by PrisonerHungerStrikeSolidarity and Kevin Gosztola, FireDogLake
Yesterday, a major demonstration took place outside of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation headquarters in Sacramento. Hundreds of people turned up to confront CDCR, which has engaged in some mediation with representatives of the prisoner strike but not offered anything meaningful that would lead prisoners to abandon the strike.
At least 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay continue to refuse food and thousands more around the state are striking in solidarity, making it the largest hunger strike in the history of the embattled California prison system. The system, under federal receivership, has been court ordered to release 33,000 prisoners because of medical neglect caused by severe overcrowding.
“We are urging our state representatives and Gov. Brown to step in and force the CDCR to recognize the prisoners’ demands,” says Manuel La Fontaine, an organizer with All of Us or None. “The California prison system is already responsible for prisoner deaths because it provides substandard medical care. California’s lawmakers need to step up and take action against the situation at Pelican Bay.”
Mediators and lawyers who have spoken with hunger strikers at Pelican Bay say they remain committed despite not having eaten for 18 days. Some have said they are willing to strike to their death unless their demands are met. Dorsey Nunn, a member of the mediation team, points out: “The hunger strikers believe that this is the only way they can get the CDCR to rectify the conditions they are experiencing in the SHU (Security Housing Unit). They believe they have no other recourse.”
After unanimously rejecting an insulting offer by the CDCR, prisoners continue to strike for meaningful changes in SHU conditions and policies. In response to the prisoners five straightforward demands, CDCR distributed a vaguely worded document stating that it would “effect a comprehensive assessment of its existing policy and procedure” about the SHUs. The document gave no indication if any changes would be made at all.
“What’s most troubling is that the CDCR has not offered anything substantial in response to the prisoner’s demands, which include an end to long term solitary confinement,” says Carol Strickman, staff attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity legal team. Strickman also notes: “Some of these guys have been in the Security Housing Unit for 20 years or more and are suffering the severe effects of being locked in a 6 by 10 concrete cell for 23 ½ hours a day. What they are asking for are basic human rights.”
“Given how basic the striker’s demands are, it is immoral that the CDCR would insult these men with such poor faith proposals,” stated mediator Dorsey Nunn.
The hunger strike is now in its third week and shows no sign of weakening. In fact, the settlement document distributed last night to all hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison resulted in some people who had gone off the strike resuming in their refusal of food.
Prisoners who began eating again due to extreme medical situations have rejoined the hunger strike to re-invigorate support for the Pelican Bay hunger strikers’ demands to be met. Hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay remain on strike, with thousands more participating throughout California’s 33 prisons. Advocates and strike leaders dismiss the false claims that the strike is being orchestrated by prison gangs.
At least 6,600 prisoners statewide joined the hunger strike for varying lengths of time due to different medical conditions and health statuses. Advocates are currently sure of thousands of prisoners continuing to strike at Pelican Bay – both the general population and in the SHU – CCI Tehachapi, Corcoran, Folsom, Calipatria, Centinela, RJ Donovan, San Quentin and Valley State Prison for Women, and still suspect many more participants in other prisons.
The strike is reaching a critical point with reports of dozens of striking prisoners being taken to the infirmary because of irregular heartbeats or fainting. Most prisoners have lost 20-35 pounds.
Carol Strickman reports that medical protocol is not being followed. They are supposed to be doing “daily assessments after two days, including the recording of weight, vitals – such as blood pressure – hydration and assessments of physical and emotional conditions.
“We know that these things are not happening, either at all or sporadically,” says Strickman.
Scales for weighing prisoners are not synchronized and sometimes the prison staff weighs prisoners with chains and sometimes without chains. So, the accuracy of information is questionable right now. Additionally, the doctors are supposed to be performing physical exams. Strickman reports, instead of providing physical exams, “The medical staff is doing what I have been told are called drive-by exams, where they stand outside the door with no physical contact and just ask if people are okay, which is basically saying, ‘Are you alive?’”
Strickman further reports that “medications are being eliminated entirely or reduced.” Despite promises from the federal receiver overseeing CDCR, no one has received salt tablets or multiple vitamins. Prisoners were given a sheet of medical advice on what to do during the strike. Yet, none of the prisoners have been provided with any tablets.
There are reports of untreated blood pressure, a prisoner falling off a bunk and hitting his head and diabetics being put on IV drips.
A number of prisoners have signed an “advanced directive form” indicating that they would not like to be resuscitated when they can no longer communicate.
“Many of these prisoners are older and have pre-existing conditions such as advanced lymphoma, congestive heart failure, hypertensive disease, debilitating muscle disease and so on,” Strickman explains. “So for all these reasons, every day the situation is becoming more critical.”
Prisoners in Pelican Bay are subjected to a prison regime that is similar to the regime detainees face at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay prisoners have engaged in hunger strikes before which have been broken by force-feeding prisoners – a brutal tactic for breaking resistance that is tantamount to torture.
Strickman says on the possibility of prison staff employing this brutal tactic to end the strike: “CDCR does not seem to be gearing up for force feeding. They are saying that this is a question of choice and has distributed two forms seeking people to state their choice. I think CDCR is fine with them dying.”
I think CDCR is fine with them dying.
However, Strickman expressed some fear: “People who are requesting ‘medical care’ if they become unconscious, which means ‘force feeding’ – the method is liquid fed through the nasal tube – but it cannot be done in Pelican Bay because the small clinic is not licensed to do it. CDCR has told us they will transport prisoners who need significant medical care to Corcoran, which is many hours away. They say they have lined up buses. But will the unconscious prisoner who wants to be given food in this way get there in time?
“CDCR is already doing many things to break the strike: Providing a special meal on July 4, spreading lies that the strike is over, talking to prisoners one by one to persuade them to end their own individual fast, trying to persuade leaders to call an end to the strike, trying to persuade the mediation team to tell the leaders to end the strike, withholding medication because of not eating, preventing information from getting into the prison via mail or radio, threatening to ship leaders out of Pelican Bay etc.”
International solidarity with the striking prisoners also continues to mount with demonstrations and messages emerging from across the U.S., Canada, Turkey and Australia. According to mediation team member Laura Magnani: “From day one, the CDCR has demonstrated its inability to resolve this situation. We call on Gov. Brown to step in and negotiate in good faith to bring this situation to a just resolution.” Strike supporters plan to flood the governor’s offices with phone calls and emails, echoing the strikers’ demands.
Updates on hunger strikers in prisons across California
These are updates from letters, posts, Facebook messages, conversations and emails.
A mother went to go visit her son in the SHU and was told that all the men on B Yard are not eating, except for one who is a diabetic. Her son had lost about 20 pounds and she reported that he looked extremely skinny, his skin looked sucked in and eyes really big. She said he came out to visit with this very ugly, dirty suit and believes they are not allowing them to do laundry.
He was told about the protest that will be taking place tomorrow in San Bernardino and broke down crying. He thanked everyone who has been involved in organizing efforts. He said it is becoming very challenging but he is going to hold on and keep going strong. He said they had heard almost nothing about the strike. They had only managed to get a hold of one article, but it had no mention that Tehachapi was also on hunger strike and they have been going since July 1. He urged to bring awareness to the fact that they are still on hunger strike and will continue to be.
I received a letter from my man today letting me know the inmates in the hole at Donovan are participating in the hunger strike. There is absolutely no news coverage in the San Diego area. All I know is he’s telling me the men are eating canteen and that’s it. I was under the impression they weren’t eating at all. He said he’s sent me numerous letters; however, I’ve only gotten two prior ones telling me how starving he is. He’s lost 20 pounds so far.
It’s hard to find out any accurate information, but he did say that he finally received mail from the beginning of July. I’ve called numerous times to get some sort of information, but supposedly nobody knows anything. Please fill me in if you find out any information. I’m not sure how long they have been eating canteen … it’s a total upside down mess there. I have a friend who emailed all the local news channels yet nothing has gone public. He said he wrote me a letter regarding what’s going on in there, but of course I never got it.
I don’t think anyone knows which different prisons still have strikers; that’s why we’re trying to get a list together. Reports keep coming in from different places, and CDCR is keeping a tight lid on inmates trying to get the word out to their loved ones. If I had to guess, I would say there are still THOUSANDS participating … not hundreds!
Pelican Bay SHU C Corridor
About 50 inmates on the C Corridor are participating in this hunger strike. Soon you may not hear from the men, but BE DILIGENT in making sure they’re OK. If your incarcerated loved one has an attorney, try to get in contact with them to see if they can get direct answers regarding what is really going on inside.
Stood outside gates of Pelican Bay today with two others and a banner in support of hunger strikers while visitors came and went. Camping with Julie – see her blog – who’s been here for three-plus weeks … plenty of room for more support up here!
Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility
I went to visit my husband along with my sister in law and we were denied a visit because he is in the hole on a disciplinary violation. After looking into it further. I can see that they are retaliating against him for participating in the hunger strike.
He wrote to me and I received the letter a few minutes ago telling me he was on a hunger strike that went on for a further 36 hours but he had to then give in because he was going crazy. On Thursday, July 14, he said that they “gaffled him up” after going to his GED class. He has not received a write up or anything stating what he did wrong. They just mentioned that he will be charged with “inciting” – apparently the teacher thinks that he is responsible for the class not showing up on July 13.
He also says that if they look at the “sign-in” sheet for the past month they would see that the whole class often doesn’t show up. And in the meantime I am contacting his attorney so that he can go in there and see what is really going on.
I forgot to mention that my husband is in a cell by himself. He is not allowed any mail other than outgoing mail and has been locked down 24 hours per day since July 14. So, it has been 48 hours. If this isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. These privatized prisons are going too far. They forget that only GEO Group is contracted with the government; the employees aren’t.
For anyone whose mail is being withheld, here’s the law:
Prisoner’s Rights: Right to Receive Mail While in Prison
“[A] prisoner’s right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail is protected by the First Amendment” – Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). “[The] interference with prisoners’ mail `must be no greater than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved” – Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1139 (2d Cir.1986) (quotation marks omitted). Prison mail regulations are valid only if they are “reasonably related to legitimate penological interest” – Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).
“Prison walls do not form a barrier, separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution,” as stated in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. at 84. “[N]or do they bar free citizens from exercising their own constitutional rights by reaching out to those on the ‘inside,’” as stated in Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 407 (1987). “Access [to prisoners] is essential to … families and friends of prisoners who seek to sustain relationships” with prisoners. Id. – Section 1983.
Support the hunger strikers! Here’s how
1. Contact your elected officials and urge them to visit Pelican Bay and check on the hunger strikers and to make sure the CDCR negotiates immediately and in good faith with the prisoners and their approved outside mediation team. A phone call takes only a minute. Your help is needed to convince the state to meet the strikers’ demands and bring the strike to an end before lives are lost.
All hunger strike supporters and people worldwide who are against torture are called upon to intensify the pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators especially.
• Call Gov. Jerry Brown at (916) 445-2841 and say something like this: “My name is _____. I support the reasonable five core demands of the hunger striking prisoners. I urge the governor to become involved or to direct Secretary Cate to negotiate with the prisoners immediately and in good faith. During this crisis and afterward, the prisoners’ human and civil rights must be respected. Thank you.”
• Call CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate at (916) 323-6001 or (916) 445-4950 and say something like this: “My name is _____. I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay. I support the prisoners and their reasonable five core demands. I urge the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners immediately and in good faith. Thank you.”
• Call Pelican Bay State Prison Warden Greg Lewis, (707) 465-1000, ext. 9040, and Ombudsman Ralyn Conner, (916) 324-6123.
• Call the California Senate Public Safety Committee: Sen. Loni Hancock, chair, (916) 651-4009 or (510) 286-1333.
• Call the California Assembly Public Safety Committee: Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, chair, (916) 319-2013 or (415) 557-3013.
• Call out CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton on her lies, at (916) 324-4590.
2. Attend rallies and demonstrations publicizing the strike and pressure elected officials to get involved.
3. Organize rallies and demonstrations in support of the strike to increase public attention and pressure on legislators to get involved.
Click here for more ways to get involved.
For more information on the hunger strike: