CDCR has issued notification of a “serious rules violation” to thousands of prisoners for participating in the present hunger strike. The evidence demonstrates, however, that CDCR–not the prisoners–is guilty of serious moral and legal violations against the prisoners’ humanity in their various responses to the strike. Let’s review.
A hunger strike is a special kind of protest. First, it is voluntary. From the outset, the representatives of different racial and geographical groups housed in Pelican Bay have stated and restated that no one should continue on the hunger strike longer than they voluntarily are able to. They cautioned elderly or ill prisoners to refrain from participating in the strike for long periods of time, if at all. In addition, dozens of prisoners have explained clearly and coherently in their letters why they have willfully taken on this extreme form of protest–to reclaim their humanity. Despite these truths, CDCR has spread the lie that prisoners are being coerced on the hunger strike through gang orders by the Pelican Bay representatives. Next, they have used these lies to obtain a legal order to force feed any prisoner on the hunger strike, including those who have willfully and consciously signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. The order represents a serious violation of a person’s right to make their own life choices.
Second, hunger strikes are peaceful and non-violent. Twenty hunger striking prisoners and group representatives achieved a written agreement in August of 2012 to cease hostilities among themselves. Instead of welcoming this unilateral move, however, CDCR has painted this protest as the opposite of its true nature, falsely claiming that gang leaders are using the hunger strike as a way to bring more violence into the general population. In addition, guards have used a series of violent retaliatory methods against prisoners including physically assaulting prisoners, provoking others to violence through taunting, using handcuffs very tightly to cut into their wrists, putting prisoners in extra heavy shackles, shoving weakened hunger strikers as they walk, and threatening passive prisoners with violent chemical-based cell extractions. One prisoner reported guards offering non-striking prisoners the opportunity to throw feces at the hunger strikers. CDCR is the one employing and spreading violence in its own institution–not the prisoners.
Third, a hunger striker takes on 100% of the suffering of the protest in the form of self-starvation. The goal is to call attention to the horrific inhumanity of their conditions of incarceration. But instead of hearing that call and responding to it before the strike began, CDCR dialed up the inhumanity of their conditions. Prisoner representatives at Pelican Bay were put in deeper isolation units that are smaller with very little personal property and with cold air blowing on them. African-American prisoners report being put in cells with ethnic slurs written on the walls, including the n-word. CDCR prohibited non-nutritive liquids such as coffee, tea, or juice knowing that after three weeks on hunger strike, taste buds change and the water tastes terrible. That move pushes hunger striking prisoners needlessly toward greater dehydration, more rapid organ failure, and even death.
The evidence is clear: CDCR has committed the serious violations that have occurred in this peaceful hunger strike. The time is now for CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners, grant their very reasonable demands, refrain from further violence against them, and once and for all recognize the human dignity of these men!
On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Dr. Ronald Ahnen – Contact: (925) 381-5504
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Dr. Ronald 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