Why Prisoners are Protesting

Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units Peaceful Protest Hunger Strike Starting July 1, 2011

By James Crowford, Mutop DuGuya (a/k/a Bow Low)


It is important for readers to understand the cruelty of the policy sanctioned by the state that allows the CDCR to place men/women under an indeterminate SHU program only on the word of a prison informer—where there is no offense, no violence, nor any gang or criminal activity. Yet prisoners who are held in indeterminate SHU are held, well, indefinitely—for the rest of their lives in SHUs and Adjustment Centers across the state, and even on Death Row if validated as a gang member.

The cruelty is a protracted attack against prisoners, their families, friends, and all of their associates who are subjected to investigations for criminal activities. It does not matter if they are into crime or gang activity or not, the objective is to insinuate that they are and to cut off any relationships that may exist with the prisoner. The gang investigation officers manufacture their evidence by using inmate informers to create as assumption of crime to attack our friends and families.

The CDCR’s gang investigators understand that the prisoners held in solitary confinement are being subjected to various forms of torture and are nonetheless able to sustain themselves, even in the face of these ongoing attacks. Prisoners have adapted to maintain their sanity. So the gang investigators take it a step further, beyond the prison walls, where they work to intimidate by way of threats and other means our friends and families, be they children, grandparents, sisters, bothers, parents or whomever—people who are completely innocent of any gang or criminal activity. They intimidate and incriminate people across the board. They run them off in fear of being prosecuted for a crime that does not exist (other than to say they are under investigation). This kind of attack is not only very intimidating for someone who has never even had a traffic ticket, they are actually cruel to those dear to us.

Since 1990 prisoners have been making complaints against abuses by prison guards. Some of these abuses against PBSP-SHU prisoners were addressed in the Madrid case, where the court agreed that guards were responsible for a number of areas of prisoner mistreatment. Because medical treatment was so bad the federal court put the prisons into receivership and appointed a special master to oversee changes. Many prisoners have suffered mental disorders as a direct result of their placement in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units (PBSP-SHU). The overwhelming majority of these men had not mental illness prior to entering the SHU, but rather lost their sanity as a result of their placement in this facility, as a result of the long-term impact of such confinement.

The Madrid ruling was a failure. Prison guards either ignore the court order altogether or implement token rules they do not follow. Nothing the court did persuaded the guard staff or prison administration to change their abusive behavior. This place is a plantation or a prison colony and we prisoners are the slaves (a status legitimized by the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution). The guards are free to do with us as they please. They have complete control of our medical care, mail, visits, property, supplies, law library access, laundry, yard, isolation, the lights in our cell, family, friends, lock downs, etc. This is an environment in which the prison guards can torture prisoners both physically and psychologically over extended periods of time. One such attack is the dehumanizing yet widely used “potty watch” which is used under false pretenses—not to find drugs, but to humiliate other human beings.

The actual objective or goal of all this is to force every indefinitely held SHU prisoner to “debrief” (to turn rat, snitch, turncoat, however you want do define it). Some SHU prisoners break and give their captors names just to escape the terrible conditions of confinement. These prisoners are rewarded by being placed in Special Need Yards (SNY) where living conditions are better. This has been happening since the 1990s and it continues today. Ninety-five percent of the debriefers lie in order to get out of the SHU and then go on to become lifetime stoolies for the cops.

The CDCR uses every trick they can to force men into debriefing, including every increasing levels of what can only be described at torture. But if you are innocent, or if you are a principled person, they force you to endure every hardship in an effort to break you. It is this ever increasing attack that has forced us prisoners to put aside our historical differences in order to address the protracted attack on our lives and to expose the criminal activities and abuses against all indeterminate SHU prisoners in the state of California. Effective July 1st we are initiating a peaceful protest by way of an indefinite hunger strike in which we will not eat until our core demands are met. This hunger strike will be carried on by all races, New Afrikans (Blacks), Mexicans (i.e. of all walks), whites and others who realize the we are silently being murdered by CDCR/CCPOAA Union as well as the U.S. judicial system who have turned a blind eye while we suffer a civil death at the hands of profiteers.

Therefore we have decided to put our fate in our own hands. Some of us have already suffered a slow, agonizing death in which the state has shown no compassion toward these dying prisoners. Rather than compassion they turn up their ruthlessness. No one wants to die. Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.

Power concedes nothing without demand.

* According to the San Francisco Chronicle one prisoner a week was killed in the state’s prison system due to medical neglect.

6 thoughts on “Why Prisoners are Protesting

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