Pelican Bay: Standing Strong - Up Against Cruel, Inhumane Retaliation

via Revolution newspaper

October 9, 2011: At this writing the prisoner hunger strike is entering its 13th day, with hundreds—perhaps thousands—still on hunger strike in prisons across California. The prisoners are standing strong in the face of cruel, inhumane efforts by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to crush this courageous and historic struggle by prisoners.

"I’m ready to take this all the way," J. Angel Martinez, one of the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers, said in a message this week, quoted in the New York Times (10/7). "We are sick and tired of living like this and willing to die if that’s what it takes."  ("California Prison Hunger Strike Resumes as Sides Dig In")

Earlier this year, over 6,500 prisoners across California participated in a hunger strike that lasted for 20 days, from July 1-20. The prisoners are demanding to be treated as human beings; to end barbaric, inhumane conditions of imprisonment—particularly in the SHU's—and to stop long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture. (Prisoners’ demands at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/the-prisoners-demands-2/)

On September 26, the hunger strike resumed, with nearly 12,000 prisoners in different prisons joining in right away. The prisoners went back on hunger strike because the CDCR had not fully fulfilled the concrete promises it made when the hunger strike was halted in July – it had not taken any serious steps to address core issues like gang validation and solitary confinement it had promised to review, and instead launched a campaign of disciplinary retaliation against and vilification of the hunger strikers. (See "12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California—Outrageous Retaliation by Prison Officials," Revolution #247, October 9, 2011, revcom.us/a/247/247prisoners-resume-hunger-strike-en.html)

For instance, in his August 23 testimony to the California State Legislature, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan claimed they couldn’t allow the media into the prisons during the hunger strike because "we simply don’t allow the media to talk to individual inmates for fear of them sensationalizing their crimes. To do so will have folks like Charles Manson or Scott Peterson having media inquiries all day. We’re not the press coordinator."  This typifies what has been the stance of the CDCR –vilifying the prisoners, treating them as sub-humans who deserve to be tortured, who people on the outside should not support, but fear. (See www.whatthefolly.com/2011/09/12/transcript-cdcr-undersecretary-of-operations-scott-kernan-solitary-confinement-in-california-prisons/)

The prisoners rightly understood all this as signaling that the CDCR was never serious about meeting their demands and announced that they would resume the hunger strike. Now they are once again risking their very lives to demand to be treated like human beings.

On October 7, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity reported "Medical Conditions of Hunger Strikers Worsen, Strikers & Supporters Keep Fighting Back":

"The hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay who were kept in the D Corridor of the SHU were moved to Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay. Lawyers who were finally able to have one visit last week (after some lawyers of the prisoners’ mediation team have been banned) report that the CDCR has the air conditioning on high in 50 degree weather. The hunger strike representatives continue to be willing to risk their lives in order to win the 5 core demands.

"The CDCR’s numbers also appear to be low due to guards falsifying records of hunger strikers. At Calipatria, for instance, hunger strikers report they were finally given their liquids after filing medical requests (even though they were still denied liquids for the first several days of the strike). Now, however, guards have been delivering liquids on the prisoners’ food trays. Once strikers take the liquids off of the trays, the guards record they are not striking (CDCR counts strikers based on who touches the state-issued food trays and who doesn’t). [See below for more on the CDCR’s claims concerning the number of hunger strikers.]

"Medical conditions are also worsening for strikers throughout the state. We’ve received reports that after 12 days of no food, prisoners are once again losing severe weight and fainting. One hunger striker at Pelican Bay was denied his medication and consequently suffered from a heart attack and is now is an outside hospital in Oregon." (prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com)

Attorneys representing prisoners told Revolution, "We received a report that a prisoner at Pelican Bay, who was on hunger strike and deprived of his meds, had a heart attack and was taken to an Oregon hospital. Then we heard he was back at Pelican Bay. The most disturbing thing we have heard is that the air conditioning is turned on in Ad-Seg [where the CDCR has transferred prisoners they consider leaders of the hunger strike] and that the prisoners are freezing. It is already cold outside—in the 50's—and they report their clothing and bedding is thin—wholly insufficient for the cold. We are hearing that, like before, pain medication has been discontinued. They were not weighed until missing 18 meals. No vitals are being taken. No vitamins being given."

Ronald Yandell, a hunger striker at Pelican Bay, told an attorney, "We’re freezing... The air-conditioner is blowing. It’s like arctic air coming through, blowing at top speed. It’s torture. They’re trying to break us." (New York Times, 10/7)

Since the hunger strike started on July 1, the CDCR and Gov. Jerry Brown, with help from much of the media, have deliberately downplayed the breadth and significance of the hunger strike, and spread all sorts of lies and misinformation about the prisoners’ struggle—including saying it is simply a "gang" action, that prisoners were being forced to participate, that many were eating while claiming to be on hunger strike. 

On September 30, Gov. Brown fully backed the CDCR’s assault on the hunger strike, saying:  "We have individuals who are dedicated to their gang membership who order people to be killed, who order crimes to be committed on the outside. My recommendation is to deal effectively with gangs in prison."
(sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/09/30/california-prison-officials-warn-inmates-on-hunger-strike)

The New York Times reported "The new hunger strike drew 4,000 people last week across the state. But that number had drifted to fewer than 800 by Friday, according to corrections officials."  But in reality, CDCR’s internal figures, which were sent to Revolution and other hunger strike supporters, show that a total of nearly 9,000 prisoners at 10 separate CDCR institutions went on hunger strike on September 26, over 11,400 on September 27, and nearly 11,900 on September 28. The CDCR has not widely publicized these numbers, claiming prisoners are only counted as being on hunger strike after missing nine consecutive meals.

One attorney representing prisoners told Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity that since CDCR doesn’t "begin monitoring for 8 days, there are probably a lot of prisoners who go on and off hunger strike without ever being counted among those monitored."

Finally, after the first round of the hunger strike, the New York Times reported that the CDCR instituted "new protocols" seeking "to isolate inmates participating in the strike from those in the general population and potentially subject them to disciplinary measures, while prisoners identified as strike leaders could potentially be denied contact with visitors and even lawyers." Since the hunger strike resumed, the CDCR has further isolated the prisoners who are the main organizers of the strike and cut prisoners off from their mediation team, family members, and journalists.   

Then, after working to isolate the prisoners, CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton claimed to the New York Times that the department "remained willing to negotiate, but that leaders had not approached them with a new list of demands. '‘Everything we said we were going to do, we did,' Ms. Thornton said. 'We are kind of puzzled about why this action was taken again. The review takes time, but we are on track.'"  This disinformation is being repeated in the press, despite the fact that prisoners issued a public statement in September clearly articulating their reasons for resuming their hunger strike and exposing that the CDCR is not addressing their demands. (See ("Tortured SHU prisoners speak out: The struggle continues, hunger strike resumes Sept. 26," San Francisco Bay View, September 13, 2011, sfbayview.com/2011/tortured-shu-prisoners-speak-out-the-struggle-continues-hunger-strike-resumes-sept-26)

All this is outrageous and ominous. It further exposes the cruelty, inhumanity, and illegitimacy of the CDCR’s actions, and the justness of the prisoners’ struggle. And it underscores the urgency of broader and more determined support for the prisoner hunger strike.

*****

Supporters and others are continuing to demonstrate, organize, and speak out against inhumane treatment and in support of the hunger strike. Among coming actions:

* On Wednesday, October 12, Revolution readers and supporters of the prisoner hunger strike will be holding "A Reading of Prisoners' Letters / A Visual Protest—Support the Prisoner Hunger Strike—Demand an End to Torture," 10:30 am–2 pm at Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus.

* On Thursday, October 13, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity will be holding its weekly Bay Area vigil at 24th & Mission, San Francisco.   

* Other actions are taking place in other cities, more are being planned, including future trips to prison gates, and many more protests and statements of support for the hunger strikers are urgently needed.  Actions are also being planned linking the prisoner hunger strike to the battle against mass incarceration and the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation.   (For actions in other cities, see prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/take-action/demonstrations-actions-events-in-the-us-canada)

* On Tuesday, October 18, 6-7:30 pm, a briefing and panel discussion, "The Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement: Pervasive Human Rights Violations in Prisons, Jails & Other Places of Detention," will take place at the Church Center for the United Nations, United Nations Plaza, 44th Street Entrance—Second Floor Conference Room, in New York City. 

Main Reports on Protest & Resistance Pelican Bay: Standing Strong - Up Against Cruel, Inhumane Retaliation

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.