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Building a movement to end solitary confinement, against imprisonment

August 8, 2011

by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

This drawing, contributed to the cause by the artist, Rashid Johnson, who is held in Red Onion Prison in Virginia, has become the symbol of the hunger strike. Look carefully; this picture is definitely worth a thousand words.
After hunger strike leaders reached an agreement last week with the CDCR to end the hunger strike that swept across California’s prison system, prisoners have started to transition to eating food again. However, this transition is both brutal and confusing.

After not eating for four weeks, it is very hard to begin eating solid food again right away, so many prisoners are in need of more medical care than the prisons can provide. Medical staff at the prisons was already overwhelmed by general conditions of overcrowding in the state’s prisons and even further overwhelmed by this massive protest.

While the medical staff supposedly needs to follow certain protocols assisting hunger strikers’ transition to eating solid food, provision of basic medical care is exhausted, unreliable and ineffective.

Family members and supporters are anxiously awaiting confirmation on whether or not prisoners are continuing the strike at other prisons. When the hunger strike spread to at least 13 prisons and at least 6,600 people across the state were participating, it was clear that prisoners joining were doing so in solidarity with the demands from Pelican Bay due to the brutal conditions they are held in that resemble the conditions of Pelican Bay.

For instance, prisoners at Calipatria have explained that they joined the hunger strike specifically in protest of the torturous formal and informal policies of group punishment, gang validation and debriefing practices also imposed at Calipatria. Prisoners at Calipatria are now transitioning to eating food again, according to family members of prisoners participating in the hunger strike.

There has been some mention of prisoners at Corcoran and Tehachapi continuing the strike to expose specific issues at these particular institutions, but supporters do not have confirmation as to how many prisoners are still refusing food and for what specific reasons or demands.

In the early days of the hunger strike, prisoners at the SHU in Corcoran released a statement explaining why they were in solidarity with the demands from Pelican Bay. But we have not heard of other specifics beside medical updates since.

Outside community organizations that correspond with prisoners are scurrying to send in updates on the strike and confirming the agreement between the strike leaders at Pelican Bay and the CDCR. But since the CDCR relies heavily on denying mail as a tool of isolation and political repression, supporters are unsure if their messages are getting through.

As mentioned previously on July 27, the hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay released a written statement providing some explanation for their reasoning behind accepting the CDCR’s deal. Their concerns include not wanting fellow prisoners to die.

At least 17 hunger strikers at Pelican Bay, including three of the 11 leaders, were transferred to Corcoran for supposed medical reasons. However, the CDCR failed to mention that Corcoran got clearance to begin force-feeding days before hunger strike leaders accepted the CDCR’s offer − a clear threat of what could happen to the leadership and their comrades if they did not agree to the CDCR’s terms.

While the concessions may seem too small to claim a victory, it’s important for people outside prison to understand their importance for prisoners who have been held in the SHU for decades: They can now stay a little warmer and be able to keep track of time − since they previously had no windows and the fluorescent lights are on 24 hours of every day in the SHU.

More so, worldwide support and momentous courage of thousands of prisoners to risk their lives effectively pressured the CDCR to sit at the same table and look prisoners in the face and offer a deal, after refusing to negotiate for weeks and insisting prisoners are less than human.

On Tuesday, July 26, dozens of supporters gathered on a continental conference call in support of the hunger strike and discussed how to move forward now and keep pressure on the CDCR to implement the necessary changes brought to the world’s attention by the strike.

One focus of the conference call became mobilizing for the legislative hearings on Aug. 23: A hearing on the SHU at Pelican Bay that will be held by the Public Safety Committee of the California State Assembly in Sacramento.

Many supporters are focusing on coordinating (inter)national days of action leading up to the legislative hearing periodically throughout the next few weeks. If you are interested in coordinating an action in a city or town near you in coordination with events in other cities, please contact us and we’ll get you in touch with other supporters organizing days of action. Read notes from the conference call here.

International Day of Action

World Can’t Wait held an International Day of Action on Monday, Aug. 1. The organizers say: “We want to show that the prisoners do not stand alone through our demonstrations, rallies, religious services, fasts, call-the-governor-days, art and music, taking to the airwaves through talk shows and other call-ins and many other public, visual and creative expressions.

“We insist there must be NO RETALIATION by the authorities against individual prisoners, groups of prisoners, prisoners’ family members or attorneys or other advocates in the wake of the hunger strike. And we will be paying attention.”

As we work to consolidate a growing movement against solitary confinement, torture and all violence, we need to support all prisoners and political leaders locked up in prisons, jails and detention centers internationally.

In the next few days, make sure to support Leonard Peltier, who has been locked up for more than 30 years and is currently in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania, by calling and emailing prison officials and demand that Leonard Peltier be immediately released from solitary and returned to the general population at USP-Lewisburg. Call (570) 523-1251 or email lew/execassistant@bop.gov.

To learn more and for frequent updates, go to http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/. Bay View staff contributed to this story.

 

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