Prisoner Hunger Strike Enters Fourth Week

This System of Torture Killed Billy “Guero” Sell

by Larry Everest | August 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On July 8, the largest prisoner hunger strike in California history began with over 30,000 prisoners in 22 of the state’s 33 prisons refusing food. Now, going into a fourth week, hundreds of prisoners are still on a hunger strike, courageously fighting for an end to indefinite solitary confinement and other cruel, inhuman abuses.

But the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has refused to even consider their just demands. Instead, prison authorities have retaliated against hunger strikers with further isolation, freezing air, and stealing their food—even denying medicines.

What this criminal system is doing to tens of thousands of prisoners around the country—what this hunger strike is fighting to put an end to—is TORTURE. And now, the CDCR’s efforts to isolate and crush the hunger strike have resulted in the death of one of the hunger strikers.

Billy Michael Sell, who was 32 years old and known as “Guero” by friends, died on July 22 while on strike at the Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). The CDCR claims he was not on hunger strike and committed suicide. But other prisoners say Sell had been on hunger strike and had asked for medical attention for several days before he died. They say Sell was “strong, a good person,” that it was “completely out of character for him" [to commit suicide] and questioned prison authorities claims.” (Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition)

Prison authorities—who claim they have been carefully monitoring the health of those on strike, didn’t even inform prisoner mediators, who only learned of Sell’s death five days later, on July 27.

Let’s get real here: Billy Sell was murdered by the CDCR and this whole criminal system, with its mass incarceration and torturous solitary confinement.

Prisoners’ Lives Hang In the Balance...It’s Up to Us!

Hundreds of prisoners are putting their health and very lives on the line for an end to state-sanctioned torture and abuse. In California, nearly 4,000 prisoners are confined in SHUs, and over 6,000 in Administrative Segregation, another form of solitary confinement. Another 70,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement in prisons across the U.S. The “Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons!” sharply exposes their conditions: locked in tiny, windowless cells for 22-24 hours every day; denied human contact and violently taken from their cells for petty violations; put in solitary arbitrarily, often because of baseless accusations of being a gang member. Many are forced to endure these conditions of torture for decades.

These conditions fit the international definition of torture! This is unjust, illegitimate, and profoundly immoral. WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!

Prisoners: We’ll see our peaceful hunger strike through to victory

On July 23, after 16 days without food and being subjected to CDCR retaliation, hunger strikers held in Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison vowed they would see our peaceful hunger strike through to victory even if this requires us to endure the torture of force-feeding.”

Their courageous, inspiring action must become known and supported by millions around the world—their lives, and the lives of over two million prisoners locked up in hellholes across the U.S. depend on it:

“Increased retaliation has been perpetuated upon defenseless and starving prisoners who only seek what any human being strives for—humane treatment, dignity, equality, and justice for our families, loved ones, and ourselves. These are the fundamental rights of all people, including those incarcerated by the state.

“The attempted repression of our protest has not broken our spirits. In fact it has only helped to strengthen each of us—individually and collectively. Despite CDCR’s retaliations and propaganda, we remain steadfast in our commitment. We will see our peaceful hunger strike through to victory, even if this requires us to endure the torture of force-feeding.

“In closing, we want to inform the world that this hunger strike is far from over. We are in it for the long haul. Thus, we strongly urge Gov. Brown to return from his ‘get-away’ vacation overseas and deal urgently with this crisis before more prisoners suffer serious health damage or death. If any deaths do occur, the responsibility for them will fall squarely on Brown and the CDCR in their callousness and inaction.” (Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition)

The torture of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons—and the CDCR’s murderous cruelty in response to the courageous prisoners who are fighting to put an end to this torture—is yet another example of the criminality and immorality of this capitalist system.

These prisoners, on the other hand, should give us renewed conviction that the “wretched of the earth” can resist this system's worst oppression, and rise above the worst the system heaps on them.

Anyone with a conscience and a shred of humanity must not turn away from the reality being exposed in California’s prisons. Those who DO know what’s being done behind prison walls have a responsibility to challenge others to wake up and resolutely oppose this system of brutality and torture.

These prisoners have dared to resist being "buried alive." Fighting beside them and our 2.3 million brothers and sisters behind bars must and can be part of a powerful movement that is resisting this killing system that oppresses us while building up a movement for revolution that can sweep this criminal system away when the time is right.


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