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Kanye West has never been afraid to speak out even if what he had to say wasn’t in line with popular opinion. Kanye saying slavery was “a choice” offended many people by degrading the lives of the millions of people who suffered for centuries as slaves. Recently, at the White House, Kanye sprinkled some gold gems in with the foolishness, especially his statement about the 13th Amendment, which did not abolish slavery, not in prison. I refuse to reject the help when entertainers like Kanye West join prisoners in advocating for prisoners’ rights.
On May 4, former Black Panther Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald agreed to a five-year denial of parole instead of insisting on a parole hearing, even though he has served more time than any former Black Panther still behind bars: 49 years. Chip is now 67 years old and living with the consequences of a stroke; his friends and family fear he will die in prison. He has been moved from one state prison to another over the years and is currently in the California State Prison-Los Angeles. I spoke to his lawyer, Charles Carbone, whose office is in San Francisco.
Two years after the historic settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California marked the end of indefinite solitary confinement in California, the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel filed a motion to extend the terms of the settlement by one year, noting that substantial reforms are still needed and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to violate the constitutional rights of Ashker class members.
Thank you for being patient with my absence and the new method of my way in reaching out to you to discuss what we are attempting to accomplish. First and foremost, I thank God for giving us a platform to be heard to alleviate or mitigate the number of unheard voices in our concrete jungles across Alabama. People ask me, “Why do you do this? Are you a rebellion junky?” I say, “No.” This is about the men around me and the women and children incarcerated in this state and country.
“Administrative segregation” is prison bureaucratese for solitary confinement. On Thursday, prisoners in solitary at California’s Old Folsom State Prison went on hunger strike for their Eighth Amendment right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. I spoke to Raquel Estrada, wife of Anthony Estrada, a prisoner writing for the strikers in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, who elaborated on the conditions of her husband’s confinement.
On May 16, inmates at Old Folsom State Prison made contact with the outside world to announce that they will begin a hunger strike on May 25 in response to ongoing mistreatment, dehumanization and unbearable living conditions at Old Folsom. When incarcerated people take action to fight for their dignity, their rights and their lives, those of us on the outside must answer with solidarity. Our support is crucial in getting their demands met and minimizing retaliation against them. We must let these brave individuals know that we have their backs, and that they will not be forgotten.
The men at Old Folsom State Prison in the ASU and Ad-Seg will begin a hunger strike on May 25 due to ongoing issues with the conditions of confinement that violate the Eighth Amendment. These prisoners are without food bowls, therefore having to eat out of ziplock bags. They have no cups, needing to drink water from an old milk carton. They have no TVs, no property at all. The mail is sometimes withheld for no reason – up to a month for some prisoners, for others even longer.
We are within our fifth year of the August 2012 historical document, the “Agreement to End Hostilities.” Its release was followed by the Prisoner Human Rights Movement’s third and largest hunger strike in the state of California and larger than any prison hunger strike in history in either the federal or state prison systems in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. At its peak, 30,000 prisoners here in California participated – prisoners in solitary confinement and the general population.
The Ashker decision was great, the five core demands are all good, but how come we are not writing our own regulations and attacking the “STG” scheme in totality? We know from its inception it was designed to isolate and entrap prisoners with the God given talent to awaken the prisoner class to the exploits of the system and provide those willing to organize for change with practical alternatives to prison enslavement.
There can be no doubt that the legislators’ courageous act of publically acknowledging our protest issues in late August 2013 saved many lives, and it gave many people real hope that substantive changes will be forthcoming. And now that there has been additional public exposure – via the two public hearings – demonstrating CDCR’s refusal to institute real, meaningful changes, on its own, people are relying on the legislature to do all in their power to pass legislation reining in CDCR’s gross abuse of power, this year.
It is my sincere hope this letter will be received in the same spirit of appreciation and cooperation in which it is written. First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge the courage and independent thinking and actions you demonstrated in the unannounced visit to inspect the conditions of confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit and speak with the strike leaders.
On Wednesday, faith, health and human services, housing, education and criminal justice reform advocates will have a press conference and rally at the State Building, 300 South Spring St., calling on the Legislature to immediately reduce the prison population and invest tax dollars in programs that create healthy and safe communities.