“Monolithic, fortress mentality- right out of the dark ages.” This reflection on the gulags of California was proclaimed by one participant in the Monday July 8, 2013 Solidarity demo outside of Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California. July 8th is the day that prisoners inside Pelican Bay’s extreme isolation cells began a peaceful protest, a Hunger Strike, in continued and last resort efforts to pressure the California prison system to end its abhorrent practice of entombing people for years in concrete, windowless cells- in long term solitary confinement. Responding to the Pelican Bay prisoners’ call for solidarity and because many more people locked in CA prisons are living in similarly unbearable conditions, on July 8, 2013, at least 30, 000 prisoners throughout CA state prisons refused food in Hunger Strike. At least two thousand three hundred prisoners, who work in prisons (as slaves) refused to work or attend classes. And in several Oregon and Washington state prisons, one a juvenile facility, prisoners are participating in the Strike.
A group of us from Humboldt County drove up, on Monday the 8th, to Pelican Bay, which was deliberately built in the rural, northernmost part of California to make it difficult for prisoners’ family members to visit. We set up a demonstration- in Solidarity with the prisoners and their demands- across from the prison entrance, our primary visual, a 22 foot banner reading “END Long Term Solitary Confinement.” At the same time, all over California, in Oregon and Washington, Canada, and various sites throughout the U.S. people on the outside gathered in support of the historical prisoner protest.
“Some people are in Solitary Confinement for 30 or more years, and the U.N. says after 15 days, it’s torture.” explained demonstrator, Brandy Molein.
Remarkably, in the financially depressed rural town of Crescent City where many people are employed by Pelican Bay State Prison, and despite years of propaganda put out by the State, vilifying prisoners in Pelican Bay and attempting to justify state-sanctioned torture against them, on July 8th, we received many positive responses from people driving and bicycling by. In spite of us being situated directly across the street/highway from the prison entrance as prison employees looked on and filmed, and even though it is prohibited to park anywhere near, passers-by still stopped to talk to us, get a packet of information, and give words of encouragement. A family with three kids who were riding their bicycles south from Vancouver British Colombia stopped to learn what was going on. Many locals seemed to know that what the state does to prisoners inside is wrong. As a prisoner locked in Pelican Bay solitary recently said during an hour visit, handcuffed, behind thick glass, “They say we are the worst of the worst, but really its the conditions here that are the worst.”
The purpose of our Solidarity Demonstration in front of Pelican Bay was to honor Basic Human Rights, Oppose Torture, and show Solidarity with prisoners who have been held in prolonged and extreme isolation in California prisons. We want to be part of a building, immense pressure on the State of California. Each of the five human rights demands put forth by the hunger strike prisoner representatives in April of 2011 was displayed on its own sign: End Long Term solitary Confinement, Abolish the Debriefing policy and modify gang status criteria, Provide adequate food, End group punishment, and Provide constructive programming (allow phone calls, education, etc.).
Kathy Anderson, who’s husband was in prison for many years, was part of the demo. She emphasized “Prisoners don’t have a voice that can be heard without us. They are not respected in there, and we need to respond to them when we, on the outside, KNOW that there are needs and injustice. We need to produce the pressure to get those needs met, stop the injustice, make the changes.”
Tonight, July 11, 2013, the prisoners continue to show persistence and courage in their peaceful action. After years of painful isolation and other abuses and having reached out to media, legislators, courts, government, they have made a powerful decision to hunger strike. We need to talk about what they are doing and why they are striking and apply all the pressure we can to end these tortures. End California’s horrendous practice of entombing people in concrete cells with no natural light, no human contact, and no programs- no religious programs, no rehabilitative programs, education, nothing. END Long Term Solitary Confinement.