All eyes are on California, as prisoners across the state’s vast prison system hit their 38th day of hunger strike in protest of the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Prisoners’ loved ones and supporters joined 100 people on the steps of the state capitol Wednesday afternoon, August 14, to demand swift and resolute action from California decision makers. Activists also set up a life-sized replica of a Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell, encouraging the governor, legislators, and members of the public to experience for just a few minutes what thousands of California prisons live through, many for decades.
Irene Huerta’s husband has been in solitary for 28 years and is currently on hunger strike. Huerta is part of a mediation team that is trying to keep channels of communication open between strikers and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), with hopes of reaching an end to the strike. “It is important for us to be here today. It is day 38 and our loved ones could die soon if no one steps up to do anything,” says Huerta. She joins many others in condemning the CDCR’s continued attacks on strikers, along with Governor Brown’s total silence on the entire issue. “For Brown to say nothing at all, at such a critical moment, that is a slap in the face. To say anything at all, even to speak against the strike, that’s one thing. But to remain silent when people’s lives are on the line and their families are worried sick? There is nothing worse.”
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano spoke at a press conference today, saying, “When you get a letter that says to incarcerate someone in solitary confinement for longer than a very short period is torture, you know the whole world is watching. “ He continued, “There has been some very bad press on this—demonizing us for being activists for human rights for prisoners. We know that there are some people who have committed some very egregious crimes but that’s not the issue… looking at everyone as if they are a gang member and isolating them. We don’t support that. We want appropriate steps to be taken.”
California State Senator Leland Yee also voiced his condemnation of solitary confinement, saying in a statement issued by his office, “the indiscriminate use of solitary confinement is…inhumane and a direct violation of internationally recognized human rights.”
“These strong statements come at a crucial time,” says Donna Willmott, a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “But as the medical conditions become more and more critical, and as the CDCR digs in its heels, it is absolutely imperative that actual and resolute steps be taken immediately. The time to wait and see has passed.”
A delegation of prisoners’ loved ones and supporters continue to meet with legislators to demand action. In particular, people are demanding an emergency session of California’s Public Safety Committee.