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Mediators talk with prisoners as hunger strike reaches one month mark, situation remains critical, negotiations crucial

August 8, 2013

by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland, Aug. 8, 2013 – Today marks one month for prisoners on hunger strike throughout the California prison system. Earlier today, the mediation team working on behalf of the strikers was able to speak to the prisoners at Pelican Bay who initially called for the strike. Just moments ago members of the mediation team issued the following statement:

Hunger strike outreach Venice Beach 072813 by Keith James
Hunger striker supporters drew many curious people to a display at Venice Beach on the last weekend in July. – Photo: Keith James
“All of the members of our mediation team were able to speak with hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay for two-and-a-half hours. All four representatives are totally united and resolute. They were clear that this peaceful protest is not about them – it is about making real, fundamental changes to an incredibly unjust system.

“They haven’t eaten for 32 days but they are cogent, focused and committed.

“We were able to work together to develop new ideas about how to move forward, which we’ll be acting on over the next few days. The mediation team will be staying in contact with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and issuing statements daily.”

Reports from prisoners at Pelican Bay indicate escalated mistreatment from guards in the Administrative Segregation and Security Housing Units. Prisoners report being verbally abused by guards and overhearing them discussing orders “to treat some prisoners really nicely and others really badly.”

Today marks one month for prisoners on hunger strike throughout the California prison system.

Despite the abuse, prisoners remain steadfast in continuing their protest. “They are obviously feeling the effects of not having eaten in over a month, but they remain strong and in high spirits” said Anne Weills, a lawyer representing strikers at Pelican Bay. “They are fighting for themselves, their fellow prisoners and those who will come after them. They are incredibly inspired by all the support they’ve received and are steadfast in their commitments to improving conditions.”

“They haven’t eaten for 32 days but they are cogent, focused and committed.”

On the outside, prisoners’ loved ones, activists and advocates continue their fight to compel the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Gov. Jerry Brown to urgently address the human rights violations happening in the prison system by calling for immediate good-faith negotiations with strikers.

“These men are risking their lives to insist on humane conditions and an end to indefinite sentences of solitary confinement in California’s prison system,” said mediator Barbara Becnel.

“Recent reports from these prisoners demonstrate that their brave efforts have been made all the more difficult by prison guards who are treating them very harshly. Meanwhile, the hunger strikers have entered a very dangerous phase of their protest: their health could be permanently damaged and they could even die.”

“These men are risking their lives to insist on humane conditions and an end to indefinite sentences of solitary confinement in California’s prison system,” said mediator Barbara Becnel.

As for Gov. Brown and CDCR Secretary Beard: “How many prisoners have to be harmed by guards and the conditions which violate international human rights standards before state authorities are willing to seriously consider their demands for real change? How many prisoners have to die?”

Becnel’s full statement follows:

Prisoner hunger strike Day 32: Countdown for humane conditions

by Barbara Becnel, Mediation Team member

Aug. 8, 2013 – Today is the one-month anniversary of a hunger strike initiated by prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison that quickly spread to other correctional facilities across the state of California. To be precise, it is Day 32 of a month-long period of no solid foods for what are now hundreds of prisoners.

Hunger Strike demo Billy Sell altar made by Dendron Utter Oscar Grant Plaza 073013 by Molly Batchelder
One martyr to the hunger strikers’ struggle for human rights and an end to the torture that is solitary confinement has already fallen. This altar to the outstanding artist Billy Michael Sell, known as Guero, was created for a recent demonstration at Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza in support of the strike. – Photo: Molly Batchelder
These are men risking their lives to insist on humane conditions and certain terms for those prisoners who have otherwise been banished to indefinite sentences of solitary confinement in California’s prison system. Many of these men have been isolated for decades with no windows, no contact visits, no outside sunlight and no real exercise.

Recent reports from these prisoners demonstrate that their brave efforts have been made all the more difficult by prison guards who are treating them very harshly.

Guards are knocking them into walls, handcuffing them incorrectly to cause suffering and bending their arms to provoke extreme pain. Guards are spitting out racial epithets or deliberately placing an African American prisoner, for example, in a cell with racist graffiti.

Guards are also being strategically divisive by tactically treating some prisoners nicely and others in the most demeaning ways, hoping – as the guards openly discussed in front of some prisoners – to create division so the prisoners will begin to fight each other. The guards’ goal: to undermine the hunger strike.

According to these same talkative guards, this unprofessional behavior is what they were instructed to do to help bring the hunger strike to an end.

Ironically, those prisoners who have gotten off the hunger strike are also being treated badly. Guards are calling them “cowards” and “bitches” and other demeaning labels.

How many prisoners have to be harmed by guards and by the prisoners’ struggle for justice before state authorities are willing to consider, seriously, their demands for real change? How many prisoners have to die?

Meanwhile, the hunger strikers have entered a very dangerous phase of their protest: their health could be permanently damaged by their refusal to eat solid foods; they could even die.

The questions for California Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary Jeffrey Beard of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are these: How many prisoners have to be harmed by guards and by the prisoners’ struggle for justice before state authorities are willing to consider, seriously, their demands for real change? How many prisoners have to die?

Hunger Strike Mediation Team

  • Ron 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

To learn more and get involved, go to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

 

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