Day 33 Countdown for Humane Conditions

August 9, 2013 — Today marks thirty-three days that over two hundred prisoners have gone without eating. Most of those who have been strong enough to continue to this point are feeling the very dire and dangerous effects of going so long without food.

Most of us cannot imagine going a day or two without eating, yet these prisoners have endured 33 days without food, risking their health and their lives. After 33 days, many of the men are experiencing dizziness, confusion, vision problems, nausea, and vomiting even after drinking only water. The lack of salt makes it difficult to retain water and to remain hydrated, and the imbalance of electrolytes severely increases the chances of heart failure.

Doctors have warned the prisoners several times of the dangers of continuing their hunger strike, and yet they persist. Why? In order to end the inhumane conditions of their confinement. They have spent decades in solitary confinement not for punishment, not for their crimes, but for “administrative” reasons. This is torture. These men, along with tens of thousands of their supporters worldwide, firmly reject the legal authority of the state to house them in conditions so severe. Even chimpanzees used in research are guaranteed better living conditions including minimal social interaction and outdoor enclosures.

Secretary Beard falsely claims that the Security Housing Unit is not solitary confinement because some inmates have a television. But a June 2013 study on solitary confinement by Yale Law School concluded “How isolating segregation is depends in part on whether and under what circumstances persons so confined can speak with and interact with other people.” Secretary Beard notes that some SHU prisoners have cellmates, but this is only due to overcrowding–not to promote healthy social interaction–and inhumanely forces two individuals into the very small space already too confining for just one person.

Secretary Beard has entered into a devil’s bargain–that he can concede nothing while waiting for the hunger strikers to give up, start eating again, and no one will be seriously harmed or die. The Mediation Team is outraged by such a posture that continues to risk lives in a attempt not to appear weak in the face of such reasonable demands. Moreover, he has already lost that wager. The Mediation Team has called for an official independent investigation into the apparent suicide of Billy Sell who other prisoner witnesses report had requested appropriate medical care for days before he died, but did not receive it.

How many more deaths will it take before Secretary Beard is ready to come to his senses, recognize the legitimate moral and legal claims of thousands of national and international voices against California’s degrading and inhumane SHU policies, and grant the prisoners’ five demands? How many more deaths?

Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Ron Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel,
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

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