This Friday, July 1st, marks the start of a hunger strike by prisoners at the Pelican Bay Prison in California.
“Therefore we have decided to put our fate in our own hands. Some of us have already suffered a slow, agonizing death in which the state has shown no compassion toward these dying prisoners. Rather than compassion they turn up their ruthlessness. No one wants to die. Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.
Power concedes nothing without demand.” – James Crowford, Mutop DuGuya (a/k/a Bow Low)
Specifically, the prisoners of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) are the ones calling for this strike. An estimated 50-100 prisoners on Corridor D, are going on an indefinite hunger strike. The D corridor (also known as the “short” corridor) has the highest level of restricted incarceration in the state of California and among the most severe conditions in the united states. The rules of their confinement are extremely harsh in order to force them to “debrief” or offer up information about criminal or prison gang activity of other prisoners. Most inmates in the SHU are not members or associates of prison gangs, as the PBSP staff claims, and even those who are put their lives and the lives of their families and other prisoners at risk if they debrief.
Back in California, the prisoners going on Hunger Strike need support from the outside. They are fighting for very, very basic rights. They are struggling against conditions that should NEVER have been allowed in the first place. If you are interested in supporting this hunger strike, or learning more about similar issues in Virginia, please get in touch with the Richmond Anarchist Black Cross – a local prisoner support and prison abolition organization. firstname.lastname@example.org or 804 303 5449
These are the five core demands of the hunger-striking prisoners:
- Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.
- Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.
- Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.” Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.
- Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.
- Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).
There is a petition online supporting these demands, which you can sign here: http://www.change.org/petitions/support-prisoners-on-hunger-strike-at-pelican-bay-state-prison
Signing a petition is the least that one can do, and we would encourage people to take other actions in solidarity with these striking prisoners. Solitary confinement already makes humans very invisible, and the interests of the state in this case will be to make these prisoners and their struggle even less visible. These prisoners are offering up their lives in opposition the conditions they face on a daily basis, they deserve our attention.
More about this Hunger Strike is online here: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/
And a good explanation of the reasons for this Hunger Strike from one of the inmates is here: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/voices-from-inside/why-prisoners-are-protesting/
If you don’t know about Security Housing Units, you can look a lot closer than California for examples. Virginia had 2 Super Max prisons, Wallen’s Ridge is now down graded to Maximum Security Prison. The remaining Super Max prison, Red Onion, has many practices similar to those of the SHU in California.
More about conditions in Virginia Super Max can be found here: http://www.supermaxed.com/Virginia-SM-Page.htm
Conditions in Super Max prisons- whether Federal or State are across the board, torture. Prisoners are isolated from human contact, they stay in their cells 22-23 hours a day. When they are allowed out to ‘exercise’ in a yard with no equipment they are alone. They eat alone in their cells. They have no visitors, only phone visits. Medical care is frequently denied to prisoners, and what they are given is often insufficient and even cruel. On top of these conditions, these prisons are notorious for the brutality of the guards, who seem to enjoy torturing the inmates. This all results in many deaths- from medical neglect, mental neglect, suicide due to neglect, and brutality.
Here is an article about Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, which is highly recommended if you haven’t heard about the conditions and policies of this practice of torture: http://www.alternet.org/story/151279/confronting_torture_in_u.s._prisons:_a_q%26a_with_activists_journalists_james_ridgeway_and_jean_casella
The people who are kept in these prisons being tortured need support from the outside. Stand up with them. Stand up against Prisons. Recognize that the torture of solitary confinement is just a symptom of the the whole system- a system that needs to end.