In 1989, Pelican Bay State Prison was cut out of a dense forest near Crescent City, CA. The highlight of the new super-max prison was the Security Housing Unit (SHU), the X-shaped building at front, where 1,300 prisoners are kept in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation.
Image from : www.sfbappa.org
I just came from visiting Bryan...he is looking strong and is totally committed to staying on this hunger strike. He has a sense of focus and is at peace with this action. This is day two of the hunger strike and yesterday, day one, he was interviewed by a representative of California Prison Focus. He told me he was nervous while waiting and spent his one hour of yard pacing back and forth and also when he was in his cell, until the interview time at noon.
Today, he said he was wiped out from that exercise and had learned his lesson about physical activity during a hunger strike. He has a plan to stay hydrated...he put himself on a strict hydration schedule of one pint of water every two hours for a total of eight pints per day. That's one gallon per day or 3.78 liters for his European friends.
I suggested to him that he apply the same forethought to his exercise/exertion. Perhaps allow himself small amounts of walking as needed, maybe even schedule it out. The "How to Hunger Strike" info I sent says to keep moving around to a bare minimum to conserve energy. He said when he goes to yard instead of walking he will bring a book and sit down to read after his 15 minutes of walking. Good!
I know this blog began with printing Bryan's letters, but I need to bring this up into real time so I will be putting his previous letters into a new blog called "Skin in the Game". I have found when I want to understand a different culture, whether its a foreign country, the military or prison, the best way to get a real glimpse into a new world is to get a pen pal. Most of the letters up until May 8 were, "what did you think of that book" type of chatter between friends getting to know one another, but slowly he would reveal here and there the truth about his situation in the SHU. In the letter below, he drops it all on me. I would like you to hear in his own words a description of why he is joining the hunger strike. After the letter below, I will probably excerpt past letters from time to time here, but for the most part, the focus of this blog will be on the here and now.
This is the 5-8-11 Letter in which Bryan finally told me the whole truth:
Wanted to write you a quick letter and thank you for the Easter card and letting me know everything that was going on in the life of Julie. :-) Hope you had a nice Easter Vacation and a fantastic time in the heart of the old Confederacy. And as a Mother with a capital “M” I hope you had a really nice Mother’s Day today. I’m sure my dear ol’ ma had a terrific day as she is a HUGE Dallas Maverics fan and they crushed the Lakers by 36 this morning on their way to a series sweep. I know I just spoke in a foreign language right there to you but trust me it was a good thing for moms. :-)
OK, on a much less upbeat note I’m very sorry to hear that your loved one had such a set-back. I’m glad to hear that you found the right place within your faith to find peace with it all. I know from our visits and letters that it is your rock. I tend to lean inwards, Mr. Macho, but will admit that I’ve been “all over the place” for the past couple of months. Several of us were litigation our denials by the prison (I.G.I. – Institutional Gang Investigators / Sacramento) to release us from SHU on the six year inactive review process. The Courts have denied every one of them. I just got mine back not too long ago for failure to show cause.
So where to now? We honestly thought that the Courts would see how corrupt the 1030 system is (a 1030 is a confidential informant’s or debriefer’s statement saying you “did” this or that). So no relief here with the institutional appeal process, no relief in the Courts and CDCR’s deaf ear to any public outcry behind keeping men in solitary confinement under these type of severe conditions for decades on end…literally. We’re right back to debrief or die here.
Therefore after long and serious deliberation a large group of us have decided to go on a hunger strike as of July 1st. You know me well enough to know that I am in NO WAY suicidal, nor do I wish to harm myself in any way. But collectively we feel as though we are already dead under these conditions of extreme isolation and deprivation. I’m personally willing to go to this extreme in order to prove my desire to live. This is not life Julie…period. We are here for one reason only, our refusals to debrief. (emphasis mine) I’ve had no serious write ups in almost a decade. I have friends here who have 20-25 years in clean. Why are we here? Because we’re “labeled” as gang members? What about the other 100,000 labeled gang members on Cal. main lines? They can’t justify this Julie.
So why am I dropping this on you? Well, frankly I have no plans on telling my family that I’m about to participate in this protest…fully committed. CDCR has a policy of force feeding , but we are prepared to carry on unbroken even through such an extreme measure for however long it takes to change these conditions. If I hadn’t already went deep within myself to know that my mind was prepared to take on this responsibility (to see it through) and that I was one hundred percent committed, I would never write to you in this way. But I am ready. So I’m asking you if you would be willing to be my “monitor”? I have no idea what lies at the end of this road, but I do know that between here and there I will need someone in my corner who’s willing to call and monitor my condition and make sure that I am treated right once I’m reduced to a weakened state. I need to know if you would be willing to do this for me. If so, I’d be forever grateful but on the other hand I also fully understand that it is a lot to ask of a friend and that you may very well be philosophically opposed to such an action or religiously opposed. In which case I certainly would understand and would never allow your denial to harm our friendship. Please let me know how you feel about it in case I need to start looking for a second or third.
Ok kind woman, I know this one was probably a shot out of the blue but the go date for this peaceful protest is just around the corner now and I really need to start getting my ducks in a row. I’m including a postcard for you so you can let me know you received this letter. As always I send you, your girls and loved ones my utmost respect and best wishes. Know that I am well and strong.
With Utmost Respect,