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Hunger strikes and national protests continue

July 22, 2011

Protesting torture in America continues in and out of prisons

 

BACK TO SAC ON MONDAY! The hunger strike continues in Tehachapi, Corcoran and Calipatria state prisons, so we’ll keep the pressure on CDCR and Gov. Jerry Brown! On Monday, July 25, noon-4 p.m., prisoners’ families and supporters will meet in Sacramento, at Fremont Park, 15th & Q, at 11:30 a.m.; march to CDCR headquarters, 1515 S St., rally noon-2 p.m.; march to State Building to deliver organizational letter to Gov. Jerry Brown’s office 2-4 p.m. RIDE-SHARE West Oakland BART 9:30 a.m. Meanwhile, keep calling CDCR and Gov. Brown demanding more humane treatment of prisoners across California.

by Deborah Dupre, Human Rights Examiner

The historical prisoner hunger strike led by 11 now “shrunken” but alive Pelican Bay Prison inmates advocating human rights, peace and justice continues according to officials, prisoners’ families and prisoner attorney Marilyn McMahon of California Prison Focus, despite announcements Thursday that it ended. Prison officials acknowledge that prisoners for the fourth week are refusing food numbers in the hundreds. Advocates say the number could be in the thousands after California Department of Corrections (CDC) negotiated a token agreement pertaining only to Pelican Bay.

For hours after announcements that the strike ended, communications flying between frustrated reporters recently banned from California prisons, attorneys and family members of prisoners concluded a twofold analysis. The strike ended at Pelican Bay Prison, but until the five core demands are met there, strike leaders’ message to the public is to continue national protests. Secondly, since Thursday’s “token agreement” only pertained to Pelican Bay, the spiraled strike at up to 15 other prisons continues.

A message to the public from the 11 strike leaders was issued by attorney Marilyn McMahon at 7 p.m. PST, Thursday, during a World Can’t Wait teleconference with 15 prisoner advocates and reporters across the nation. Hunger strike leaders had just requested that McMahon relay the public message that the sole reason they got this far is due to “outside actions.” They said they need the “outside movement to continue to make sure the agreement is kept,” especially related to “isolation units.”

According to McMahon, only a “few token gestures have been made by officials” and “people are still being tortured in America.”

Family and supporters of the hunger strikers rallied outside of CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, July 18 - Photo: Grant Slater, KPCC
California Prison Focus issued a statement late Thursday confirming hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay entered into an agreement with CDCR officials “to end their hunger strike in exchange for a major policy review of SHU housing conditions, gang validation process and debriefing process.”

Among “over 7,000 prisoners” hunger striking since July 1, 17 Pelican Bay prisoners are in the “worst” shape, having lost 20 to 35 pounds, McMahon said. Strike leaders told her Thursday that they all look “shrunken.”

“They are amazingly mentally clear,” she said. “Many people in the SHU are political prisoners. The only chance they have to ever touch their babies is to debrief.”

Debriefing involves snitching on another inmate, denouncing him as a gang member. This automatically results in exoneration of the snitcher and condemnation of the target. The target is then transferred, with no other evidence, to a Security Housing Unit (SHU) for 23 hours per day of indefinite solitary confinement, putting an end to contact with children and other family members that predictably results in mental injury. Some have been in the SHU for 30 years, according to McMahon.

Among prison protesters’ five core demands is ending the debriefing policy, as reported by LA Times.

Official count of prisoners still refusing food

Hours after announcing the historical hunger strike ended at Pelican Bay, CDC officials acknowledged that over 500 inmates continued to refuse meals at three other state prisons: “More than 400 at the California State Prison in Corcoran … more than 100 at California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi [and] about 29 at Calipatria State Prison,” according to prison spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

LA Times reported that the Pelican Bay inmates “agreed to resume eating in exchange for ‘cold-weather caps, wall calendars and some educational opportunities,’” according to a statement by CDC Secretary Matthew Cate on Thursday morning.

Thornton, who called the strikers a “moving target,” stated that many hunger strikers accepted meals at varying points during the three-week protest, but, as family members have gone on record stating, some prison officials were telling prisoners days ago that the strike ended.

Thornton also stated that about 110 inmates “continuously refused state issued food from July 1 through yesterday,” July 20, the day before the Pelican Bay prison strike officially ended.

Seventeen inmates with “early symptoms of starvation” were moved from Pelican Bay to Corcoran Prison to ensure “sufficient and appropriate medical resources” for treatment if they continued striking, said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the federal receiver overseeing prison healthcare.

Torture in California prisons can end, Gov. Jerry Brown

CDC used cruel actions to end the strike, according to Carol Strickman, a staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and staff to the mediation team representing the hunger strikers.

Guards at Pelican Bay conduct a search of a prisoner's SHU cell. - Photo: Laura Sullivan
In a July 13 interview, Strickman reported to Revolution: “They passed around a flyer saying that this is what will happen if you go on strike …There has been retaliation … provocative acts before the hunger strike started, for example, ‘potty watch,’ not only of the leaders, but of anyone that has indicated support.”

“[Potty Watch is] a very cruel procedure where people are restrained for three days, put in diapers and unable to move their arms sometimes, or forced to stand, or strapped down. The rationale is that the prisoner has swallowed contraband and we are going to see it. We’re going to wait for three days and monitor their bowel movements and find the thing they’ve swallowed. But, it’s used for other reasons.

“It’s used as punishment even if they know that there is nothing there. This shouldn’t be used, even if they think that there is something that the prisoner has swallowed. It’s painful. People can’t sleep. They can’t move their arms.

“I heard that sometimes their arms are put in a plastic pipe … We heard of that happening to one or two people before the hunger strike started in Pelican Bay.”

California prison torture, dangerous snitching policy and poor sanitary conditions prompted the well planned hunger strike that continues spiraling throughout the California prison system and now across America where protests have been held and a national day of solidarity is developing.

Presente! highlights most strikers are Latinos and African Americans. Presente! is among many national organizations calling on Americans in all states to tell Gov. Brown to address inhumane conditions, force CDC to address the inhumane conditions in California prisons and implement Supreme Court and other courts’ orders.

“Regardless of whatever crimes they’ve committed, inmates are only demanding that the state of California do what is required by law: provide humane conditions to inmates,” Presente! stated late Thursday after announcements that the strike ended.

“This crisis is unacceptable and the only person able to respond quickly to this situation is California Gov. Jerry Brown.”

Lessons learned, a gift to Americans

Both attorneys, Strickman and McMahon, highlight that a unique and important essence of this hunger strike is that it transcends all groups and gangs.  “The prison is interested in defining groups, labeling groups. You have to be in one group,” said Strickman.

Through leadership of 11 men in Pelican Bay Prison, all the prison groups came together for the common good, a model for all Americans according to McMahon on Thursday.

Strickman said, “I’ve heard prisoners use the term collective.”

“Groups that have been mortal enemies have come together around this and that is very uncomfortable for CDCR so they are doing things to try and break that unity.”

The final message from the 11 hunger strike leaders was one to America’s youth in gangs: “Our message to youth is our example: unity. Then go after the real enemies.”

Learn more

To support the historical peaceful hunger strike in Pelican Bay and other California Prisons entering its fourth week, “every person of conscience needs to think about what actions they can take in support,” according to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity. For more information, see http://prisonerhungerstrik​esolidarity.wordpress.com/.

Deborah Dupre holds American and Australian science and education graduate degrees and has 30 years experience in human rights, environmental and peace activism. Email her at Gdeborahdupre@gmail.com and visit her website, www.DeborahDupre.com. This story first appeared at Examiner.com.

Day 22: Moving forward

July 22 – Mediators from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity’s mediation team spoke with the Short Corridor Collective, four representatives of the hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay, and confirmed the leaders have accepted an offer from the CDCR.

When this news was announced at a vigil in Oakland last night, one family member responded, “I’m not going to believe it until my son tells me so.” She will be seeing him at Pelican Bay this weekend.

According to family members and friends of prisoners, as well as the CDCR, hunger strikers continue to refuse food across California – in at least CCI Tehachapi, Corcoran and Calipatria. It is unclear how long they will continue and whether they are aware of the agreement or even believe it given the misinformation CDCR has been circulating. As families and friends gear up for another round of weekend visits, we will have more information as to whether hunger strikers will continue protesting CDCR’s policies and conditions in the coming days.

The leaders confirmed CDCR’s announcement that immediate changes in SHU policy are the opportunity for some educational programs, provision of all-weather caps (beanies) and wall calendars. More substantially, the leaders explained the CDCR has agreed to investigate changes to other policies including the gang validation and debriefing processes, and it is now up to supporters outside prison to make sure the CDCR upholds their promise.

Prisoners in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit are chained together as they walk to the library.
Many supporters, as well as the Pelican Bay hunger strike leaders, see this as a victory. The leaders explained to the mediation team they are overwhelmed by the support and solidarity of family members, community members, organizations and people across the world joining their fight for human rights, and cannot adequately express their appreciation. They also explained this is in no way over. Using a sports reference, the Short Corridor Collective insisted, “This is just the first quarter” – and what a start it has been.

The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike leaders also ask all supporters, including the mediation team, to continue working together, to expand and to stay involved in making sure these demands are met fully and that prisoners everywhere are recognized and treated as human beings.

The goal of the hunger strike was not to let prisoners starve, but was to expose the torturous conditions of imprisonment – especially Security Housing Units – to win the five core demands at Pelican Bay, to end long-term solitary confinement. This past week Secretary Cate began threatening to issue force-feeding orders, a process is both dangerous and painful. It’s important for those of us on the outside to recognize that the hunger strikers were faced with two choices: increased or intensified torture or death. In the end, these aren’t really choices at all. The leaders chose to live to fight for justice another day, and to grow and strengthen the tremendous support and collaborations they have started.

The hunger strikers were faced with two choices: increased or intensified torture or death. The leaders chose to live to fight for justice another day, and to grow and strengthen the tremendous support and collaborations they have started.

Some gains so far:

• While the CDCR vigorously dehumanizes prisoners and refused to negotiate, saying, “We don’t negotiate with prisoners,” they were effectively forced into offering an agreement to make changes;

• this historic strike has demanded that everyone who is against torture in any way recognize prisoners as human beings and act on their beliefs that no one should ever be tortured;

• this historic hunger strike has widened and intensified international scrutiny into prison conditions and policies in California and around the United States, as well as solidarity in intervening in CDCR “business as usual.” According to Terry Thorton, spokesperson for CDCR, this strike was “a major disruption to CDCR’s normal operations” – i.e. of control, isolation and torture;

• this historic strike has (re)inspired prisoners to work together in struggling for their humanity to be recognized;

• this historic strike has proven to family members, former prisoners, advocates, lawyers, faith-based and religious groups, medical professionals, and community members and organizations that we can and need to continue to work together better in the struggle to change the conditions we live in and to transform the devastation and disappearance prisons cause in our communities;

• this historic strike has re-invigorated rigorous and collective prisoner-led resistance in the U.S.

Meanwhile, support for the hunger strike clearly needs to continue to grow. Events are still happening, including another mobilization to Sacramento to pressure Jerry Brown to take action regarding torturous conditions in California’s prisons. Click HERE to read a letter to Gov. Brown signed by organizations in support of the strike that will be delivered to him at the action on Monday, July 25.

Family members also continue to meet with each other. In the Bay Area on Tuesday evening, a meeting will be held for family members to discuss how they want to move forward with this struggle.

Also, a legislative hearing will be held on Aug. 23 in Sacramento investigating Pelican Bay’s SHU.

Stay tuned for more information at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/. Heed the prisoners’ call to continue working together to amplify their voices and to resist torture and imprisonment!

 

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