Revolution #251, November 27, 2011

Three Prisoners from Hunger Strike Die—Prison Officials Withhold Information

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) website reported on November 17 that in the month after the second phase of the California prisoner hunger strike that ended on September 22, three prisoners who had been on strike committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU). Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU). PHSS said:

“According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment), apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. ‘It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,’ said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, ‘These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.’”

The courageous prisoner hunger strike, which at one time involved at least 12,000 prisoners in at least 13 state prisons, was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitary confinement, and gang validation and debriefing.

Family members have been having a difficult time getting information about the circumstances of these deaths and say that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats.

A letter from Yolanda Moore printed in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper said:

“I recently read a news article regarding ‘Prisoner Hunger Strike Now in 11th Day’ dated 10/9/2011. It is with a heavy heart that I would like to inform you of the passing of Mr. Hozel Blanchard. Hozel is the father of my 23 year old daughter Morgan Blanchard. He was a native of Oakland, Ca. Thursday November 10, 2011 I was notified via a brief telephone call that my daughter's father Mr. Hozel Blanchard had died while incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison. We received a phone call advising us of his passing, but no information letting us know what happened. Hozel had explained to us in his letters that he was a part of the hunger strike, and his reasons for doing such was because of false accusations, resulting in two recent additional charges that were recently filed against him. Hozel has been in prison for the past seventeen years. We have important information about the circumstances and events leading up to his death in letters he wrote. This information needs to be shared. Hozel feared for his life and made sure that he got word to us that he no longer felt safe. He wrote a letter advising us that he had petition[ed] the California Supreme Court; not once, but twice asking for an emergency appeal. He advised us of the case numbers and dates. He basically explained to us that his life was in jeopardy and he feared for his life. The family of Mr. Hozel Blanchard would like your assistance in finding out what happened to him, and to make sure that his story is told, and he did not die in vain. My family is devastated and need to know what happened to him under these inhumane circumstances...”

SF Bay View also printed a letter from prison rights activist Kendra Castaneda about the death of Blanchard, which said:

“I have personally received letters from the men at Calipatria ASU unit that was around this man. The prison is saying he died on 11/9/11 but the men are saying he died on 11/8/11. The men explain how inmate Blanchard who was housed in a single cell #159 in the ASU unit at Calipatria State Prison suicide was a 'cover up' by the prison guards. The cell mates surrounding a few cells down from #159 say they witnessed the correctional officers never calling for help, never alarming the 'help' button they have in the segregation units and leaving inmate Blanchard’s cell as if nothing was happening, they also explain to me that the inmates witnessed the correctional officers telling the SGT. that they called for help but no one came which the men say is a lie. If anyone wants to get the full story, we just gotta listen to the men who watched what happened. Because inmate Blanchard was in a single cell and the men are extremely isolated there, the men say it is easy to cover up a death as if 'nothing happened'. The men also state since the hunger strike and how they have been trying to get their voices heard from their extreme inhumane conditions the officers have been walking around 'taunting them' 'threatening them' as if they will kill them because the officers are blaming the inmates for 'messing everything up' by getting their voices heard that they need help. There has been more than one inmate (besides the previous letters from Blanchard to his family) that explain this and how inmates are fearing for their lives. and how its gotten so worse within that segregation unit to where now the inmates say that death was a 'cover up'.”

Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population. As Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, said, “It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month.”

These deaths need to be understood in the context of the very serious retaliation prison officials are taking against those who participated in the strike—as well as the overall brutally inhumane and torturous conditions these prisoners are subjected to every day.


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