Press Contact: Azadeh Zohrabi
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San Francisco – A group of family members of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) have organized a charter bus to offer free rides for other family members to visit their loved ones at Pelican Bay. The trip is being organized by California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) in an effort to support families who have been unable to make the long trip to Pelican Bay due to financial restraints. The trip will begin in Los Angeles leaving at 3:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7th, and will stop briefly in San Francisco to pick up other families. They will return from Pelican Bay on Sunday, December 9th, after the last visits around 3:00 p.m.
The bus is full, and taking 55 family members including children to Pelican Bay. Organizers plan to reunite families before the winter holidays. It takes roughly 16 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Pelican Bay. “The long distance and costs associated with travel make it incredibly difficult for family members to visit their loved ones who are locked up at Pelican Bay. The state says our family members that we love are the ‘worst of the worst’, which not only gives the state power to lock them in cages in horrible conditions, but empowers the state to make visiting with those they love – and those who love them – almost impossible,” said Dolores Canales, whose son is in Pelican Bay’s SHU. “We organized this trip without expectations, and found so much motivation and interest among family members that we have to drive a full car along with the chartered bus, and there’s not space for some people at all.”
As a result of the difficulties involved in visiting family imprisoned in Pelican Bay, many of the family members on this shared bus ride are visiting their loved ones for the first time, some after 10 or more years of separation. “CFASC is creating this amazing opportunity for me. My brother was taken away from us years ago, and since he’s been at Pelican Bay, I haven’t been able to afford to visit much. His isolation has totally devastated our family. This is an incredible experience that I’m hoping can be repeated in the future,” says Marie Levin, whose brother lives in Pelican Bay’s SHU and is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights which alleges that the use of solitary confinement in California violates due process and amounts to torture. He was also among the first prisoners to call for hunger strikes in July, 2011.
Prisoners in Pelican Bay began a hunger strike last year to protest the conditions of extreme isolation in the SHUs. One of the demands that they issued to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation included expanded visiting privileges. The prisoners housed in SHU’s across the state are only allowed to visit with their families for one to two hours behind glass each weekend if the family can afford the time and expense of the three day trip. Many of these prisoners have not felt another human’s touch in decades.