Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
"They are courageous men to do what they got to do."
Posted July 26, 2011
We received the following from a reader who was part of a group of people who went to Pelican Bay State Prison in support of the hunger strikers:
We went out with our banner on Sunday to the gates of Pelican Bay State Prison, located about as far north as you can go in California. The banner read "We Support the Hunger Strikers & Their 5 Demands. CDCR Negotiate Now." We added the words "Day 17." And we set up a card table with copies of Revolution and flyers about the strike and the prisoners' demands and attached a sign inviting families to stop and talk with us a little ways down the road from the prison, a place we thought family visiting prisoners could stop their cars.
A middle-aged white woman who drove in from the side street stopped her car when she saw us. Other people who lived on the street had not been very friendly. She looked hard at a leaflet with the five demands, and with a solemn look on her face told me, "It's horrible, I have seen the SHU. There are cement cells, and their exercise yard is a cement cell too."
A car carrying three Latina women slowed down and backed up to talk with us. When they got out of the car, I saw one of the women was wearing a black T-shirt with big words in silver across the front: I LOVE MY HUSBAND. Her name was P and she was excited we were there and took a picture of our banner. She was glad to be interviewed.
She said, "I have been coming here for 8 years. My husband is part of the indeterminate SHU program. He's done 15 years in the SHU. So he has no pigmentation. His color is completely gone." She looked down at her tanned arm and moved her hand open and closed. "He was about three shades darker than myself, but he doesn't have no pigmentation to his skin. If he does get any light at 'yard time' he immediately gets burnt.... He doesn't remember what grass feels like. What sun is like."
I asked if her husband was part of the hunger strike. She explained that he had been but had started eating because "his vision was already going and he was losing cognitivity. It motivated him to start eating again. But he may go back on soon. There are a lot that [are still not eating]. They lost weight so rapidly. The elasticity in his arms... he pulled his skin and I could see how quickly he had deteriorated. It's really scary. They are courageous men to do what they got to do."
I asked what her husband said to her: "He is worried about us, we drive 16 hours at least to get here. We told him 'there is a lot of people supporting you guys.'"
I asked her about what she was feeling: "The hardest thing is fear. The fear that they would end up dying and no one would care. That was my biggest fear, that there would be many that would die and nobody would care."
I asked her what she felt about the demands: "Everything they are asking for is important. None of us are fighting for their freedom. But sweat suits? Let us buy them for them. Some sunlight? That's free. There is nothing that should not be accommodated."
I asked about the unity between the hunger strikers: "CDC tries to minimize the fact that the strike is going on across racial lines. But it's true and it's powerful. That's a big taboo [in prison]. It's not about gangs. They united for this. That should speak for the power of their belief in their rights."
I asked her what they talked about. "Today before I left I told him, 'I'm going to be the next Oprah and make sure that this is widely known.' He said, 'Do what you got to do.' Family members are coming to see them, just to check on them. We told them they have support out here. So I think they think, OK, it's worth a shot."
She motioned to the other women in her car. "We come faithfully once a month, some of us from San Diego."
She also talked about the demand to stop the policy of forcing prisoners to debrief ["validate" another prisoner as a gang member] to get out of the SHU: "Debriefing is something many won't do. Whatever they say when they debrief, it is taken as fact. If someone debriefs they get removed to another part of the prison to enjoy the sunlight and a phone call. But guess what, they are replaced by the person they just dropped a name on. So the next person gets stuck in the SHU for an indeterminate amount of time. It's a repeated cycle. It's a Catch-22. The people who debrief. That's their choice, but it's a shame because they take somebody else's life. It doesn't have to be anything big. We even get scared to say who we come up with and who they were visiting with because that could be taken as 'associating.'"
Another car drove up and P. said she had to go, we promised to stay in touch and she got back into her car to make the long trip home and to organize a protest in San Diego to support the prisoners.
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