Prisoner in Corcoran SHU dies while on hunger strike

Fellow prisoners mourn, advocates raise questions about his death

by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakand – Mediators working on behalf of hunger striking prisoners have received disturbing news that Billy Sell, known to his friends as Guero, died while on strike at Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) on Monday, July 22. His death is being ruled a suicide by prison officials.

Drawing by an unknown prisoner
Drawing by an unknown prisoner

Fellow prisoners have reported that Sell was participating in California’s massive statewide hunger strike – now in its 20th day. They further reported that Sell had been requesting medical attention for several days prior to his death.

They described Sell as “strong, a good person” and openly questioned the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) ruling his death a suicide, saying it was “completely out of character for him.”

Advocates are outraged at Sell’s death, noting that it could have been prevented if CDCR had negotiated with strikers.

Advocates are outraged at Sell’s death, noting that it could have been prevented if CDCR had negotiated with strikers.

Mediators are working to get further accurate information and accountability from the CDCR. “This story is deeply troubling and contradicts the assurances that the hunger-striking prisoners are receiving about appropriate medical care,” says Ron Ahnen of California Prison Focus and the mediation team representing striking prisoners.

This report comes amid growing concern for the medical care strikers are receiving, along with continued condemnation of the CDCR’s response to the strike and Gov. Brown’s total silence on the issue.

Mediators have made an official inquiry to the federal receiver overseeing California’s prisons. This report comes amid growing concern for the medical care strikers are receiving, along with continued condemnation of the CDCR’s response to the strike and Gov. Brown’s total silence on the issue.

Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org.

Editor’s note: This very tragic news is of the first known death of a participant in the 2013 hunger strike. According to the person who first reported it and who spoke with several of his fellow prisoners, Billy Michael “Guero” Sell, CDCr No. P-41250, age 32, was housed in 4B-3L of the Corcorcan SHU, had not been under mental health care and had been going without water as well as food.

The prisoners reportedly described him as “strong, a good person, a good soldier” and concluded that “Billy died because of the hunger strike.” He is said to be from Riverside, but supporters have not yet been able to locate and talk with his family. The Bay View sends condolences to everyone who was Billy’s friend, comrade, fellow prisoner or family member.

This preventable death compels us all to push Gov. Jerry Brown harder to meet the prisoners’ demands and end the hunger strike before we lose any more of these brave freedom fighters.

This preventable death compels us all to push Gov. Jerry Brown harder to meet the prisoners’ demands and end the hunger strike before we lose any more of these brave freedom fighters. Billy “Guero” Sell’s life mattered.

Call Gov. Brown at (916) 445-2841, email him via http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php, fax him at (916) 558-3160 or write him at Gov. Jerry Brown, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814.