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As you read this, thousands of California prisoners are on a hunger strike.  Today is the 18th day of the Strike. This may be the most significant act of prisoner resistance in 40 years, since the Attica Uprising in 1971.

By the prison authorities’ own figures, the hunger strike, which began on July 1, has involved 6,600 prisoners at 13 prisons. As of today, many prisoners are continuing the hunger strike at Pelican Bay and other prisons.  The hunger strike comes in response to conditions in the Security Housing Units (SHU) of extreme isolation, brutality and deprivation.

The strike has brought together Black and Latino prisoners who are normally set against each other. They are asserting their humanity and challenging others to reclaim their humanity by standing with them in solidarity.

Some of these prisoners are willing to die unless their demands to end inhuman treatment are met.

The prison authorities are meeting with the prisoners, but so far there has been no agreement about anything.  The strike continues.  

According to Dr. Robert Rosenbloom, an emergency physician,

“It’s typically believed that after two or three weeks without any sugar source, any food source, you start entering a dangerous zone, that you’re actually doing enough damage to the body, that the body may not recover.

You’ll become, weak, disoriented, have trouble moving and breathing. You’ll risk damage to your liver or heart.

"When you digest, for example, heart muscle, obviously your heart is an incredibly vital organ…and so when you start damaging the heart and the muscle wall gets thin, then you can have some pretty serious consequences."

That’s the outcome the hunger strikers are facing, but they insist they won’t eat until they win changes in prison policies that govern Security Housing Units (SHU). Inmates in SHUs spend 23 hours a day locked up, with an hour outside alone for exercise.  It is an extremely bleak, isolated, and mind destroying confinement that may continue for decades and irretrievably harms those so confined.

Many of the 3,900 inmates in SHUs are killers or rapists, but most of them – 2400 or so – got “indeterminate” SHU detention for ties to gangs. The hunger strikers say any link to a gang, such as a tattoo or a card sent to the wrong person, could land an inmate in a SHU and keep him there for decades.  Many of these people are hardened criminals.  But their treatment by California’s prisons, particularly in SHU, amounts to nothing less than torture: 23 hour a day solitary confinement, no contact with other prisoners or staff, no access to sunlight.  An unremitting regimen designed to destroy the body, mind and soul of the person confined.

Many of the Strikers at Pelican Bay are already progressing toward organ damage.

The Five Core Demands of the strike are:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria -
▪    Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
▪    The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
▪    The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
▪    Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:
▪    End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
▪    Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
▪    End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
▪    Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food, and provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.
▪    PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
▪    Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
▪    Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.
Examples include:
▪    Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.
▪    Allow one photo per year.
▪    Allow a weekly phone call.
▪    Allow Two (2) annual packages per year. A 30 lb. package based on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.
▪    Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging [the cost for cosmetics, stationary, envelopes, should not count towards the max draw limit]
▪    More TV channels.
▪    Allow TV/Radio combinations, or TV and small battery operated radio
▪    Allow Hobby Craft Items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk, etc.
▪    Allow sweat suits and watch caps.
▪    Allow wall calendars.
▪    Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.
▪    Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.

Not one of these demands is frivolous.  All of them are consistent with avoiding the deterioration, mental, physical, and spiritual, that results from long term, indefinite solitary confinement in the bleak conditions in SHU in California.

Inmates at Corcoran State Prison have issued a statement asking for your help:

“Our indefinite isolation here is both inhumane and illegal and the proponents of the prison industrial complex are hoping that their campaign to dehumanize us has succeeded to the degree that you don’t care and will allow the torture to continue in your name. It is our belief that they have woefully underestimated the decency, principles and humanity of the people. Join us in opposing this injustice without end. Thank you for your time and support.”

-- Statement from inmates at Corcoran State Prison

The prisoners are counting on people of conscience to act now and to show support for the Hunger Strikers.

You can do this by writing your own statement of support for the hunger strikers and sending it to the media or posting it on the blogs or the editorial pages.  If you do that, please send a hard copy to:  

Secretary Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S Street, Sacramento, CA  95814

Governor Jerry Brown, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814

Please speak up for the striking prisoners.  Only your support can bring their struggle to a safe and humane solution.

-------------
cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

Originally posted to davidseth on Mon Jul 18, 2011 at 11:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics and Progressive Hippie.

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