As prisoners mark day 51 of their hunger strike, lawyers and advocates continue to express outrage at the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) attacks on prisoners’ peaceful protest. After being internationally lambasted in the media last week for threatening prisoners with force feeding as well as ignoring their medical wishes, the CDCR continued to punish strikers by moving as many as 50 prisoners from Pelican Bay to other prisons. The CDCR issued a confusing press release on Monday evening, claiming it had met the demands of the strikers, while also maintaining it did not recognize the legitimacy of their protest, nor would it negotiate with them. Attempts by the strikers’ mediation team to keep open dialogue with the strikers and prison officials have been rebuffed by CDCR.
Lawyers and advocates have just learned that, in an attempt to break prisoners’ hunger strike, prison officials abruptly awakened more than 50 long-term Pelican Bay hunger strikers between 4:00 – 5:00 a.m. last Friday morning and moved them to various prisons around the state.
Anne Weills, attorney for the strikers responded to this news: “Just think of the state of these men, psychologically, physically and medically. The CDCR chose to arbitrarily move these men—many of whom may already be on the a verge of a cardiac arrest—making them get out of bed, chaining them up by the legs, waist and wrists, performing invasive cavity checks, making them march to a van, and then taking them wherever. And then isolating the four representatives who remain in the Stand Alone Administration Building at Pelican Bay.”
“These people are starving for a cause bigger than themselves. They have been very clear that they are fighting so that new prisoners, particularly younger men and women, do not have to suffer what they have had to suffer.” Said Azadeh Zohrabi, spokesperson for the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “Instead of going to meet with the prisoners at Pelican Bay, CDCR is governing by fiat–responding in a public statement to prisoners’ demands rather than negotiating with them as human beings. The public should be disturbed by this, to say the least.”
Late last week, as the CDCR was likely planning its early morning raid, strike mediators attempted to meet with both the Department and with strike representatives as a way of exploring options for resolving the crisis. The CDCR refused both attempts. “Regular dialogue was a common practice during the 2011 strike that led to some moderately constructive discussions between strikers and the CDCR,” said Marilyn McMahon, of the strike mediation team. “Why would the CDCR foreclose on these completely reasonable options? They can either be open to change or continue to cause suffering. They can’t do both.”
“Governor Brown and the CDCR are playing with peoples’ lives to make a point – that they are in control,” said Donna Willmott of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “They are using their emergency motion for force-feeding as justification to move against the strikers without restraint. Against all human decency, they have used every means at their disposal to destroy this peaceful protest: character assassination, coercion, isolation, and intimidation. And yet the strikers have not been broken.”
Despite CDCR’s apparent attempts to close the issue with its muddled press release Monday, mediators and lawyers continue to try open negotiations between the Department and the prisoners. Supporters continue to urgently request the California Legislature’s Public Safety Committee to convene a special session. Speaking to the strength and resolve of prisoners still on strike, family member and mediator Dolores Canales said yesterday, “I am filled with absolute awe at the strength and character of these individuals who have endured decades-long isolation. And I think it must be hope that fills them with such a determination… hope for long overdue change, hope within a system that has kept them in isolation for decades. And I think of great changes in history that only took place when people did not give up and when the awakening of a moral consciousness was stirred within the heart and soul of the public.”