men are falling to the ground as other men are screaming and calling out 'MAN DOWN' and their yells and screams are ignored by staff therefore there could be men already dead in segregation but medical is not allowed to help them.
"I can confirm this is what has been written since day 8 of the hunger strike at Calipatria State Prison. The men are going until they die they have said. It hurts so much because my loved one is one of those men in there... "
On October 2, the hunger strikers at Calipatria issued the following statement:
"From Calipatria ASU: SOLIDARITY IN PROTEST:
"We are currently housed in Calipatria State Prison, in Southern California, where hundreds of men are going on day 8 of a 'solid food hunger strike' in protest of the cruel and unusual punishment and the abuse of authority this prison has been doing.
"For over 20 years CDCR (California Department of Corrections and—'so called'—Rehabilitation) has been targeting all races amongst its prison population and handing out 'indeterminate sentences' in segregation like it's the thing to do. This means that we're being placed in solitary confinement against our will secluded from the world; isolation. We are labeled as validated gang members who are alleged to have ties with prison gangs.
"CDCR has their institutional gang investigators (I.G.I.) determine whether a person's a 'validated gang member' or not. They have been known to be conspiring with one another and fabricating evidence to falsely prove a validation. Their main sources are debriefers (snitches) who will sale out their own mother if they had to once validated, one can only find their way out of this 'torturous and inhumane' act of punishment by breaking people down by giving us three options – 'Parole, Debrief, or DIE.'
"It costs tax payers $56,000 to house an individual in segregation annually and there's over 3,000 'clients' confined in isolation, do the math. What we have here is CDCR's vague and misconstrued justification of their interpretation to their policies. Their objective to validating us as 'prison gang members' isn't to protect the General Population, rather to insure and guarantee that Hotel California's Segregation Units have no vacancies so CDCR can keep those fat checks rolling in.
"Like we mentioned in the beginning, we write this with inspiration from reading about the men and women standing up in unity to peacefully protest for what they believe in. As the world revolves so does the generation of human rights. It doesn't always take war to get your point across, which is why we stand strong in solidarity on this hunger strike.
We have three options... and if our voices aren't heard the third option will be the likely one.
"Respectfully, Fellow hunger strikers at Calipatria State Prison ASU unit, 10/2/11"
All of this makes clear that the stakes of this new round of the prisoners' courageous hunger strike are very high and the CDCR is striking back. The CDCR's assault on the hunger strikers is further exposure—and proof—of the barbaric, illegitimate nature of the U.S. prison system.
An outpouring of support for the prisoners and condemnation of the CDCR's attacks on hunger striking prisoners is urgently needed right now. People must demand that all human rights and legal rights groups, and all people of conscience, speak out NOW against the attacks unfolding before our eyes against prisoners non-violently hunger striking in California's prisons.
Stay tuned to revcom.us for further posts on the strike and situation in the prisons.
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