THE BLOG

Pelican Bay Inmates Hunger Strike to Protest Inhumane Solitary Confinement

07/19/2011 11:30 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2011

I first heard about the hunger strike about a week ago. Someone Facebook-ed, tweeted or Google+ed that there was going to be a massive noise-making demonstration in New York City to show the world the sick, twisted inhumane torture that's going on right here in America. Yes, American citizens are being tortured by the United States government. And it's all sanctioned by Gov. Jerry Brown, and ultimately by President Barack Obama.

Why, you might wonder, if you haven't heard about this (and chances are you haven't, because the powers that be don't want you to know) would Gov. Jerry Brown, a man who has been a staunch advocate of human rights, and Pres. Barack Obama, who time and again has spoken out against torture, allow this to happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Isn't this what the whole alleged war is supposedly about? So governments don't torture their citizens? The reason you haven't heard about this is because our government is torturing Americans from the bottom of the food chain, people without money, education or opportunity ("Justice? Yeah that's right: Just. Us." - Richard Pryor). They are prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit. The SHU is a prison inside a prison, built for the "worst of the worst." There are SHUs in three men's prisons and in one woman's prison in California. Prisoners in the SHU are locked in a tiny, windowless cell 22 1/2 hours per day. Their beds are concrete slabs. They are in permanent solitary confinement -- and some for decades. No human contact. Food passed through a slot. Stop and think about that for a second. Imagine a day without any human contact. A week. A year. A decade.

This is from a letter postmarked July 8 from the Pelican Bay SHU:

To receive direct sunlight is being requested as currently the dog run yard has a sheet of blurred plastic so the sun is blocked out and the way the yard is designed the sun does not make contact with ones skin. It's a known fact sunlight is essential to health and even bone density. SHU prisoners are withheld direct sunlight at this time.


The prisoners have decided the better to die than to live like this. Prison authorities who first said there were only a couple dozen strikers have now had to admit that the hunger strike has involved up to 6,600 prisoners at 13 of the 33 California State Prisons. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson, Terry Thornton said that as of July 12 there were 800 prisoners refusing food at 6 different prisons. They are striking for very basic things including an end to group punishment or the right to have one phone call a year, or even some warm clothes.

As the massive strike enters its third week, the prisoners are going to start dying. Prisoners at Pelican Bay told lawyers that dozens have fainted and many people are experiencing heart problems and shortness of breath. At Calipatria, where at least 200 men are on strike, the temperature has reached 110 degrees and some prisoners have experienced heat stroke due to severe dehydration. At Corcoran some prisoners have been taken to the infirmary due to diabetic shock.

When you feel the summer sun on your face tomorrow, tell everyone you know Gov. Jerry Brown and Pres. Barack Obama are allowing Americans to be tortured in Pelican Bay.

"I support the inmates of Corcoran State prison, pelican bay, and other prisons in their demands to end the inhumane policies of SECURITY HOUSING UNITS. I recognize their humanity and stand with them." -- Susan Sarandon

"I condemn the horrific conditions under which those prisoners live in the USA. We have a common global struggle against all types of class race gender and religious oppressions, including American-European imperialisms and neocolonialisms. We live in one world dominated by the same military police capitalist patriarchal system. We need to fight together. Unity is power globally and locally. Our Egyptian revolution is winning till today because of our unified power of millions (women men and children from all sectors of the society) who are staying in Tahrir Square day and night, and in all streets and squares all over Egypt from Aswan south to Alexandria north, and Suez Canal cities and villages. In solidarity." - Nawal El Saadawi, Cairo, Egypt, renowned Egyptian novelist, doctor, and activist. She has been involved in the 2011 uprising in Egypt.

To get involved go to click here.

Here is a link to contact information of elected officials and the CDCR.

Here are the core demands of the hunger strike (summary of demands from Revolution newspaper):

1. End "group punishment" where an individual prisoner breaks a rule and prison officials punish a whole group of prisoners of the same race.
2. Abolish "debriefing" and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. False and/or highly questionable "evidence" is used to accuse prisoners of being active/inactive members of prison gangs who are then sent to the SHU where they are subjected to long-term isolation and torturous conditions. One of the only ways these prisoners can get out the SHU is if they "debrief"--that is, give prison officials information on gang activity.
3. Comply with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. commission "make segregation a last resort" and "end conditions of isolation."
4. Provide Adequate Food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food. They want adequate food, wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and an end to the use of food as a way to punish prisoners in the SHU.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates--including the opportunity to "engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities..." which are routinely denied. Demands include one phone call per week, one photo per year, 2 packages a year, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, and sweat suits and watch caps (warm clothing is often denied even though cells and the exercise cage can be bitterly cold).

There have been a solidarity protests around the country but this is not enough.

A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Pelican Bay as Colligan Bay.