July 20 – Reaching at least 6,600 prisoners across 13 prisons, this massive and inspiring act of solidarity and people power across prison-manufactured and exacerbated racial and geographic lines has dumb-founded the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation).
While the daily numbers of hunger strikers fluctuates, the CDCR is certainly underestimating how many people inside prison are participating in and supporting this strike.
In the first days of the strike, the CDCR said “less than two dozen prisoners” were hunger striking but then were forced to admit at least 6,600 prisoners were participating in the strike. Now the CDCR has publicly announced that four prisons continue to strike. Advocates are currently aware of hunger strikers at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tehachapi, Folsom and Calipatria. Supporters also know that prisoners at Valley State Prison for Women, Centinela, San Quentin and RJ Donovan have also been participating in the strike and may still be refusing food. It is safe to assume the CDCR is still dramatically undercounting participation.
According to the federal receiver’s office, only 38 prisoners at Calipatria are refusing food, 20 days into the hunger strike. However, according to family members and friends of prisoners, hunger strikers at Calipatria say there at more than 300 prisoners at Calipatria still on hunger strike.
A close friend of a Calipatria hunger-striker told Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity: “Based on communicating with my best friend who is a hunger striker, I’m 100 percent sure at least 300 prisoners are still supporting each other and going strong, refusing food and demanding the CDCR change conditions of solitary confinement and policies around gang validation.”
She continues: “Calipatria is very south in California, near the U.S. Mexico border, and like all prisons, has a long history of corruption, guard-instigated violence and a severe lack of constructive programming for prisoners. It is incredibly hot down there. It is 110 degrees outside prison. Imagine how much hotter it is in a concrete cell, and imagine not eating anything for weeks in that heat.”
In order to break the strike and reduce support for it, the CDCR has:
- enticed prisoners into not fasting before the strike began by releasing a “4th of July Menu,” including food that prisoners have never seen before in prison
- continuously down-played participation and support in regards to numbers
- withheld information in regards to prisoners’ medical status and other details on the strike from press, media, advocates, family members and prisoners
- had guards march down prison halls announcing the strike was over and the demands were met
- not followed medical protocol, including distributing prescribed medication
- told the federal receiver’s office all prisoners were refusing medical care, therefore the federal receiver’s office does not need to follow protocol and weigh prisoners or do medical examinations until later
- denounced family members, friends, prisoners and lawyers speaking out about the urgent medical crisis as prisoners experience symptoms of severe dehydration due to no food for weeks and torturous conditions
- said, to justify torture and discourage wide-range support, that the strike is led by vicious gang members
- hung up and/or disconnected when supporters call in urging the CDCR to negotiate
- claimed they cannot implement the changes asked for in the demands, when they are basic standards even in other Supermax prisons Pelican Bay was modeled after
- thrown hunger striking prisoners not yet in the SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) units into solitary confinement as punishment for supporting the strike
- transferred hunger strikers to other prisons – we’ve heard from the Receiver’s Office of hunger strikers being transferred from Pelican Bay to Corcoran and Corcoran to Pelican Bay
- continued to deny mail, the primary source of much needed human contact
- and devised many more tactics we have yet to hear due to extreme isolation and surveillance
Despite these attempts, the hunger strike led by prisoners to change prison conditions and outside support for this courageous action has only grown. Thousands of people worldwide are supporting the strike by calling the CDCR and legislators to negotiate with the prisoners immediately, in good faith, before people die and medical conditions get even worse.
Supporters have also been holding demonstrations and rallies, often outside of prisons and jails, to draw attention to the prevalence of policing and imprisonment in their communities, particularly working-class and communities of color, as well as the prioritization of policing and imprisonment at the expense of the much-needed social services and resources for the same communities people are taken away from when locked up in prison.
Whitney Walton, a member of the Stop the Injunctions Coalition in Oakland, which is fighting the legalization of racial profiling through “gang injunctions,” says: “I’m supporting the hunger strike because policing and labeling individuals as ‘gang’ members or neighborhoods as ‘gang zones’ is directly connected to ‘gang validation’ that occurs in prisons. Both are tactics used to criminalize, dehumanize and isolate members of our communities.”
This hunger strike certainly is “rolling” and strike participation in the way of refusing food will continue to fluctuate in regards to numbers. Without a doubt, this struggle will continue until the prisoner’s demands are met and prisoners are recognized as human beings.
Three weeks with no food, solidarity strengthens
July 19 – Yesterday, 200 family members, community members and lawyers across California mobilized outside the headquarters of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Sacramento to demonstrate their support of the people on hunger strike at Pelican Bay, Corcoran and other prisons and to call on the CDCR and Gov. Brown to intervene in this urgent, life and death matter.
Marching and chanting strong, a small delegation entered the CDCR lobby to deliver over 7,500 petitions and allow family members to ask questions about their striking loved ones. Oscar Hidalgo, CDCR communications director, came out after over 40 minutes of waiting and police threatening to arrest supporters for “trespassing” if they didn’t leave the lobby. No arrests were made.
After a useless conversation with Mr. Hidalgo, the crowd decided to march to the state capitol building to confront Gov. Brown’s office, continuing to chant and play drums. A smaller delegation of family members, someone who had been in the SHU and another former prisoner went into the governor’s office and met with his corrections staff person, Aaron Macguire, and Director of External Affairs Nick Velasquez. The delegation demanded more answers.
Family members shared their intimate, painful stories of how their loved ones are being tortured, including a mother who has two sons in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU). A person who had served in the SHU 13 years ago vividly described how toilet paper and mail were used to terrorize him.
According to Manuel La Fontaine, a former prisoner and organizer with All of Us or None and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, “The multi-racial, multi-generational and multi-geographical representation of people power shown in solidarity with the strike outside prison reflects the solidarity happening inside the Security Housing Unit amongst prisoners across racial, generational and geographic lines.” Members from the Washoe Nation closed the action in front of the capitol with a warrior song to honor those courageous brothers (and sisters) in their 18 days without food.
Yesterday there were also demonstrations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and Philadelphia.
In the morning of July 18, two banners were dropped in Philadelphia in solidarity with the courageous actions of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers and the 6,600-plus prisoners throughout the state of California who have joined the strike. Connecting California and Pennsylvania’s prison systems, the banner-droppers explained:
“We hope this action will join the large and growing voice calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown and the CDCR to meet ALL the demands of the hunger strikers. We also hope that the inspiring actions of the hunger strikers in California will generate increased resistance to solitary confinement and torture in Pennsylvania’s prisons both inside and outside of prison walls.”
While the mobilization in Sacramento was happening, more than 140 people across the continent joined a conference call for a direct update on the hunger strike, an overview of the demands, some info on the structure and purpose of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity and ways people can support the prisoners in winning their demands.
A group of people in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada, gathered together to join the conference call and met with each other after the conference call was over. They then decided to form the Haliburton County Hunger Strike Support Committee and decided upon action steps for their solidarity work around this strike. This is a strong example of how people across the U.S. and internationally can work together in using this blog as an informational and organizing resource to support their local work in resisting inequality, powerlessness and oppression, while also bringing global, widespread attention to this particular struggle and support the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers in winning their demands. Click here to read the Haliburton County Hunger Strike Support Committee’s notes.