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Three prisoners die in hunger strike related incidents: CDCR withholds information from family members, fails to report deaths

November 18, 2011

by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on Oct. 15, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).

An activist named Jerry speaks at a rally demonstrating solidarity with the hunger strikers on the steps of the State Building in San Francisco Aug. 1. The rally was held between the two rounds of the strike; the first was in July and the second, which was joined by at least 12,000 prisoners across the state, began Sept. 26 and ended on about Oct. 15. Solidarity is needed now more than ever, considering a growing number of reports of retaliation against the strikers. – Photo: Felix Barrett, Revolution
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.”

Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having a difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. CDCR is required to do an autopsy in the cases of suspicious deaths and, according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system.

Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, are being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death.

“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,” said Laura Magnani, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee. “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.”

Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population. These deaths, however, may not be suicides. Family members of some of the victims and witnesses suspect the cause could be something more sinister.

The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons, was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation procedure as soon as early next year and was due to have a draft of the new regulations for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule.

“If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”

Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org. Bay View staff contributed to this report.

 

9 thoughts on “Three prisoners die in hunger strike related incidents: CDCR withholds information from family members, fails to report deaths

  1. B Cayenne Bird

    On top of all the other recent prisoner deaths comes this tragic news. I hate to say that "I told you so" but I came out very strongly about the families doing the organizing work instead of making the prisoners do their own fighting by hunger striking. CDCR wants them to die, many members of the public wants them to die. I was criticized for not supporting the hunger strike. This is precisely why I teach organizing, so that the prisoners' families can learn how to elect, recall, change laws via initiatives, file lawsuits. I did my best to tell everyone that this is how it would turn out if the campaigns were for hunger strikes.__ I know that I need to write some columns on prisoner deaths and I hope to get to that on Mon. There is no compassion within the Ca Dept of Corrections. I told everyone that many times. I am very sad that I could not get the message through to everyone so that these deaths could have been prevented.. This is very sad. When I make a recommendation it is based on experience. That's all I have to say about this.

    Reply
    1. Maverick

      I suppose the inmates that are committing suicide or starving themselves to death never had compassion on any of their victims. So save it lady. I don't give a f*ck about some stupid inmate who is wasting a great amount of our tax dollars. Let them all die, maybe we can save some money and invest in our schools. Insanity is repeating the same action, and expecting different results.

      Reply
  2. B Cayenne Bird

    We must recall Jerry Brown if we want to end the police state, organize and fund our own people, and stop forcing the prisoners to fast. I have pulled 1730 people from all walks of life to do this so far, many are teachers, let's throw the bum out. He took $1.8 mil from prison guards and never holds anyone accountable for torture and murder. Brown is the person who passed the original determinate sentencing laws. File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint, get a lot of people together and hire Attorney David Springfield who won one of our wrongful death lawsuits for us. I couldn't understand why anyone thought this would work when these evil, sadistic, people running the bloodhouses like to see the prisoners die.

    Reply
  3. B Cayenne Bird

    This is a horrible lesson, I hope that I don't hear about any more hunger strikes in the future when organizing voting blocks is the only possible way to stop this inhumanity. Now you know why I said NO to this. My sympathies go to the family members, there have been a number of deaths lately and I would like to do some columns about them all. This is heartbreaking. Liberals to Recall Jerry Brown, http://www.facebook.com/LiberalsToRecallJerryBrow

    Reply
  4. Anakka Hartwell

    Just as with the now famous pic of a cop spraying seating, non violent protesters in Oakland, police have been separated from the general public by a systematic clock work orange type of brain washing. They are taught it is them against us. As long as we hire trained killers who have gone to war and killed other humans being, and then bring them home, deck them out more gear than they wore in Afghanistan, and ask them to become domestic peace keepers, and put them in corporate prisons where each prisoners is worth a point on the stock exchange this will continue.

    Law enforcement is out of control and have become Imperial Storm Troopers, and they like it.

    Reply
  5. Suzie

    Anakka Hartwell said it best. The police are brainwashed and do not have feelings like normal humans. When they do psychological profiles for hiring police they are not looking for normal. Don't expect police to be anything other than what they are "Storm Troopers." Hunger strikes will not work.

    Reply
  6. JRS

    There is not a single truth told in this article except maybe the fact that there was a hunger strike. I get so sick of seeing the lies in the media and even worse, those who believe it.

    Reply

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