Revolution Online, August 4, 2011

A Visit to Corcoran

"We Support the Prisoners and Their 5 Demands! Prisoners are Human Beings!"

We received the following correspondence:

At a July 21 meeting at Revolution Books to discuss and build support for the prisoners hunger strike we heard that the prisoners at Pelican Bay had announced the end of the hunger strike. People discussed the difference the strike had made by calling the attention of the world to the inhumane conditions inside America's prisons. We talked about the need to further the struggle, to build on the opening that had been created by the hunger strikers' courageous action. One idea was to go to prisons that had been centers of resistance. We had heard that some prisoners were still on hunger strike at Corcoran prison, where SHU prisoners had early on issued a statement in support of the 5 core demands and the hunger strike initiated by prisoners at Pelican Bay. We had also heard that 17 people on hunger strike at Pelican Bay had been moved to Corcoran only days before. We wanted to show our support and to talk with families of prisoners to get a better understanding of the situation at Corcoran.

Six of us drove to the prison on Sunday, leaving early in the morning in order to be there during the visiting times. Our group included an activist with World Can't Wait, two people from Revolution Books, and an aspiring filmmaker who is researching prisons in America and who supported the strike. Also making the trip were two relatives of Pelican Bay prisoners who had been part of the hunger strike.

Corcoran is located in the Central Valley of California, and in July this means it is HOT. The bare and dusty landscape outside the prison is a big contrast to Pelican Bay's forested setting but the prison itself has a familiar look: concrete buildings, guard towers, fences and barbed wire.

As the temperature rose, we stood with a banner that read: "We Support the Prisoners and Their 5 Demands! Prisoners are Human Beings!" We also had a sign: "From Pelican Bay to Guantánamo Bay – No Torture – Not In Our Name." The family members going in and out of the prison waved or gave us the thumbs up sign, clearly glad we were there, slowing down to read the banner, some of them honking. And while many correctional officers passed us averting their eyes, with some giving us a thumbs down sign, it was interesting that a significant number of people who were probably prison employees waved, smiled and gave us a thumbs up when they saw us standing there and read our signs.

As they had at Pelican Bay State Prison, police and correctional officers drove up and unsuccessfully tried to question us about who we were, saying they had heard reports we were "wandering" or "migrating" down the road. They asked us if we were part of the same group that had apparently stood in front of the prison a couple weeks ago. We assured them that there are people like us all over the state. They stayed awhile, as did a black SUV that parked a little ways away, but they did not tell us to leave.

Every visiting family member who stopped their car told us about the hell that their family was going through. One man said that his son had been 16 when he was arrested and that he was tried as an adult, given a 50 years to life sentence, and sent directly to the Corcoran SHU. "Before this happened, I never knew places like this existed." His son is now 20 years old. "I come here to visit every week," said his father, who had been talking with prison activist groups in Los Angeles. Two women stopped their car and explained that their family member was mildly retarded. He was put in the SHU when he refused orders by a guard to go back inside a cell with a guy who had molested him. They said his condition was deteriorating since he had been in the SHU where he is treated like an animal: even the hour of exercise takes place in a small cage. Another woman told us that she came to visit two relatives, both men were in the Corcoran SHU. A woman stopped who was on a visit from another countryand said she had not been approved to see her nephew but drove her sister to the prison that morning hoping to learn more. Having seen the prison, even from the outside, and hearing about the SHU, she was outraged, and joined us behind the banner in the hot sun.

Some family members were only vaguely aware of the hunger strike, while others spoke with pride about it and their loved ones inside. We heard different things from different people, perhaps because communication is not easy in the SHU: one said that the prisoners knew the strike was over. Another said that people in the SHU were still striking, another that that people had been striking and had stopped, but might begin again on August 1. People we talked to appreciated that we had come and were particularly moved that the family of Pelican Bay strikers had come.

We made sure everyone who stopped got Revolution newspaper and a card about the book BAsics, and we exchanged phone numbers to stay in touch. Everyone wanted to know when the next demonstration or protest would be, and what they could do to end the inhumane conditions, to stop the prisons from putting people in the hole indefinitely.

We had talked about all of this among ourselves, on the way down to the prison, and on the way back. The man who wanted to make a film said that he had not heard of the SHU until the strike, he had not know that people could be "condemned to a coffin"... permanently. Questions about revolution, communism and Bob Avakian came up. We started to discuss why there is a need and real prospects for revolution, and how fighting mass incarceration and torture in the SHU was part of building a movement for revolution. We also discussed that this revolution would not only abolish the current prison system, but make possible a whole different kind of life for the people, including those who are now stuck in America's dungeons. We also talked about what kinds of things that need to happen next in this struggle, now that the prisoners have gotten people's attention.

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