10/03/2011 07:37 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

Inmates Prolong California Prison Hunger Strike By Eating In Shifts

When conjuring strategies for surviving a hunger strike, "eating" isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind.

But eating is exactly how the thousands of prisoners involved in California's statewide prison hunger strike plan to sustain themselves.

SF Weekly spoke to Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity spokesman Jay Donahue, who explained that inmates are currently engaged in what they call a "rolling hunger strike," taking turns receiving their state-issued meals. Donahue said the demonstrators hope to avoid the consequences of a similar strike in July, during which many prisoners grew extremely ill.

California inmates began a new hunger strike last week to protest conditions surrounding Security Housing Units, or windowless solitary cells that house who officials deem the most "dangerous" criminals. In an effort to quell July's strike, corrections officials promised to move forward with a series of policy changes governing such units, but demonstrators claim such changes have not been implemented.

Advocates for the hunger strikers claimed that the number of participants had ballooned to 12,000, comprising perhaps the largest prison strike in recent history, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. However, corrections officials will only define inmates as "hunger striking" if they miss nine consecutive meals or more -- and officials say that number hovers closer to 1,200.

In a memo distributed to prisoners and leaked last Thursday by California Watch, corrections officials warned they would not tolerate another large-scale hunger strike. Those "identified as leading the disturbance will be subject to removal from general population and placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit," the notice read.

Lawyers representing the striking inmates demanded a meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown after the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation barred them from entering the prison facilities.