Jul 18, 2011
Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in California began a hunger strike on July 1 to protest inhumane conditions there. Thousands of prisoners in at least 12 other prisons across the state have joined the strike in solidarity.
The prisoners are demanding an end to arbitrarily being assigned to “Special Housing Units” (SHUs) despite no charges filed against them. SHUs are windowless, concrete cells where isolated prisoners are kept in lockdown for 22 hours a day – a modern solitary confinement. Some prisoners have been kept in these cells for decades.
They are also protesting the policy of being required to inform on gang activity by fellow inmates before they can be released from the SHU – a risk to their own safety and the safety of their own families. They demand an end to group punishments against entire racial groups in response to one prisoner from that group breaking a prison rule. They also are demanding food that has nutritional value, access to natural sunlight, one photo a year, a wall calendar and one phone call a week.
One prisoner, Todd Ashker, said in an audio statement, “The basis for this protest has come about after over 25 years of being subjected to these conditions ... in Pelican Bay SHU, where every single day you have staff and administrators who feel it’s their job to punish the worst of the worst. ... And most of us have never been found guilty of ever committing an illegal gang-related act. And all of our 602 appeals, numerous court challenges, have gotten nowhere. Therefore, our backs are up against the wall.”
These prisoners have been driven by such horrible conditions, which amount to torture, to risk their health, perhaps their lives, in a hunger strike.
The conditions faced by the Pelican Bay prisoners exist in prisons across the country. Earlier this year prisoners in Lucasville, Ohio carried out a similar hunger strike. Prisoners in Georgia in December went on strike against very low wage prison labor.
Even the current very reactionary U.S. Supreme Court was forced to recognize the poor conditions in California prisons, which were built to house 80,000 prisoners, but currently house twice that number.
Crime, which put many of these people in prisons, is the inevitable outcome of a capitalist system unable to provide a decent life to all its members. And the conditions that exist inside these prisons simply mirror the viciousness of that capitalist system magnified a hundred times. Stop the torture of prisoners!
Committees in support of the prisoners request that protests be sent to:
Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841