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California prisoners suspend 60-day hunger strike – families, legislators respond

September 5, 2013

Isaac Ontiveros and Claude Marks, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland – After 60 days on hunger strike, prisoners at Pelican Bay have suspended their peaceful protest. Representatives of the Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit have based their decision on a meeting with fellow prisoners at the prison, the growing international condemnation of California’s practice of solitary confinement, as well as the commitment of California Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairs Loni Hancock and Tom Ammiano to convene a series of hearings in response to the strikers’ demands that would “address the issues that have been raised to a point where they can no longer be ignored.”

Pelican Bay prisoners also noted that despite California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) repeated attacks on the strikers and their loved ones, they are firm in their commitment to end torture and violence in California’s notorious prison system. They are hopeful that their decision could reach their fellow prisoners still on strike in other facilities and said they would continue to support them in whatever choices they make regarding their protest.

The statement from strike representatives at Pelican Bay declaring a suspension to their protest reads in full:

Statement suspending the third hunger strike

Greetings of Solidarity and Respect!

1102936_ME_PelicanBay__
This view of the Pelican Bay SHU cells from the exercise cell encompasses the tiny world of the men who signed this statement – all of them confined to this space for many years, some for decades. Out of this isolated space, where torture is a daily occurrence, has come such extraordinary strategy and diplomacy that, with the help of all who read this, they are bound to win justice. – Photo: Mark Boster, L.A. Times
The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective Representatives hereby serve notice upon all concerned parties of interest that after nine weeks we have collectively decided to suspend our third hunger strike action on Sept. 5, 2013.

To be clear, our peaceful protest of resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly.

This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met – despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable. The core group of prisoners has been and remains 100 percent committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory, even if it requires us to make the ultimate sacrifice. With that said, we clarify this point by stating prisoner deaths are not the objective; we recognize such sacrifice is at times the only means to an end of fascist oppression.

Our goal remains: Force the powers that be to end their torture policies and practices in which serious physical and psychological harm is inflicted on tens of thousands of prisoners as well as our loved ones outside. We also call for ending the related practices of using prisoners to promote the agenda of the police state by seeking to greatly expand the numbers of the working class poor warehoused in prisons, and particularly those of us held in solitary, based on psychological and social manipulation, and divisive tactics keeping prisoners fighting amongst each other.

To be clear, our peaceful protest of resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly.

Those in power promote mass warehousing to justify more guards and more tax dollars for “security,” yet spend mere pennies for rehabilitation – all of which demonstrates a failed penal system and high recidivism – ultimately compromising public safety. The state of California’s $9.1 billion annual CDCR budget is the epitome of a failed and fraudulent state agency that diabolically and systemically deprives thousands of their human rights and dignity.

Allowing this agency to act with impunity has to stop! And it will.

With that said, and in response to much sincere urging of loved ones, supporters, our attorneys, and current and former state legislators, Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock and Tom Hayden, for whom we have the utmost respect, we decided to suspend our hunger strike. We are especially grateful to Sen. Hancock and Assembly Member Ammiano for their courageous decision to challenge Gov. Brown and the CDCR for their policies of prolonged solitary confinement and inhumane conditions. We are certain that they will continue their fight for our cause, including holding legislative hearings and drafting legislation responsive to our demands on prison conditions and sentencing laws. We are also proceeding with our class action civil suit against the CDCR.

The fact is that Gov. Brown and CDCR Secretary Beard have responded to our third peaceful action with typical denials and falsehoods, claiming solitary confinement does not exist and justifying the continuation of their indefinite torture regime by vilifying the peaceful protest representatives. They also obtained the support of medical receiver Kelso and Prison Law Office attorney Spector – who is supposed to represent prisoners interests, and instead has become an agent for the state – to perpetuate their lie to the public and to the federal court that prisoners participating in the hunger strike have been coerced in order to obtain the Aug. 19 force feeding order.

From our perspective, we’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals. However, there’s still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.

We have deemed it to be in the best interest of our cause to suspend our hunger strike action until further notice.

We urge people to remember that we began our present resistance with our unprecedented collective and peaceful actions – in tandem with the legislative process – back in early 2010, when we created and distributed a “Formal Complaint” for the purpose of educating the public and bringing widespread attention to our torturous conditions.

After much dialogue and consideration, this led us to our first and second hunger strike actions in 2011, during which a combined number of 6,500 and 12,000 prisoners participated. We succeeded in gaining worldwide attention and support resulting in some minor changes by the CDCR concerning SHU programming and privileges. They also claimed to make major changes to policies regarding gang validation and indefinite SHU confinement by creating the STG-SDP Pilot Program. They released a few hundred prisoners from SHU and Ad Seg to general population in the prison. But in truth, this is all part of a sham to claim the pilot program works and was a weak attempt to have our class action dismissed. It didn’t work.

In response, we respectfully made clear that CDCR’s STG-SDP was not responsive to our demand for the end to long term isolation and solitary confinement and thus unacceptable. (See Agreement to End Hostilities.)

Our supporting points fell on deaf ears, leading to our January 2013 notice of intent to resume our hunger strike on July 8, 2013, if our demands were not met. We also included 40 supplemental demands.

In early July, CDCR produced several memos notifying prisoners of an increase in privileges and property items, which are notably responsive to a few of our demands, while the majority of our demands were unresolved, leading to our third hunger strike, in which 30,000 prisoners participated and which resulted in greater worldwide exposure, support and condemnation of the CDCR!

From our perspective, we’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals. However, there’s still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.

Respectfully,

For the Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement:

  • Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-121
  • Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, D1-121
  • Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117
  • Antonio Guillen, P-81948, D2-106

And the Representatives Body:

  • Danny Troxell, B-76578, D1-120
  • George Franco, D-46556, D4-217
  • Ronnie Yandell, V-27927, D4-215
  • Paul Redd, B-72683, D2-117
  • James Baridi Williamson, D-34288, D4-107
  • Alfred Sandoval, D-61000, D4-214
  • Louis Powell, B-59864, D1-104
  • Alex Yrigollen, H-32421, D2-204
  • Gabriel Huerta, C-80766, D3-222
  • Frank Clement, D-07919, D3-116
  • Raymond Chavo Perez, K-12922, D1-219
  • James Mario Perez, B-48186, D3-124

Isaac Ontiveros and Claude Marks are spokespersons for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. Ontiveros can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org. To write to any of the prisoner authors, add P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Family members’ statement on suspension of hunger strike

As family members and leaders of the California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) organization, the Hunger Strike Mediation Team and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, we feel that the almost 60-day hunger strike was a huge sacrifice on the part of the prisoners. We can’t imagine what their bodies have endured these past 60 days, and we are very glad that it’s over and that there were no lives lost.

At the same time, we know and are prepared for the greater challenges that lie ahead. To ensure that the prisoners, our loved ones, never need endure such suffering again, we will continue in our work to bring an end to such inhumane conditions. As members of CFASC, ourselves and many family members are ready to continue and remain in the forefront to bring an end to the use of long term solitary confinement.

We are very proud of our family members and loved ones who were willing to make such a sacrifice, which has gained international attention, and we are honored to be part of such a historical movement.

  • Irene Huerta, CFASC, wife of Gabriel Huerta, PB Short Corridor Representative
  • Dolores Canales, CFASC, mother of PB SHU prisoner

California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement can be reached at (714) 290-9077, www.abolishsolitary.com or Chuco’s Justice Center, 1137 East Redondo Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90302.

Legislative leaders welcome end to hunger strike, re-affirm commitment to hearings on prisoner concerns

Sacramento – Today Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, welcomed the end to the California prison inmate hunger strike after 60 days.

“I am relieved and gratified that the hunger strike has ended without further sacrifice or risk of human life,” Sen. Hancock stated. ““The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – and will not be ignored.”

“I’m happy that no one had to die in order to bring attention to these conditions,” Ammiano said. “The prisoners’ decision to take meals should be a relief to CDCR and the Brown administration, as well as to those who support the strikers.”

The end to the hunger strike comes five days after Hancock and Ammiano announced that they will hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that have led to the inmate hunger strike. The two legislators asked the inmates to end the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised.

According to Sen. Hancock: “The inmates participating in the hunger strike have succeeded in bringing these issues to the center of public awareness and debate. Legislators now recognize the seriousness and urgency of these concerns and we will move forward to address them.”

“I’m especially gratified if the call for hearings helped bring this about,” Ammiano said. “However, our real work begins now, as we will soon start preparing for hearings that I hope can bring an end to the disgraceful conditions that triggered the hunger strike.”

The first hearing is expected to take place in October and will focus on two key issues raised by the hunger strike:

1. The conditions of confinement in California’s maximum security prisons

On April 9, 2013, a U.S. District Judge ruled in a class action law suit that inmates being held in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades, had adequately demonstrated that the state of California may be denying them protection from cruel and unusual punishment and granted the plaintiffs the right to a trial.

2. The effect of long-term solitary confinement as a prison management strategy and a human rights issue

Sen. Hancock stated: “California continues to be an outlier in its use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time. Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”

“We know these prisoners have committed crimes,” Ammiano said, “but I have to repeat: It does not justify the way the state is treating them in the name of all Californians. We want California to be a leader in effective and enlightened corrections and true rehabilitation.”

The two legislators cited a report by Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture: “Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture.”

They also referred to the 2006 report of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, a bipartisan national task force. The report found that between 1995 and 2000, the use of solitary confinement in the United States had increased by 40 percent, far outpacing the 28 percent growth rate of the overall prison population. The commission concluded that solitary confinement is counterproductive to public safety and costs twice as much as imprisonment in the general population. The commission recommended ending long-term isolation of inmates.

For more information, contact Carlos Alcalá, communications director for the Office of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, at Carlos.Alcala@asm.ca.gov or (916) 319-2017.

What you can do

Join a 60-hour solidarity fast to end long term solitary confinement at Gov. Jerry Brown’s condo, 27th and Telegraph in Oakland any time from Thursday, Sept. 5, at noon to Saturday, Sept. 7, at midnight, in honor, respect and support of the California prison hunger strikers who suspended their hunger strike after 60 days.

Hunger strike solidarity activists will publicly fast in front of Gov. Brown’s condo for 60 hours, shining a light on his gross disregard for life and blatant profiteering off of human suffering. We invite everyone to claim space with us, whether fasting or not. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!

Come by during First Friday. There will be a noise demo on Friday, Sept. 6, at 9 p.m.

For more information, email casolidarityfast@gmail.com.

 

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