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Rally to end Santa Clara County Jail hunger strike

April 25, 2018

Official public statement from Prisoners United of Silicon Valley

Introduction: Over 200 prisoners in Santa Clara County have been on a hunger strike since April 15, 2018, to end meaningless classification reviews and the torturous practice of indefinite solitary confinement etc.. Hunger strike participants have lost anywhere from 8 to 22 pounds in one week alone, raising concerns for their families in the community.

Concerned families and community countywide rallied in support of their incarcerated loved ones on Monday, April 23, at 6 p.m. in front of the Main Jail in hopes that the jail administration and/or Sheriff Laurie Smith will engage with participating hunger strikers to end the hunger strike.

The enormous size of the Santa Clara County Jail begs the question, why in Silicon Valley, where people from around the world find jobs, is there still sufficient poverty and discrimination to fill a huge jail with mostly Black and Brown people. Their families are solidly behind them. – Photo: Brown Berets Outreach Coordinator Angelica Jazmin Ramirez-Reyes Haq

April 23 – Our appreciation and a strong embrace of respect is extended beyond these walls of Santa Clara County Jails to all those who support our current hunger strike in our attempt to bring about meaningful positive change for all detainees through the equal application of policy.

Over the weekend, Custody Health checked weight loss of all hunger strike participants. Custody Health is also routinely checking hydration levels through blood pressure and heart rate. Hunger strike participants have lost anywhere from 8 to 22 pounds since April 15, 2018.

Lieutenants and/or other correctional staff have met with hunger strike participants from every participating housing unit to hear our demands and the question of what would end the strike. No promises to end the use of indefinite solitary confinement or implement meaningful classification reviews were made and the jail administration has yet to hold any negotiations.

Today, Monday April 23, a magistrate judge is scheduled to hold a mediation session on solitary confinement issues in Santa Clara County concerning the Chavez vs. Santa Clara County class action lawsuit. The Prison Law Office, which has taken on the suit, is hoping to get some clarity on the county’s position, as they have not made any commitments.

Yesterday, on our eighth​ day of not eating food, finally late last night we got weighed. As suspected, our participants who are the heaviest actually had the most to lose. In this location alone, the most one individual lost was 22 pounds.

Our appreciation and a strong embrace of respect is extended beyond these walls of Santa Clara County Jails to all those who support our current hunger strike in our attempt to bring about meaningful positive change for all detainees through the equal application of policy.

Personally, I lost 10.2 pounds in seven days. I now weigh 157.2 pounds, and that is not including any weight that I may have possibly lost today. So aside from dizzy spells, massive headaches, severe stomach cramps, drained energy, muscle spasms, bones aching, and the inability to focus and defecate for six days, we are now also experiencing rapid, dramatic weight loss. Some are experiencing morning nosebleeds and I personally have periodic blurred vision.

Please understand that we do not convey this message for the purpose of gaining nor seeking sympathy, as that would possibly serve as a distraction to our true message and undermine the experience of our collective sacrifice. Instead, we seek to gain more and continued support. We welcome empathy and we ultimately strive for positive change, transparency and equal treatment through application of policies.

We also believe it is important to understand that we are fully aware that regardless of our determination, our bodies may eventually fail us, shut down, go into cardiac arrest, so on and so forth. So, of course we do not want to starve ourselves; we are not into self-torture, we are not driven by ego or any gang purposes – and we are not simply a few disgruntled prisoners.

We have continuously utilized and exhausted all avenues and remedies available to us seeking equal treatment, only to continuously be ignored or denied regardless of new policy changes on paper. Unfortunately, there still remains a discriminatory gap between written policy and its physical practice that classification administration has not yet corrected.

The men being tortured inside the Santa Clara County Jail are fathers, brothers, husbands, sons – working men whose families need them back home. Why are the men in county jail forced to endure conditions little better and in many ways worse than long-term state prisoners? – Photo: Brown Berets Outreach Coordinator Angelica Jazmin Ramirez-Reyes Haq

Just like Sheriff Laurie Smith, the Board of Directors and Administration has not and will not answer emails or calls of concerns about your loved ones who are striking within this jail. Our calls for due process and equal application of already existing policies are also ignored.

Many of us have spent over three years in solitary confinement. Eventually we were moved to a secretive, more restrictive location which operated a pilot program. Literally, we were stripped searched several times a day.

We were deprived of fundamental bare elements of human existence for approximately six to eight months. We were not allowed to go outside, we were not allowed one single breath of fresh air, and not one single ray of sunlight touched our skin.

Other severe psychological tactics were applied to try and break us down as men. We were grossly discriminated against and there was no due process afforded to us. This was done regardless of the fact many of us, myself included, are not here on violent charges and do not have any violent in-house infractions.

Some positive changes did come about after Michael Tyree’s death at the hands of three deputies, our first hunger strike in 2016, and the Chavez v. Santa Clara County Jail class action lawsuit. Of course, we do recognize and appreciate these changes.

However, there are still detainees who remain in solitary confinement, now called restrictive housing. They have been there for one to two years or more with no end in sight, as they are not afforded any real due process. In addition, there are many of us who, regardless of our good behavior, cannot get down-classed to a less restrictive setting, again due to unequal application of classification policy.

Just like Sheriff Laurie Smith, the Board of Directors and Administration has not and will not answer emails or calls of concerns about your loved ones who are striking within this jail. Our calls for due process and equal application of already existing policies are also ignored.

These are just some of our experiences and reasons why we believe in what we are doing and we are willing to make the sacrifices in the spirit of change and hope to be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Yes, we understand this is a tough situation and trying times not only for us and our family of supporters, but also for Sheriff Laurie Smith, the jail administration and the board of directors, but we do strive for a fair and swift resolution.

In closing let me just say, although our bodies are losing weight, energy and strength we still stand firm. Our spirit is determined and strong as we feed off the support of our supporters.

Thank you, gracias, in solidarity,

Prisoners United of Silicon Valley

To learn more, contact Jose Manuel Valle, at jose@siliconvalleydebug.org.

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