Tuesday, October 4, 2011

12,000 prisoners hunger striking, family visits denied, prisoners' legal team barred

Yesterday, I got a post card that Bryan wrote on 9/27, day two of this hunger strike.  On that date, he was in good spirits and stronger than ever in his resolve to "see this thing through".   After 5 days off-line for a personal retreat, I decided it was time to turn on my computer.  Imagine my surprise to find out that 12,000 prisoners are now on hunger strike over conditions in CA prisons.  CDCR, not content to horrify us with their treatment of prisoners, has retaliated by cutting family visits (my visit with Bryan was denied last week) and now has decided to bar the prisoners' legal team from Pelican Bay State Prison.

No press, no family visits, no attorneys....their fear is palpable.  CDCR can no longer hide the brutality they have been engaged in for decades.  Don't they realize?  It is too late.  The truth can no longer be hidden.  We are aware, we are disturbed, we are speaking out, we are acting in solidarity with Bryan and men like him to say NO MORE!!!

To quote the press release printed below,

..." People on the outside have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation.  What people do on the outside of prison will be a big factor in what happens now that the prisoners resumed their hunger strike...."

I am so overwhelmed.  This blog is about Bryan, but I feel some responsibility to keeping readers informed about the nature of events.  But things are changing so fast....I just have to turn this over and redirect you.  If you wish to get information about the latest developments, go to: The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website.  To keep myself informed,  I set up in a Google alert which searches for news related to "Pelican Bay" and "Hunger Strike".  All the news comes related to these items comes straight to my in box.

Give me a day to gather myself and reflect on these newest developments. Until then, Call the Governor of CA to insist that he put pressure on CDCR to stop the torture, then please read the press release below.

You can make a difference right now, take a moment to call:

Governor Jerry Brown
Phone: (916) 445-2841 
Sample Statement:

 “Hi my name is _________ . I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that resumed on Sept 26th. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I am alarmed by the CDCR’s refusal to implement these demands. I urge you to make sure these demands are implemented for all SHU-status prisoners in CA immediately and in good faith. I also urge you to lift the CDCR’s ban on lawyers from the prisoners’ mediation team, and ensure the CDCR ceases all retaliation on the hunger strikers. Thank you.”

For Immediate Release – Media Advisory
Press Conference – Unprecedented CA Prisoner Hunger Strike!
Wednesday, October 5, 10am sharp
West Hollywood City Hall – 1st Floor Lobby
8300 Santa Monica Blvd. (Sweetzer and Santa Monica Blvd. )
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Support the Unprecedented CA Prisoner Hunger Strike --
Stop Torture in the CA SHU’s and Stop Retaliation on the Prisoners and the Targeting of Legal Advocates
Contact: 213-840-5348; CA Prison Hunger Strike Action Network
Speakers and Participants:
·        ACLU of Southern California ; Peter Eliasberg, Legal Director
·        National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT);
Virginia Classick, Member, Board of Directors, NRCAT
·        Progressive Christians Uniting; Peter Laarman, Executive Director
·        Ed Asner, actor, a statement
·        Wayne Kramer, Jail Guitar Doors
·        Clyde Young, Revolutionary Communist and Former Prisoner
·        National Lawyers Guild, UCLA Law Chapter
·        Family members with loved ones in CA SHU’s (Security Housing Units)
·        Moderated by Michael Slate, KPFK radio host and writer for Revolution newspaper
Following 20 days in July when 6,600 prisoners in CA participated in a hunger strike to stop torture in the Security Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay and other state prisons, over 11,800 prisoners resumed the hunger strike in at least 8 CA State Prisons beginning September 26.  This extraordinary, historic action and upsurge of prisoners is the one of the most important since Attica 40 years ago. 
Courageously, in the face of threats of disciplinary sanctions by prison officials -- including the threat of being thrown into solitary confinement if a prisoner in the “general population” dares take part in the strike -- an unprecedented number of prisoners have become even more united in their demands to end the inhumane, barbaric torture of long-term solitary confinement in the SHU’s. 
As this hunger strike has grown and taken on an even more determined character, so must our efforts to expose the torture in the SHU’s and to support the prisoners’ just demands to end long term solitary confinement and the sham of “gang validation” that lands prisoners in the SHU for years and often decades (see 5 core demands below). 
Torture is unequivocally unacceptable under any circumstances.  But what has been unfolding in the SHU’s is a systematic use of torture by the state for years and decades: torture of both the minds and bodies of many thousands of prisoners to “break them” and to either have them die in long term solitary confinement or be driven insane through the psychological torture of years and decades of isolation.  Such torture is an affront to human dignity.  People on the outside have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation.  What people do on the outside of prison will be a big factor in what happens now that the prisoners resumed their hunger strike.
Moreover, not only has there been steady stream of reports of intimidation and retaliation against prisoners (and their families), the CDCR has now sent expulsion orders to two key mediation team lawyers, notifying them they have been banned from the prison pending an investigation into whether they had “jeopardized the safety and security of the CDCR.”  On top of serious threats against prisoners by prison officials and the recent denial of family visits, the actual cutting off of contact with the prisoners legal team adds to the tremendous urgency to act in support of the prisoners and stop further efforts to isolate the hunger striking prisoners – isolation which has potentially ominous implications unless a giant spotlight shines on this new outrage and the situation as a whole.
Briefly the five core demands of the prisoners are:

1. Eliminate group punishments.  Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race.  This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh. 

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they "debrief," that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement.
  This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to "make segregation a last resort" and "end conditions of isolation."  Yet as of May 18, 2011 , California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up.  Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years. 

4. Provide adequate food.  Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations.  There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.  The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities..."  Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves.  Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.)  All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).

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