August 8, 2013 — Today is the one-month anniversary of a hunger strike initiated by prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison that quickly spread to other correctional facilities across the state of California. To be precise, it is Day 32 of a month-long period without food for hundreds of prisoners.
These are men risking their lives to insist on humane conditions and certain terms for those prisoners who have otherwise been banished to indefinite sentences of solitary confinement in California’s prison system. Many of these men have been isolated for decades with no windows, no contact visits, no time outdoors, and not even a phone call to a family member.
Recent reports from these prisoners demonstrate that their brave efforts have been made all the more difficult by prison guards who are treating them very harshly.
Guards are knocking them into walls, handcuffing them incorrectly to cause suffering and bending their arms to provoke extreme pain. Guards are spitting out racial epithets or deliberately placing an African American prisoner, for example, in a cell with racist graffiti. Guards are also being strategically divisive by tactically treating some prisoners nicely and others in the most demeaning ways, hoping—as the guards openly discussed in front of some prisoners—to create division so the prisoners will begin to fight each other. The guards’ goal: to undermine the hunger strike. According to these same talkative guards, this unprofessional behavior is what they were instructed to do to help bring the hunger strike to an end.
Ironically, those prisoners who have gotten off the hunger strike are also being treated badly. Guards are calling them “cowards” and “bitches” and other demeaning labels.
Meanwhile, the hunger strikers have entered a very dangerous phase of their protest: their health could be permanently damaged by their refusal to eat solid foods; they could even die.
The questions for California Governor Jerry Brown and Secretary Jeffrey Beard of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are these: How many prisoners have to be harmed by guards and by the prisoners’ struggle for justice before state authorities are willing to consider, seriously, their demands for real change? How many prisoners have to die?
Mediation Team Member
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Ron Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
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