Faces and Voices of the California Prison Hunger Strike

Today the massive California prison hunger strike enters its third day. Below are six individuals in Pelican Bay State Prison and Corcoran State Prison SHUs.  All have been held in the SHU for over a decade, and participated in the previous two hunger strikes. All have indicated their intention to participate in this July 8th hunger strike, despite some of them having medical conditions.

Kijana-Tashiri-Askari-Marcus-Harrison-100512Kijana Tashiri Askari (Marcus Harrison), 41, Pelican Bay SHU. Following validation as a Black Guerilla Family member, he has been in solitary confinement since 1994.

“With regards to the revisions that were done to SHU management gang policies, well, that is exactly what has taken place—’revisions’ (e.g. ‘reform’). Hence, more of the same in that, the revisions have only strengthened CDCR officials power and ability to label and validate every prisoner in CDCR as belonging to a Security Threat Group–e.g. ‘prison gang.’At the crux of the revisions is a lack of a definitive and ‘behavioral-based’ criteria, as to what actually constitute as being gang activity. Meaning, any and everything can and will still be considered as gang activity, in spite of how innocuous the activity may be.”

Mutope-Duguma-James-Crawford-from-Penny-Schoner-webMutope Duguma (James Crawford), 46, Pelican Bay SHU. Incarcerated since 1988, Duguma has been in the SHU since 2001, following his validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family; a charge he claims is false. “I was involved in gang life as a young man in South Los Angeles, like many other young black men from broken communities, but I was never a member or associate of the BGF. I never even met a member of the BGF during my first decade in prison,” he has written. He claims he was targeted for political activity, and last year won a lawsuit against CDCR for withholding his mail on the basis that his political writings constituted “gang activity.”

Duguma is known for having authored “The Call” in 2011, initiating the first round of hunger strikes. “The purpose of the Hunger Strike is to combat both the Ad-Seg/SHU psychological and physical torture, as well as the justifications used of support treatment of the type that lends to prisoners being subjected to a civil death. Those subjected to indeterminate SHU programs are neglected and deprived of the basic human necessities while withering away in a very isolated and hostile environment.”

Michael-Zaharibu-Dorrough-2012-webMichael “Zaharibu” Dorrough, 59 , Corcoran State Prison SHU. Dorrough has been in the SHU since 1988, following validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family. He has subsequently been kept in the SHU for reasons including writing for black nationalist newspapers and eulogizing a deceased inmate who was a BGF member.

“I was diagnosed with severe depression several years ago.

I don’t know which is worse.

At some point you know that the isolation has affected you. Perhaps permanently. It involves so many different factors. Particularly the isolation itself.

Over the years you have seen other people snap. Human beings cutting themselves. Eating their own waste. Smearing themselves in it. And sometimes throwing it at you. Human beings not just talking out loud to themselves–but screaming at and cursing themselves out.

How could you not be affected by this kind of madness?!”

J.-Heshima-Denham-after-hunger-strike-0711-headshot-webJ. Heshima Denham, 41 , Corcoran State Prison SHU. Denham has been in the SHU for over a decade following validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family. As evidence of gang activity, he has reportedly has his cell raised by prison guards for Japanese artwork involving dragons; the dragon is a symbol of the BGF.

“Solitary confinement must be defined by the effects this isolation and the torture techniques used to break men has on those so situated. We should know. All of us have been both with and without cellies over our periods of indefinite SHU confinement. Despite our level of development and continued advancement, it would be the height of hubris for us to contend this isolation has not adversely affected our minds and bodies. For anyone to consider these conditions anything less than torture could only be a prison industrialist or some other type of draconian public official.

In the final analysis, torture must be defined by the effects it has on its victims. And no one who has been confined to these indefinite torture units for any length of time, either single or double celled, has escaped the psychological and physical devastation of the torture unit.”

628x471Todd Ashker, 50, Pelican Bay SHU. Incarcerated since 1984, he has been in the SHU since 1986, after prison officials deemed him a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a charge he denies. He is one of the leaders of the hunger strikes.

According to a UN Petition filed by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional law: “Mr. Ashker’s outdoors time is in a small, concrete enclosed dog-like yard 1 ½ hours a day with no exercise equipment other than a hand-ball recently given to the SHU inmates as a result of a hunger strike. He claims his yard time is always cancelled due to “staff training,” and from the years 1989 – 2011 he received zero time outside, other than when he was allowed to go to into a small enclosed concrete yard. He spent 24 hours a day 7 days a week in a small concrete cell for 22 years. Mr. Ashker’s meals are under- portioned, watered down, under- cooked food is spoiled, cold, no nutrition, salad is rotten, trays are always dirty and covered with dirty dish water.”

Arturo-Castellanos-by-CDCR-via-California-WatchArturo Castellanos, 52, Pelican Bay SHU. One of the leaders of the hunger strike, he has been in the SHU after validation as a member of the Mexican Mafia.

“During our last meeting of May 23, 2011, Warden Lewis and CDCR Deputy Director Stainer dropped in. The reps asked Mr. Stainer several questions about the revisions to the STG. He was vague in his answers and then said although they are on his I-pod, he hasn’t seen them yet. And they should be out in two weeks. Bottom line, it was the same old CDCR evasive tactics and the guy just basically wasted our time. Oh, he did say that the STG will replace the 6 year Inactive Status Program – Big Whoop! Yeah, it will but it will have the same end result. Only this time, we’ll all be bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball between step-1 and step-2, all while we’re in the same cell until we die. Thus, I personally don’t see any real change coming in their revisions to the STG that we already rejected in March. I hope I’m wrong but with CDCR’s track record, I doubt that I am.”

Those with photographs of their loved ones in the SHU are encouraged to submit them to the author at: Sal.Solitary@Gmail.com

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