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Hunger strike reminder: SHU isolation cell awaits California lawmakers as legislative session begins

August 14, 2013

by Stop Mass Incarceration Bay Area and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

As California legislators return to work this week, prisoner hunger strike family members, loved ones, advocates and supporters will gather at the Capitol to urge state decision makers to take swift and resolute action toward meeting the demands of the strikers.

Mock SHU cell by Stop Mass Incarceration NetworkWaiting for the legislators on the Capitol’s south steps will be a life-sized mock Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., these California lawmakers who determine prison policy for one of the most notorious prison systems in the world can walk into this SHU cell to see how their decisions feel to prisoners.

This stark multimedia installation will allow visitors to acquire a tactile and visceral understanding of the reality of solitary confinement that over 4,000 California prisoners have endured for years and decades and why this is cruel and unusual punishment deemed torture by the U.N. and human rights groups. The installation includes images of SHU cells and prisoners and moving testimony from prisoners and others.

This installation will stand as a refutation of Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard’s claims in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that the notorious SHU “is not ‘solitary confinement.’”

Prisoners’ families, Assemblyperson Ammiano and SMIN invite Gov. Jerry Brown and Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to visit the SHU and to state why this is not torture.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN), California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), in support of the California prison hunger strikers and their five demands, will host a noon press conference with statements from prisoners’ families, hunger strike supporters and human rights advocates. Speakers include

  • Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento;
  • J. Tony Serra, who served for 50 years as a criminal defense lawyer;
  • Laura Magnani of the American Friends Service Committee;
  • Rev. Theon Johnson III, associate pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco;
  • Dr. Ron Ahnen, professor of politics at St. Mary’s College, president of California Prison Focus and member of the Hunger Strike Mediation Team;
  • Larry Everest, Revolution newspaper; and
  • UC Berkeley student Steven Czifra, formerly incarcerated in the Pelican Bay SHU.

“Wednesday will mark nearly 40 days of prisoners going without food in peaceful protest of their truly horrendous living conditions,” says Donna Willmott, a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “We are inspired by their courageous actions, and we are also very concerned with their medical conditions and the callous attitude of the California Department of Corrections.

“If Gov. Brown wants to stay silent, if the CDCR wants to continue to dehumanize these prisoners, then now would be the time for other California decision makers to take action. If ever there was a time for an emergency session of the state’s Public Safety Committee, this would be it.”

“We are inspired by their courageous actions, and we are also very concerned with their medical conditions and the callous attitude of the California Department of Corrections.”

“These prisoners are tortured daily, mistreated and abused by a system that is run and paid for by California taxpayers. I for one do not want my tax dollars going towards the abuse and maltreatment of another individual,” said Irene Huerta, speaking for the Mediation Team working on behalf of the strikers. Huerta’s husband is on strike at Pelican Bay.

“As a wife whose husband has endured unbelievable atrocities for over 28 years in solitary confinement, I am pleading with Gov. Brown to intervene, end the torture and comply with the requests set forth by these men who are starving themselves.”

On July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners began a hunger strike to end the torture of solitary confinement and for their basic rights and humanity. Their central demand is “comply with the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.” Now, hundreds of prisoners have gone 37 days without food, with many more supporting in other ways.

“As a wife whose husband has endured unbelievable atrocities for over 28 years in solitary confinement, I am pleading with Gov. Brown to intervene, end the torture and comply with the requests set forth by these men who are starving themselves.”

Millions throughout society support the prisoners, including such prominent voices as Jay Leno, Danny Glover, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky and Gloria Steinem. On July 22, 2013, Amnesty International said California prisons and the CDCR’s response to the hunger strike “flout international standards for humane treatment.”

Yet Gov. Jerry Brown remains silent. The California Department of Corrections refuses to meet the prisoners’ just, reasonable and basic demands and has instead retaliated against and vilified the hunger strikers.

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network states: “This is an EMERGENCY! One hunger striker, Billy ‘Guero’ Sell, has already died. Many more people need to stand NOW with the prisoner hunger strikers!”

Gov. Jerry Brown remains silent. The California Department of Corrections refuses to meet the prisoners’ just, reasonable and basic demands and has instead retaliated against and vilified the hunger strikers.

Prisoners’ families, Assemblyperson Ammiano and SMIN invite Gov. Jerry Brown and Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to visit the SHU and to state why this is not torture. They want California’s top decision makers, who hold the fate of 193,538 (as of Aug. 7, 2013) prisoners and parolees in their hands, to hear these messages:

“I remain concerned about the hundreds of prisoners still participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions. These are not minor prisoner complaints; they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept.” – Assemblymember Tom Ammiano

“My son is housed maybe in a cell where the prisoner there before him might have taken his own life or gone mad. … There is no window. You don’t know when day transitions into night. You just go by the food tray that they slide you, if it’s a breakfast tray or a dinner tray. And to know that even their yard, it just exists of another cell. They bring them out, and they put them in another cell surrounded by 20-feet brick walls and the sky covering covered in plexiglas. And I think, for me, that is just the most troubling, that I feel myself at times as if I’m buried alive. … I wake up in the night and I can’t breathe and I have anxiety, because I just imagine what it’s like to be entombed day in and day out in a cement cell like that.” – Dolores Canales of CFASC on Democracy Now

“So far one of the hunger strikers has perished. This is serious enough that people are refusing food and refusing the meager means to life that is being offered to them. They’re taking it to their graves – so to suggest that this doesn’t constitute solitary confinement is ridiculous. What is solitary confinement? … Some of these people haven’t touched another human being in excess of 30 years … They’re alone, they’re desperate, they’re willing to die, they are dying … To act like there is no issue is absurd.” – Steve Czifra, interviewed on MSNBC

To learn more:

Contact Stop Mass Incarceration Bay Area on Twitter @StopMassIncNet, email StopMassIncarcerationBayArea@gmail.com and visit this Facebook Event Page. Contact Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com.

 

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