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Day 33: Prisoner hunger strike countdown for humane conditions

August 9, 2013

by Dr. Ronald Ahnen

Aug. 9, 2013 – Today marks 33 days that over 200 prisoners have gone without eating. Most of those who have been strong enough to continue to this point are feeling the very dire and dangerous effects of going so long without food.

Hunger strike rally 'Strike the prisons, free the people' Oakland State Bldg 073113 by Urszula Wislanka
Protests demanding Gov. Brown meet the hunger strikers’ eminently reasonable demands were held all over California on July 31. Rallies in Oakland were at Oscar Grant Plaza and here at the State Building. – Photo: Urszula Wislanka

 

Most of us cannot imagine going a day or two without eating, yet these prisoners have endured 33 days without food, risking their health and their lives. After 33 days, many of the men are experiencing dizziness, confusion, vision problems, nausea and vomiting even after drinking only water. The lack of salt makes it difficult to retain water and to remain hydrated, and the imbalance of electrolytes severely increases the chances of heart failure.

Today marks 33 days that over 200 prisoners have gone without eating.

Doctors have warned the prisoners several times of the dangers of continuing their hunger strike, and yet they persist. Why? In order to end the inhumane conditions of their confinement. They have spent decades in solitary confinement not for punishment, not for their crimes, but for “administrative” reasons.

This is torture. These men, along with tens of thousands of their supporters worldwide, firmly reject the legal authority of the state to house them in conditions so severe. Even chimpanzees used in research are guaranteed better living conditions, including minimal social interaction and outdoor enclosures.

Secretary Beard falsely claims that the Security Housing Unit is not solitary confinement because some inmates have a television. A June 2013 study on solitary confinement by Yale Law School concludes, however, “How isolating segregation is depends in part on whether and under what circumstances persons so confined can speak with and interact with other people.”

Doctors have warned the prisoners several times of the dangers of continuing their hunger strike, and yet they persist. Why? In order to end the inhumane conditions of their confinement. They have spent decades in solitary confinement not for punishment, not for their crimes, but for “administrative” reasons.

Secretary Beard notes that some SHU prisoners have cellmates, but this is only due to overcrowding – not to promote healthy social interaction – and inhumanely forces two individuals into the very small space already too confining for just one person.

Secretary Beard has entered into a devil’s bargain. He’s betting that he can concede nothing while waiting for the hunger strikers to give up, and no one will be seriously harmed or die. The Mediation Team is outraged by such a posture that continues to risk lives in an attempt not to appear weak in the face of such reasonable and justifiable demands.

How many more deaths will it take before Secretary Beard is ready to come to his senses, recognize the legitimate moral and legal claims of thousands of national and international voices against California’s degrading and inhumane SHU policies and grant the prisoners’ five demands? How many more deaths?

Moreover, he has already lost that wager. The Mediation Team has called for an official independent investigation into the apparent suicide of a hunger striker, Billy Sell, who other prisoner witnesses report had requested appropriate medical care for days before he died, but did not receive it.

How many more deaths will it take before Secretary Beard is ready to come to his senses, recognize the legitimate moral and legal claims of thousands of national and international voices against California’s degrading and inhumane SHU policies and grant the prisoners’ five demands? How many more deaths?

Hunger Strike Mediation Team

  • Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
  • Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
  • Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
  • Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
  • Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
  • Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
  • Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
  • Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

Ronald Ahnen, Ph.D., president of California Prison Focus and a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, writes on behalf of the Hunger Strike Mediation Team. He can be reached at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com.

 

3 thoughts on “Day 33: Prisoner hunger strike countdown for humane conditions

  1. @carltoersbijns

    Listening to Director Beard makes me think that SHU inmates are not as controlled as they should be. I mean after all, who in their right mind would admit that these inmates are doing a "powerplay" out of the SHU and that is what this hunger strike is all about. __What does that say about the CDCR's ability to control behaviors whether right or wrong. In his editorial in the LA Times he made a self defeating statement to the public and the press that prisons are out of control and a mess. _Simply put

    Reply
  2. ZULEMA BARAJAS

    LOS ANGELES TIMES, HIZO UNA DECLARACION, INAUDITA. PARECE EN VANO TODA SUPLICA, O PETICION HECHA POR LOS PRESOS PUES PARECE QUE PAGARAN CON SU PROPIA VIDA EL CINISMO DE SUS SUPUESTOS DERECHOS.

    Reply
  3. @Aurorabela

    Prisons are right down there with concentration camps dehumanizing and cruel.Much reforming needed for those who run the facilities for starters until then how could there be reform for those imprisoned by them?

    Reply

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