Towards Liberation! After 40 days, Palestinians suspend mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons

UPDATE: New details released on agreement to suspend Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike Read here

http://samidoun.net/2017/05/breaking-palestinian-prisoners-suspend-hunger-strike-after-40-days-of-struggle/

May 26, 2017 — After 40 days of hunger strike, Palestinian prisoners have suspended their hunger strike and announced that they have achieved victory in their humanitarian demands, following 20 hours of negotiations between the strikers’ leadership and Israeli occupation prison administration.

All salutes to the courageous, struggling Palestinian prisoners, on the front lines of the Palestinian struggle for liberation! Their victories and their struggles are those of the Palestinian people and of all people seeking justice and liberation.

And salutes to all of those around the world who have been part of the prisoners’ struggle and Palestinian victory for the past 40 days.

Freedom Theater

Victory, Towards Liberation: Salute to the Palestinian Prisoners and the Struggle for Freedom

May 27, 2017—  On the occasion of the victory of the Strike of Freedom and Dignity, the valiant battle of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails, confronting the occupier with their bodies and their lives, we salute the Palestinian prisoners on achieving their victory, not only for themselves and their families, but for the entire Palestinian people and global movement for justice and liberation.

….While further information about the agreement has not yet been released, news indicates that further achievements of the strike also center on the issue of family visits, including access to more relatives including grandparents and grandchildren; improved communication, especially between imprisoned children and women and their families, and the installation of public telephones; easing security prohibitions and the frequent bans on family visit imposed by the Israeli prison administration. Al-Mayadeen TV reported further aspects of the agreement:

  • periodic entry of private external physicians to examine ill prisoners
  • allowing visits from family members of the “second class,” including grandparents and grandchildren
  • increasing the amount prisoners may have in their canteen (prison store, where nearly all necessities of life must be purchased from and Israeli corporation) accounts
  • adding 3 satellite channels to the prisoners’ TV access
  •  transferring the Ramla prison hospital to the old section which includes several rooms and a recreation area
  • installation of a public telephone for women prisoners, child prisoners and ill prisoners to communicate on a daily basis with their family members
  • family visits to be increased to 60 minutes from 45 minutes
  • photographs with parents once annually
  • increasing the quantities of meat, vegetables and fruits for prisoners
  • allowing the introduction of clothing such as trousers and bags
  • providing each prisoner with 1 liter olive oil, 1 kilo coffee, 1/2 kilo baklava and 1/2 kilo za’atar.

…. Throughout the strike, the prisoners faced harsh repression. They were denied legal visits, family visits, beset by repressive raids, their belongings confiscated – even the salt that they relied on with water to preserve their life and health. Through it all, their steadfastness was an example of commitment and dedication to carry through their struggle. They were not alone in their steadfastness. The mothers and the families of the prisoners filled the tents of solidarity and support in every city, town, village and refugee camp in Palestine. Many prisoners’ mothers launched their own hunger strikes; they struggled, suffered, resisted and led alongside their children. Martyrs fell on the streets of Palestine as they protested and struggled for the liberation of their beloved prisoners at the hands of the occupation forces.

The Palestinian prisoners made clear through the Strike of Dignity and Freedom the power of Palestinian unity. The imprisoned leadership of all Palestinian trends stood together to confront the occupier, while that unity was felt in struggle, on the streets and inside prison walls – and the effects of that unity have been felt in the achievement of the prisoners’ victory.

The hunger strikers demanded that the Israeli occupation speak with their chosen leadership and defeated all attempts to circumvent the prisoners’ direction, leadership and choices.

More than that, however, they demonstrated once again that the true, respected leadership of the Palestinian national liberation movement itself is found in the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. The Palestinian prisoners’ movement is at the core of the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people as a whole; far from a side issue of the movement, it represents the Palestinian people and their resistance.       Read full article here

After 40 days, Palestinians suspend mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=777343

May 27, 2017 BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons suspended a 40-day mass hunger strike during dawn hours on Saturday, after reaching an agreement with the Israel Prison Service (IPS) that reinstated the prisoners’ family visitation sessions to two times per month, according to initial information from Palestinian leadership and an IPS spokesperson.

The agreements came on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, for which some hunger strikers had vowed to fast and forgo the salt and water mixture being consumed by the prisoners from dawn until sunset — the only source of nutrients the hunger strikers were consuming.

Palestinian leaders applauded the prisoners’ “victory” on Saturday, saying that the agreement represented an “important step towards full respect of the rights of Palestinian prisoners.”

However, increasing family visits was but one of a number of demands hunger-striking prisoners were calling for — including the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial.

….A Palestinian source knowledgeable about negotiations elaborated to Ma’an later Saturday afternoon that the talks started Friday at 9 a.m. at Ashkelon prison, initially in the absence of Marwan Barghouthi. …

However, the sources said that negotiations did not make progress until IPS agreed to bring in Marwan Barghouthi, who had been held in a solitary confinement cell in Jalama prison since the first day of the strike.The sources said that after Barghouthi’s arrival, IPS then “immediately agreed to some of the prisoners’ demands” and promised to respond positively to them.

At 4:20 a.m. Saturday, a phone call was made between the imprisoned leaders of the hunger strike and officials from the PA and the Fatah movement outside of Israeli prisons, and after discussions, Marwan Barghouthi agreed to end hunger strike, the sources said.

The IPS spokesperson confirmed to Ma’an that Barghouthi was involved in the agreements that ended the hunger strike, but said that IPS was not considering the talks “negotiations,” as they only reinstated a previous policy and did not provide any new concessions to the prisoners.

The IPS spokesperson told Ma’an that some 834 prisoners remained on strike to the 40th day, and that 18 prisoners who remained hospitalized would be returned to Israeli prison following the improvement of their health conditions.

….A spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Xavier Abu Eid released a statement Saturday by the “Free Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian prisoners’ international campaign,” saying that the hunger strike had “prevailed.”

“This is an important step towards full respect of the rights of Palestinian prisoners under international law. It is also an indication of the reality of the Israeli occupation which has left no option to Palestinian prisoners but to starve themselves to achieve basic rights they are entitled to under international law,” the statement read.

As the statement pointed out, the hunger strike was one of the longest strikes in Palestinian history and included a wide participation of Palestinian prisoners from across political factions. “The epic resilience and determination of the hunger strikers and their refusal to end their hunger strike despite the repression and very harsh conditions they endured allowed for their will to prevail over the will of the jailer.”

Israeli forces had attempted to break the hunger strike through various punitive measures — with the measures being repeatedly condemned by human rights organizations — including putting hunger strikers in solitary confinement, “inciting” against the hunger strikers and their leaders — most notably Barghouthi, and threatening to force feed the hunger strikers, the statement highlighted.

Scores of Palestinian prisoners were also transferred to Israeli hospitals during the hunger strike, with reports emerging that prisoners were vomiting blood and fainting. Palestinian leaders had feared possible deaths among the hunger strikers if their demands were not met.

The statement went on to thank all those who stood in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, particularly former political prisoners in South Africa, Ireland, and Argentina. “The Palestinian people are a nation held captive, and the Palestinian prisoners are the reflection of this painful reality,” the statement read.

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PRISONERS UNITED of Silicon Valley Thank Each Other & Supporters for a Largely Successful Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement

Read full article in SF Bay View (includes video from a TV interview with hunger striker inside the jail)

January 25, 2017

by Mary Ratcliff

In late September, prisoners in the Santa Clara County jails who are part of what they then called the Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement sent a letter to Sheriff Laurie Smith with a list of demands and a notice that in October the inmates would initiate a hunger strike to continue their “peaceful protest to end this torturous practice of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment until there is tangible and meaningful change for all prisoners – most whom are un-convicted pretrial detainees,” they stated.

santa-clara-county-main-jail-yard-by-robert-galbraith-reuters-webIn prisons and jails, prisoners classed in general population are the freest, allowed to exercise on the yard together, as these men are at the Santa Clara County Jail. Solitary confinement is the least free classification and has been identified as torture by the United Nations. The issue was central to this hunger strike. “They isolate me by removing any form of social oxygen,” one prisoner told San Jose Inside. “I come out by myself, I do not interact with nobody else, no card playing, no nothing. When we go out in the yard, we come out one person at a time. We’re in our cells by ourselves. But they’re saying this isn’t solitary.” – Photo: Robert Galbraith, Reuters

The letter begins by recalling the Ashker settlement, the 2015 resolution of a lawsuit against solitary confinement in the state prison system that was initially filed by prisoners and fueled by a series of hunger strikes, the largest in history. Though it didn’t end solitary confinement, it severely limited it and released thousands of prisoners who had suffered the torture of solitary confinement for a decade or more into the relative freedom of general population.

Building on that precedent, the Santa Clara prisoners write: “Currently there are over a hundred prisoners held in solitary confinement throughout Santa Clara County jails.” Then they list their core demands:

  • End meaningless classification review and the biased appeal process;
  • End placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious rule violation to merit such placement;
  • End the policy and practice of denying prisoners sufficient clothing;
  • End jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and their families through contract bidding of commissary vendors based on kickbacks and political incentives for campaign contributions;
  • End recidivism and misappropriation of prisoners’ welfare funds.

In calling the strike, which was inspired by the nationwide prison strikes that began Sept 9, 2016, they wrote to their comrades: “Said hunger strike will begin at 12 midnight on Oct. 17, 2016, and will go on for two weeks, or 14 days. It will end on Oct. 30, 2016, at 12 midnight. This strike is not mandatory, but instead it is highly encouraged to all who are concerned, willing and able.

“We especially reach out to those who are healthy and influential. We lean upon you and ask that you utilize your influence to help further push and inspire this movement through your words and actions by leading through example.

“For those who might not be able to hold up for the full 14 days, it’s OK; just do your best. But this county does not acknowledge a hunger strike until you refuse nine straight meals through the course of three days, so we ask that at a minimum you hold out for four days so that your sacrifice and efforts are acknowledged.”


Santa Clara County Main Jail is the main lockup in Silicon Valley, which is booming economically. So why would a large jail be needed where jobs are plentiful? Silicon Valley is notoriously reluctant to hire people of color regardless of their skills, so, as in nearly all the rest of the country, the wealth gap between rich and poor is huge.

Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary confinement, joined the strike. And after only four days, jail officials held a meeting with about a hundred prisoners that resulted in suspension of the strike, which continues.

Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary confinement, joined the strike.

“In an unusual turn,” the San Jose Mercury News reported, “the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union for the rank-and-file enforcement officers of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, publicly sided with the inmates and released a statement lambasting Sheriff Laurie Smith for not being responsive enough to the protest of conditions ranging from how solitary confinement is doled out to inadequate clothing.”

Now, under their new name, Prisoners United of Silicon Valley, the strikers have issued their own newsletter and topped it with this statement:

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PRISONERS UNITED OF SILICON VALLEY Newsletter #1

Link to full newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/gwhq2hp

PRISONERS
UNITED

OF SILICON VALLEY

December 22, 2016 – Newsletter 1

LETTER OF APPRECIATION

Greetings and solidarity to each other and all who participated in our initial Hunger Strike to end the arbitrary use of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment in Santa Clara County Jails.

Before we set off into the body of this letter we would like to extend our respect and appreciation to all who participated and sacrificed to provoke change. Although we came from diverse backgrounds be it race, religion, color or creed we set out differences aside, inter-locked arms forming a formidable force through civil disobedience in solidarity.

Allow the sacrifices each participant has made be inspiration to others to join in our struggle, allow our peaceful protest to demonstrate the power of unity and the positive changes that can be effected when we view each other not as classification of inmates defined by the color of clothing issued to prisoners by administration but instead as human beings who share the same oppressive conditions.

For decades prisoners have been slammed down in solitary confinement, locked away from education and rehabilitation programs or barred from participating in fellowship of their faith due to administration beliefs … Meanwhile our families are being exploited with practices that amount to price gouging through exorbitant commissary and phone rates. While they survive in a region with rising rent cost plagued by a homeless epidemic in city with ordinances that throws people in jail for having no place to live… Let’s be thankful we have religious leaders and community organizations like De-Bug who rally behind us to champion our cause and see us different, who are the difference, who see us as human beings, who are not persuaded by those in positions of authority whom define us by our allegations and classification rhetoric to pump fear in the heart of the public in their effort to kill our support base when they are preoccupied beating us to death like Michael Tyree … In the spirit of thankfulness perhaps one might consider reaching out to their family and friends letting them know they are appreciated; we appreciate you and yours for your support so Thank You!

Before we bring this letter of appreciation to a close we would like to abreast the prisoner population that our hunger strike has not ended, it has been momentarily suspended. We gave administration (30) days to bring about tangible changes for the benefit of all prisoners. We will continue our efforts until all of our core demands have been met. We will not be duped by the superficial such as movie night and a snack, we must persist as a collective that stands firm on principle. We must not be deluded by a carrot on a stick offered to us by an oppressed system that is fueled by greed and political ambitions.

To prevail in our struggle for prisoners human rights we respectfully ask the prisoner population to exercise diplomacy for it is not in our own interest to engage in combat with one another when we are fighting together to improve our conditions of confinement. We ask those of you who sway influence in our housing unit to work with each other to resolve conflict peacefully by promoting prisoner solidarity. Let’s try not to provide ammunition to the administration that allows them to justify the reasoning for the use of solitary confinement. Our goal is to promote our cause by unifying like-minded people to support our next planned Hunger strike.

In closing, we thank you for your time.

Truly,

PRISONERS UNITED OF SILICON VALLEY

 

Newsletter #1 contents:
Letter Of Appreciation
Official Updates
Recommended Reading
We Are the 13th Amendment! by Jose Valle
Recommended Resources
Write to De-Bug San Jose
Prisoners United of Silicon Valley
Notes
Questionnaire

Download, Read, or Print entire newsletter:
https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/prisoners-united-1.pdf

Report back from Prisoner Representatives’ first monitoring meeting with CDCR

published by the Center for Constitutional Rights
May 23, 2016

Last September, in Ashker v. Governor of California, California prisoners reached an historic settlement agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that is bringing an end to indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. The Settlement Agreement includes hard-won (and unprecedented) periodic meetings between the CDCR and the prisoners who initiated the lawsuit and led the protests against long term solitary confinement. Below is a report back from the first of these meetings, from lead plaintiff in the case and prisoner representative, Todd Ashker.

I was very pleased to participate in this historic meeting with CDCR officials, which we negotiated in our Settlement Agreement.  I think it is the first time that representatives of prisoners have had this kind of discussion with leaders of any correction department; it is certainly the only time it has happened here in California, the world’s largest prison system.  We were especially pleased that high-ranking prison officials were at the meeting.

At the beginning of this first meeting, it became clear that there was a misunderstanding about its function.  CDCR thought the meeting was for us to listen to them.  Why would we put a term into our Settlement that would have us listen to them?  We listen to them every second of our lives.   We see the purpose of these calls as an opportunity for us to be heard and to have a discussion with people in authority.

Despite this initial confusion, we were able to lead the meeting. CDCR got unfiltered information from prisoners who know what is going on in their prison cells and yards.  We are a leadership group the CDCR knows.  They know we have integrity.  The information we shared at the meeting came not only from the experiences of us four main reps, but also from the other veterans of the SHU, members of our class who have written and met with our attorneys.

We raised in strong terms that some of us who have made it to General Population yards are essentially in modified SHUs (Security Housing Units), in some respects worse than Pelican Bay SHU, although in some respects better.   Conditions, policies and practices that we are experiencing in some of the General Population yards are not what we expected when we settled our case.  After spending decades in solitary we cannot accept many of these conditions.  Too many prisoners are simply warehoused, and there are not enough jobs or programs to give us skills, engage our minds and prepare us to return to our communities.  Guards need training in ‘professional’ behavior.   Bullying and humiliation should never be tolerated.

CDCR may have been surprised at the tenor, strength and substance of our approach.   We expect at the next meeting, we will all understand the agenda and purpose well ahead of time.   We also think a longer meeting will allow for a full discussion and useful interaction.  We hope CDCR officials come to welcome these historic meetings as useful because they will be if prisoners’ perspectives are heard, used and received by them.

PHOTOS and REPORTBACKS from Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners

On February 1, 2016, people from all over California gathered in Sacramento at the headquarters of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) to demand an end to the dangerous and deliberate sleep deprivation being inflicted on the people in solitary in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, under the guise of “welfare checks”.

Before the Rally, more than 15 formerly incarcerated people, family members, pen pals, and other activists visited the offices of Loni Hancock (chair of the CA Senate Public Safety Senate Committee), Bill Quirk (chair of the CA Assembly Public Safety Committee), and reps from various districts to demand the immediate suspension of the sleep deprivation “welfare checks” in the Pelican Bay SHU.  Sleep Deprivation Is Torture.

Reportbacks below are from Martha Esquivel of San Diego, CA and James Decker of Eureka, CA.
Photos are from Liberated Lens Collective, Lucas Guilkey, James Decker, and Urszula Frydman. Please inquire about photo accreditation before using unlabeled photos.

from Martha Esquivel:
I’m so very thankful for having the opportunity to go to Sacramento and stand up with you all in front of CDCr and show them our unity, meet new people and listen to their stories… about how their loved ones are being tortured by CDCr, our employees. Yes, our employees. Because they get paid with our taxes, and instead of rehabilitating our loved ones who make mistakes, they are looking for methods to keep the torture going one way or another.

IMG_2694

Photo by Liberated Lens Collective

Almost 5 years ago, we were standing outside CDCr demanding CDCr stop the torture of our loved ones in Indefinite Isolation.  We proved to them that was torture. We Won and now CDCr has found another way of torturing them, by not letting them sleep. It has been 6 months of sleep deprivation and they know that it is torture.

Back in 2011, we didn’t have a clue what to do, we only knew that our loved ones were being Tortured and they needed our support. Our loved ones pushed from the inside and we pushed from the outside, and we got the Victory.  Today, we are more people fighting for our loved ones in prison. Some of them are out of the SHU, but we are still here fighting for the one’s still in the SHU. We are not leaving anyone behind. Together We know We can make a change, and we just want to let CDCr know that regarding this new chapter of torture they have created: We are going to win too, because our movement is a movement of Love, and we believe in rehabilitating humans not destroying them!
Martha Esquivel is active in California Families Against Solitary Confinement and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition; She is sister to Luis Esquivel, a named Plaintiff in Ashker v Brown, now out of Pelican Bay SHU after 15 years in solitary there.

4L0A1277

Photo by Lucas Guilkey

from James Decker:
I was proud to be part of the contingent from far northern California to attend the Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners on February 1, 2016. We gathered just after noon, a group of family members, formerly incarcerated persons, activists, attorneys, and faith leaders. Diverse members of the community gathering with a single purpose: to stop the sleep deprivation torture.

PowerfulSpeaking_2-1-16_JamesDeckerphoto

I was moved by the testimony of those folks fighting for the very lives of their loved ones. More then 70 people were there to listen and demand action!  Women, mostly women of color, spoke about a racist system fueled by capitalism that has devastated their families and robbed their communities.

StopTortureNow_2-1-16_JamesDeckerphoto

EndSleepDeprivation_2-1-16_JamesDeckerphoto

Thanks to the folks that helped create these powerful posters and the Artist Richard Torres.

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Carol Strickman gave us an update from the legal team.  The folks from Food Not Bombs in Oakland brought nutritious food.  Sarah Torres provided stirring music and chants went up spontaneously from the crowd demanding “LET THEM SLEEP!”

CynthiaFuentes-Sevilla_Feb1,2016

Cynthia spoke of the callous neglect and medical malpractice that is rampant in the prison system. It resulted in the death of her brother.

We must keep the pressure up to end this abominable behavior by the Department of Corrections and the State of California.

In solidarity,
James Decker works with Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

IMG_2700

Photo by Liberated Lens Collective

More Photos! Continue reading

Historic settlement to end CA indefinite solitary confinement finalized in court

For Immediate Release – Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Press Contact:
Mohamed Shehk – 408.910.2618 – mohamed@criticalresistance.org | Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

OAKLAND – On Tuesday, Federal Judge Claudia Wilken approved the final agreement to end indefinite solitary confinement in California calling it humane, innovative and fair. Prisoners celebrated the settlement agreement, whose terms were agreed on last September, claiming it as a victory that bolstered their struggle for human rights.

Anne Weills, one of the attorneys representing the prisoners, pointed out that “what was missing from the courtroom were all the prisoners who risked their lives in the hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013.” She went on to say, “Yes, our litigation team did the best we could to bring our clients out of indefinite solitary confinement and into the light of day – but there is no doubt that we could not have gotten where we have with this settlement without the leadership of the brilliant, courageous, fearless and enlightened men in the Short Corridor at Pelican Bay who in 2011 set this all in motion.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights released data showing the agreement has already led to the transfer of hundreds of prisoners from segregated housing units back to the state’s general prison population.

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Take Action Against Ongoing Sleep Deprivation Torture! EMERGENCY PROTEST Photos Included

People in solitary confinement have been loudly awakened by guards every 30 minutes 24/7 since the night of August 2nd! Please help stop this sleep deprivation torture.

Resist Torture EMERGENCY PROTEST

On Nov 30th, the 119th day of interrupted sleep 48 times a day, about 20 people took part  in an EMERGENCY PROTEST at CDCr headquarters in Sacramento to stop these so-called “security/welfare checks” being done every 30 minutes in the Pelican Bay SHU and other solitary units in CA prisons.No Sleep In SHU EMERGENCY PROTEST 

Sleep deprivation is torture, and that is what these loud, intrusive checks are causing. For people in solitary cells 23-24 hours a day, the noise and disruption every 30 minutes is unavoidable, endless torture. Prisoners are experiencing severe stress, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, headaches, eye problems, stomach and bowel problems, faintness, depression, and sped-up heart rates. They cannot concentrate, exercise, read, do legal work- the things that help them survive- and they can’t sleep!  SLEEPDEPRIVATIONISTORTURE

SEND EMAILS to
STOP the 30 minute ‘checks’

This link will help you easily send an email to Gov. Brown and the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees to stop the so-called security and welfare checks! http://bit.ly/1keDTUG

MAKE CALLS to STOP 30 minute ‘checks’ in Pelican Bay SHU

Governor Brown: 1.916.445.2841
CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: 1.916-323-6001 (If you can’t get through, call CDCR number* for Beard)
Pelican Bay State Prison: 1.707.465.1000

CDCR Ombudsman 916.445-1773
*CDCR: 1.916.445.7688

Suggested script for calls:
Your name, what city/state you live in

Tell all of them:
Stop the 30 minutes welfare checks in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. Sleep Deprivation is Torture.
Below are more photos from the Nov 30 EMERGENCY PROTEST at CDCr in Sacramento. And VIDEO here.

Continue reading

Report and Photos from 1st Monthly Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement, March 23

March 23, 2015[This article was first published March 28, 2015 in the San Francisco Bay View ]

Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) began March 23, 2015. Actions were held in California from San Diego to Arcata (Arcata-Eureka, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz) and Philadelphia, Penn. Activists in more locations will be joining in on April 23 and the 23rd of each month. Below is a report from just one locality, Santa Cruz, which took a creative approach.

by Willow Katz

About 45 people attended the first day of Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), on March 23, 2015, at the Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. We went there to see the ocean for so many SHU and solitary prisoners who talk about their dream to see the ocean again, including Luis Esquivel.

Oakland’s action was in Oscar Grant Plaza, 14th and Broadway, the scene of many, many struggles for justice in recent years. Readers are urged to come out in droves on April 23 and the 23rd of every month. We may not be able to rid the world of all evils, but we CAN end solitary confinement!

The actions are being held in response to a call by California prisoners. Proposals for action from Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers in November 2013 included “designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. … Our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] CDCR’s actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing from month to month as more people inside and out become aware of it and join our struggle.”

Actions were held March 23 in California – at Arcata, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Santa Cruz– and Philadelphia. Monterey is planning future actions, and we expect more actions statewide, nationally and internationally.

Activists Annie Kane and Jerry Elster check out the window slits atop Oakland City Hall. A city worker told them that behind the slits are SHU-like cells that are no longer used. – Photo: Kim Rohrbach

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The Hunger Strike One Year Later

To celebrate the movement: The California prisoner hunger strike one year later

“This is the third anniversary since we began using peaceful actions collectively to push for an end to the use of long-term solitary confinement. If we look back and remember before July 2011, we prisoners were alone, isolated, not being heard. We wrote newspapers and nothing was printed. We wrote lawmakers and never heard back. Few people knew how many of us were locked away in windowless cells for 23 hours a day (often more) here in California. Few understood how many others are kept in various forms of isolation here in our state in other SHUs, Ad Seg cells, mental health cells, including women and juveniles. Almost no one understood California’s place as the state that uses solitary confinement the most of anywhere … Today we celebrate our movement. We do not rely on the legislature or the courts alone. Only by a strong growing movement of those of us inside and our supporters outside do we have any hope to make all the changes that we need. You keep CDCR’s feet to the fire. We are grateful that you stand with us.” – Statement from Pelican Bay representatives, July 2014

One year ago on July 8, 30,000 California prisoners refused meals and work assignments, beginning a 60-day hunger strike with the core demand of ending the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement. This was the largest hunger strike in U.S. history, and it presented the deepest challenge yet to solitary by bringing national and international attention to a practice that has long been condemned by human rights groups as torture.

To commemorate the historic strike and its ongoing significance to the struggle against solitary, statewide actions throughout California took place on its one year anniversary:

  • Over 100 community members held a rally and press conference in LA, including a statement in solidarity read by Danny Glover;
  • in San Bernardino, around 40 people composed mainly of prisoners’ friends and family members organized a vigil and spoke out about their loved ones inside;
  • Oakland witnessed events throughout the day beginning with a noontime rally led by family members, followed by a community gathering procession and vigil in the evening;
  • prisoners’ loved ones and supporters gathered in Santa Cruz to read out statements by prisoners, and set up a model Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell to continue shedding light on the torturous conditions of solitary.

Solidarity demonstrations were also planned nationally and internationally in cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and London.

During last year’s hunger strike, both national and international media reported favorably about the prisoners’ peaceful action in spite of the California Department of Corrections’ (CDCR) attempts to discredit the strikers as “the worst of the worst, gang leaders” organizing a strike solely to expand their power within the prison. Hundreds of articles appeared in the press over the course of the strike, bringing an awareness of the cruelty of solitary to the public in unprecedented ways.

The call for the hunger strike was issued by a collective of prisoner representatives who had found common ground through their confinement in Pelican Bay. Their dialogue through adjacent cells led them to put aside their disputes and unite to challenge the worsening conditions in the prison system, especially to prevent more young people from being consigned to draconian sentences of indefinite solitary.

In 2012, these representatives issued the Agreement to End Hostilities, which called for an end to all violence between different groups of prisoners throughout the state. These representatives also issued the call for three hunger strikes between 2011 and 2013, articulated their demands, and sought to negotiate a resolution with the CDCR. The call for the third strike was met with an unprecedented response, with almost a quarter of California’s prison population participating in the beginning.

This strike was history-making in other ways as it fueled ongoing human rights struggles among prisoners in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia as well as among immigration detainees in Washington state and Texas. Led by hundreds in Pelican Bay who have spent decades in isolation in violation of all international standards of confinement, their demands became the basis of a renewed call from behind the bars for the public to recognize the humanity of imprisoned people and to call for an end to mass imprisonment.

Many families of prisoners became public spokespeople for the first time, realizing that the lives of their loved ones were in their hands. They organized rolling solidarity fasts, held numerous vigils, and marched in 105-degree heat to a Central Valley prison to show their support for their loved ones on strike. They met with prison officials to demand a response from the CDCR, which refused to negotiate with the strikers. They broadened the international perspective by hosting events with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez.

The courage and determination of the hunger strikers ignited a new level of solidarity among imprisoned people in California. As strikers faced intense repression by the CDCR – in the form of medical neglect, confiscation of medicine, threats of force-feeding (sanctioned by a federal judge) – prisoners shared their own limited resources, kept each other’s loved ones informed, and demanded medical care for those who were becoming increasingly ill.

After 60 days and one death, the strikers suspended their strike after California legislators committed to hold public hearings. In their statement suspending the strike, they said:

“To be clear, our peaceful protest of resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly. This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met – despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable. The core group of prisoners has been, and remains 100 percent committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory, even if it requires us to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

The 2013 hunger strike represented the highest level of self-organization, empowerment and solidarity among prisoners that the California prison system had seen in decades, since the height of the prisoner rights movement led by George Jackson in the 1970s. The CDCR reacted as any government entity facing a serious threat to its power reacts, with an iron fist. Every prisoner who refused nine or more consecutive meals was issued a write-up charging them with participation in a gang-related activity, subject to progressive levels of discipline.

The 2013 hunger strike represented the highest level of self-organization, empowerment and solidarity among prisoners that the California prison system had seen in decades, since the height of the prisoner rights movement led by George Jackson in the 1970s.

After the strike, CDCR extended its repressive tactics to include the community outside by proposing a new level of censorship, banning any materials coming into or going out of the prison that “indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.” These measures are designed to keep prisoners from writing about intolerable conditions, criminalize their attempts to organize, and destroy the connections and support from the community – lifelines for those who are living in extreme isolation.

From the courage and determination of the strikers, a new and vibrant movement for the human rights of prisoners is taking root. It forces us to ask ourselves what place solitary confinement could possibly have in a civilized society and more, what we are prepared to do to end it.

This article first appeared in the San Francisco Bay View on July 14, 2014 as “To celebrate the movement: The California prisoner hunger strike one year later“,
by Donna Willmott.