California Prison Authorities Attack Hunger Strikers

Broad Support Urgently Needed for Heroic Prisoners!

by Larry Everest | July 28, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


July 22 marks Day 15 of the very powerful and extremely significant California prisoners’ hunger strike, and thousands of prisoners are continuing to refuse food or supporting the strike in other ways.

On July 8, prisoners across the state launched their third hunger strike in the past two years to fight for their basic rights and, humanity, especially to end long-term solitary confinement as well as other demands.*

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) called for a “Day of National Action in Solidarity With the Prisoner Hunger Strike: Stop Prison Torture!” for Friday, July 19. This was Day 12 of the prisoners’ hunger strike—a serious crossroads in the hunger strike, with prison officials and the State of California intensifying their retaliation against the hunger strikers. On this day, people also took up the slogan “No More Trayvon Martins” and “No More Criminalization of a Generation.” Revolution received reports of actions in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York.

Above, action in LA where there was a press event in Leimert Park, including families of loved ones participating in the hunger strike; banners at an overpass at the Interstate 10 Freeway; and getting news of the hunger strike out to hundreds at the Santa Monica Promenade, a big shopping and entertainment area.

Some 80,000 prisoners across the U.S.—over 10,000 in California alone—are kept in long-term solitary confinement. In California, thousands are thrown in solitary, not for any crime they’ve supposedly committed, but for alleged “gang associations.” Attorney Carol Strickman of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity described the conditions in the Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) SHUs [Security Housing Units]: “There’s a horrible, near total, lack of human contact... Prisoners are confined to these 8 foot x 10 foot cells for 22-and-a half to 24 hours a day—without natural light, without being able to look outside the prison walls... There’s no meaningful human interaction... chronic sleep deprivation [is] part of the cruel and unusual punishment that prisoners are subjected to.” Prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for years—even decades. All this amounts to torture, Strickman added.

On June 20 of this year, the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Representatives announced they were resuming their hunger strike because the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) had broken its promise to address prisoner demands and institute fundamental reforms.

According to the CDCR’s own figures, since the strike began on July 8, nearly 30,000 prisoners across the state have refused food and 2,300 prisoners have refused to work each day. The hunger strike continues to have deep support throughout the prison system with unprecedented numbers taking part. On July 11, 12,421 prisoners refused food; 4,487 remained on hunger strike for a full week.

Vicious Retaliation Against the Fight for Basic Rights

The CDCR has responded to this just, nonviolent political struggle with even more vicious retaliation than in the 2011 hunger strikes—in some cases further isolating and torturing those already subjected to the torture of solitary confinement.

Prison authorities have declared the strike a mass disturbance that can add time to prisoners’ sentences and take away basic necessities that prison authorities label “privileges.” They’ve been confiscating commissary food that prisoners bought to keep in their cells.

Readers of Revolution: Stand Up for the Courageous California Prisoners!

Thousands of prisoners across California, joined by prisoners in other states, are standing up against the cruel and unjust conditions of solitary confinement that amount to torture. They are doing so at great personal cost in the most difficult of circumstances. And they are putting their lives on the line “not only to improve our own conditions but also as an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.” (From the "July 9 message from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor representatives. Greetings to our supporters and all people of conscience.")

They are setting a heroic example. We have to do our part! The strike is entering its third week. This is a critical moment—everyone who wants to see an end to state-sanctioned torture and to support those fighting for their humanity and basic rights needs to support these prisoners NOW and demand that prison authorities STOP their vicious retaliatory attacks on the hunger strikers.

The CDCR has especially targeted those they consider more politically conscious including 14 prisoners who signed last summer’s historic Agreement to End Hostilities Among Racial Groups, which called for an end to conflicts among oppressed peoples of different nationalities in and outside prison. This historic and inspiring call was a direct challenge to the CDCR’s strategy of fomenting racial hostility to divide and then vilify the prisoners. On the fourth day of the strike, they removed all 14 from their regular SHU cells and put them in Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation, known as “the hole”), without access to their legal papers, television, or radio.

This is clearly an attempt to prevent these men from communicating with each other and anyone else; knowing what is happening in the outside world; and getting news of the strike itself.

As if this weren’t bad enough, there are reports that these and other prisoners are now being deliberately frozen. “The prisoners who have been moved to Ad-Seg, as well as prisoners still in SHU, reported yesterday that it is ‘freezing cold’ in their cells,” Strickman wrote on July 18. “The prison is pumping in cold air and keeping doors to the outside open... Extreme temperatures are a torture method.”

On July 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that four prisoners were being treated for medical problems. Attorney Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus and a member of the team mediating between prisoners and prison authorities’, has been banned from all California State Prisons in an attempt to further isolate the prisoners and prevent the world from knowing what kinds of suppression and brutality—on top of the suppression and brutality prisoners already face—is taking place behind prison walls. “I am a target because I do help them communicate with the outside world,” McMahon said. “We are a way of prisoners breaking through the black box.”

The CDCR claims the hunger strike is weakening, as they continue to stonewall prisoner demands. This is ludicrous and criminal. At least 1,457 prisoners have been fasting for 11 days and counting. This is heroic and tremendously significant.

Prisoner representatives say they “remain strong and united!” in the face of this brutality. In a July 16 message, PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Representatives stated:

“Specifically, on July 11, 2013, we were placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), where we are subjected to more torturous conditions than in the SHU. Despite this diabolical act on the part of the CDCR intended to break our resolve and hasten our deaths, we remain strong and united! We are 100% committed to our cause and will end our peaceful action when CDCR signs a legally binding agreement to our demands.”

The families of hunger striking prisoners are extremely worried for the health and lives of their loved ones. Former prisoners have told the Stop Mass Incarceration Network that they are worried the CDCR could even cut off water to cells under the pretext that prisoners have contraband.

Prison Authorities Stonewall Demand to End Torture

The CDCR’s cruel actions are aimed at breaking the strike and maintaining their system of torture through long-term solitary confinement. (On a recent radio show, CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton made the ludicrous claim that solitary confinement in a SHU cell wasn’t really solitary confinement because prisoners had occasional contact with guards!) And according to the mediation team, California officials “have expressed no willingness to open discussions about the current strike.” (Los Angeles Times, July 18)

The California prison authorities’ cruel retaliation against non-violent hunger strikers and their refusal to seriously consider their just and basic demands further expose the violent, unjust, and completely illegitimate nature of the U.S. prison system. It points to the basic reality that U.S. democracy and the power of the ruling class rests on a whole system of mass incarceration and systematic abuse and torture in California’s dungeons and dungeons across the country. This is not something the powers-that-be will back off from unless very broad and powerful support for the prisoners is built, and the crimes of the system are exposed throughout society and the world.

The prisoners want to eat, they do not want to die, but they refuse to live “buried alive” and “entombed” in isolation units. Anyone with an ounce of conscience and humanity must stand with these courageous prisoners and do all you can to fight for their just demands, to end the torture of long-term solitary confinement and the whole system of mass incarceration. Such support cannot be limited to petitioning and appealing to the very authorities who created and maintain these hellholes and who are now punishing the hunger strikers. A society-wide outcry and mass political resistance are what’s called for.

Go to: to get involved and support the prisoner hunger strikers.


* The prisoner’s five core demands are to eliminate group punishments; abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; comply with the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement; provide adequate and nutritious food; and expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. [back]


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