On Day 50 of the California prisoners’ hunger strike, I wonder, will change only come at the cost of human lives?

by Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement

As a member of the Mediation Team, never did I think I would be a part of a Hunger Strike that would enter into its 50th day. Never did I think that, as a member of the Mediation Team, I would be denied access to the face to face meetings that have taken place within the CDCR because I am a family member. And never did I think that CDCR would refuse on all grounds to meet even the most reasonable demands of the prisoners.

Dolores Canales carries papers and a box representing 60,000 signatures protesting indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, to Governor Jerry Brown's office in SacramentoAs I reflect on the past 50 days, I have often asked myself, “What is my role in all this?” How can I be heard if there is no one to listen? And even more, no one that even seems to care?

I now sit and wonder if there is not even one, just out of sheer human nature, motivated by heartfelt compassion of the suffering of the families and the strength and dignity of the prisoners left starving to death. There must be some that are losing sleep at night.

There must be someone in CDCR who can no longer play the role they have been assigned. Or have the prisoners’ lives become such a replaceable commodity that hearts are calloused towards the thought of the prisoners’ starvation and suffering?

Every statistic and study from animal research to human research has proven the harmful effects of solitary confinement. And CDCR’s solution is to say that solitary confinement simply does not exist. Problem solved, right?

In a sense, I feel as if I might not exist because that is how we continue to be treated as family members on the Mediation Team. Like maybe if we are ignored long enough the problem will simply go away. Or maybe if we are ignored long enough we will just quit?

Marie Levin comforts Dolores Canales after she brought 60,000 signatures protesting against indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, to Governor Jerry Brown's office in SacramentoBut on the 50th day, I am filled with absolute awe at the strength and character of these individuals who have endured decades-long isolation. And I think it must be hope that fills them with such a determination – hope for long overdue change, hope in a system that has kept them in isolation for decades. And I think of great changes in history that only took place when people did not give up and when the awakening of a moral consciousness was stirred within the heart and soul of the public.

So as we enter into the 50th day, a historical moment in the longest and largest prisoner hunger strike in United States history, I hold on to hope for the greatest changes within our system to come – for the recognition of their humanity to be restored to the prisoners and for rehabilitation to honestly begin taking place within our prison system.

I think of great changes in history that only took place when people did not give up and when the awakening of a moral consciousness was stirred within the heart and soul of the public.

Fifty days into this strike I can’t help but wonder – will change only come at the cost of human lives? But CDCR has an answer for that one too. The state of California is going to force feed the prisoners – no loss of lives, hunger strike over, problem solved? Perhaps this is my role on the Mediation Team – to see what I’ve never seen before, to witness CDCR at its very best when it comes to problem solving?

So as we enter into the 50th day, a historical moment in the longest and largest prisoner hunger strike in United States history, I hold on to hope for the greatest changes within our system to come.

Since the CDCR will not enter into meaningful negotiations, I can only hold on to hope that the awakening has begun and that the problems will truly be solved, as we anxiously wait for change to come.

Hunger Strike Mediation Team

Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California

Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org

Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC)

Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee

Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus

Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

Dolores Canales and CFASC can be reached at abolishsolitary.com or California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, 8018 E. Santa Ana Canyon Rd., Suite 100 #213, Anaheim, CA 92808-1102, (714) 290-9077 or (213) 746-4343. To urge Gov. Brown to meet the prisoners’ demands, call him at (916) 445-2841 or email him via http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php.