SPEAK OUT to support the California prisoners’ hunger strike Tuesday, July 5, 4 p.m., at the Ronald Reagan State Building, 300 South Spring St. at Third Street, Los Angeles
by Bomani Shakur
Ask anyone who has ever been on a hunger strike, and they will tell you that the process of intentionally starving oneself is a very painful ordeal. Typically speaking, it is a protracted form of suicide; taken too far, the body will shut down and die. And yet, there are places on this planet where the idea of death is preferable to continuing down a path that offers no hope or relief from suffering. I live in such a place; I know.
In January of this year (2011), and after almost 13 years of solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), I and several others went on hunger strike. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
However, after countless appeals to reason had failed, and after coming to the end of all that we could do – law suits, grievances, petitions etc. – we made the decision to risk our very lives in order to bring about the necessary changes that would allow us to live as human beings. In the end, we stood firm, garnered worldwide support and prevailed.
Now prisoners in California, confined in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, have decided to undertake a similar course of action. To them, I say: Bravo!
In a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world – over 2.6 million men and women behind bars – human rights violations are inevitable, and it falls to those of us who must suffer through the experience to stand up and speak truth to power; for, as Frederick Douglass suggested: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
In the days to come, the men at Pelican Bay will need each and every one of us to support them, to stand with them as they seek to bring their situation to a tolerable level. What they are demanding is basic:
- Individual accountability
- Abolish debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
- Comply with U.S. Commission 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement
- Provide adequate food
- Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates
Let’s come together to assist these men in their time of need and show them that their status as “criminals” does not automatically disqualify them from being human beings. In my time of need, I found this to be the truth and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Give these men the opportunity to feel that outpouring of compassion.
And to the men at Pelican Bay – Todd, Danny et al – I simply want to say: Stay the course; pay attention to what you are doing; and when things get rough (and they will), know that you are not alone. By and through the activation of what he called “Satygraha” – or truth force – Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy in the world. In every evil that threatens us, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free. Hold on to that.
The system as it currently exists must change, and this, what you all are doing right now, may very well be the catalyst to bring about that change. Remember that.
And remember this: The first three days are the hardest; after that, it’s mind over matter. When the body is brought under control, the mind is set free to receive revelations. Be on the lookout for that; and when they come, when the truth of your situation is revealed, stay in that space. Drink as much water as you can, stay hydrated (read: coffee is a diuretic). And when the time comes, be sure to get everything in writing!
Calling all arms * Calling all arms
Bomani Shakur, aka Keith LaMar, of the Lucasville 5 wrote the letters that informed the world about their hunger strike in January 2011 at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Write to him: Keith LaMar, 317-117, P.O. Box 1436, Youngstown OH 44501. His writing published in the Bay View includes “Lucasville prisoners: If we must die,” “A great rally, a great victory for the Lucasville hunger strikers” and “Power to the people: A welcome prison victory in Ohio.” This letter first appeared on Kersplebedeb.
Hunger strike grows and CDCR lies about numbers
The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike is clearly starting strong as more units in Pelican Bay and other prisons are joining.
On the first day, 43 food trays were refused (out of 52) in Pod D1 of Pelican Bay SHU. The nine prisoners who have not refused to eat are much older and already have serious health concerns. The prisoners also said that other units had similar numbers of nearly 100 percent participation.
On the second day of the hunger strike, the action spread throughout Pelican Bay SHU into general population (GP).
The strike has also spread to Corcoran and Folsom State Prisons, where more than 100 prisoners have joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the demands at Pelican Bay.
One prisoner informed us: “In Tehachapi SHU in 2007, me and six other guys did a hunger strike. Staff flipped out. When we went to the yard they placed lunches in our cells and photographed it. They rigged scales between weigh-ins. And they used my medical, chronic-care issues to say that not eating was akin to “suicidal behavior” and placed me on suicide watch.” Suicide watch involves isolation and deprivation – and can be used as a method of punishment.
These tactics demonstrate the CDCR is scared that this hunger strike is powerful and growing and is not taking the prisoners demands seriously.
Please take a few minutes to call the CDCR and the warden and urge them to honor the prisoners’ demands!
This update first appeared on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website.
More strike updates
Join the demonstration: SPEAK OUT to support the California prisoners’ hunger strike Tuesday, July 5, 4 p.m., at the Ronald Reagan State Building, 300 South Spring St. at Third Street, Los Angeles!
Gary, a supporter, emails: “People, get on the line or internet and tell the state politicians to meet the striking prisoners’ demands. These are the equivalent of the hunger strikes of the Irish Freedom Fighters or in South Africa under apartheid or anywhere else where repressive governments are oppressing ethnic, racial or class groups.”