“These hard-earned accreditations are only awarded to the best of the best in corrections,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “The ACA was aware of the class action litigation against California, so it sent its most experienced auditors to review these prisons. Their findings demonstrate these institutions are providing quality health care and inmate programs and are employing the proper use of segregation. These accreditations are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff.”
As the Hunger Strike now enters its 40th day, the words of Dr. Beard are almost hauntingly eerie, like being trapped in a sci-fi movie, not believing the reality of what is happening. Dr. Beard coins the phrase regarding the recent ACA accreditations “best of the best” in corrections, just as easily as he coins the phrase “worst of the worst” in reference to the prisoners.
For those who have actually spent time within the California prison system, or who have a loved one within the prison walls, their experience is “worst of the worst.” Those who have been trapped within this system oftentimes will describe their experience as torture or inhumane, humiliating, a nightmare, but never “best of the best” in corrections.
Which now brings us to DAY 40! What would make a human being put their own bodies through such torture? What would make a man deny himself food for a week or month and now 40 days? According to Dr. Jeffrey Beard it is a “power play” by gangs to control prison yards. Dr. Beard, with his degrees in psychology, has worked hard in preparing the minds of society to believe that these prisoners are “violent gang members” and “murderers.” Could this be the result of a “power play? Intending that in the event of any deaths Dr. Beard has so hardened the minds of society that no one will care? That there will be no investigation or public outcry, only continued use of solitary confinement that CDCR continues to insist “does not exist” in our prison system? It seems that Dr. Beard is the one who is “playing to win” by any means necessary.
An article was written regarding Todd Ashker, one of the hunger strike representatives, where he was referred to as a “violent murderer,” “notorious gang leader,” (key phrases used repeatedly by CDCR). Why is everyone ignoring the fact that Todd Ashker was in fact a troubled youth, and at the age of 19 enters into California prison system to serve a 6-year prison sentence, and he then becomes a “convicted murderer” where the court dismissed “gang” allegations. If CDCR is in fact labeling Todd Ashker an “alleged” gang leader and a murderer, why isn’t anyone questioning the very place where this all started – the California Department of Corrections? What kind of system transforms a 19-year-old young man serving a 6-year prison sentence into a murderer serving a life sentence? Perhaps the same kind of system that can drive a man to risk his very own life just so that others will not have to endure their decades long torture, so that others will know what goes on within the prison walls, so that the truth is exposed. Forty days, to suffer and endure such self-inflicted torture, knowing the chances of survival are shrinking at this point, does not seem to coincide with the message that is being put forth by Dr. Beard, who was hand-selected by Governor Brown and called out of retirement for this position.
Today, Day 40, imagine what the prisoners themselves are suffering… feel their pain that has been decades long…the pain of isolation, the pain of suffering and broken families, the pain of the reality that society has come to be so hardened towards the prisoner, the only solution continues to be more prisons, more jails, longer sentences. The pain of the solitude that has been endured for decades while being held in isolation, suffering the most severe sensory deprivation….the pain that is stretching across the world as we watch and wait and wonder where the power is really coming from.
We have witnessed the power of the prisoners in Unity, the power of Unity that is giving them the inner strength to continue this hunger strike, to enter into the 40th day.
“According to medical guidelines created by foreign governments for monitoring hunger strikes in other countries, after a month without food, protesters can experience nerve damage that causes difficulty swallowing and vomiting. After 40 days, the expected effects include progressive confusion, incoherence, loss of vision and hearing, and bleeding.”
And we are also witnessing the power that has created a state with more prisons than any other place in the world. We witness the power that holds human beings in isolation for longer periods of time than any other place in the world. We witness the power to deny that solitary confinement even exists.
On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC)
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