California prison authorities are punishing hunger strike veterans by starving them

James Baridi Williamson, then buried alive in the dreaded Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU), is one of those who fought back and is now being punished for his participation in the 2011 and 2013 California mass hunger strikes, including the largest one in history with 30,000 participants. The strikers won an end to indefinite sentences to the SHU, which was literally designed as a torture chamber, solitary confinement in a windowless cell with no human contact. But the California Department of Corrections has been punishing them ever since. Most of the leaders are back in solitary, and not one has yet been paroled. These are brave men, who fought to prevent others from the decades of torture they survived, and are well deserving of support.

by Chandra Hauptmann

Open letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom

Dear Governor Newsom:

I am writing as an authorized medical advocate for Mr. James Williamson (D34288) with regard to an extremely serious matter. A copy of my medical advocate authorization is enclosed.

Mr. Williamson informs me that, beginning in May 2019, the portions of food that inmates housed in C Facility at Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) receive have been cut. No clear explanation has been given for this reduction.

Mr. Williamson has lost over 20 pounds. His weight issue is so extreme that, during a recent visit with a physician, he was given a prescription for Ensure to increase his weight.

Other inmates have also experienced dramatic weight losses. A Level 1 Group Grievance regarding the poor quality and quantity of food served during meals, as well as the lack of a balanced diet, was denied. A Level 2 Group Grievance on the same issues was partially granted “for a wholesome, nutritionally balanced diet,” but this has not been implemented. A Level 3 Appeal has been filed with Sacramento and is pending.

In addition, in early September, a Level 2 Grievance, from another inmate in C Facility, “requesting Food Service Central Kitchen send the proper amount of food to the yards” was recently granted but has not been implemented.

CDCR Title 15, California Code of Regulations, Division 3, Chapter 1, Article 4 stipulates:

Ҥ 3050. Regular Meals.

“(a) Each inmate shall be provided a wholesome, nutritionally balanced diet. Nutrition levels shall meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances and Dietary Reference Intakes as established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Science.”

Some of the allegations include:

  • The portions of food received are half the amount previously offered. (For example: two slices of bread instead of four and one hash brown potato instead of two);
  • Food is sometimes old and has a suspicious odor;
  • Milk is “spoiled” and eggs are cold;
  • Food from previous days is provided;
  • Sodium levels are excessive (over 1,000 mg per portion); Food consists mostly of starches;
  • The serving ladles used to serve the food are half the size of those previously used;
  • Water is used to thin the cereal; and
  • Meals are not balanced nor healthy; They don’t contain the medically recommended 2,600-2,800 calories per day, per California’s Penal Code.

The Prison Law Office (PLO) has reported to CDCR that there are serious problems with the inmate complaint process and that complaints such as the above are not acted on appropriately.

The California Office of the Inspector General (OIG) also concurs with the PLO and filed a report in January 2019. Some of the OIG’s findings include:

  • A complete failure of due process at SVSP;
  • From Dec. 17 to May 18, SVSP had the highest level of complaints of any prison in the state of California;
  • For the past two years CDCR, has allegedly been aware of the failures of its grievance process but has done nothing to correct the situation;
  • The OIG’s recommendation that an independent and expeditious complaint process be created, outside the jurisdiction of the Adult Prison Institution’s purview, has so far gone unheeded.

I urge you to please investigate this matter as expeditiously as possible to ensure that the inmates housed in Facility C receive a “wholesome and nutritionally balanced diet” as prescribed by the CDCR, in sufficient quantities as to satiate their hunger.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Chandra Hauptmann

Copies to:

  • Secretary Ralph Diaz, CDCR
  • Mr. Matthew Atchley, Acting Warden
  • Ms. Tami Falconer, Ombudsperson
  • Mr. Donald Spector, Executive Director, Prison Law Office
  • Ms. Sara L. Smith, Chief Ombudsperson
  • Sen. Nancy Skinner     
  • Mr. Roy W. Wesley, California Inspector General
  • Ms. Connie Gipson, Director, Division of Adult Institutions, CDCR
  • Mr. Alex Bumfield, Prisoner Advocacy Network
  • Lt. Alan Meyer, Public Information Officer
  • Mr. Clark Kelso, Federal Receiver

Chandra Hauptmann, a pillar of support for the California Prison Movement and other worthy causes, can be reached at chcats@lmi.net. Readers are encouraged to send similar letters.