(Information Packet)

Stop Mass Incarceration Network
POB 941 Knickerbocker Station, New York, NY10002-0900 [email protected] (347) 979-SMIN (7646)


hungerstike-palmcardTABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons! Stop Mass Incarceration Network
  2. PelicanBayPrisoners’FiveCoreDemands
  3. Important Developments in Battle to Stop Torture in California and U.S. PrisonsRevolution Newspaper
  4. PrisonerAgreementtoEndHostilities
    Pelican Bay State Prison—Security Housing Unit Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives
  5. StandWithUsIntheUpcomingPeacefulStruggle
    Arturo Castellanos, Prisoner Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor
  6. Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I went Inside America’s Prisons and California’s Cruelest Prisonsexcerpts from Shane Bauer, Mother Jones and Los Angeles Times
  7. MendezSaysSolitary“CanBeCruel”Catherine Rentz, Investigative Reporting Workshop
  8. AmnestyInternationalReportExposesSevere,InhumaneSolitaryConfinement Conditions for 3,000 California PrisonersAmnesty International
  9. FederalLawSuitOnBehalfofPrisonersatPelicanBayStatePrison Center for Constitutional Rights

10.Frequently Asked Questions—Prolonged Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons National Religious Campaign Against Torture

11.Correcting Corrections: Chuck Solitary
Hector Villagra, ACLU of Southern California

12.The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades….

Letter from a prisoner to Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund

13.Urgent Petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Human Detention excerpt from Peter Schey, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

14.Hellhole The United States holds tens of thousands inmates in long term solitary confinement. Is this Torture?

excerpt from Atul Gawande, The New Yorker Magazine March 30, 2009

15.Statements in support of the Prisoner Hunger Strikers at Pelican Bay State Prison Revolution Newspaper

Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons!

Tens of thousands of people imprisoned in the U.S. are being subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions. Many are:

  • Held in long term solitary confinement; locked in tiny, windowless, sometimes sound proof, cells; cut off from fresh air and sunlight for 22-24 hours every day and given small portions of food that lacks basic nutritional requirements.
  • Denied human contact and violently taken from their cells for petty violations.
  • Put in solitary arbitrarily, often because of accusations of being members of prison gangs basedon dubious evidence, and have no way to challenge the decisions of prison authorities to place them in solitary.Many are forced to endure these conditions for months, years and even decades! Mental anguish and trauma often result from being confined under these conditions. Locking people down like this amounts to trying to strip them of their humanity.These conditions fit the international definition of torture! This is unjust, illegitimate and profoundly immoral. WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!People imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison in California have called for a Nationwide Hunger Strike to begin on July 8, 2013. They have also issued a call for unity among people from different racial groups, inside and outside the prisons. People who are locked down in segregation units of this society’s prisons, condemned as the “worst of the worst,” are standing up against injustice, asserting their humanity in the process. We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!A nationwide and worldwide struggle needs to be launched NOW to bring an end to this widespread torture before those in the prisons are forced to take the desperate step of going on hunger strikes and putting their lives on the line!To the Government: We Demand an Immediate End to the Torture and Inhumanity of Prison House America—Immediately Disband All Torture Chambers. Meet the demands of those you have locked down in your prisons!To People in this Country and Around the World: We Cannot Accept, and We Should Not Tolerate This Torture. Join the Struggle to End Torture in Prisons Now!To Those Standing Up in Resistance Inside the Prisons: WE SUPPORT YOUR CALL FOR UNITY IN THIS FIGHT, AND WE WILL HAVE YOUR BACKS!June 21, 22 and 23 Will Be Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture! There will be protests, cultural events, Evenings of Conscience, sermons in religious services, saturation of social media—all aimed at laying bare the ugly reality of wide spread torture in U.S. prisons and challenging everyone to join in fighting to STOP it.


SIGNATORIES (in alphabetical order)

Bah Abdourahmane; Ron Ahnen, California Prison Focus; Gbenga Akinnagbe, actor and director; All Of Us Or None members: Sundiati (Willie) Tate, Manuel La Fontaine, Sheila Blake, Dorsey Nunn, Marilyn Austin-Smith; Ex-shu prisoner, Oakland; Rafael Angulo, Clinical Associate Professor, USC School of Social Work; Yejide Ankobia, Red Clay Yoga; Mike Avila; Larry Aubry, Advocates for Black Strategic Alternatives; Nellie Hester Bailey, Occupy Harlem; Tim Baldauf-Lenschen, student activist, University of Maryland; Fanya Baruti, Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement; Brooke Bischoff, Prescott College*; Rev. Dr. Dorsey O. Blake, Presiding Minister, The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, S.F. CA; Uncle Bobby, Oscar Grant Foundation/Committee; Blase Bonpane, Ph.D., Director OFFICE OF THE AMERICAS; Brian Bonne; Felice Brown, Glen Burnie MD; Ashely Burks, NYU student; Attorney, John Burris, Oakland CA; Rev. Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd, KRST Unity Center Of Afrakan Spiritual Science, LA; Susan Castagnetto, lecturer, Scripps College*, So. Cal; M.J. Christian, Los Angeles; Lauren Clifford, Green Party of California; Marjorie Cohn, Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and editor, “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse”; Solomon Comissiong, Executive Director, Your World News; Antonio Corona, Brown Beret National Organization; Lloyd Cox, Oakland; Matt Courter; Randy Credico, impressionist and social comedian; Chuck D, Public Enemy*; Petr Dann, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; Noche Diaz, Revolution Club NYC, and Stop Mass Incarceration Network; Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party; Dianne Durham, Publicist – Out of Bounds*, Oakland; Sand Fessler, RAW {Rochester Against War}, & Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars; Ever Ivan Florez, A Victim of CDC; Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report; Elder R. Freeman, All Of Us Or None*; Joel “Phresh” Freeman, Graffiti Artist, Oakland; Chris Gwartney, Monterey CA; Margaret Haule, Community Activist; Robyn Hewitt, Las Vegas NV; Nicholas Heyward Sr., father of Nicholas Heyward Jr., who was murdered by the NYPD in 1994; Hip, UC Berkeley*; Mike Holman, Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund*; Foluke Jose, Cal State University, Northridge*; Steven Joy, UCLA*; Beth Kasner; Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of American History, UCLA; Gregory Koger, a revolutionary communist who was imprisoned as a youth and spent many years in solitary confinement; Wayne Kramer, Jail Guitar Doors USA; David Kunzle, Distinguished Professor, UCLA Emeritus; James Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild / Los Angeles; Michael Lange, Actor, Oakland; Latino Education Association*, San Francisco City College*; Stanley Lewis; Katie Lindsey; Cadelba Lome Li’ Loibl, Registered Nurse; Clarence Leonard; B.M. Marcus, Community Director, Community Advocate and Development Organization, Brooklyn; Martha, Berkeley, CA; Chris Martinez, Los Angeles; Christa Meyer, Monterey; Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman & 2008 Presidential Candidate for the Green Party; Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus*; Travis Morales, Stop Mass Incarceration Network; Jacob Muehlbauer, Austin, TX; Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture*, and author, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America; Luke Nephew; Efia Nwangaza, Malcolm X Center for Self Determination, Greenville, SC; Kathleen D. Olsson, KPFA Radio*, Oakland; Oscar Grant Foundation (organizational endorsement); Joseph V.A. “Joe” Partansky, MBA, Former U.S. Army Mental Health Specialist and current advocate for persons with mental disabilities; Aidge Patterson, artist and activist, New York; Brian Pike, Universal Life Church Rabbi; Laura Pulido, Professor, American Studies & Ethnicity, USC*; Belinda Ramos, son serving life in a California State Prison; Mary Ratcliff, SF Bay View; Rev. George F. Regas, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP); Steven Rood, Attorney, Oakland; San Francisco Bay View, national Black newspaper (organizational endorsement); Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law; J. Tony Serra, Lawyer, SF; Mansoor Shah; Zadik Shapiro, Attorney; Sheila, New York; Dan Siegal, National Lawyers Guild*; Peter Smith; Social Justice Committee, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Berkeley CA; Debra Sweet, Director, World Can’t Wait; Martha Teklu; Temitope S, So. Cal; Prof. Edgar L Torres, Scott Trent, Guilford County, NC October 22nd Coalition; Luis Valdez, Founding Artistic Director, El Teatro Campesino, CA; Jeremy Varon, longtime anti-GTMO activist; Jim Vrettos, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*; Will Walke, Oakland; Cornel West, author, educator, voice of conscience; Robin Woerner, New Haven; Roman Rimer; Clyde Young, revolutionary communist and former prisoner;

*For identifications only

For more information and to join in this struggle contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at (347) 979-SMIN (7646) or at [email protected]


New, Important Developments in Battle to Stop Torture in California and U.S. Prisons

April 3, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

Revolution received the following contribution from a reader who has been in involved in building support for the prisoner hunger strikes in California against the inhumane torture conditions of solitary confinement:

Prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) Security Housing Unit (SHU) who were catalytic in the 2011 hunger strikes to stop long-term solitary confinement have announced they plan a new hunger strike (and work stoppage) in July 2013.

According to letters from the prisoners, PBSP prisoners plan to set a deadline for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)—that if their demands are not met they will go on a hunger strike, starting July 08, 2013. These prisoners at Pelican Bay are encouraging all prisoners in the U.S. to take part. According to the PBSP prisoners, this is being envisioned as an historic moment and juncture where all prisoners in the U.S. can put forward their own demands to end prison abuse and torture.

These PBSP prisoners are about to draw a line in the sand and set a deadline for CDCR to adhere to their promise to change their torture policies—promises which formed the basis for the 2011 hunger strikes to be “temporarily suspended.”

In addition, on March 14, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken denied a motion by the State of California to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) against long-term solitary confinement in the California prison system, specifically Pelican Bay State Prison. This lawsuit argues that California’s long-term segregation and isolation of “gang validated” prisoners in Security Housing Units constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” and is also in violation of prisoners’ due process rights.

It is significant that Judge Wilken’s legal decision, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, rejected the State of California’s efforts to have the legal suit dismissed based on supposed positive “reforms” the State of California claims to have formulated and begun to implement in the aftermath of the 2011 CA prisoner hunger strikes.

The CCR lawsuit, known as Ruiz v. Brown, is a federal class action lawsuit challenging the inhumane unconstitutional conditions under which thousands of prisoners in super maximum prisons live. Pelican Bay is known as one of the harshest “super maximum” prisons in the country, and is one of four Security Housing Units operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The 2011 California Prisoner Hunger Strike’s Reverberating Effects

Solitary confinement is a form of torture. International human rights organizations and bodies have condemned it, and the devastating psychological and physical effects have been well documented by medical and psychological experts. Yet consider this: today, tens of thousands of individuals are detained inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in near total isolation for between 22 and 24 hours a day in U.S. prisons, with no human contact, no chance to feel the sun, to see the moon and stars, or to breathe fresh air.

Prolonged solitary confinement is a tool of repression. In Pelican Bay State Prison alone, more than 500 SHU prisoners have been isolated under these devastating conditions for over 10 years; more than 200 for over 15 years, and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years. In California alone, at least 11,730 people are housed in some form of isolation, over 3,000 in high security isolation SHU units. Yet solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage to human beings and is analyzed under international law as torture. And as Ruiz v Brown points out, placement in the SHU is not part of an individual’s court ordered sentence. It’s an administrative act on the part of the prison authorities—simply based on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang. And the only way out of SHU isolation is to “debrief”—to inform on other prisoners (become a state informant)… after being tortured for weeks, months, years, and sometimes decades.

SHU prisoners at Pelican Bay initiated two hunger strikes in 2011. They developed “5 Core Demands” that zeroed in on the demands to abolish the “debriefing” process and to end conditions of isolation and long-term solitary confinement. The “5 Core Demands” also included demands to end group punishment, provide adequate and nutritious food and to expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU prisoners.

On July 1, 2011, prisoners in “PBSP-SHU D-Facility Corridor Isolation Unit” began an indefinite hunger strike. 6,600 prisoners joined, from many California prisons, and that hunger strike action lasted 20 days. Then, for 18 days in September/October 2011, 12,000 prisoners from throughout the California prison system participated in the hunger strike to stop torture in the SHUs and the “gang validation” process that lands prisoners in the SHU.

This “gang validation” process means prisoners are put in isolation cells long term, even forever, based on so- called “gang-activity intelligence” that comes in innumerable and limitless forms—for tattoos, poetry booklets, artwork (including popular symbols used in Latino Culture, such as a Huelga bird, the symbol of the United Farm Workers), hand signs or using such words a tío or hermano (Spanish for uncle and brother), possession of Machiavelli’s The Prince, notebooks that contain writings on such things as rebel slave Nat Turner or Malcolm X or Black Panther George Jackson, revolutionary and radical literature including newspapers that expose solitary confinement and write about prisoner rights, anonymous snitching (debriefing) etc.—versus being found guilty of actually committing violations that according to prison rules send you to special security housing. And the decision about who gets put in the SHU indefinitely often comes down to a single individual’s decision, the Institutional Gang Investigator at the prison. There is no due process, which is the legal requirement that the state, and in this case the prison, must respect the legal rights that are owed to a person, including prisoners.

These 2011 hunger strikes were extraordinary developments in recent U.S. history. Not since the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971, after the murder of George Jackson at San Quentin Prison, had the U.S. seen a prison hunger strike this long and widespread. Major U.S. media and liberal imperialist ruling class forces began to pay attention and to even speak out against long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons during the hunger strike.

The 2011 hunger strike shined a spotlight on how the U.S. systematically tortures thousands of prisoners and ruling class forces and the liberal imperialist media have tried to do damage control: to provide an illusory road and an outlet for people’s justified outrage, and in the case of the liberal imperialist media for that venue to act as a place where struggle amongst the bourgeoisie is being battled out. It should not be forgotten that these forces had been effectively silent about this torture for years and decades, and even during the 2011 hunger strikes significantly underreported the story given its unprecedented character and objective significance.

The New York Times printed Op-Ed articles during the 2011 hunger strikes, and has continued to publish editorials and articles since, about the abuse, inhumanity, and effects of solitary confinement. On March 23 this year, for example, the New York Times printed an article describing how 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities in the U.S., and that most of the immigrants isolated are targets of retaliation by guards. The New York Times article describes that “the United States has come under sharp criticism at home and abroad for relying on solitary confinement in its prisons more than any other democratic nation in the world.” Here is revealed serious concern about the contradiction bound up with the “appearance and essence” of this country: the so-called appearance—the “democratic” U.S.A—essentially and systematically torturing tens of thousands of prisoners (at least 80,000 across the U.S).

In essence the U.S.A is a dictatorship, and this can be seen when you examine up close the mass incarceration and prison torture regime this system has put into place. The state and system this ruling class leads, directs, and rules over society with, has a monopoly of political power, concentrated as a monopoly of “legitimate” armed force and violence—violence and force this ruling class uses, with a vengeance. Now, institutions of the U.S.’s so-called

“legitimate” use of force and violence—its sprawling prison system and super-max high-tech torture chambers— are threatened with being “de-legitimized”—if not fully, in some real and essential ways—in the eyes of certain sections of this society, and internationally, and the California prisoner hunger strikers and their courageous actions have contributed to that.

Not only major media, such as the Los Angeles Times, which has written in the past year about the escalating problem of suicides in prisons, especially of prisoners in segregation units, but the “first-ever” U.S. Congressional Hearings on Solitary Confinement were held in 2012. These Senate Sub-Committee Hearings (led by Democrat Dick Durbin) were in June 2012, underscoring how the hunger strike “got the attention of” and “stung” the bourgeoisie in this country and a certain section of this ruling class could not continue to push torture under the rug but instead brought forward an outlet to promote the illusion that a section of the ruling powers cared about this torture and that they could be relied upon to change this outrageous reality. Such ruling class forces cannot be relied upon to change this situation. Instead, mass and massive societal-wide resistance and struggle must be the leading edge, taking the reality of this torture to ever broader sections of society, with an objective of “re- polarizing” the social terrain so that millions and tens of millions change their views and come to stand with, and act to support, the just demands of the prisoners.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (a Rapporteur is a person who compiles and presents reports to a governing body) is currently working on complaints from California as per the protocols of his office, conducting an investigation, talking to California authorities, in response to charges of torture and cruel and degrading and inhumane treatment. He has a mandate to publish findings. Nevertheless, at a UN Prisoners Rights meeting in Buenos Aires in late 2012 the U.S. continued to defend its use of long-term solitary confinement and rejected every proposal to limit solitary confinement (to 15-30 days) and to ban it for juveniles, pregnant women, and those with mental illness.

Also, during this period since the 2011 hunger strikes, numerous progressive human rights, legal, faith-based, and political organizations have kept the pressure on and carried out intense work to expose and stop long-term solitary confinement, as have many families with loved ones in the segregation units (SHUs and Administrative Segregation). For example, the ACLU and National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) have launched and seriously persisted in campaigns to end solitary confinement. In late September 2012, Amnesty International released “The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units” based on exclusive access they gained to PBSP and other prisons with SHUs after the hunger strike. This is a major report and part of an overall Amnesty International campaign. This report was accompanied by significant national and international publicity. Progressive media, one outstanding example is Shane Bauer’s Mother Jones article in the November/December 2012 issue (a rather extraordinary account “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons”), have also entered the fray and Shane Bauer’s investigative report in particular should be read by many more people.

An Important Juncture Approaches

In the face of mounting, if still beginning, national exposure of their isolation cells, in October 2011 PBSP and CDCR officials agreed to change their long term segregation policies and the Pelican Bay prisoners “temporarily suspended” their hunger strike.

In March 2012 the CDCR brought forward a version of their policy changes and “reforms” for the SHU and “gang validation”—the key issues at hand. However, this “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy” (STG) policy blueprint not only did not end prolonged solitary confinement… it expands the use of SHU isolation to include numerous “gangs” (who previously had not been target of SHU placement) and targets politically radical and revolutionary forces and individuals!

In response to numerous counter-proposals by the PBSP “Short Corridor Collective” to the CDCR and “Open Letters” to California Governor Brown to this “STG” paper, the most recent version of this CDCR STG paper not only hardens the CDCR position, but the CDCR has begun to “modify operations” on a “pilot basis”—in other words the CDCR has begun to implement this new STG paper and are “reviving gang validation.” This flies in the face of agreements made between PBSP and CDCR officials and PBSP prisoner representatives who “temporarily suspended” their hunger strike based on these agreements!

Significantly, in August 2012, 15 PBSP SHU prisoners—including the “Short Corridor Collective” and a representative body of 12 other SHU prisoners who had participated in the hunger strike, wrote, signed and

released an “Agreement to End Hostilities” among racial groups, to start October 10. 2012. This “Agreement to End Hostilities” was mutually agreed upon on behalf of all racial groups in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. It reads, in part “…If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups….” (See Full Agreement Below.) This agreement is of major import in its own right, it needs to spread throughout society, and it is also a precursor to the new calls for a hunger strike, to start July 8, 2013, if the CDCR does not live up to the agreement it made with the prisoners when they “temporarily suspended” their 2011 hunger strike.

An original “Formal Complaint” filed pro se by two PBSP SHU prisoners (pro se means advocating on one’s own behalf before a court rather than being represented by a lawyer) led into the California prisoner hunger strike in 2011. It is this “Formal Complaint” that has effectively been taken over and amended by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in May 2012. This is the class action lawsuit Ruiz v. Brown that was ruled on in Federal District Court in California on March 14, 2013. The CDCR’s “pilot program” of “reform” continues to allow for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades, and even expands their plans for SHU torture, yet this is what the CDCR advanced and cited as grounds for dismissing the case! Again, it is noteworthy that Judge Wilken denied the CDCR’s motion to dismiss this lawsuit on these grounds.

It must be said: these truly heroic acts of resistance by these prisoners have occurred under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and if PBSP prisoners choose to—if they are forced to—initiate another hunger strike because of both the duplicitous acts of PBSP authorities and CDCR and State of California officials, and because of continued, and even intensified, repressive state torture and state violence targeting these prisoners and others similar situated, the responsibility for these prisoners’ very lives and health, and the blame if anything happens to them, must be placed squarely at the feet of these state authorities.

Torture is unequivocally unacceptable, no matter what labels are put on these prisoners, and the prisoners’ demands are just, reasonable, and as urgent as ever. Now, more than ever, we have a moral responsibility to act in a way that corresponds with the justness of these prisoners’ demands and in a way commensurate with what is truly at stake. A determined and bold movement of resistance to demand an end to torture in the SHUs must grow up and rise to new heights. In this next period ever greater numbers of people and much broader sections of society need to support these prisoners and do everything in our power to see this battle all the way through, to demand this system STOP torturing these prisoners and honor their core demands. If waging such implacable struggle takes you to a place that challenges your cherished beliefs about the way the U.S. is “supposed” to be (but in fact is not), don’t turn back but get into the actual problem and solution even more deeply… and don’t turn back. Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.

For information on the lawsuit Ruiz v. Brown and a Solitary Confinement Fact Sheet go to the Center for Constitutional Rights: ccrjustice.org/solitary-factsheet

The “Agreement to End Hostilities” from the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives can be found at: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/agreement.pdf

Mother Jones’s magazine feature of Shane Bauer’s “No Way Out—A Special Report on Solitary Confinement from Former Hostage Shane Bauer” which includes not only Bauer’s “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons” but a video and a guided tour of a seven-by-eleven foot space where prisoners spend 23 hours a day, can be found at: http://www.motherjones.com/special-reports/2012/10/solitary-confinement-shane-bauer.

[Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have put out a call to end all hostilities between different nationalities within California’s prisons, jails and neighborhoods. This statement, signed by several prisoners identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective, (posted at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com) asks prisoners to unite beginning October 10, 2012. The Short Corridor is a section of Pelican Bay Prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit. Last year, hunger strikes that started at Pelican Bay’s SHU rocked California’s prison system—at one point nearly 12,000 prisoners participated in over 11 prisons throughout the state. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network supports this historic agreement and we want people everywhere to know about it.]

From all Pelican Bay State Prison-Security Housing Unit Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives

Agreement to End Hostilities

August 12, 2012
To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time to for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

2. Therefore, beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups… in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and County Jails, will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end… and if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!!

3. We also want to warn those in the General Population that IGI will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats, and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes [i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative- type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/noncooperation e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc. etc.]. People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics, and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU’s old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!!!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!! Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole… and we simply cannot allow CDCR/CCPOA – Prison Guard’s Union, IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU, to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000 (+) plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg Units], for decades!!!

We send our love and respects to all those of like mind and heart… onward in struggle and solidarity…

Presented by the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective:

Todd Ashker, C58191, D1-119
Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117 Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106

And the Representatives Body:
Danny Troxell, B76578, D1-120
George Franco, D46556, D4-217
Ronnie Yandell, V27927, D4-215
Paul Redd, B72683, D2-117
James Baridi Williamson, D-34288. D4-107 Alfred Sandoval, D61000, D4-214

Louis Powell, B59864, D1-104
Alex Yrigollen, H32421, D2-204
Gabriel Huerta, C80766, D3-222
Frank Clement, D07919, D3-116 Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, D1-219 James Mario Perez, B48186, D3-124

[NOTE: All names and the statement must be verbatim when used & posted on any website or media, or non- media, publications]

Stand with us in the upcoming peaceful struggle

April 11, 2013
by Arturo Castellanos
Prisoner, Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor

Greetings to all those men and women of like minds and spirits who are going to volunteer and stand with us in solidarity in the upcoming peaceful struggle to force positive changes to CDCR that will benefit all prisoners and all our outside families and friends.

In this letter we wish to acknowledge and send out appreciation and great respect for those men on Death Row in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center (AC) and the women in Chowchilla prison for their inspiring and motivating words published in the April 2013 Rock, Vol. 2, No. 4, at pages 7, 8; and in the Spring 2013 Prison Focus, No. 39 (http://www.prisons.org).

These letters were reassuring and solidified our commitment to see this through to the end. We also have no doubt that those in Corcoran, Folsom, Tehachapi and all other California prisons have written similar letters – including those men here with us in SHU D and C Facilities, as well as GP (general population) – which will only further strengthen our peaceful struggle across the state to end CDCR’s decades long oppressive actions towards all prisoners and their families.

After these and other letters from across the state and nation that will be published, we find it hard to believe that any able-bodied individual prisoner will not wish to take part in this historic peaceful action in one form or another. Hell, even those among us who have a serious chronic illness are fully supporting this peaceful action in one form or another, even though they aren’t able to go on hunger strike. For example, they are not going to July’s canteen and they’re writing family, friends, church groups and encouraging them to join our outside support groups and/or writing the governor, state legislators etc. Every single small act of support adds up to overwhelming support for our unified cause!

Greetings to all those men and women of like minds and spirits who are going to volunteer and stand with us in solidarity in the upcoming peaceful struggle to force positive changes to CDCR that will benefit all prisoners and all our outside families and friends.

And as one contemplates whether to volunteer or not, just remember all the psychological torture and personal loss (i.e., relations) that each of us in these solitary confinement torture cells have already experienced for the past 20-30 years. And, more importantly, think of all those youngsters, maybe young relatives, who will take our places after we’re gone – for another 20-30 years – if this system is not changed at this time.

Therefore, we must refuse to continue to keep our heads buried in the ground while CDCR continues to deprive and oppress us and countless others to come. Instead, we must now stand up, holding our heads high and volunteer for this peaceful action to change everything that CDCR has stood for in the past 20-30 years.

We must refuse to become complacent in our surroundings and not believe the big 30 year lies that things will get better on their own as time goes by, or that peaceful protests cannot make an impact. Those are lies!

Along these same lines, don’t allow CDCR to scare any of you straight into non-action by being afraid of receiving write-ups or being placed in Ad-Seg or losing the very little that CDCR returned to us, that they themselves deprived us of 20 to 30 years ago. So don’t allow them to manipulate and brainwash you into non-action.

We must now stand up, holding our heads high and volunteer for this peaceful action to change everything that CDCR has stood for in the past 20-30 years.

Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines or whisper doubts or excuses to each other not to participate or be in opposition as an active obstructionist. That’s what CDCR and their many minions will be doing prior to and during this peaceful action.

No, now is the time to stand up and be counted with us and those men in AC, the women in Chowchilla and countless others who will voluntarily participate in solidarity across this state and across this nation.

Finally, for anyone to allow an opportunity such as this to slip by without participating in some positive action – an opportunity of this magnitude may not present itself again – would be a very grave mistake on their part because they will only be adding another big regret to the many others they already burden themselves with, of missed opportunities to make a difference in changing the prison system for the benefit of all prisoners and their families.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted with us and those men in AC, the women in Chowchilla and countless others who will voluntarily participate in solidarity across this state and across this nation.

Always in solidarity and with great respect to all those men and women joining this peaceful struggle in one form or another, which includes all our outside supporters, who have been invaluable in this movement.

Arturo Castellanos writes this statement on behalf of all the other representatives and PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective. His address is C-17275, PBSP SHU, D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons

Excerpts from article by Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, November-December, 2012

(Shane Bauer spent 24 months, 4 of them in solitary confinement, in a prison in Iran)

It’s been months since I’ve been inside a prison cell. Now I’m back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man’s cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I’m taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can’t get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I’ve ever inhabited. You can’t pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate’s life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

“So when you’re in Iran and in solitary confinement,” asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, “was it different?” His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place….

I want to answer his question—of course my experience was different from those of the men at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison—but I’m not sure how to do it. How do you compare, when the difference between one person’s stability and another’s insanity is found in tiny details? Do I point out that I had a mattress, and they have thin pieces of foam; that the concrete open-air cell I exercised in was twice the size of the “dog run” at Pelican Bay, which is about 16 by 25 feet; that I got 15 minutes of phone calls in 26 months, and they get none; that I couldn’t write letters, but they can; that we could only talk to nearby prisoners in secret, but they can shout to each other without being punished; that unlike where I was imprisoned, whoever lives here has to shit at the front of his cell, in view of the guards?


Acosta, Pelican Bay’s public information officer, is giving me a tour of the Security Housing Unit (SHU). Inmates deemed a threat to the security of any of California’s 33 prisons are shipped to one of the state’s five SHUs (pronounced “shoes”), which hold nearly 4,000 people in long-term isolation. In the Pelican Bay SHU, 94 percent of prisoners are celled alone; overcrowding has forced the prison to double up the rest. Statewide, about 32 percent of SHU cells—hardly large enough for one person—are crammed with two inmates.

The cell I am standing in is one of eight in a “pod,” a large concrete room with cells along one side and only one exit, which leads to the guards’ control room. A guard watches over us, rifle in hand, through a set of bars in the wall. He can easily shoot into any one of six pods around him. He communicates with prisoners through speakers and opens their steel grated cell doors via remote. That is how they are let out to the dog run, where they exercise for an hour a day, alone. They don’t leave the cell to eat. If they ever leave the pod, they have to strip naked, pass their hands through a food slot to be handcuffed, then wait for the door to open and be bellycuffed.


Compared to most SHU inmates, Pennington is a newbie. Prisoners spend an average of 7.5 years in the Pelican Bay SHU, the only one for which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has statistics. More than half of the 1,126 prisoners here have been in isolation for at least five years. Eighty-nine have been there for at least 20 years. One has been in solitary for 42 years.


California is just one of many states where inmates can be thrown into solitary confinement on sketchy grounds— though just how many is hard to know. A survey conducted by Mother Jones found that most states had some

kind of gang validation process, but implementation varied widely, and a number of states would not disclose their policies at all. Seventeen states said they don’t house inmates in “single-celled segregation” indeterminately. (No state officially uses the term “solitary.”)


Being associated with a prison gang—even if you haven’t done anything illegal—carries a much heavier penalty than, say, stabbing someone. Association could land you in solitary for decades. An inmate who murders a guard—the severest crime in prison—can get no more than five years in the SHU.

When Josh Fattal and I finally came before the Revolutionary Court in Iran, we had a lawyer present, but weren’t allowed to speak to him. In California, an inmate facing the worst punishment our penal system has to offer short of death can’t even have a lawyer in the room. He can’t gather or present evidence in his defense. He can’t call witnesses. Much of the evidence—anything provided by informants—is confidential and thus impossible to refute. That’s what Judge Salavati told us after our prosecutor spun his yarn about our role in a vast American-Israeli conspiracy: There were heaps of evidence, but neither we nor our lawyer were allowed to see it.


“That is a system (California’s gang validation system) that has no place in a constitutional democracy,” says David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. He says California’s policy is “a form of guilt by association that is completely foreign to our legal system. Prison administrators have absolute power, and that is a recipe for abuse and violation of rights.”


When I ask Bocanegra (a Pelican Bay prisoner) if the SHU is punishment, he laughs. “It’s meant to break a person,” he says. “You have to accept whether you want to die back there or you want to change.” Leaving the SHU for a unit where he can exit his cell without cuffs and go to an outdoor exercise yard with a small group of other people, he says, made him “feel like you’re free.” When he walked out of the SHU, he saw his first tree in 12 years.


Instead of digging into the pile, I place a stack of 18 postcards in front of me and write on each of them a question that has been on my mind since I left Pelican Bay: “Do you think prolonged SHU confinement is torture?” I send them to prisoners across the state and 14 write back, all with the same answer: “yes.” One tells me he has developed a condition in which he bites down on his back teeth so hard he has loosened them. They write: “I am filled with the sensation of drowning each and every day.” “I was housed next door to…guys who have eaten and drank their own body waste and who have thrown their own body waste in the cells that I and others were housed in. I cry.”


UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak once sent a letter to Tehran to appeal on behalf of my fellow hostage, and now wife, Sarah Shourd. Though Josh and I were celled together after four months, Sarah remained in isolation, seeing us for only an hour a day. Late last year, Nowak’s successor, Juan Mendez, came out with a report in which he called for an international prohibition on solitary confinement of more than 15 days. He defined solitary as any regime where a person is held in isolation for at least 22 hours a day. Anything more “constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, depending on the circumstances.” When I called Mendez to ask about the SHU, he said, “I don’t think any argument, including gang membership, can justify a very long-term measure that is inflicting pain and suffering that is prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.”


The UN says more than 15 days in solitary is “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.” At Pelican Bay, 89 men have been in the hole 20 years or more.


At some point during the disorienting reentry blitz that followed my release in September of last year, I heard that in California, prisoners were doing what the three of us had done in Iran: hunger striking to protest isolation. Up to 12,000 inmates participated in protests against long-term SHU confinement across the state, making it probably the largest prison strike in recent history—twice the size of the one that took place a few months earlier. The prisoners were demanding changes to the gang validation policy and an end to long-term solitary.

Implicit in the two hunger strikes was a message: The use of prolonged solitary confinement was leading to the kind of unrest it was meant to tamp down. Nearly three weeks into the 2011 strike, CDCR promised to make changes to its gang validation policy. Since then, it has been hammering out a set of reforms, aimed primarily at turning the policy into a “behavior-based” one. This would bring California in line with other states that—at least on paper—segregate people only when they engage in violent or dangerous activity.


Here’s the catch, though: CDCR is vastly expanding what counts as rule violations. Under current regulations, “serious” violations are things like assaults, drug use, and escape attempts. But in the latest version of the reforms [83], the definition includes possession of “training material” for security threat groups [84] (the new term for gangs), like the books listed earlier. Things that didn’t previously count as a rule violation—such as making artwork depicting threat-group symbols, communication showing threat-group behavior, and anything that “depicts affiliation” with a threat group—will all be serious rule violations on par with stabbing somebody. “Administrative rule violations” will now include many new categories, such as possession of photos of validated threat-group affiliates.

Most critically, the new security threat group category doesn’t just denote prison gangs, but also includes a much larger number of “disruptive groups.” Among these are street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and “revolutionary groups.” The list of disruptive organizations that CDCR gave me runs to 1,500, including not only the Bloods and Crips, but also the Juggalos, the dedicated clown-faced following of the dual-platinum horrorcore hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse. The Black Panthers are on the list, as are a couple of Nation of Islam-affiliated groups. One category is titled “Black-Non Specific,” suggesting that any group with the word “black” in its name can be considered disruptive. (CDCR would not respond to my questions on this matter.)


California’s cruelest prisons

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed

Solitary confinement is wrong, whether it’s in here or in Iran.

October 18, 2012|By Shane Bauer

Seven months after my release from captivity in Iran, I am standing in a prison cell again. Like the cells I’ve gone back to in my dreams, this one was built for solitary confinement, and as I look around, I feel myself struggling to breathe, as if I can’t get enough air. It’s something that happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. And this cell, at a little more than 11 by 7 feet, is smaller than any I ever inhabited.

I’m in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California. Here, 94% of SHU inmates are celled alone for 23 hours a day. They spend one hour a day, also alone, in a concrete, 16-by-25-foot “dog run.” They are not allowed phone calls or contact visits. Clocks, playing cards and chessboards are banned.

My guide asks me how it compares to Iran, where I was held for 26 months. I want to tell him that no part of my experience — not the uncertainty of when I would be free again, not the tortured screams of other prisoners — was worse than the four months I spent in solitary.

But that’s not what comes out. All I can say is, “I had a window.” For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through that barred and grated opening. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground, utterly broken, it was this patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow movement against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into.

At Pelican Bay’s SHU, there are no windows.

It is well established that solitary confinement is cruel and psychologically damaging. In the last few weeks, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have released reports detailing the serious mental and physical health problems that solitary confinement causes after just a few months or years.

Yet in California, at least 3,808 people are serving indeterminate sentences of isolation. At Pelican Bay, the average SHU inmate serves 7 1/2 years in isolation. Eighty-nine SHU prisoners have been there for at least 20 years. One has been in solitary for an unimaginable 42 years.

They aren’t in solitary indefinitely for the reasons you might think. Inmates actually get relatively short SHU sentences for, say, killing another inmate. Many of the SHU’s indefinite residents haven’t even broken prison rules. They are there because the California Department of Corrections claims they are connected to prison gangs.

But as I found in reviewing hundreds of pages of prison files and court records, the “evidence” of gang connections is, in many cases, shockingly thin. Three-quarters of inmates serving indeterminate SHU sentences are classified only as prison gang “associates,” not gang members. That’s a designation that can come simply from talking to someone affiliated with a gang.

In cases I reviewed, evidence of prison gang activity included possession of publications by California Prison Focus, a group that advocates the abolition of SHUs; handwritten journals reflecting “Afrocentric ideology”; pictures of Assata Shakur, Malcolm X or Nat Turner; and virtually anything using the term “New Afrikan.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s confidential “gang validation” manual, which I obtained from a source, teaches investigators that even the use of the words tio or hermano, ordinary Spanish words for “uncle” and “brother,” can indicate gang activity.

So-called validation points have included possession of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” One inmate’s gang validation includes a Christmas card with stars drawn on it — alleged gang symbols — amid Hershey’s kisses and candy canes.

Many of those in the SHU are those “the guards don’t like,” prisoner rights attorney Charles Carbone told me. “The rules are so flimsy that if the department wants somebody validated, he will get validated.”

Keeping people in isolated boxes isn’t cheap. It costs Pelican Bay at least 20% more to keep an inmate in isolation, which adds some $14 million a year to the state’s budget. And that is for only one of California’s five SHUs.

At no point in the gang-validation process is there any judicial oversight. Decisions that put a man in the hole for decades are made in closed-door hearings in which a single prison staffer acts as judge and jury. Inmates are not allowed to call witnesses, gather evidence in their defense or even have a lawyer present. Evidence provided by informants is kept confidential and is thus impossible to refute.

Once they are sentenced to the SHU, inmates have the right to appeal, but this is a mere formality. Corrections staff couldn’t provide me with a single example of a gang validation that was overturned without intervention by the courts.

Many prisoners have turned to the courts for redress, but they are met with little sympathy. As one judge ruled, “A prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest.” In other words, it is legal for prison authorities to lock somebody up in solitary.

I am intimately familiar with such logic — it is the foundation of the Iranian judicial system. Such arbitrariness and cruelty has no place in a constitutional democracy. California should reexamine this practice.

Shane Bauer has been reporting on solitary confinement for Mother Jones and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. His feature article on the subject can be read at Mother Jones.

Mendez says solitary ‘can be cruel’ BY CATHERINE RENTZ

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Forced labor of political dissidents in North Korea. Stoning of an unwed couple in Mali. Assault on journalists in Azerbaijan. Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, fields hundreds of human rights complaints from across the world every year.

He writes reports and engages governments, hoping to bring light to the cases and spur action. In many cases, he is the victims’ only hope to bring worldwide attention to their plight. Mendez does much of his U.N. work, which is all volunteer, from his office at American University, where he is a visiting professor at the Washington College of Law. This month, he released a report partially focused on human rights abuses in the United States and the inadequate response by the government to address concerns about solitary confinement in immigration detention.

“In my mind, the United States is in breach of its obligations under the torture convention,” Mendez said in an interview. “It [solitary in immigration detention] can, in certain circumstances, constitute cruel and inhumane, degrading treatment, and under worst circumstances, it can constitute torture, because it produces a kind of mental pain and suffering.”

On any given day, about 300 individuals are held in “segregation,” as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency terms it, in facilities that hold 85 percent of the nation’s detained immigrants, according to recent data from the government obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), an immigrant legal and advocate organization based in Chicago, and the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Most of them are isolated for disciplinary purposes, according to ICE officials, for such things as getting into a fight or breaking jail rules, but they may also be segregated for protective purposes, such as for victims of sexual abuse.

The data did not include information about the reasons behind the segregation or the exact conditions. But interviews with dozens of detainees and lawyers indicate detainees are held in isolation in 6-by-13-foot cells for 22 or 23 hours a day with restricted access to legal materials, recreation and communication with others.

Prolonged isolation can cause severe physiological harm, and medical experts have long documented its effects.

“Solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness,” said Craig Haney, a University of Southern California psychology professor and leading solitary expert, at the U.S. Senate’s first hearing about solitary confinement in June 2012.

Mendez was held for one year as a political prisoner in Argentina, where he spent 11 days in solitary confinement.

“It was enough for me to kind of get a sense of what it would be if I had been there longer,” he said. “You just feel completely helpless. You feel abandoned. You feel that nobody cares.”

Mendez recommended a ban on prolonged solitary confinement (anything beyond 15 days) by all governments in 2011. He called for a complete ban against juveniles and those with mental disabilities, whose problems get exacerbated by isolation. In certain circumstances, such as when a detainee needs to be protected, he said it’s warranted for a short period of time.

ICE officials said segregation is necessary in order to protect the detained immigrant, other detainees or jail personnel. Most detainees are isolated for less than two weeks, according to the government data that looked at those segregated in ICE’s most populous facilities over a five-month period in 2012.

ICE has a congressional mandate to detain 34,000 immigrants on any given day, said ICE spokesperson Ernestine Fobbs in an email. Many of the detainees come with criminal histories and pose a threat to public safety, she wrote.

For those it segregates for non-disciplinary purposes, isolation is used as a “as a final resort, when other options are not available to address the specifics of the situation,” added Fobbs, who wrote that health professionals routinely check on those in segregation.

Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of NIJC, submitted the immigration complaint to the U.N. because she said her lawyers have clients who are in solitary confinement for their protection, “when, in reality, these aren’t even individuals who should be detained,” she said.

Her complaint was meant to call attention to a punitive practice being used on a population that is supposed to be held administratively.

“We see often that people think and look at solitary confinement in terms of issues affecting individuals in criminal custody and not necessarily in civil or administrative custody,” she said.

Mendez’s report this month summarized the efforts of various governments’ responses to U.N. human rights inquiries. One of those was to a key complaint about discriminatory placement of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in solitary confinement in immigration detention. The U.S. government responded to Mendez in a letter, stating that it is investigating the allegations and has issued new guidance that LGBT immigrants should not be placed in segregation based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identification.



New Amnesty International Report Exposes Severe, Inhumane Solitary Confinement Conditions for 3,000 California Prisoners

Human Rights Group Urges California to Amend Brutal Conditions

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Three thousand prisoners in two California prisons are being held in solitary confinement under “cruel, degrading and inhuman” conditions that violate international standards, Amnesty International said today based on exclusive access to Pelican Bay and Corcoran state prisons. In a new report, the human rights organization said California is holding prisoners in extreme isolation – with no fresh air, natural light, direct human contact or programs – for years and even decades, and leaving them with little hope of ever emerging from the confinement.

Amnesty International researchers interviewed prisoners in solitary confinement in the two prisons, many former prisoners held in isolation, as well as parents, wives and siblings of current prisoners, including one who staged a hunger strike to protest conditions.

A former prisoner who was convicted of armed robbery at age 16 and spent seven years in solitary confinement told Amnesty International the experience amounted to “torture.”

“After being in solitary confinement for almost seven years, that rush of loneliness still vibrates through me,” he said. Another prisoner told Amnesty International that he felt like he was “silently screaming 24 hours a day.”

The report, The Edge of Endurance: Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units, said many prisoners are suffering from physical and psychological problems due to isolation, which will make it difficult for them to function outside prison once released, especially because there are no pre-release or transition programs. Prisoners are confined for relatively minor infractions of rules or disruptive behavior, despite the fact that isolation is intended only for extreme cases.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA, said: “This report is a wake-up call about the forms of brutal treatment to which prisoners right here in the United States are subjected through the pervasive and unregulated use of solitary confinement documented in California. The prospect of people spending years or decades of their lives with virtually no human contact, sunlight or stimulation is terrifying, and amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. That some of these prisoners are later eligible for release means that human beings subject to these psychologically brutalizing conditions are then expected to reenter society, with no provision to help overcome the traumatic legacy of this inhumane treatment. This system is an affront to our values, and could pose a very real danger to society because of the damage it can inflict on both those subjected to it and the communities they later join.”

Amnesty International is calling on the state to place prisoners in isolation only as a last resort when dangerous behavior threatens the safety of other prisoners, and to improve conditions for all prisoners held in isolation units.

One prisoner told Amnesty International he was placed in isolation because he was seen speaking to a gang member. Another asked for ten years to be transferred closer to his elderly mother, who was too frail to visit, but the request was repeatedly denied. She passed away without the son ever seeing her again.

Seventy-eight of the prisoners have spent more than 20 years in isolation while 500 prisoners have been isolated for ten or more years and 200 for more than 15 years, according to 2011 figures from the California Department of Corrections

and Rehabilitation. No other U.S. state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation, Amnesty International said.

One prisoner who had been in an isolation unit for 22 years told Amnesty International researchers during a visit to Pelican Bay that they were the first outsiders he had seen in the cell block for years.

Amnesty International said while it sometimes may be necessary to segregate prisoners for disciplinary or security purposes, isolation currently is too widely imposed and for too long a period. Prisoners should be isolated only in exceptional circumstances and only for as short a period as possible, the organization said.

To deprive prisoners of natural light, adequate exercise or meaningful human contact is unnecessarily punitive and unjustifiable in all circumstances, the organization said. Access to natural light and exercise are basic needs, essential for physical and mental health.

Over 2,000 prisoners are being held in isolation after being “validated” as members or associates of prison gangs.

Prisoners in isolation are confined to cells at least 22 hours and 30 minutes a day in cells measuring roughly 9 feet by 9 feet. In Pelican Bay State Prison, over 1,000 inmates are confined alone in these windowless cells. Exercise is limited to an hour and a half a day, alone in a bare, concrete yard with walls 20 feet high with only a tiny patch of sky visible through a partially meshed plastic roof.

Prisoners in isolation are not allowed to work, go to religious services or participate in rehabilitation programs or group activities on any kind. They are prevented from direct contact with the outside world; consultations with medical staff take place behind barriers and visits from family or lawyers take place behind a glass screen. Prisoners have no regular telephone contact with relatives.

One relative said: “The hardest thing to bear is the lack of human contact. In the SHU {Security Housing Unit}, you can’t touch people, you lack sunlight, even noise. It is total sensory deprivation.”

Even though isolation is intended for extreme cases only, many prisoners who end up in such units have mental illness or behavioral problems and have sometimes been confined for repeated, relatively minor rule infractions and disruptive behavior.

The severe negative psychological consequences of isolation are reflected in data from various jurisdictions showing that suicides occur more frequently in isolation units than in the general prison population. In California, over a five-year period from 2006 to 2010, the number of prison suicides averaged 34 a year, with 42 percent occurring in administrative segregation or isolation units.

Devastating physical problems include vitamin D deficiency because prisoners are deprived of exercise and sunlight for so many years. Prisoners’ eyesight deteriorates and they develop photophobia and vision loss. In addition, prisoners develop balance problems, chronic asthma, severe insomnia and memory loss, all of which are permanent afflictions that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

Studies have found that negative effects from prolonged isolation can continue long after release, and that the lack of pre-release or transitional programming for inmates who may have spent years or even decades in isolation makes successful reintegration into society much harder.

Recent reform proposals do not go far enough to address Amnesty International’s many serious concerns with California’s long-term isolation units. Even if these reforms are made, the state would still fall short of international law and standards for humane treatment of prisoners and the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment.

Amnesty International urges authorities in California to:

  • Limit the use of isolation units so that solitary confinement is imposed only as a last resort in the case of prisoners whose behavior constitutes a severe and ongoing threat to the safety of others.
  • Improve conditions for all prisoners held in isolation units, including better exercise provision and an opportunity for more human contact for prisoners, even at the most restrictive custody levels.
  • Allow prisoners in isolation units to make regular phone calls to their families.
  • Reduce the length of the Step Down Program to allow prisoners to emerge from isolation, and providemeaningful access to programs where prisoners have an opportunity for some group contact and interactionwith others at an earlier stage.
  • Immediately remove from isolation of prisoners who have already spent years in Security Housing Units.

Note to Editors

Media materials available under embargo include:

  • Report: “The Edge of Endurance: Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units”
  • Fact sheet
  • Photos of isolation units in California
  • Contact information for relatives of prisoners, former inmatesAmnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Federal Lawsuit On Behalf of Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison

Ashker v. Brown


On May 31, 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform inhumane conditions in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHU), a movement sparked and dramatized by a 2011 hunger strike by thousands of SHU prisoners; the named plaintiffs include several leaders and participants from the hunger strike. The class action suit, which is being jointly filed by CCR and several advocate and legal organizations in California, alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eight Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.


On April 9, 2013 the Judge denied defendants’ motion to dismiss in its entirety.
Take Action! Tell the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Honor the demands of the prisoners in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit.


On May 31, 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform inhumane conditions in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHU), a movement sparked and dramatized by a 2011 hunger strike by thousands of SHU prisoners; the named plaintiffs include several leaders and participants from the hunger strike. The class action suit, which is being jointly filed by CCR and several advocate and legal organizations in California, alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eight Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.

SHU prisoners spent 22 1⁄2 to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming. Food is often rotten and barely edible, and medical care is frequently withheld. More than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these devastating conditions for over 10 years, more than 200 of them for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years. This suit asserts that prolonged confinement under these conditions has caused harmful and predictable psychological deterioration among SHU prisoners. Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage to human beings and is analyzed under international law as torture.

Additionally, the suit alleges that SHU prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement, rendering their isolation effectively permanent. SHU assignment is an administrative act, condemning prisoners to a prison within a prison; it is not part of a person’s court-ordered sentence. California, alone among all fifty states and most other jurisdictions in the world, imposes extremely prolonged solitary confinement based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang. Gang affiliation is

assessed without considering whether a prisoner has ever undertaken an act on behalf of a gang or whether he is – or ever was – actually involved in gang activity. Moreover, SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latinos. The percentage of Latino prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU was 85% in 2011. The only way out of SHU isolation is to “debrief,” to inform on other prisoners, placing those who do so and their families in significant danger of retaliation and providing those who are unable to debrief effectively no way out of SHU isolation.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on the case.

The case is Ashker v. Brown, and it seeks to amend an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell. The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The proposed Amended Complaint in the case appears below.

To learn more about the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike and prisoners’ rights issues in California, please visit the following websites:

California Prison Focus: http://www.prisons.org/
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children:http://www.prisonerswithchildren.org/ Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity:http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

National Religious Campaign Against Torture Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs – Prolonged Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

Why should people of faith care about the use of prolonged solitary confinement?

All major religions recognize the inherent dignity of each human being and their capacity for redemption. Prolonged solitary confinement desecrates a person’s inherent dignity, denies the essential human need for community, and impedes genuine rehabilitation.

What is the history of solitary confinement in the United States?

Dr. Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement at Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence (hence, the term ‘penitentiary’ was coined). That led to the building of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Penitentiaryin 1829, which only had solitary confinement cells.

However, instead of becoming penitent, the prisoners developed serious mental health problems and many went insane. In 1842, Charles Dickens, the novelist, visited the Southeastern Pennsylvania Penitentiary and said, “The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it…to be cruel and wrong. … I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” The Quakers also recognized that solitary confinement caused severe psychological harm and apologized for their use of prolonged solitary confinement.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has let history repeat itself. In the 20th century, some U.S. prisons had a limited number of solitary confinement control units within their facilities; however, in 1983 a prison in Illinois instituted a permanent ‘lock down’ of their entire facility, in which all inmates were confined alone in their cells for 23 hours per day. The use of solitary confinement has increased dramatically since then. In 1989, California built Pelican Bay Prison to house prisoners exclusively in isolation (the first “supermax” prison). Today, there are 44 state-run supermax prisons and one federal supermax prison.

How does the United States use of solitary confinement compare to other nations?

The United States has become a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement. The United States reportedly has five percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of its prisoners, and the vast majority of prisoners in long-term solitary confinement.

How many prisoners are held in solitary confinement today?

Experts estimate that at least 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement. The 2006 Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons (Commission), which was chaired by Nicholas Katzenbach, former attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson and John Gibbons, former Chief Judge for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, issued a report, Confronting Confinement, stating that from 1995 to 2000, the growth rate of segregation units significantly surpassed the prison growth rate overall: 40% compared to 28%.

What does ‘prolonged’ solitary confinement mean?

It depends who says it. For the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), the term ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ is equated to torture — the point when the use of solitary confinement results in severe mental or physical pain or suffering. Torture is defined by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has the weight of U.S. law (see below).

In a 2011 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, cited 15 days as ‘prolonged solitary confinement,’ noting that some of the psychological effects caused by isolation become irreversible at that point.

The American Bar Association Standards for Criminal Justice defines ‘long-term isolation’ as 30 days or more, for the purpose of setting a deadline by which prisoners in solitary confinement are given increased due process protections.

What are the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners?

Many studies have documented the detrimental effects of solitary confinement. Symptoms can include hyperresponsivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, panic attacks, difficulty with thinking and memory, and paranoia. Since the 1960s, electroencephalogram (EEG) tests have shown that solitary confinement causes significant slowing of brain waves after even only a week of isolation, evidence provided in an essay in the New Yorker. One study showed that prisoners held in solitary developed psychopathologies at a rate nearly twice as great (28% compared to 15%) as those held in general prison population. The Commission noted that among the dozens of studies on the use of solitary confinement conducted since the 1970s, there was not a single study of non-voluntary solitary confinement lasting more than 10 days that did not document negative psychiatric symptoms in its subjects. In a statement submitted to the Commission , national expert Dr. Stuart Grassian reported perceptual distortions among the common symptoms described by the hundreds of prisoners he evaluated. He highlighted this symptom as particularly concerning because “loss of perceptual constancy (object becoming larger or smaller, seeming to ‘melt’ or change form, sounds becoming louder and softer, etc.) is very rare, and when found, is far more commonly associated with neurological illness (especially seizure disorders and brain tumors affecting integration areas of the brain) than with primary psychiatric illness.”

What is the definition of torture?

NRCAT uses the definition of torture included in Article I of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention came into force on June 26, 1987, following ratification by the 20th nation. The Convention was signed by the U.S. in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1994.

Here is the definition of torture from Article I of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has the weight of U.S. law:
“For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

Who is held in solitary confinement and why are they placed in isolation?

One would expect it to be only the ‘worst of the worst.’ While there are prisoners placed in solitary confinement due to extreme violent behavior, that is not the case for the majority. In some prisons, solitary confinement has become a default tool to manage prisoners who fail to follow prison rules. As a result, many mentally ill prisoners end up in solitary confinement, since this population has great difficulty understanding or following such rules, especially when their illnesses go untreated. Gary Harkins, a corrections officer for 25 years at the maximum security Oregon State Penitentiary, told the Commission, “It’s not unusual to have up to one half of the segregation beds occupied by mentally ill inmates.” Walter Dickey, former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, said that his state’s supermax prison was filled with the wrong people, “the young, the pathetic, [and] the mentally ill.” Similarly, psychiatrist Stuart Grassian told the Commission, “Many of these people who are said to be the ‘worst of the worst’ are simply the wretched of the earth. They’re sick people.”

What about prisoners who voluntarily request to be placed in solitary confinement for their own protection, for example?
Prisoners who are at high risk for abuse in prisons are often placed in ‘protective custody,’ which is a separate unit designated within a prison for this high-risk population. These units are usually not made up of solitary confinement cells and do permit contact among the designated prisoners. However, even in an instance where a prisoner was held voluntarily in solitary confinement, NRCAT recognizes prolonged solitary confinement as torture, which by

definition “is intentionally inflicted . . . at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” Therefore, prisoners voluntarily held in solitary confinement are not included in this definition or NRCAT’s targeted work on this issue.

How much does housing prisoners in solitary confinement cost compared to housing prisoners in the general prison population?
Experts have found housing a prisoner in solitary confinement can cost as much as $50,000 more annually compared to general population housing. The Commission reported that that housing prisoners in solitary confinement units can double the cost of housing prisoners. There are several reasons for this cost deferential. First, supermax prisons are considerably more costly to build. Staffing costs are also much higher. Prisoners are usually required to be escorted by two or more officers any time they leave their cells, and work that in other prison settings would be performed by prisoners (such as cooking and cleaning) must be done by paid staff.

Is it possible to limit the use of solitary confinement and still keep prisons safe?

Yes, a growing number of states that have safely reformed their solitary confinement policies. For example, in Mississippi, the number of incidents involving prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-staff altercations fell drastically when corrections officials implemented significant reforms in 2007, limiting the use of solitary confinement. “The [segregated housing] environment . . . actually increases the levels of hostility and anger among inmates and staff alike,” Donald Cabana, former Mississippi Warden, told the Commission in 2006.

Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who ushered in reforms leading to a 70 percent reduction in Maine’s solitary confinement population in 2011, explained that using solitary confinement is less effective at keeping prisoners and prison personnel safe. “Over time, the more data we’re pulling is showing that what we’re doing now is safer than what we were doing before,” Ponte stated in a video interview with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

How does the use of solitary confinement impact reentry of prisoners into society?

Inmates who have been held in solitary confinement are significantly more likely to recommit crimes than prisoners who have been held in the general prison population. In 2002, a USA Today reporter followed 9 people released directly from high-security “segregation” units in Texas prisons. 31 months later, 7 of the 9 had served additional time in prison.

Additionally, prisoners who are held in solitary confinement and are released directly back to society upon completion of their sentence are more likely to recommit crimes than prisoners who have had the chance to transition from solitary confinement units into the general prison population before their release. For example, the Commission cited a Washington state study of over 8,000 former prisoners, which found that people who were released directly from segregation had a much higher rate of recidivism than individuals who spent some time in the general prison population before returning to the community: 64 percent compared with 41 percent.

How can I get involved with NRCAT’s work on solitary confinement?

Go to www.nrcat.org/prisons to learn more about our state advocacy campaigns and other programs. When you visit, be sure to sign NRCAT’s Statement to End Prolonged Solitary Confinement. When we reach 500 signatures in your state, we will send the endorsements to your state legislators, governor, and top corrections officials. You can also view NRCAT’s film about solitary confinement, Torture in Your Backyard. Order the DVD and share the film with your congregation.

Pelican Bay State Prison

The Pelican Bay hunger strike has ended, but the conversation about solitary confinement must continue. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) must change its policies on solitary confinement for many persuasive reasons. Some may point to the vast number of studies that have found long-term solitary confinement to be psychologically harmful. A 2003 University of California, Santa Cruz, study, for example, found that months or years of isolation causes inmates to suffer from chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, despair, and irrational anger.

Some may rely on Aristotle’s argument that, by depriving a person of personal interaction, we rob him of the chance to rehabilitate himself into a virtuous citizen. Some will recall Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1826 finding that “absolute solitude, if nothing interrupts it, is beyond the strength of man; it destroys the criminal without intermission and without pity; it does not reform, it kills.”

Others may cite the 1890 Supreme Court opinion stating that prisoners subjected to solitary confinement became violently insane and committed suicide. Still others may be persuaded by the myriad accounts of former prisoners of war and hostages who describe losing their minds when subjected to solitary confinement. And others may quote the California prison psychiatristwho concluded, “It’s a standard psychiatric concept, if you put people in isolation, they will go insane.” In 2006, security housing units (SHUs) constituted 5 percent of California’s prison population but accounted for abouthalf of inmate suicides. In 2005, SHUs accounted for almost 70 percent of suicides.

And some will no doubt be moved by the notion that solitary confinement violates basic notions of human decency, the Constitution, and international human rights.

But we should all be concerned with California’s use of the SHU because the SHU undermines public safety. Inmates who spend lengths of time in solitary confinement are more likely to commit crimes in the future. People who have been cut off from human contact are ill-equipped to be productive members of our society, and the vast majority of inmates in solitary confinement will be released someday. In 2006, fully 95 percent of the inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay were scheduled for release. So, if psychological, philosophical, legal, and humanitarian concerns provide insufficient rationale, we should call on the CDCR to make changes if only in the interest of self-preservation.

(A version of this blog post originally appeared on the ACLU of Southern California’s blog.)
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Correcting Corrections: Chuck Solitary

By Hector Villagra, ACLU of Southern California at 2:49pm



This letter was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund which is dedicated to sending revolutionary and progressive literature including Revolution newspaper to prisoners in 41 states.

“The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades….”

Letter from a Prisoner Pelican Bay CA, July 8, 2011

Greetings, I write in concerns of the hunger strike that begun on July 1st of 2011 here in Pelican Bay Shu. And as I get into the current effort made at Pelican Bay let me give some background to what lead to this social protest from the viewpoint of one of the hunger strike participants and its important to see the Repression unleashed on the Barrios and ghettos that lead to being wharehoused in koncentration kamps like Pelican Bay throughout America….

The prisons in California hold the most prisoners than any other state in America yet many of the conditions are the same. Pelican Bay opened for business in 1989….
Supermaxing prisoners is not exclusive to Californians as America has about 70,000 men and women held in supermax prisons nationwide! …

The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades may be a surprise to many, or the fact that many of the conditions for prisoners being held in Guantanimo Bay are really better than Shu prisoners in Pelican Bay is hard to swallow but its true. Shu prisoners here endure 22 1⁄2 hours locked in their cell every day. Their cell is a windowless concrete tomb that includes a slab of cement for a mattress and a toilet and sink. Shu prisoners are held in solitary confinement with no cellmate and for some this solitary has gone on for decades. Its important to note that the United Nations has said that solitary supermax is torture as this is known to create a psychological disorder in what has come to be called ‘Shu syndrome’! The studies that have been done concerning the supermax has shown that after 60 days of supermax people begin to experience a wide range of symptoms from panic attacks to psychosis and even emotional breakdown.

There is no human physical contact between prisoners and any other human being ever in Shu. Everything from food to laundry to books or mail is passed through a slot in the door. The psychological effects from supermax cannot be reversed by rehousing into a regular general population in another prison, yet some have been here in shu for decades, this in a country that claims to uphold human Rights, even occupying other counties under the excuse of their citizens having their human rights

violated. And all along people in its prisons have their human rights trampled on without a murmur coming from the ‘halls of Democracy’….

So what does it take to get one sent to a Shu supermax? The short answer is not very much. I was corresponding with someone once who asked me if someone arrested for a drunk driving and sent to prison can ever be sent to the Shu, and that person was shocked when I said yes! The thing that would shock the public the most is that people sent to Supermax in California are not sent here necessarily because of a crime or physical violation in a prison general population, one can come to prison for a drunk driving and happen to be a ‘jailhouse lawyer’ helping other prisoners with appeal’s and tackling violations in prisoner rights and be targeted by guards for Shu. One can get on the bad side of guards or simply refuse to go along with their wrongdoing or refuse to provide information and be targeted for Shu, just being a rebellious or progressive prisoner gets one targeted and labeled a ‘gang member’ and sent to Shu. The Shu is made out as a big stick to intimidate the prison population into passivity, (think deportation threats to migrants or the whip shown to the slave). It doesn’t mean its going to be used but the thought of it existing is enough to control a large portion of the prison population so it becomes a tool not used for rehabilitation but for social control. The fact that the Shu has no kind of self help program’s or classes such as victims awareness, narcotics anonymous, etc, or G.E.D. or college courses shows it is not a place designed to ‘rehabilitate. One would think with the prison administration labeling those in Shu as ‘worst of the worst’, ‘uncorrigible’ or ‘the most violent’ in California’s prisons one would think there would be atleast one anger management class available (even if it had to be done via mail) but no dice. Instead prisoners are forced to languish in their windowless cell for 221⁄2 hours a day every day.

Once a prisoner finds themselves in Shu and if the prisoners has a life sentence, as this person goes to board to see if he or she is eligible to parole it will be denied because nobody has been paroled from Shu with a life sentence, as administrators see it as ‘if your in Shu, your not ready for society.’ Thus Shu becomes an even bigger stick a huge whip to those of us with life sentences as it is basically a Death Sentence once sent to Shu. Any psychiatrist would agree even the thought of this playing out in ones head while locked in Solitary 221⁄2 [hours] a day must be indescribably cruel. And once here in Shu their is a system called ‘debriefing’ that demands one to snitch on others or even make stuff up in order to be released from Shu and back into general population. After years of torture many will make stuff up on anyone just to escape the mind numbing torture of this sensory deprivation, and unfortunately someone will fill his/her cell and the cycle of torture continues.

… It is these conditions where even reading material such as philosophy or history is censored. Pelican Bay Shu is designed to control, nothing more. We seen even Revolution newspaper being censored and banned from this prison at one time. Take a minute to think of living in a certain zip code or apartment building where city officials notify you that Revolution newspaper is banned and is not allowed in your neighborhood. How would you feel about these city officials? How would you feel about the system that upholds the actions of these city officials?

This Hegemony and Draconian existence has led to the non violent civil disobedience playing out in the Shu. Mao said where you find much repression youll find much resistance! This resistance, although non violent is not expected to be met with a smile from prison officials but what other choice is there when you are left in your windowless cell in solitary for years with no recourse from the courts? But the efforts of the Pelican Bay hunger strike is more than the injustice unleashed on Shu prisoners. For vast swaths of the public this situation will call attention to the ills of not just the California Supermax but of the U. S. prison system in general. As I think of the whirlwind sweeping the middle East that was born from a Tunisian street vendor and has now been called an arab spring, I wonder in regards to the efforts

of resistance from the Georgian prisoners, I wonder if the American prison system has developed a Georgian spring?

There are many demands some of which are contact visits with family, the ability to make a phone call (some have not been allowed phone calls for decades). Shu prisoners are not currently allowed to use a phone ever so as long as your here you wont use the phone. Medical services, with the present medical system you can sign up for feeling ill and not be seen for weeks, by then you feel better but your still charged five dollars. Those with documented illnesses are denied pain medications and surgeries are put through a stringent review board, treatment is very hard to obtain here. Because of the sensory deprivation a TV/ radio combination is being requested…The ability to purchase two care packages a year are being requested as at this time only one care package a year is allowable, forcing some prisoners such as Muslim Prisoners who cannot purchase halal food items on the prison commisary as the prison commisary has no halal food items. Thus many are forced to simply eat the meager slop issued on the trays given for meals.

…The ability to take photos is being requested as those who have been in Shu for 20+ years have not been able to take a photo to send their family. Many families do not have the money or transportation to travel all the way to Pelican Bay for a visit and a photo would substitute a visit as at this time Shu prisoners are forbidden from receiving a photo. The ability to recieve 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 dismantling of the ‘debriefing process’ is also being requested, the necessity to compromise another in order to leave Shu is a horrendous practice, one I suspect will be looked back on as incredulous as one now sees the selling of human skins in the day of slavery in America.

The whole process of ‘validation’ which qualifies one to be placed in Shu is faulty and without merit, for years its been known that some prisoners will make stuff up to leave Shu. Experts on torture have well documented that when one is tortured people will say whatever you want to know just so long as the torture stops. So as a result more people many innocent of the accusations will be placed in Shu.

See Revolution issue #237 on Pelican Bay for the core demands. The issues that force people to seek redress by depriving oneself of nutrients is not exclusive to Pelican Bay Shu. The prison system in America is filled with the injustices that Shu prisoners experience here in Pelican Bay, and to deprive oneself of food is often the last line of defense, the last rock to hurl at a monster who makes life a constant state of torture, a perpetual waterboarding. Marx said in ‘On the Jewish Question,’ “We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others”. I think prisoners are indeed emancipating ourselves and moving forward with a strong Revolutionary surge in seeking justice. Prisoners are tired of the decades long white torture that is often hidden from the public eye and which is now being heard nationwide with the strike – with nothing to lose and a world to win!

Prisoner CC

The following introduction is excerpted from the 65 page Urgent Petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention submitted by Peter Schey esq. and Carlos Holquin esq. and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It was submitted on behalf of California prisoners and prison rights organizations. It contains powerful testimony from prisoners and legal analysis documenting and demanding a stop to torture in US prisons. It is available at www.centerforhumanrights.org .



This Petition is brought on behalf of approximately 4,000 California prisoners who are being detained in isolated segregated units for indefinite periods or determinate periods of many years solely because they have been identified as members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang. The policy that has resulted in their prolonged detention does not require that they have actually engaged in any misconduct or illegal activity, or that they even planned to engage in any misconduct or illegal activity.

Transfer to an isolation cell for a relatively short determinate period of time to quell a disturbance, sanction a prisoner for a disciplinary infraction, or to discourage mere membership in a gang or associating with a gang may be a reasonable disciplinary tool. It is one that has been used by many prisons in the past.

However, placing prisoners in almost complete isolation close to 24 hours a day for many years or indefinitely obviously has enormous adverse effects on their mental and physical health, is entirely disproportionate to the alleged offense of mere membership or association with a gang, and amounts to cruel, degrading and extreme punishment prohibited by international human rights norms and obligations of the United States of America, including the State of


As discussed in detail below, not only do California prisoners face cruel and dehumanizing long- term and indefinite confinement in small concrete cells with no windows, no natural light, and no furniture, they also endure frequent episodes of cruelty by guards, inadequate medical care, entirely inadequate mental health services, inadequate access to the outdoors and sunshine, inadequate food, inadequate access to legal counsel, inadequate visitation with friends and family, and no opportunities to work or engage in productive activity of any type. They are effectively locked in a concrete small space that becomes a “living coffin” in which many have been confined for many years, even decades.

Some prisoners are housed alone in isolated segregation for the duration of their confinement there. Others are “double-celled,” with one other segregated prisoner assigned to their cell. Double-celled

prisoners in isolated segregation have the worst of two painful prison worlds, simultaneously experiencing isolation and overcrowding. That is, they are completely isolated from normal prison activities and programs, yet forced to live around-the-clock in intolerably cramped and crowded cell conditions. Double-celling requires two strangers to use half the space of a single cell, with dimensions so small that they only permit laying on a bunk, or standing or sitting on the floor next to the bunk, or sitting on a toilet in the cell, or walking a couple of steps and hitting a concrete wall.

While this Petition focuses on a narrow issue of California’s use of isolated segregation, it should be noted that the U.S., with about 4.5 % of the worlds population, has 25% of the planets prisoners, with the highest number in California. African Americans, who are about 12.5% the U.S. population, are almost 50% of its 2.3 million prisoners. Latinos also about 12% of the U.S. population, are more than 25% of the nation’s prisoners.

It should also be noted that California’s prisoners are extremely overcrowded with virtually all prisons holding far more prisoners than they were designed and built to hold. For example, after operating for more than a decade at 200% of capacity—overcrowding that resulted in unconstitutional medical and mental health care for prisoners that prompted the United States Supreme Court to order a substantial reduction in the state prison population— California prisons are still nearly 160% over capacity overall, with some prisons operating well above that figure. Many mentally ill prisoners, even some of those who are “in crisis,” still wait unconscionably long periods for adequate and appropriate treatment. In addition, many identified mentally ill prisoners are housed in isolated segregation—in administrative segregation and security housing units—for extremely long periods of time (that can last for many months or years in administrative segregation units, and many years or even decades in security housing units).

As a result of the policies and practices that leave California with the largest population of prisoners in isolated segregation anywhere in the world, these prisoners suffer extreme mental and physical harm, including mental breakdowns, extreme depression, suicidal ideation, and breaks with reality. Under California’s prison regulations, they often remain in isolated segregation until “gang free” for “six years.

Their treatment amounts to torture or degrading treatment illegal under well-established inter- national norms and obligations of the United States and the State of California including, inter a/ia, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”).

In July 2011, hundreds of prisoners held in segregated Special Housing Units in California went on a hunger strike to protest conditions, including prolonged solitary confinement in small windowless concrete boxes with little to no human interaction and other severe physical deprivations. See http://prisons.org and http://www.prisonersolidarity.org.

In their complaint submitted to California prison authorities, the Pelican Bay prisoners requested an “end [to] 20± years of state sanctioned torture in order to extract information from or cause mental illness to California inmates incarcerated indefinitely in punitive isolation based on arbitrary policies and practices…[using the] gang label, without ever being charged, and found guilty of committing a gang- related illegal act…” …“ See Complaint attached as Exhibit I (emphasis added)

The Complaint notes that “most inmates who have been in the SHU for the last 10 to 35± years have never been found guilty of committing a single gang-related illegal act.” Id.

Excerpts from “Hellhole” an article by journalist and surgeon Atul Gawande which appeared in The NewYorker Magazine March 30, 2009.


The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

by Atul Gawande March 30, 2009

“Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people…………….”

“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

On December 4, 1991, Terry Anderson was released from captivity. He had been the last and the longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. I spoke to Keron Fletcher, a former British military psychiatrist who had been on the receiving team for Anderson and many other hostages, and followed them for years afterward. Initially, Fletcher said, everyone experiences the pure elation of being able to see and talk to people again, especially family and friends. They can’t get enough of other people, and talk almost non-stop for hours. They are optimistic and hopeful. But, afterward, normal sleeping and eating patterns prove difficult to reëstablish. Some have lost their sense of time. For weeks, they have trouble managing the sensations and emotional complexities of their freedom.

For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when I reached him by phone recently, “it was just kind of a fog.” He had done many television interviews at the time. “And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.”

Most hostages survived their ordeal, Fletcher said, although relationships, marriages, and careers were often lost. Some found, as John McCain did, that the experience even strengthened them. Yet none saw solitary confinement as anything less than torture. This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?”

“Recently, I met a man who had spent more than five years in isolation at a prison in the Boston suburb of Walpole, Massachusetts, not far from my home. Bobby Dellelo was, to say the least, no Terry Anderson or John McCain. Brought up in the run-down neighborhoods of Boston’s West End, in the nineteen-forties, he was caught burglarizing a shoe store at the age of ten. At thirteen, he recalls, he was nabbed while robbing a Jordan Marsh department store. (He and his friends learned to hide out in stores at closing time, steal their merchandise, and then break out during the night.) The remainder of his childhood was spent mostly in the state reform school. That was where he learned how to fight, how to hot-wire a car with a piece of foil, how to pick locks, and how to make a zip gun using a snapped-off automobile radio antenna, which, in those days, was just thick enough to barrel a .22-calibre bullet. Released upon turning eighteen, Dellelo returned to stealing. Usually, he stole from office buildings at night. But some of the people he hung out with did stickups, and, together with one of them, he held up a liquor store in Dorchester.

“Wearing ankle bracelets, handcuffs, and a belly chain, Dellelo was marched into a thirteen-by- eight-foot off-white cell. A four-inch-thick concrete bed slab jutted out from the wall opposite the door. A smaller slab protruding from a side wall provided a desk. A cylindrical concrete block in the floor served as a seat. On the remaining wall was a toilet and a metal sink. He was given four sheets, four towels, a blanket, a bedroll, a toothbrush, toilet paper, a tall clear plastic cup, a bar of soap, seven white T-shirts, seven pairs of boxer shorts, seven pairs of socks, plastic slippers, a pad of paper, and a ballpoint pen. A speaker with a microphone was mounted on the door. Cells used for solitary confinement are often windowless, but this one had a ribbonlike window that was seven inches wide and five feet tall. The electrically controlled door was solid steel, with a seven-inch-by- twenty-eight-inch aperture and two wickets—little door slots, one at ankle height and one at waist height, for shackling him whenever he was let out and for passing him meal trays.

As in other supermaxes—facilities designed to isolate prisoners from social contact—Dellelo was confined to his cell for at least twenty-three hours a day and permitted out only for a shower or for recreation in an outdoor cage that he estimated to be fifty feet long and five feet wide, known as “the dog kennel.” He could talk to other prisoners through the steel door of his cell, and during recreation if a prisoner was in an adjacent cage. He made a kind of fishing line for passing notes to adjacent cells by unwinding the elastic from his boxer shorts, though it was contraband and would be confiscated. Prisoners could receive mail and as many as ten reading items. They were allowed one phone call the first month and could earn up to four calls and four visits per month if they followed the rules, but there could be no physical contact with anyone, except when guards forcibly restrained them. Some supermaxes even use food as punishment, serving the prisoners nutra-loaf,

an unpalatable food brick that contains just enough nutrition for survival. Dellelo was spared this. The rules also permitted him to have a radio after thirty days, and, after sixty days, a thirteen-inch black-and-white television.

“This is going to be a piece of cake,” Dellelo recalls thinking when the door closed behind him. Whereas many American supermax prisoners—and most P.O.W.s and hostages—have no idea when they might get out, he knew exactly how long he was going to be there. He drew a calendar on his pad of paper to start counting down the days. He would get a radio and a TV. He could read. No one was going to bother him. And, as his elaborate escape plan showed, he could be patient. “This is their sophisticated security?” he said to himself. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”

After a few months without regular social contact, however, his experience proved no different from that of the P.O.W.s or hostages, or the majority of isolated prisoners whom researchers have studied: he started to lose his mind. He talked to himself. He paced back and forth compulsively, shuffling along the same six-foot path for hours on end. Soon, he was having panic attacks, screaming for help. He hallucinated that the colors on the walls were changing. He became enraged by routine noises—the sound of doors opening as the guards made their hourly checks, the sounds of inmates in nearby cells. After a year or so, he was hearing voices on the television talking directly to him. He put the television under his bed, and rarely took it out again.

One of the paradoxes of solitary confinement is that, as starved as people become for companionship, the experience typically leaves them unfit for social interaction. Once, Dellelo was allowed to have an in-person meeting with his lawyer, and he simply couldn’t handle it. After so many months in which his primary human contact had been an occasional phone call or brief conversations with an inmate down the tier, shouted through steel doors at the top of their lungs, he found himself unable to carry on a face-to-face conversation. He had trouble following both words and hand gestures and couldn’t generate them himself. When he realized this, he succumbed to a full-blown panic attack.

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.

Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of the general population.* Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy. Many prisoners in solitary become consumed with revenge fantasies.

“There were some guards in D.D.U. who were decent guys,” Dellelo told me. They didn’t trash his room when he was let out for a shower, or try to trip him when escorting him in chains, or write him up for contraband if he kept food or a salt packet from a meal in his cell. “But some of them were evil, evil pricks.” One correctional officer became a particular obsession. Dellelo spent hours imagining cutting his head off and rolling it down the tier. “I mean, I know this is insane thinking,”

he says now. Even at the time, he added, “I had a fear in the background—like how much of this am I going to be able to let go? How much is this going to affect who I am?”

He was right to worry. Everyone’s identity is socially created: it’s through your relationships that you understand yourself as a mother or a father, a teacher or an accountant, a hero or a villain. But, after years of isolation, many prisoners change in another way that Haney observed. They begin to see themselves primarily as combatants in the world, people whose identity is rooted in thwarting prison control.

As a matter of self-preservation, this may not be a bad thing. According to the Navy P.O.W. researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied. Resistance was often their sole means of maintaining a sense of purpose, and so their sanity. Yet resistance is precisely what we wish to destroy in our supermax prisoners. As Haney observed in a review of research findings, prisoners in solitary confinement must be able to withstand the experience in order to be allowed to return to the highly social world of mainline prison or free society. Perversely, then, the prisoners who can’t handle profound isolation are the ones who are forced to remain in it. “And those who have adapted,” Haney writes, “are prime candidates for release to a social world to which they may be incapable of ever fully readjusting.”

Revolution #240, July 24, 2011

The following are statements in support of the Prison Hunger Strikers at Pelican Bay State Prison, and other prisons in California and beyond. More statements are urgently needed. Send statements to be added to this list by using the “Send us your comments” link (be sure to include your name for attribution), or forward your statement to [email protected] Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is calling on people to call and send statements and letters in support of the prisoners’ demands to:

Governor Jerry Brown State Capitol, Suite 1173 Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: (916) 445-2841

ACLU of California ACLU of

Southern California Arin Arbus
David Atwood Edward Asner Eleanor J. Bader Father Luis Barrios Kathleen Barry Larry A Barton Jessica Blank

Fr. Bob Bossie
Rev. Raymond Brown
Rev. Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd Kathleen Chalfant
Henry Chalfant
Michel Chossudovsky
Miriam Cooke
Kia Corthron
Peter Coyote
Carl Dix
Richard Duffee
Nawal El Saadawi
Eve Ensler

Shepard Fairey Richard Falk
Mike Ferner Margaret Flowers George Flynn
reg e. gaines
Annie Laurie Gaylor Jerome Gold

Secretary Matthew Cate
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 1515 S Street
Sacramento 95814
Phone: (916) 323-6001

44 participants Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference

Larry Pinkney Katha Pollitt Anthony Rayson

Boots Riley
Mark Ruffalo
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon (October 12, 2011)
Saskia Sassen
Pamela Selwyn
Cindy Sheehan
Matthew Shipp
Susan Slotnick
Michael Steven Smith
Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem (October 12, 2011)
David Strathairn
Rose Styron
David Swanson
Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Nancy Vining Van Ness Ayelet Waldman
Boyce D. Watkins
Jay Wenk
Garrett Wright
Ted Yanow
Kevin Zeese

Frances Goldin Candace Gorman Sam Hamill
Peter J. Harris Wang Hui

John Hutnyk ICUPJE
Ron Jacobs
Mumia Abu Jamal Derrick Jensen Dedon Kamathi Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D. Lierre Keith

Robin D. G. Kelley Fatemeh Keshavarz

Joyce Kozloff Rev. Rich Lang Heinz Leitner Harry Lennix Dennis Loo Mary

Ray McGovern
Cynthia McKinney
William S. Miller
Shahrzad Mojab
Tom Morello
National Religious Campaign

Against Torture The Next Front Suzanne Oboler Bertell Ollman William Parker

October 12, 2011

I support the thousands of prisoners who have once again gone on hunger strike in California, risking their health and their very lives to protest the inhuman conditions in these prisons. Their courage, in the face of retaliation by prison authorities, presents us with a responsibility to support them and to call on all people of conscience to step out and stand with them.

—Susan Sarandon

——————————————————————————– October 12, 2011

The Prison Hunger Strikers of California have renewed their strike, and I renew my support. Like demonstrators from the Arab Spring to Wall Street, they are using the only peaceful means at their disposal to call attention to injustices; in this case, including long term solitary confinement and other punishments that the Red Cross and Red Crescent would object to were they prisoners of war.

—Gloria Steinem

——————————————————————————– For Immediate Release: July 19, 2011

ACLU of California Statement on California Prison Hunger Strike

The ACLU of California supports the striking prisoners’ demands to end cruel and inhumane conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison. These conditions include prolonged, solitary confinement in small, windowless concrete boxes with little to no human interaction and other severe physical deprivations.

Not only are such conditions inhumane and harmful, but they also jeopardize public safety. Solitary confinement causes and exacerbates mental illness, and prisoners who are subjected to such extreme isolation cannot properly reintegrate into society, resulting in higher recidivism rates.

An alarming number of prisoners are released directly from secure housing units into the community. The CDCR must implement policies that enhance safety both within prisons and within our communities. Current practices do not achieve these equally important goals.

The ACLU calls on the State to re-double its efforts to engage in meaningful negotiations with the strikers to bring the hunger strike to a swift and peaceful conclusion. In addition, the ACLU calls on Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary, Matthew Cate, to significantly curtail the use of the SHU at Pelican Bay and other California prisons and to provide all prisoners confined to the SHU items, services, and programs necessary for psychological and physical well-being including warm clothing, out-of-cell time, and participation in rehabilitative programs.

——————————————————————————– ACLU of Southern California

Friday, July 22, 2011
ACLU/SC Executive Director Hector Villagra delivered the following remarks at a press conference at the KRST Unity Center in South Los Angeles.

It has been said that to measure the degree of civilization in a society, you must enter its prisons. If you enter our supermax prisons, you will conclude we are a barbarous and savage society, one where cruel and inhumane punishment is the norm.

The ACLU of Southern California joins its allies today to condemn a situation that is inhumane—not just arbitrarily cruel—and in the name of law and order ultimately makes every Californian less safe. That’s because solitary confinement causes and exacerbates mental illness. Prisoners who are subjected to such extreme isolation cannot properly reintegrate into society, resulting in higher recidivism rates.

The ACLU of Southern California supports the striking prisoners’ demands to end cruel and inhumane conditions in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. These conditions include prolonged, solitary confinement in small, windowless concrete boxes with little to no human interaction and other severe physical deprivations.

Today, 44 states and the federal government have built so-called “supermax” prisons similar to Pelican Bay—housing at least 25-thousand people nationwide. At these institutions, prisoners in solitary confinement face up to 24 hours a day with little human contact or interaction—reduced or no natural light—restriction or denial of reading material, television, radios or other property—severe constraints on visitation—and the inability to participate in group activities, including eating with others. In California prisons, time in solitary confinement can drag on years or even decades.

Prisoners of war or terror hostages say that this type of enforced isolation is as bad as any physical abuse and perhaps leads more directly to permanent psychological damage. According to one study conducted at Pelican Bay itself—prisoners subjected to months or years of complete isolation lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind. In the most extreme cases—they literally stop behaving at all—and become catatonic.

And that puts public safety at risk. In fact, an alarming number of prisoners are released directly from secure housing units into the community. It’s time for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement policies that enhance safety both inside and outside prison walls. Current practices do not achieve these equally important goals.

We call on the state to bring the hunger strike to a swift and peaceful conclusion. We call on Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary, Matthew Cate, to significantly curtail the use of the SHU at Pelican Bay and other California prisons and to provide all prisoners confined to the SHU items, services, and programs necessary for psychological and physical well-being including warm clothing, out-of-cell time, and participation in rehabilitative programs.

——————————————————————————– Arin Arbus, theater director

To paraphrase Dostoevsky – the character of a nation can be measured by the way it treats its prisoners. I stand in solidarity with the prisoners on strike in California. Please, think about this hunger strike. Please, just imagine getting to that point. Imagine making the decision to starve to death rather than accept things as they are. Imagine how bad things would have to be. The current situation in California’s prisons is deplorable. The conditions are inhumane. This monumental violation of human rights is senseless and unnecessary. Something must be done.

——————————————————————————– Edward Asner

America, the Beautiful! What a crock. Ask the over 6,000 prisoners in California who are willing to starve themselves to death to achieve more humane conditions, if not for them, then for those in the future who will be condemned to such vile servitude. The punishment and intolerance meted out to them makes the state more criminal than the prisoners. For God’s sake, stop the illegal executions inflicted by the state in its maximum security prisons.

——————————————————————————– David Atwood, President, Houston Peace and Justice Center


We owe a debt of gratitude to the prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California who were on a hunger strike for several weeks. They have raised the issue of inhumane conditions in prisons across the nation, particularly the thousands of prisoners who are held in prolonged solitary confinement which we know can cause long-term psychological damage.

We are well aware that these conditions exist in many Texas prisons. For example, on Texas death row prisoners are held in solitary confinement for many years until they are executed. These inhumane conditions cause some prisoners to go crazy, some to commit suicide, and some to give up their appeals because they no longer want to live.

In Texas, solitary confinement normally means that the prisoner held in a tiny 6 X 10 foot cell for 23 hours a day. He cannot participate in group recreation, church services or work programs. This is not good for the prisoner or for society in general.

There is no doubt in my mind that prolonged solitary confinement is “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

I am extremely disappointed that we allow these conditions to exist and our politicians are silent on the issue. The U.S. is not the civilized nation that we would like others to think we are.

I call on all citizens to speak out loudly and bring these inhumane conditions to an end. August 1, 2011

——————————————————————————– Eleanor J. Bader, freelance writer, Brooklyn, NY:

The torture of prisoners in California is reprehensible. Prisoners are putting their lives at risk to protest the inhumane and degrading conditions they are subjected to. Their hunger strike is an act of desperation and I urge the prison authorities to listen to the demands and take action to end the torture and abuse within the state penal system.

——————————————————————————– Father Luis Barrios, Ph.D.:

Greetings from the Texas-Mexico border: On my way to cross again to challenge the USA government illegal and immoral blockage to Cuba. I’m very sorry I can’t be physically present in this solidarity action on behalf of our brothers who are incarcerated in California and that as a way of resisting injustices, human rights violations and oppression, they organize a hunger strike. This is a statement that I want you to make public.

As a priest, as a community activist and as a scholar in the field of criminal justice, these brothers have my support. What they are denouncing is a matter of human rights and human dignity violations. Tomorrow during mass here in Texas I’m going to address this matter to people in Austin, Texas. I also want to raise my voice and solidarity against the Prison Industrial Complex, the one that is responsible for keeping these men in prison. As a spiritual activist, I’m against this capitalist society that is building a class society that at the end produces this type of human segregation for the purpose of social control; incarceration. We know that in the USA rich people get richer and poor people go to prison. Let’s start looking for alternative to incarceration.

In the mean time, we need to support unconditionally our brothers who are in prison in this hunger strike. This type of action in their behalf is only a symptom, let’s deal with the real problems: a class society that produce oppression and exclusion.

In solidarity love, the most important sacrament.

(Father Luis Barrios, Ph.D., is Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice-Department of Latin American & Latina/o Studies; Member of Ph.D. faculties in social/personality psychology, Graduate Center-City University of New York; Visiting Professor of Research & Methodology and Criminal Justice; Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Politicas: Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo-UASD and Universidad Iberoamericana-UNIBE, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Kathleen Barry, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Penn State University, Author of “Unmaking War, Remaking Men”, Santa Rosa, California:

Your refusal to respond to the prisoner hunger strike begun on July 1, 2011 only confirms to the people of California the validity of the prisoners’ allegations and demands. Your violation of prisoners human rights, their right to live free of cruelty and torture not only harms prisoners, threatens the lives of those on hunger strike to regain these rights but are a violation of international, national and state law. By your actions you debase all Californians and make clear that we live in a barbaric state.

We, the citizens of California, understand that what you are doing to these prisoners and your refusal to respond to the hunger strike violates the public trust we place in you to operate our prisons. You are neither above the law nor our scrutiny. We cannot allow you to stay in positions of power and authority if you abuse them and violate the law as well as prisoners human rights. Therefore we ask that you immediately address the demands of those on hunger strike, see that they receive immediate medical treatment while you promulgate prison policy that is in line with the International Declaration of Human Rights that you are now violating as well as national and state law.

——————————————————————————– Larry A Barton, IBM Retired; community activist Cape Coral, FL

The conditions within the prison system reveal the attitudes of a society and are reflected in the actions of its agents of authority that execute the policies and practices –written or otherwise. There is a lack of humanity and justice in

prisons such as Pelican Bay and others across the nation that have driven a brave few of those incarcerated towards desperation to bring these sub-human conditions, brutal abuses and actual torture to light that are dehumanizing. The questions remain: what will those with the power to effect needed changes do to correct these abuses that border on crimes themselves that go unpunished? How are the lives of these men and women to be “corrected” to allow them to return to society, more specifically, their communities, and make a contribution?

There is a deep injustice and cruelty here that have corrupted the prison system and its “corrective” agencies that have become an industry where the pursuit of its own continuation and expansion is paramount over that of serving the public interests and rehabilitating the lives of the incarcerated. It is time for responsible oversight and a re-making of the US prison system at such sights as Pelican Bay which has gone so far awry that prisoners have taken to a hunger strike in search of reform.

This is a request that you, Governor Brown, exercise you authority and responsibility to ensure human treatment at Pelican Bay and other California sites.

——————————————————————————– Jessica Blank:

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my solidarity with the prisoners striking for humane and decent basic conditions in Supermax prisons in California and elsewhere in the U.S. No human being—in the United States of America or anywhere else— should be subject to conditions (such as long-term solitary confinement, deprivation of basic nourishment, etc.) that have been widely shown to cause long-lasting harm and have been disavowed by human rights organizations around the world. The United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and it is my opinion—as well as the opinion of many others across our country and the world—that current conditions in American Supermax prisons are clearly in violation of this Constitutional provision. Even if a citizen has been convicted of a heinous crime in the U.S., he or she is still protected by the Constitution and by basic human rights laws. This is a foundational principle of our democracy. As a citizen, I urge you to do something to remedy this patently inhumane and unjust situation.

(Jessica Blank is an actor, playwright, and novelist; she co-authored the play The Exonerated.)

——————————————————————————– Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ, 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago

Dear Governor Brown,

I have been alerted to the indefinite hunger strike of a large number of California prisoners and the perilous state of their health. The conditions of their incarceration have driven them to this desperate action. I call upon you with the greatest urgency to announce to these prisoners that you will heed their five core demands. Your failure to do so places them in even greater risk of bodily harm or death.

I am shocked that these prisoners have been subjected to such conditions. There are absolutely no reasons for this. Even the United Nations has called their imprisonment “inhumane and degrading.”

I would write in greater length if not for the urgency of their condition. The whole world is watching. Sincerely,

——————————————————————————– Rev. Raymond Brown, New Orleans, LA:

I am writing in support of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay Prison. I encourage all strikers to continue pressing forward, we are supporting you guys one hundred percent. We join you in this difficult time, because freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demand by the oppressed.

Truly yours ——————————————————————————–

Rev. Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd, KRST Unity Center Of Afrakan Spiritual Science, Los Angeles

The Struggle Continues, The Struggle Continues, The Struggle Continues …….As long as one single inmate at Pelican Bay or any facility in any state in any nation of the world faces torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.

We have that responsibility, that duty to ourselves and to the generations that follow, as this nation slides on the slippery slope to fascism to fortify its racism and classism. There was reported by the L.A. Times newspaper an extensive article about police officers being increasingly prosecuted. It is a state of the world in which crooked law enforcement officers’ criminal actions are excused as being economic crimes; the natural outcomes and result of the their once prosperous middle class lifestyle now threatened by the budget cuts.

According to BJS,1 at the end of 2009, over 7 million people are incarcerated, on probation, or parole in America today. The vast majority are there for un-acknowledged economic crimes; the forces of which were implemented at the very founding of this country with the enslavement of Afrakan people. That continues to this day as the police state solution. The new slave ships, this time also peopled with other folks brown and white, are packed to the brim with unimaginable torture and horrors, treated like vermin for engaging in economic crimes that are the direct result of laws and policies established concretely to create full employment for the purveyors of injustice.

An evil prison industrial complex feeds tens of thousands of upper income folks while denying the basic human rights of millions then treats their mostly economic crimes with extra-judicial punishment including torture. This includes Prosecutors, Judges, Clerks, Defense Attorneys, prison guards, Janitors, communities that vie for prisons in there towns; the whole system being fed off the bodies of economic prisoners.

We salute those brave souls who initiated the Hunger strike and those who continue the struggle for justice for all of us! We must continue to support them by any and all means necessary!

The struggle continues
July 22, 2011
* [U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics]

——————————————————————————– Kathleen Chalfant, actor
Henry Chalfant, filmmaker and photographer:

We are both appalled by the conditions at Pelican Bay and by the impossibly inhumane treatment given these prisoners in a so-called civilized society—there is simply no excuse. We stand with the inmates in their struggle for decency and justice.

Michel Chossudovsky
Professor of Economics (emeritus), University of Ottawa, Canada Director/Directeur, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal, Canada


I the undersigned have taken cognizance of the deplorable conditions prevailing in the California prison system including the hunger strike affecting 13 prisons involving more than 6,000 inmates.

These prevailing conditions constitute a crime against humanity and a violation of fundamental human rights. The conditions of incarceration and depravation are in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Miriam Cooke, Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University and author of “Dissident Syria”:

How can the U.S. government tolerate the torture and dehumanization of the inmates in Corcoran State prison, Pelican Bay, and other prisons and at the same time condemn other countries for the same violation of human rights? We live in one world and must all fight to eliminate state-sponsored cruelty, beginning with the prisoners in California’s prisons.

——————————————————————————– Kia Corthron, New York City, 7/16/11:

Personal Statement Regarding the 2011 California Prison Strikes

When a citizen of the United States is convicted in the criminal court system, the sentence is a number of days, or weeks, or months, or years. This separation from society is the penalty that is the understanding of jurors who reach a verdict to convict a defendant, and is the understanding of the defendant who made personal decisions regarding his or her plea.

Long-term solitary confinement is not a condition understood by the jury nor the defendant. The ill psychological consequences of such treatment have been affirmed by such diverse persons as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Senator John McCain, who spent three of his five-and-a-half POW years in segregation. The acute psychological adverse effects have been affirmed by Human Rights Watch, which has noted “Suicides occur disproportionately more often in segregation units than elsewhere in prison.”

The abolishment of such primitive practices is among the demands of the incarcerated currently on hunger strike in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay prison, as well as of several thousand prisoners throughout the state. Other appeals seem no less reasonable: an end to group punishment, wherein all members of an assumed group are penalized for the actions of one; an end to the debriefing policy—a bribe of better meals or release from SHU to prisoners in exchange for incriminating information against their fellow inmates, which puts innocent and weaker prisoners at risk of being wrongly accused and punished; the provision of food that is adequate and nutritious, and permission for the inmates to purchase out of their own money vitamin supplements; and a handful of small requests that would boost prisoner morale and thus the inmates’ conduciveness to rehabilitation, such as a weekly phone call, hobby items (colored pencils, watercolors), and the allowance of the receipt of two packages per year.

In short, the hunger strikers, who have not eaten since July 1st, are living in such inhumane conditions that they are risking death in order to be treated with the smallest and most basic of dignities, a minimum of which are required to maintain sanity. For those of us on the outside who believe that the incarcerated are deserving of such psychological retribution, it must be remembered that these men may have long prison sentences but most are not lifers, and that their resultant compounded fury and madness will one day be unleashed on the greater society when they are released; it is therefore in all our interests to provide prisoners with the opportunity to rehabilitate. And for those of us on the outside who believe that the incarcerated are deserving of basic human dignities, it is appalling and tragic to discover through this uprising that such paltry demands have not been automatic in the 21st Century American prison system—the entity in true need of rehabilitation.

(Kia Corthron is a playwright living in New York City. Her plays have been produced in New York, London and in theatres across the U.S.)

——————————————————————————– Peter Coyote, actor:

You could hardly tell by reading the news, but there is a to-the-death hunger strike taking place at Pelican Bay prison, where prisoners have finally tapped out at Draconian 23 hour a day isolation, over-crowding, inability to take correspondence courses, and generalized warehousing and arbitrary punishment of detainees. You might have noticed too, that as the economy tanks, and jobs are outsourced, our country is increasingly using an expanded prison population as a source of income for displaced factory workers, building prisons where useful industries once flourished.

The convicts we are relegating to perpetual holding tanks, will eventually get out—angered certainly, and in many cases ill, and in some cases sociopathic. We are treating these people as “other” and consigning them to oblivion, as if the bill for this callousness will never come due. I urge you to look at the situation, and sign on to support their struggle.

Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party, Served 2 years in Fort Leavenworth Military Prison for refusing to go to Vietnam in 1970:

The people on hunger strike in the prisons in California have stood up and declared that they are human beings, not animals, and that they refuse to submit to the torture being enforced by the California Dept of Corrections.

The hunger strikers have put their lives on the line to fight to achieve their demands, and we must support them. They are asserting their humanity and thru doing that, they are challenging us to reclaim our own humanity—by refusing to allow torture to be carried out in the prison system in our name.

——————————————————————————– Richard Duffee

A serious hunger strike takes will power far beyond the ability of the vast majority of us. No group can organize one unless the conditions it protests are truly horrific. For one who has worked in prisons, it is implausible that such conditions are merely negligent. Inside a prison such conditions are much discussed, and are worsened in order to injure inmates the staff believes insufficiently compliant. More damningly, knowledge of foul conditions filters upwards from prisons to other state offices, and to the legislature. A detention center for delinquent inner city youth in Boston where I taught in 1985 spent $36,000 a year per adolescent, which was more than tuition at Harvard at the time, and nearly all of that money was spent making them miserable. Meanwhile, the program with the lowest recidivism rate was an outward-bound type program in which kids built trails in state parks and forests. The Massachusetts legislature cancelled the forest program because they thought it wasn’t punitive enough. The mania for punishment increases crime while damaging and alienating everyone it touches. And for this a large network of state officials are responsible. If we tolerate such abuse without comment, we are guilty too.

——————————————————————————– Nawal El Saadawi, Cairo, Egypt:

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 is a renowned Egyptian novelist, doctor, and feminist activist. She has been involved in the 2011 uprising in Egypt.)

Eve Ensler, Tony Award winning playwright, performer, and activist, author of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES and founder of V-Day, a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls:

The U.S. prisons are our greatest shame. We must all stand in solidarity with the brave inmates of Pelican Bay who have risked their lives to make visible the abhorrent conditions, injustice, torture and humiliation that is their daily existence. Their struggle is our struggle.

——————————————————————————– Shepard Fairey, artist:

I believe in human rights in every arena. A moral, civilized, society requires those in authority to set an ethical example even when dealing with individuals, like prison inmates, who may have behaved undesirably. In fact, authorities have a much greater duty to behave morally because their position is only credible if they lead by example. Unfortunately, authorities often do not live up to these important principles. I have been arrested and jailed for short periods, many times, so I know how cruel law enforcement can be to the incarcerated. The inmates, especially those on hunger strike, have my sympathy and support. Everyone deserves to be treated humanely and the demands for which the inmates are hunger striking are not only absolutely reasonable and logical, but essential. Please read more and ask those in charge to fulfill their moral obligations and improve prison conditions.

Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University (for ID purposes only)

I support the call in support of the hunger striking prisoners, and you can forward the following statement if you think it is helpful:

“It is sad that it requires a massive hunger strike by prisoners to call attention to the deplorable conditions that have long prevailed in California prisons, and we call upon our elected leaders, citizens, and media to acknowledge the urgency and justice of the appeal, and to take immediate steps to establish prison conditions befitting the inalienable dignity of ALL human beings.”

——————————————————————————– Mike Ferner, Interim Director, Veterans For Peace:

If you’ve never been locked up, you cannot have a legitimate opinion about what kind of treatment prison inmates deserve. And that goes for everyone who has ever ignorantly said, “We don’t owe these people a hotel room, you know.”

If you have been locked up, you know that the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers and the inmates joining them in other prisons are the most courageous people in this land. They are facing possible death and certain retribution from a system and from individuals who literally hold the power of life and death over them.

How many times have we driven past one of the rapidly-expanding number of prisons in our country, feeling a small twinge of the despair that smothers everything inside the razor wire? Usually our minds hurry to other concerns in the realm of the free, but now we are given the opportunity to take a moment and stand in support of our fellow human beings when it could really make a difference.

Please join me in writing to California Governor Jerry Brown, someone with a reputation for compassion and Matthew Cate, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

We owe it to our own souls.

——————————————————————————– Margaret Flowers, M.D.:

I write to express support for the prisoners of California who are on a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions and treatment. A hunger strike is not something that is done lightly. This hunger strike has unified prisoners who are otherwise at odds with each other. It reflects the severity of their circumstances. Long-term solitary confinement causes permanent psychological harm. Abusive punishment, requiring prisoners to spy on each other and false accusation create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Rather than healing and rehabilitation of the prisoners, these circumstances worsen their condition. I ask the prison authorities to negotiate in good faith with the prisoners. And I hope that the awareness of the situation will spark a broader movement to end the failed drug war and use evidence-based drug policy and to adopt modern prison policies based on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

——————————————————————————– George Flynn

I think the statement by the ACLU regarding the hunger strike expresses my own view cogently. I hope the prison authorities respond to the situation swiftly, in a humane manner.

——————————————————————————– reg e. gaines, poet and playwright:

If you would just stop and think about the last time you were hungry, truly hungry and could do nothing about it, you would probably have to go back to your childhood. Not a lovely image but a feeling which is easy to disregard once you have reached adulthood and can basically eat whenever you want. As Malcolm said, give a starving man the choice between a naked woman and a steak, the steak wins out every time. Now think about a person choosing to go through the hunger pains, the withering body, the loss of strength, lack of energy, inability to read, think, even sleep. Now imagine this is of your choosing due to conditions and policies which run in direct opposition to acts of decency, humanity, sensitivity. In other words, I would rather starve myself to death then to be made to live under oppressive conditions most human beings would find deplorable if experienced for themselves. To be hungry is perhaps the world’s greatest injustice. To bring hunger upon ones self to draw attention to deplorable conditions and even more blatant rules, regulations and policies, is, at the very least, the mark of a true revolutionary. Support the prisoners at Pelican Bay by making your own personal statement of protest. Go a day without a slice of bread, a glass of water, a piece of fruit, a cup of coffee. See the strength it takes to deprive ones self of the BAsics.


Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President Freedom From Religion Foundation
Dear Governor and Secretary:
Today’s Supermaxes make Alcatraz and the old chain gangs look like resorts.

It is cruel and inhumane to warehouse any person in solitary confinement, much less confine prisoners to the torture of cement box “Supermaxes”—windowless cells devoid of fresh air or sunlight; in which prisoners have no occupation or activities, or any meaningful interaction with others.

Such cruel and inhumane treatment is in flagrant disregard of accepted prison protocol, much less the Geneva Convention. It is time to put an end to brutality in the name of justice, and to reject the primitive, retributive “old testament” notion of punishment for its own sake.

The hunger-striking prisoners’ requests are pathetically modest. Why shouldn’t they be allowed a weekly phone call or a wall calendar or their weekly meal allotments? Most important is their right as human beings to meaningful contact and activities, and freedom from “extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm.”

Whatever any particular prisoner may (or may not) have done or been convicted of, does not provide license to the rest of our society to dehumanize and brutalize a whole class of persons. If, with a light conscience, our society deliberately subjects a captive human being, relentlessly and cruelly, to deplorable living conditions, and physical and mental torture, we rob not only them but ourselves of our humanity.

Close down the disgraceful Supermaxes.

——————————————————————————– Jerome Gold, author:

Statement about Pelican Bay

Everybody in America knows someone who is in prison or who has been in prison, or knows someone who knows someone in prison or who has been. At any given moment between two and three million people, adults and children, are in a state or federal prison. When you include people who are locked up in county or metropolitan jails, the number of those incarcerated is more than double that statistic. (At the end of 2009, 7,225,800 adults, about one of every 32 adults in the United States, were incarcerated. In 2006, 92,854 children were held in juvenile facilities, and an unknown number in adult facilities.) When you consider that the level of incarceration began its meteoric rise more than a generation ago, and take into account inmate turnover—people are released and other people come in—you realize that tens of millions of people have served time. Even presidents of the United States have known, or do know, people who are in prison, or who have been.

I went to high school with two boys who had been in prison. One became a high school principal; I don’t know what became of the other one. When I was a child, a cook in one of my parents’ restaurants was a former inmate. One of my closest childhood friends spent a year locked up on a marijuana charge when we were in our early twenties. When I was in the army, a friend went to Leavenworth for several months for having gone AWOL. I ran across him ten years later; he was driving a cross-country bus. There have been others. A mechanic who worked on my car had served time as a juvenile. I met a woman, a state employee, who was locked up when she was a girl, and another woman who had served time in a federal prison for selling drugs. I had a cousin who spent five years in San Quentin, got out and died a few months later from a heroin overdose.

As I write this, I think of still others I have known who had been locked away, though I would not have known had they not told me. Thinking of them, I don’t ordinarily think of the fact of their imprisonment, but see them in my mind’s eye as have known them: as someone I worked beside, telling jokes between phone calls; as a political activist, speaking with irony and rage about an injustice; as a friend describing the sculpture she was working on; as a collector of antiquarian books. I find it hard to believe that the course of my life has been unusual in placing in the proximity of people who have been in prison. I grew up in the middle class. My father was a manager in one of the aerospace companies. Incidentally, all but one of the people I mentioned in the last paragraph are, or in the case of my cousin, were white.

All of this is by way of saying that inmates at Pelican Bay and everywhere else deserve to be treated as we would like to be treated. They are no less human than we are. In fact, given the rate of incarceration in the United States, we, you and I, may one day find ourselves in their place. Predictably, projecting these same statistics, some of us will

indeed find ourselves there, as will some of our children and some of our grandchildren. By speaking out for humane treatment now, we are investing in our own futures and in the future of our children and those who follow them.

(Jerome Gold is the author of the book Paranoia & Heartbreak: Fifteen Years in a Juvenile Facility)

——————————————————————————– Frances Goldin, literary agent:

The United States does not need another Attica! Our prison system is archaic, racist and inhuman!

The prisoners demands are JUSTIFIED! Respond by granting their demands. Prison Reform is long overdue. Start today with California!

——————————————————————————– Candace Gorman, Attorney for Guantanamo prisoners

I applaud the men at Pelican Bay for putting their lives on the line in their desperate attempt to show the American people, and the world, the cruel and inhumane conditions in the United States prison system. As Nelson Mandela once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Isn’t it time that we all raise our voice and say “enough?” How many of these men will have to die before action is taken to end the barbarous conditions that these and so many others in this country are held under in our prison system?

——————————————————————————– Sam Hamill, poet:

I join the inmates of Pelican Bay, Corcoran State and other prisons in their demands for humane treatment of all incarcerated people. I hope the American people will demand the same. The shameful injustice of our horrific treatment of inmates is an ugly stain on our national character.

Peter J. Harris, poet, Artistic Director, Inspiration House, Los Angeles:

I am no expert on the complexities of prisons, corrections, crime and punishment. I do not know the stories of the men convicted and confined to Pelican Bay. I am just a citizen. A citizen who believes in living as humanely as possible, a citizen who demands that his government operate in an ethical, lawful manner. Even within a supermax prison, these are fellow citizens, these are human beings. I do not support confining them indefinitely out of sight, out of mind. I do not support prison officials pimping them for information. I do not support prison officials setting them up for retaliation. I do not support locking human beings in boxes (even those convicted of crimes). I am not naive. I recognize power as the currency of our society. And I embrace my power as an engaged citizen. I join my voice to those of the hunger strikers and their demands. I join my voice to those who support the hunger strikers. I am proud to be among the company of the citizens seeking to create a humane 21st Century America of the people, by the people and for the people.

——————————————————————————– Wang Hui, Professor, Tsinghua University, Beijing

A political system can be judged by the way it treats society’s most unfortunate members, including prisoners. I stand with those who protest this inhumane treatment.

Professor John Hutnyk
Academic Director, Center for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London:

Have circulated this widely and stand…

…in solidarity with hunger strikers in the California prison system, noting this also as a warning for the UK, as the con- dem coalition moves to close, crowd and privatize prisons here. I was appalled to read of the conditions in California, and of course was reminded of all the campaigners that have fought so far, and are fighting still, against the racist, white supremacist, corporate (even when its State) prison-industrial-cultural complex that tortures, on camera or in secret, that abuses and insults, that has no legitimacy, that has no respect, that should be torn down.

Solidarity to all: we cannot be free here when there we are in chains.


July 14, 2011

The International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment in Conjunction with The West Coast Coalition FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!




Who: International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment in conjunction with the West Coast Coalition. What: Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
When: Now!
Where: Pelican Bay Prison and the 13 other prisons who have joined in solidarity

Why: Massive Human Rights Violations and Inhumane treatment

Cleveland, Ohio: As the largest National Network of grassroots, faith and community based organization dedicated to Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment we are calling on all of our member organizations and like minded human beings to support the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike. ICUPJE serves as an umbrella organization with over 35 affiliates throughout the United States and globally. For over 17 years, the Council has sponsored several National Urban Peace (Street Organization) and Justice Summits. The Council has initiated prevention, intervention and transformation work all over the U.S. and globally to affect change in the lives of youth impacted by racism, poverty, inequality and injustice.

On July 1, 2011, many of the prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison in California began a hunger strike after all efforts to receive humane treatment fell on deaf ears. These brothers are in the Secure Housing Unit are seeking an end to torture and improved conditions that in their complaint would be increase their privileges to those of the inmates in the Federal Florence Colorado and Ohio Supermax Systems. These brothers have been enduring inadequate medical care, at times being chained down if they ask for medical care, enduring years of isolation and no human contact, inadequate clothing, denial of any chance of taking programs to get their lives on track such as correspondence courses, not being able to have a photograph taken of them to send to relatives-the list of horrors is endless.

One of the most disturbing is the “debriefing” process, which an inmate must do to get transferred out of the SHU or even be given a chance for parole. This process basically demands an inmate become an informant, giving details of gang affiliation and associates of inmates, placing themselves as well as their families at risk for retaliation. Most of the inmates who have been in the SHU for the last 10-35+ years have never been convicted of a single gang-related illegal-act. In some cases this has caused inmates to falsify information on other inmates, causing further restrictions on the inmate.

Inmates cannot hug their wives and children but must see them through a glass, and that is with very limited visitation. Imagine living 20 or 30 years with no human contact or touch. Imagine inadequate medical care, denial of assistive medical devices, imagine horrible food and inadequate clothing. Now imagine that this prisoner of war camp does not exist in Nazi Germany, but in the State of California. Now imagine your son or your brother or your husband or your father was incarcerated there. As human beings, these men are our brothers, fathers, uncles, husbands and grandfathers.

——————————————————————————– Ron Jacobs, author and journalist:

I strongly support the demands of the hunger strikers in California State Prisons. For too long the living conditions in California’s prisons have been inhumane and inexcusable. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with this appraisal. In addition, the use of torture and the isolation of prisoners in the Secure Housing Units of prisons like the one at Pelican Bay constitute a violation of basic human rights. People should not be forced to starve themselves to be treated like humans. There is no honest reason not to grant the striking prisoners’ demands. If any of the striking

prisoners die, their deaths will be on the State of California’s hands. I urge Governor Brown and the appropriate authorities to grant the demands of the hunger strikers and their supporters.

——————————————————————————– Derrick Jensen, author

I used to teach at Pelican Bay State Prison, and in fact used to teach people who had been housed in the SHU for years. Some had been locked down for decades. By any reasonable definition, holding someone in these conditions of long-term isolation constitutes torture, and as such is immoral.

Before I began teaching at the prison, the person who became my supervisor emphasized the importance of treating those who would be my students with respect. I will never forget what he said to me: “The punishment for their crimes is that they will be removed from society. Their punishment does not include being disrespected by you or by anyone.” I would certainly add that likewise, their punishment should not include torture.

Dedon Kamathi, Producer & Host of KPFK’s Radio Program Freedom Now

On behalf of our production team we fully support and will continually provide air time to the 5 demands of the Prison Hunger Strikers, an action that follows the rich tradition of prisoners civil rights protests to challenge the prison industrial complex. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does neither correction nor rehabilitation and it is to be commended that these brave men regardless of race and status and punishment united on a fundamental principle of human rights the right to safe living environment in fact providing direction to the CDCR. We stand in full solidarity.

——————————————————————————– Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.:

As a matter of basic humanity and support for the principles of justice, all Americans should support the protest of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other California prisons. Driven by desperation over the conditions of their incarceration, and double-dealing by the state prison authorities, they are putting their very lives on the line to let the public know about the injurious and inhumane conditions under which they are incarcerated. The solitary confinement and the indefinite terms under which that such isolation is endured is a fact of life in the SHU units. It amounts to torture.

Yet it is not without its diabolical intent, as the psychological coercion of isolation, the weakening of inmate will by providing inadequate food, and the constant and institutional demands to inform on other prisoners, even at the cost of an end to the torture, goes against all domestic and international laws and treaties, and is itself a crime worthy of investigation and prosecution. It is uncomfortably similar to conditions of detention and interrogation implemented at Guantanamo and certain other U.S. Department of Defense and CIA interrogation centers. Such procedures have been a part of the Federal and state Supermax prisons for almost 30 years now. Failure to end such conditions of imprisonment are an affront to humanity, and have ensured the perpetuation of such conditions even to today. It is not clear that one rationale or operation of such prisons has been to research the effects of stress and physical and psychological deprivation upon prisoners. This is something that should be seriously looked into by legislators and judges, as well as the press.

U.S. prison and national security authorities have stepped over the bounds of basic human rights, and should be held accountable. It is most pressing that the demands of the prisoners be met: an end to group punishment of prisoners, an end to the hated “debriefing” system, compliance with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement, independent monitoring of food and sanitation (to ensure adequate provision of each), and the provision of constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates, including opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities.”

——————————————————————————– Lierre Keith, author

Please add my name to the list of supporters for the hunger strike. ——————————————————————————–

Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History and American Studies, University of Southern California:

Anyone who believes in human rights, the rule of law, and the sanctity of our Constitution must support the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay State and demand that prison authorities respond to demands immediately. The use of long- term, indefinite solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) is inhumane, a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment, and violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture. The situation is urgent. The hunger strikers cannot hang on much longer, so we must do whatever it takes to bring this crisis to an end. If prison authorities refuse to abide by the law, I hope the Attorney General, Kamala Harris, might intervene and impose the rule of law on the prison in defense of prisoners’ basic human rights.

I urge everyone to take action, make statements, bring this horrific situation to the world’s attention.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, Iranian academic, writer and literary figure, Professor of Persian Language and Comparative Literature and chair of the department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis:

I am an Iranian American academic and activist who has worked for peace and justice all her life. One of my chief concerns has always been the harsh conditions in Iranian prisons particularly for Iranian political prisoners. Yesterday, your website was brought to my attention and the California prisoners who are on hunger strike demanding more humane conditions and freedom from torture (including long periods of solitary confinement).

I am writing to you to express my full support for strikers demand to be treated humanely and kept free from physical and psychological torture.

My prayers for peace in the world and best wishes for you. Best,

——————————————————————————– Joyce Kozloff, artist:

It’s time for the State of California to begin negotiations with the prisoners, whose legitimate demands must be respected.

——————————————————————————– Rev. Rich Lang, University Temple United Methodist:

What we are doing in our prisons is fundamentally immoral and cruel. As a society we have given up on believing that prison can be a time of rehabilitation goaled towards the re-entry of the prisoner back into society as a productive contributor to the civil order. Rather than this prison has become a place of punishment. It is no longer enough to separate the prisoner from society through restrictions of freedom. Today we, as a society, have created places of damnation where prisoners are left to rot while facing enormous abuses and assaults on their safety, their sanity and the very basic structure of their personality. Prison has become a place for ongoing torture, the torment of the human being until complete passivity and despair become the primary characteristic of the prisoner. From the simple basics of receiving visits from family and friends, to the even simpler basics of receiving communications via phone calls or mail become enormously complex interactions with the Department of Corrections which, evidently, has as its primary role the goal of isolating the prisoner from all outside contact. What does this say about the morality of our nation? It is a basic spiritual given that how we treat the least in our midst will become how we treat each other. Without a moral base of basic trust, an earnest desire to heal the wounded, and to reconcile and restore individuals back into the society from which they have come, without a basic affirmation that human beings can be good, without such a moral foundation society itself collapses into a continual war of domination of the stronger over the weaker. That prisoners are so tormented that they engage in the act of hunger strikes, that such actions spread throughout the prison system, and amongst those who personally know prisoners, speaks with a loud, loud voice that something is fundamentally amiss within these secret chambers away from public accountability. I write in strong protest against the systematic torture at the core of our current immoral prison system. I write in stronger affirmation for the prisoners whose actions will hopefully lead to reform and the restoration of civic morality.


Heinz Leitner

I am a retired official of the Federal Ministry of Labour in Vienna, Austria, and a former representative of this organization in the Austrian Board of Paroles for some time. I am in full solidarity with the inmates in their courageous protest against inhumane conditions in the prisons.

Solidarity Without Borders

——————————————————————————– Harry Lennix, Actor:

I, too, am in support of the striking California prisoners. As Dostoevsky said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” There is no doubt in my mind that the dishonorable, clearly unjust, and viciously inhumane state of our prisons bespeak a kind of artificial intelligence. More plainly, the treatment of fellow human beings who are incarcerated, many of whom are behind bars due to the disparities of our so-called democracy, is due to a lack of opportunity in the outside world. This reinforces the view that our fellow citizens behind bars can be treated as statistics and not as people. The state of California has acknowledged at least this much in the call for the release of 40,000 prisoners due to obviously inhumane conditions that qualify as “cruel and unusual.” I stand with all concerned Americans who are demanding reform of our prison system. California is as a likely a place to begin as any other state, for the urgency of redressing this issue has additional purchase of it being the most populous, and therefore the most vulnerable to indoctrinating and repeating, the savage cycle of making criminal behavior habitual as a direct function of the prison industrial complex.

In solidarity,

——————————————————————————– Dennis Loo, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Cal Poly Pomona:

I write with alarm at the desperate situation that prisoners at Pelican Bay and elsewhere face today. Some of the prisoners are already in renal failure, yet the prison administrators continue to refuse to even meet with prison representatives to discuss the prisoners’ just and humane demands.

A society’s level of humanity or inhumanity can be read by looking at how it treats those it incarcerates. By that measure, we as a people and society are in deep trouble. The prisoners who have stood up and said “No more” and I would rather die than see these injustices and this inhumanity continue, are doing what real human beings must do. They deserve our support and solidarity, for they carry the weight of our collective souls on their shoulders.

I am a criminologist and have studied, taught, and written about prisons and jails for many years. It therefore comes as no surprise to me to hear that prisoners are systematically mistreated or that prisons are overcrowded and subjected to the kind of conditions that you would create if you actually wanted to exacerbate the problem of crime and poverty. What is heartrending and striking, however, is observing the startling parallels between how much more savage prisons have become and the impact of the so-called “war on terror” (WOT) on our society more generally.

There is a general degrading underway of public administration and political leadership that emanates from the very highest levels of the U.S. government, with the willing collusion – or at least silence – of much of the major media. In that degrading of public leadership, the most draconian policies are now becoming the standard operating procedure and rule by lies and terror, and indifference to the fates of people who do not toe the official line, are now the rule.

In the WOT people who the government dislikes, both actual terrorists and those who are merely dissenters engaging in or merely contemplating dissenting speech and/or assembly and/or thought are all being labeled enemies of the state. The repressive powers of the state are being expanded and intensified to pre-emptively repress people from exercising Constitutional rights such as free speech. In prisons the prison administrators likewise label prisoners “gang members” as a form of repression, designating people as gang members whether they are actually gang members or not.

In the WOT torture and indefinite detention has been and is being used to extract “confessions” from detainees with the net cast exceedingly widely to include mostly entirely innocent individuals. This is not a mistake or an accident. The purpose of torture is not intelligence. The purpose of torture is terror and that is why capricious treatment of innocents is a core component of torture: you are supposed to be terrorized by its use into complying with whatever authority tells you to do and think because you could be the next innocent victim. In prisons torture and long-term isolation are being used to terrorize prisoners. “Debriefings” are being used in an attempt to get prisoners to “name names,” much as the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of the McCarthy period did. “Naming names” is seen

by those who act as inquisitors as the ultimate act of submission to authority because you are implicating your friends and family.

The WOT is a form of collective punishment and prison administrators are using collective punishment in prisons, with punishment meted out to everyone, not just the individuals who have actually violated rules.

These parallels are not a coincidence. They are a natural and inevitable consequence of rule by plutocrats. People who see this must find every way to resist and to support those who are resisting. A new day must come, for the darkness grows ever deeper and malignant.

——————————————————————————– Mary

I stand firm with this Hunger Strike and Solidarity for my Loved ones my friends and All who are in this struggle for human respect and a better life. Just a little note on conditions in prisons ( INHUMANE ). I am a X-Convict and what goes on in there is real. C.D.C.R. Don’t give a shit all they want is for those on the outside world to think they have everything under control, WRONG nothing is what it seems and as for what these Men and Loved ones of ours are asking for should not be a problem for C.D.C.R. They can pay a correctional officer the big bucks but what good does it do? The inmates still are treated the same and i should know as many times i have been incarcerated in several prison’s I know what goes on. So I give my all SUPPORT TO ALL THE MEN AND WOMAN WHO ARE ON THIS HUNGER STRIKE!!!!! I only hope that we can resolve this issue before we lose our Loved One’s. “I pray that God gives them the strength to carry out what they are fighting for AMEN”

——————————————————————————– Ray McGovern

July 22, 2011 Dear Gov. Brown,

I’m thinking that the Jesuits who educated you probably told you, as they did me, that Ignatius of Loyola required all Jesuits, including the highly educated ones, to empty bedpans at local hospitals and prisons on a regular basis.

The current crisis in California prisons brings this to mind and prompts my appeal to you to remember what you and I learned in high school and college in the Fifties. A huge opportunity has been dropped on your doorstep to bring Justice for those in prison.

Ignatius wanted to ensure that his followers in the Society of Jesus would not forsake the society of ordinary—often marginalized—folks like the ones Jesus of Nazareth hung out with.

Ignatius, you may remember, was all too familiar with the kind of suffering and oppression in hospitals and prisons. The bedpan requirement was his way of warning his followers not to trade Jesus’s preferential option for the poor for the allure of ivory towers—or for governors’ mansions, for that matter.

Let me fast-forward to one of Ignatius’s more recent successors—Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, S.J., who led the Society from 1983 to 2008. Like so many Jesuits Kolvenbach was over-educated in the Academy. By the time he became Superior General, though, he had gotten Jesus’s main thrust exactly right, saying this:

“Personal involvement with the injustice others suffer is the catalyst for solidarity. This, then, gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.”

And so did Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., get it right. Speaking last November on the 21st anniversary of the murder of his six Jesuit colleagues in San Salvador, their housekeeper and her daughter, Ellacuria warned:

“Cuando la situación histórica se define en términos de injusticia y opresión, no hay amor cristiano sin lucha por la justicia.” ["When the historical situation is defined in terms of injustice and oppression, there is no Christian love without a fight for justice."]

Very much in the same tradition is Dean Brackley, S.J., who was a professor at my alma mater, Fordham University, and also a community organizer in my native Bronx. Dean left immediately for El Salvador to replace one of the slain Jesuits, and has been there ever since. Before he left, Dean put his theology in language we Bronxites could readily grasp:

“It all depends on who you think God is, and how God feels when little people get pushed around.”

Governor Brown, I believe I know “where you’re coming from,” as folks say these days. At Fordham Prep and College during the 1950s in the Bronx, I experienced the best of the Ratio Studiorum and the college curricula the Jesuits had to offer. You had a similar, if not identical, experience in high school and college in California.

But nothing is perfect. I’ve since become aware of one earlier misunderstanding. In Moral Theology we were taught that the basic thing to remember was the mandate to “Do good and avoid evil.”

Taking refresher courses in theology at Georgetown several years ago, I learned that this formula is only half-right. We are not called to avoid evil; we are called to confront it — in the prison system, and anywhere else injustice reigns.

Again, I think I know where you’re coming from, but I cannot say I know where you’re going. It’s hard to see you now in the same frame with bedpans — the ones at Pelican Bay, for example. This may be metaphor, but it is, I would suggest, a telling one. And I would urge you to reflect on it.

Are you afraid that, if you rise to Kolvenbach’s invitation to “personal involvement with the injustice others suffer,” this might leave you no option but to act prophetically—and take the political flak? Please don’t get tied up in political knots. I’m guessing you still believe that the eventual reward for a prophetic stance will be out of this world, so to speak.

I guess what I am really asking you is to go back to your roots. Pay heed not only to the example of Jesuits like Kolvenbach, Ellacuria and Brackley, but also to Bishop Oscar Romero, who so often repeated to the oppressed Salvadoran people what Jesus repeated with similar frequency: “Don’t be afraid.” Romero was quite specific in his challenge:

“Hay cristiano hoy en dia significa no temer, no callar por miedo.” ["To be a Christian today means not being afraid, not silenced by fear."]

Silence, inaction are not options for followers of Jesus and Ignatius, both of whom mandated preferential concern and care for the marginalized—prisoners, for example.

You are in a unique position to do Justice. Do it, Jerry, ad majorem Dei gloriam — AMDG, the emblematic Jesuit motto.

In Truth, Justice, and (then) Peace,

Ray McGovern
Tell the Word
The Ecumenical Church of the Saviour Washington, DC

Cynthia McKinney, former Georgia Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Presidential Nominee

The prison-industrial-media-banking complex and the military-industrial-media-banking complex feed on all of us; they both are rooted in lies, injustice, war, and indignity. Today, our policy makers prop up poverty, militarism, and racism with their words and their votes. We, the people, need a revolution of values, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us. You, my brave imprisoned strikers, are at the forefront of that revolution. Your stand is the ultimate stand, representing the dignity of the rest of us in a country whose leadership has gone mad.

——————————————————————————– William S. Miller

I agree with the prisoner strike. I have a son who is incarcerated, his sentence is natural life. Over the years I have not been able to send him money on a regular basis. He constantly complains about being hungry. It grieves my heart the inhumanity that is carried out in the name of justice.

Shahrzad Mojab, Professor, University of Toronto and the coordinator of the Memory, Memoirs and the Art: Women Political Prisoners of the Middle East project:

I am appalled to hear about the condition of the inmates of Corcoran State prison. I have been studying the condition of women political prisoners in the Middle East for decades. The voices of these courageous women have reached the international community; they have told us about torture, rape, and overall inhumane conditions of imprisonment. However, and most importantly, they have informed us about resisting the violent act of incarceration through hunger strike or raising their voice loud enough to travel beyond the prison walls. Learning about the hunger strike of prisoners in California has evoked the images of suffering and sacrifice, but mostly hope in building solidarity. I stand in solidarity with the prisoners and request an urgent end to their suffering by addressing their demands.

Tom Morello, musician, The Nightwatchman, Rage Against the Machine

On Mandela’s bday Support Pelican Bay inmates hunger strike! Calif meet their 5 human rights demands! [tweeted July 18th]

——————————————————————————– DYING FOR SUNLIGHT
a commentary by
Mumia Abu Jamal

July 15, 2011

Today, at the notorious California super-maximum prison, Pelican Bay, hundreds of prisoners are on a hunger strike. As of July 1, 2011 a number of men ceased eating state meals in protest of horrendously long-term confinement, government repression, lack of programs and the hated gang affiliation rules.

According to California Prison Focus, the health of some the men are dangerously deteriorating. Some have ceased drinking, as well as eating and haven’t urinated in days. Some are threatened by renal failure, which can result in death.

Why? The demands of the strikers seem relatively tame, which gives us some insight into the level of repression. The five core demands are:

Individual instead of group responsibility.
Abolition of the “gang-debriefing” policy, which endangers both those who debrief and/or their families.
An end to long-term solitary confinement.
Adequate food, and
Constructive programs, such as art, phone privileges and the like.
A sub-demand is adequate natural sunlight – sunlight. There are few things more torturous than dying by starvation. These men are killing themselves potentially for fresh air and sunlight, and about a third of California prisoners, 11 out of 33 prisons, have joined them.

Contact the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition to find out how to support this effort for human rights. On the web at: prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.

——————————————————————————– National Religious Campaign Against Torture

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture sent this notice out to its 9,000 members in California. Dear NRCAT Supporters in CA:

Hunger strikes are the last resort of prisoners protesting inhumane conditions of confinement. We have seen that happen at Guantánamo, and now it is happening at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California, where hundreds of prisoners are held in prolonged solitary confinement, a form of torture.

Prisoners across the state launched a hunger strike on July 1, demanding changes for prisoners in long-term solitary confinement in the “Special Housing Unit” (SHU). Conditions are so bad they have preferred to starve themselves to death rather than live another week in such torturous conditions and let future prisoners endure the same conditions.

As people of faith committed to ending torture, we must support this call as a part of our work to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

After two weeks, at least 200 prisoners continue their hunger strike at Pelican Bay, where medical staff reported earlier this week:

“The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.”

Please take action today to prevent these prisoners from dying!
Send an e-mail to Governor Brown
urging that the hunger strike be addressed in a humane and rational way.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has so far refused to negotiate with either the prisoners or their outside mediation team and refused to end even the most egregious injustices or improve conditions. If CDCR continues on this path, prisoners may die in the coming days.

Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity is coordinating the statewide campaign to support the prisoners and providing up-to- date information. You can also read the prisoners’ five core demands and their “formal complaint,” which lays out the foundation for the demands. Amplify your voice – send a message to your friends.

Thank you for taking action today. Sincerely,

John Humphries
Director for Program Coordination

The following was posted at: The Next Front website: thenextfront.com

Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Prisoners Dated: 21 July,2011

First of all we the revolutionary intellectuals–writers and journalists of Nepal, would like to express our strong Solidarity with the pelican bay hunger strikes, the strikes against inhumanity and brutal injustices. In support of them we are posting a poem of our great martyr, a great poet and a political leader–Krishnasen Ichchhuk.

During the Ten years People’s war, the fascist government lead by Nepali Congress declared the period of emergency. During this period a large number of culture activists were shot dead. At that time Krishna Sen, the chairman of All Nepal Peoples Cultural Association and editor of popular daily news paper Janadisha, was captured and murdered brutally in the police custody. Now we have Krishna sen ‘Ichchhuk Cultural Academy’.

This is an extract from Krishna sen’s popular long poem Chandragiri and Prisoner (2000 AD). Chandragiri is a historic hill in the southward of the Kathmandu valley. He had written this long poem during his long imprisonment.

Dear Chandragiri!

I tried to live full and true life till I lived in the dual paths of light and dark
I chose the first
amidst the antagonistic milieu

I adopted truth with full devotion however, life is not perfect
I may have made mistakes dear comrades!

for my mistakes, forgive me after a long dark night
the day of hope of liberation will come once

as the shining light of dawn

from the seeds of our hope
the new plant will sprout one day flowers of hope must bloom
till human beings are not human
life is not like life
and till this land is not
transformed into charming village
until then
our firm journey of devotion shall persist with an aim of building a collective world our dream world of hope
will be materialized into a colorful reality and this era of twenty-first century
shall be the era of our grand liberation and this new century
shall be the era of our grand victory.

——————————————————————————– Suzanne Oboler, Professor and Editor, Latino Studies:

The conditions in US prisons today are appalling—brutal, violent, and thoroughly inhumane. The inmates on hunger strike at Pelican Bay and other prisons are literally putting their lives on the line, fighting for their dignity and for their right to have rights. I fully support the prisoners at Pelican Bay in their courageous struggle to affirm their humanity— and ours!

——————————————————————————– Professor Bertell Ollman, Dept. of Politics, New York University:

Sometimes it takes the least fortunate and most oppressed members of society to act in ways that force the rest of us to see how human beings should treat other human beings. In this case, it is not only for their sake but for ours as well. Does the lesson come too late? I hope not … for all of our sakes.

——————————————————————————– William Parker, Musician:

The general public has no idea of the horrific inhuman conditions that exist within the United States penal system. A system which has been a breeding ground for crime, violence and drugs. Change / Abolishment of the prison system is long over due. Act now!

44 participants of the 17th Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference

Petition To Support The Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers

We, the undersigned participants in the 17th Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference being held in Chicago July 20-23, are motivated in our thinking and actions by the theme of this conference “We Are Each Other’s Harvest.” In Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem entitled “Paul Robeson,” she writes, “[W]e are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

In that spirit, we stand with the prisoners who are in the third week of their hunger strike against the inhumane conditions in Pelican Bay SHU and other California prisons. Decades of solitary confinement with no end in sight, no court to appeal to, no human contact, and no sunlight is torture, and we salute the humanity of the prisoners who are taking their fate in their own hands to protest these conditions. We urge the state officials to meet with the prisoners’ negotiating team, accept their reasonable demands, and save these prisoners’ lives. And we encourage others to join us in spreading the word of this heroic hunger strike and raising our voices in protest. By acting to uphold the humanity of these prisoners, we have an opportunity to reclaim our own humanity and demonstrate that “We are each other’s harvest.”

Signed by 44 participants of the 17th Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference Chicago, IL


Larry Pinkney, Editorial Board Member & Columnist, THE BLACK COMMENTATOR

I express my strongest solidarity with the hunger strike of these courageous prisoners in California (and elsewhere) who are protesting the outrageous and inhumane treatment, which includes torture in the U.S. prison gulag system. “Justice delayed is justice denied;” and it is the human duty of all people of conscience and good will to support these prisoners.

——————————————————————————– Katha Pollitt, author and columnist, The Nation magazine:

All prisoners deserve humane conditions, no matter what their crime. If Pelican Bay were in a foreign country, we would be horrified. I support the prisoners on hunger strike, and urge authorities to support their demands.

——————————————————————————– Anthony Rayson on behalf of South Chicago ABC

Courage is Contagious

We are here today in downtown Chicago, home to the world’s largest jail complex—Cook County Jail—to show our support to the brave, conscious and determined brothers who are starting their fourth week of an indefinite hunger strike, out west at the Pelican bay Secured Housing Units. They are forced to live under Guantanamo Bay-like conditions.

Their five core demands are:

End administrative abuse and group punishment.
Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
Comply with U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding and end to long-term solitary confinement.
Provide adequate food.
Expand and provide constrictive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.
It’s not just the Pelican Bay prisoners who are now on strike! Seven prisons and over seven thousand prisoners have taken their battle stations at their respective Cali gulags.

One hundred brave brothers started this thing, resolving to strike unto death, if necessary! This is on the heels of the largest prison strike in American history, up until now, which occurred recently in several prisons in Georgia, which are nothing more than slave plantations, dolled up with legal mumbo jumbo.

The growing hunger strike movement is already on the level, internationally, of the Irish hunger strikers of the 1980’s – ten of whom painfully gave up their young lives for the cause. Their hearts too were bursting with love for the people.

This is a significant opportunity to put the prison struggle back on the front burner (where it rightfully belongs) of the generalized struggle against this hideous death machine of a government.

It only took one man, who pushed a vegetable cart for a living in Tunisia, to set the spark that lit the flame that is now roaring into a social conflagration in the Middle East. Dictators have been toppled—or are quaking in fear behind the blood-soaked overcoat of Uncle Sam.

The prisoners at Pelican Bay and in every state, are in there for us, it is our historic task to be out here for real, for them. This goes for all the other oppressed people in this country, who are oppressed by this system.

What is it going to take to set off the political prairie fire needed right here in the belly of the beast? I’ve got an idea and it’s very simple, it goes like this:


Abolish the Prison Slave System!
Down with Criminals who hide behind black nightgowns, expensive suits, badges, guns, gas, cuffs, clubs and cages! To hell with their million laws that we never agreed to!

Why the hell would we agree to allowing them to extort, kidnap and murder us with impunity?

William Lloyd Garrison had it right! He called the Constitution “a pact with the Devil?” And, to this day, “legal” human slavery is still in the linchpin of that vile rag?

Thank you prisoners for this much needed wake-up call. Now, it is up to us to stop being afraid of our shadows and do some serious organizing. The people I n Syria are facing Assad’s snipers every time they hit the streets. Are we gonna shackle our children’s futures because of some stupid cameras?

On to the social revolution! Ona Move!
One Love!
Free the prisoners!

Stop the Wars!
Each One, Teach One! Unplug ALL governments!

Thank you!

——————————————————————————– Boots Riley, The Coup, Street Sweeper Social Club

Prisoners locked in isolation in the United States penal system are subjected to torturous conditions, without the ability to redress them. This is a question of human rights. It is a sad day when prisoners locked in the hole have to risk their lives with a hunger strike—not to be set free, not for a major change to the prison system, but for the right to be treated with a modicum of human dignity. To have adequate food, and to have it not tampered with by guards. To see natural sunlight. To not be locked in isolation indefinitely. Some people are locked in the hole for decades. We can not turn a blind eye to this. I stand in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strike and I salute those of you who are striking and supporting this fight.

——————————————————————————– Mark Ruffalo, actor/director:

Today prisoners of Corcoran prison, Pelican Bay and several others have joined in a large scale hunger strike to end the inhuman treatment they are receiving in Security Housing Units. Many of them are so deep in their strike for fair treatment they are near dying. Ask yourself what it would take for you to do such a thing? What lowness of suffering would you endure to starve yourself for weeks on end? For all of their wrongs they are still people and we are responsible for their humane care and wellbeing. I support their efforts for fair and humane treatment in our prison system and hope that decency on the part of our jailers prevails.

——————————————————————————– Susan Sarandon:

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.

——————————————————————————– Saskia Sassen:

We have long known about the often extreme abuse of prisoners and violations of their most basic rights. Hundreds of prisoners are right now on the 15th day of a hunger strike—they would rather die than continue living with such brutality. We must, we need, we have to support their cause.

(Saskia Sassen is Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, New York City)

——————————————————————————– Pamela Selwyn

I stand in solidarity with the prisoners on hunger strike in my home state of California. That we have such a large proportion of our citizens in prison is a mark of shame, and that we treat them so shabbily even more so.

Cindy Sheehan, Peace Activist, mother of Casey Sheehan who lost his life in the Iraq War:

I lend my voice and support to the courageous prisoners on hunger strike against inhumane conditions, cruelty and torture in Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and other prisons throughout California.

——————————————————————————– Matthew Shipp, musician

“I support the courageous brothers and sisters who are on hunger strike in pelican bay and other prisons. I am scratching my head trying to understand how these inhumane conditions benefit anyone—obviously just adds to a vicious cycle—these conditions are degrading to all of us and all of our humanity not just the prisoners—something must be done.”

——————————————————————————– Susan Slotnick

We Need To Know

It’s summer. Yesterday I swam one mile back and forth, eighteen times, across Lake Mohonk. I was drifting, just floating and breathing—the water rocking me to sleep in the summer heat. It’s so easy to forget everything else and just float.

But I remember when life didn’t seem so peaceful in summer. I can recall a time when the evening news jolted my entire generation and me from our waking sleep. We were at war then just as we are now. At night we watched, in horrid disbelief, the images of war played out over and over on the television news. Body bags full of kids my age received by screaming parents, all televised, along with their Vietnamese counterparts who were also screaming and crying. If there was a protest, we watched it. If American Indians demanded their rights, we witnessed it. If students all over the nation took over buildings on their campuses in protest of this country’s egregious acts of violence, we heard about it. If prisoners were rising up and forcefully asking to be treated humanely, we knew it. We talked about it. We wanted to be part of it. We were part of it.

Although we are at war, we see no carnage. There are no interviews with maimed soldiers. If there are protests to see, to inspire us to act, to join, where are they?

Instead (at this writing on July18) the whole nation watches as a pathetic, dull girl named Casey Anthony is led out of prison at midnight by her lawyer. That’s big news. Ultimately this news will not interfere with my desire to swim. I could be swimming right now. Its 95 degrees out today but I am writing this instead.

I know there are many people in New Paltz, both liberal and conservative who care about human decency. I don’t know when this will be published or what you will know by the time it is, maybe still nothing.

One would think that a massive hunger strike going on at this moment in thirteen prisons in California by an estimated 6600 prisoners would trump Casey Anthony’s short walk last night from the Orange County Jail in Orlando Florida. It did not.

The hunger strike began July 1 at Pelican Bay Prison and it has spread to 13 other prisons across the state. While many of the striking prisoners have resumed eating, there remains a core group of prisoners (reportedly 1700) who have said they are willing to starve to death.

According to the New York Times, the “California prison system has long been riddled with problems.” Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court placed the California prison system into federal receivership due to its deplorable health care provisions. Following that decision, this May, the Supreme Court issued a decision ruling the conditions of California’s

prisons amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment, intolerable with the concept of human dignity,” causing “needless suffering and death.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke from the bench about the hundreds of suicidal prisoners being held in “telephone booth-sized cages without toilets and others, sick with cancer or in severe pain, who died before being seen by a doctor. As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, and as many as 54 may share a single toilet.”

Kennedy, whose opinion was joined by his four liberal colleagues, said the state’s prisons were built to hold 80,000 inmates, but were crowded with as many 156,000 a few years ago.”


They want to stop the practice of being sent into total isolation (security housing units), locked-up 23 hours-a-day, often for decades of enforced idleness and isolation from others without having committed a crime or even an infraction of prison regulations. Sometimes this policy is simply a matter of administrative convenience. It’s easier to control them under these conditions.

Psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Stuart Grassian has stated “that the environment in ‘the hole’ (isolation units) results in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.” In a “60 Minutes” interview, he went so far as to call it “far more egregious than the death penalty.” The striking prisoners call it “torture.”

Since closing state mental hospitals (also a national shameful human fights failure) many of the mentally ill who should be hospitalized are warehoused in prison. It is often these prisoners who wind-up in solitary confinement since they are difficult to handle.

The prisoners are especially protesting the practice of “debriefing” as a means of getting out of isolation. “Alleged” gang members are asked to name names, snitch on fellow inmates, gang members, and friends in order to be released from the SHU (security housing units) often if they do this, they are in danger of being killed when they return to the general population.

Sometimes a prisoner will lie about his compatriots just to keep from going insane in the SHU. At times a prisoner will have to go into “protective custody” after disclosing information. Protective Custody is merely a euphemism for another form of solitary confinement.

We should feel morally uneasy about this method of attaining information. If you torture someone, give them no view of the outside world from a window, no sunlight, no medical care, few rehabilitative programs, little or no access to family support, and then they give information it is tainted at best and illegally coerced at worse.

All these men can do to address their predicament is to stop eating. They have no other recourse. Allowing them to choose death as a protest against continued inhumane treatment is a travesty of negligence. If you didn’t know about this because the media doesn’t believe this news will garner as much money as the meaningless and sensational, now you do. If you are still reading, consider this a letter from me to you, personally. There are ways to get involved.

You can:

Email your statement back to me at “[email protected]” and I will forward it to the right party. Also, send this article to your own list of contacts.

Mail a hard copy of your support for the prisoners to:
– Secretary Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95814 AND Governor Jerry Brown, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814.

It’s a beautiful day. We have so much freedom and so much abundance in our country. It’s not necessary to constantly go about beating ourselves up about what is wrong to be effective in taking action to correct it. We can become informed about what is going on and still be happy. Rather than turn a blind eye to injustice we can find more happiness and peace by trying to fix it in small ways. It’s only six o’clock. The sun will be up for at least three more hours. There is still time for me to find a place to swim.

July 18, 2011 ——————————————————————————–

Michael Steven Smith
Attorney at Law, New York, NY
Co-host Law and Disorder Radio, Board Member, The Center for Constitutional Rights*:

A society can be judged on how it treats the least amongst us. The conditions under which the prisoners at Pelican Bay in California are held under prolonged isolation, which induce the disintegration of the human personality, are plainly torturous and an assault on their humanity and an affront to ours. One Guantánamo was one indecency too many. The demands of the prisoners for humane treatment must be met.

* For identification only

——————————————————————————– Gloria Steinem, Author and feminist activist:

I support the courage of thousands of California prisoners who are risking their health and lives to call attention to dangerous and de-humanizing prison conditions. We are all human beings who cannot survive in isolation. Now, even before change comes, please know you are being heard. We ask Governor Jerry Brown and all relevant officials to listen and to create prisons that do not bring shame to this country.

——————————————————————————– David Strathairn, actor:

What does it portend for any citizen, incarcerated or not, if their OWN NATION is not held accountable for the violation of its OWN laws, specified in its Own Constitution, that deal with the humane treatment and conditions of incarceration? To continually allow, deny, ignore, even tacitly accept, these deplorable abuses can only lead to the ultimate breakdown of our justice system and the ascendancy of a society ruled by oppression and repression. It can only lead us further into a darkness in which no one person will be able to trust that they are equal under any law. That laws are only the bastinados of the rich and powerful. If we choose to think of ourselves as a just and humane people setting an example for others to follow, then to NOT speak out against this, is corrosively hypocritical. It breeds a communality of cynicism and shame and makes us all prisoners. Simply out of common decency and respect for each other, for the preservation of a fair and just society, the demands of these people must honored.

——————————————————————————– Rose Styron, poet and human rights activist

I’m appalled to learn conditions in California prisons are so inhumane that a hunger strike has been launched. Let’s hope it does not need a death like Bobby Sands’ in Northern Ireland to bring attention and reform. The unconscionable treatment of human beings trapped in certain American prisons has been a concern voiced by Amnesty International for decades. How can caring citizens in a decent society tolerate such brutality? Torture? This mass injustice denigrates our nation and its concept of law. It diminishes each of us. We must support the strikers in any way we can.

——————————————————————————– Prisoners Have Nothing to Gain By Eating
By David Swanson


Prisoners risking death by refusing food in the Pelican Bay supermax, and those hunger striking in solidarity in prisons around California are a judgment of our sickness. “The degree of civilization in a society,” said Dostoyevsky, “can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Civilization is something we no longer seem to aspire to. The United States locks up more people and a greater percentage of its people than anyone else. We lock them in training centers for anger and violence. We subject them to rape, assault, humiliation, and isolation. We throw the innocent in with the guilty, the young with the old, the nonviolent with the violent, the hopeful with those who’ve lost all interest in life.

And we routinely subject large numbers of prisoners to the torture of near-total isolation. We lock human beings in little boxes for 22 or 23 hours per day. When it’s done to an accused whistleblower like Bradley Manning, we protest. But what about when it’s done to thousands of people, many of them baselessly accused of being members of gangs? Where is the outrage?

We should be refusing to eat. We should be shutting down our government with nonviolent action. We should be risking the lives we have. Instead the burden has fallen to those who have little or no lives to risk. The prisoners themselves are taking action and gaining power from behind bars.

Look at the prisoners’ demands. They want an end to group punishment of individual rules violations. That seems like a basic requirement of justice. Bombing a nation because some terrorists spent time there may make sense to our politicians, but it is horribly unjust to the people living and dying under the bombs. Stopping and searching people who look like they might be immigrants may make sense to those whose hatred of immigrants is distorting their thinking, but it is outrageously unjust from the perspective of the innocent people repeatedly harassed. Punishing everyone in a prison for something one person did make sense if the goal is cruelty. But will the innocent prisoners thus abused eventually emerge from prison believing they’ve been given fair treatment by a justice system with which they should comply? Or will they be released thirsting for vengeance? Or thirst for vengeance while never being released? And will we be able to keep what we have done to them secret from ourselves? Will we not continue to grow more ill?

They want an end to the use of completely unreliable criteria for labeling a prisoner a gang member and on that basis subjecting them to the torture of isolation. Should a tattoo or the word of someone offered decent food in exchange for a name really be the test of whether a human being should be placed at risk of severe mental damage? Should anything? Would we stand for another nation treating people this way? Don’t tell me it’s necessary and responsible. It would cost a lot less money to offer children decent schools and food and guidance than it does to imprison men. This is a luxury. It’s a sick indulgence of a wealthy country. We can afford to engage in massive sadistic cruelty. But that shouldn’t mean that we have to do it.

They want compliance with the recommendations found in the latest study our government produced to make itself feel better despite ignoring it. They want an end to the long-term solitary confinement that takes people’s minds away. They are risking death by starvation to end death by deprivation of human contact. We could risk a lot less to do it for them.
They want adequate food provided to all prisoners and an end to the practice of depriving some and feeding others as a tool for manipulating people like wild beasts. They want basic decency, including the ability to make one phone call per week. They want standards of health and humanity that do not even begin to approach those we are required by international treaty to provide to prisoners of war. For that matter, they want to cease being treated in a manner that would get you locked up with them if you treated a dog or a cat that way.

All the prisoners are asking of us is that we spread the word. But in fact they are not asking this of us. They are offering it to us. They are leading us where we need to go, and doing it from behind bars. We would need to go to this place even if we had no prisons. We are allowing our government to destroy the physical environment. Our children will have no more reason to eat than these prisoners do, if we fail to act. We are allowing our government to murder on a massive scale through what it calls the “Defense” Department, a name as skillfully chosen as that of a “Corrections” Department. We need to do some real defending and correcting. Some of us have plans for October. The least among us are showing us how right now.

(David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie.)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary and Wizard of the Crow

We must always remember that prisoners are human beings. The violation of their humanity is a violation of our humanity. We should all constitute a society for the prevention of cruelty and unusual punishment to prisoners or any acts that deny them their humanity.

——————————————————————————– Nancy Vining Van Ness, Director, American Creative Dance:

This letter is written in support of the prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay and those in other California prisons who are joining in solidarity with them.

Their demands are similar to the recommendations of the bipartisan US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons, which in 2006 called for substantial reforms to the practice of solitary confinement. These recommendations have had no effect on California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation policy and practice.

Solitary confinement treats people who are inherently social beings and must have contact with others to avoid serious mental and physical illness as some other kind of being. Such treatment dehumanizes prisoners and the guards and officials, including yourselves, who impose it. It is cruel and inhuman treatment; it is torture.

The courage of the striking prisoners, some of whom are reported to be nearing death, to refuse food in order to bring attention to their own plight and that of many others is remarkable. These clearly are human beings in spite of the abuse they receive and the efforts of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to dehumanize them.

Furthermore, aspects of prisoner treatment in the California system involve extra-judicial punishment, which the striking prisoners are demanding be changed. I want to point out that this kind of punishment is illegal and must be stopped.

A statement by a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported in the media that the Department would not be forced to accede to demands because the prisoners have other, appropriate ways to communicate. What, I ask, can prisoners held over twenty-two hours a day in complete isolation, possibly do to demand redress of just grievances? That they have chosen the hunger strike is a sign that this is the only way left to them to act with human dignity in the barbaric conditions imposed on them.

I join in their just demands which accord with national policy and I urge that these demands be met immediately before any of these prisoners die.

Act now and you can avoid the stigma of being a responsible party whose inaction led to the deaths of human beings making just demands, as well as the possible legal consequences of the actions of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Ayelet Waldman, novelist and nonfiction writer, currently editing a volume of narratives of women in America ‘s prisons

As a believer in the protections granted by the United States Constitution, I stand united with the courageous hunger strikers in Pelican Bay, Corcoran and other state prisons. The conditions of prolonged isolation in which many prisoners are kept are violations of basic human rights. We cannot continue to allow these offenses against human dignity to be carried out in our names.

——————————————————————————– Boyce D. Watkins:

Many Americans believe that the dehumanization of incarcerated individuals has nothing to do with them. But the system affects all of us, as many of our families are devastated by the epidemic of mass incarceration. It helps all Americans to ensure that inmates are given access to education and other tools that will allow them to become productive members of society. Forcing inmates to languish in unspeakable conditions is not only inhumane, it makes America less safe for everyone. The prison system should make people better than they were when they arrived, not worse.

(Boyce D. Watkins, author, economist, political analyst, and social commentator, currently at Syracuse University, has made regular appearances in the media, including CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Fox News, BET, NPR, Essence Magazine, USA Today, The Today Show, ESPN, The Tom Joyner Morning Show and CBS Sports.)

——————————————————————————– Jay Wenk, Town Councilman, Woodstock, NY:

Those of us who fought in wars for Justice are appalled by the conditions in American prisons. I’m a combat vet of WW2, and I’ve seen the prison camps of the Third Reich. I’ve worked in prisons in New York State as a counselor and I’ve seen goon squads dragging their victims hastily out of sight behind curtains and doors. I don’t know what the specific situation is in California, but when I hear that the authorities wont talk with their inmates, I suspect the worst, with good reason. The point is not whether or not these inmates are dangerous criminals, the point is that they are human beings, and must be listened to. This is what our Country is supposed to be about.

——————————————————————————- Cornel West:

“I am in full solidarity with my brothers in their courageous protest against inhumane conditions in the prisons.” ——————————————————————————–

Garrett Wright, Attorney

The five core demands of the thousands of men who have risked their health and very lives in Pelican Bay and over thirty other prisons throughout the California gulag archipelago are demands for the recognition of their fundamental human rights and decency. The hunger strike is a testament to the severity and inhumanity of the conditions inside of supermaximum security prisons and Security Housing Units (SHUs)—these men are willing to risk death to obtain their right to be treated as human beings and not as subhuman objects of control. It is indisputable that the conditions in supermax prisons and SHUs is utterly sadistic and destructive of the bodies and minds of those subjected to its regime – locked up in solitary cells for 23 hours a day, denied physical contact with loved ones during visits that are restricted to once a month, and not provided with adequate food. Other policies that the prisoners demand be altered include an end to collective punishment and “debriefing”, wherein prisoners are forced to provide incriminating evidence on other prisoners in exchange for benefits.

There is nothing remotely “rehabilitative” about the supermax prisons and SHUs – prisoners are denied opportunities to access education or job skills training and severed from ties to their families and communities. Many of the prisoners subjected to these conditions are not there for any bad conduct they have displayed inside or outside of prison, but because of their work as organizers for change in the prison system. Some of them are held in isolation because of their status as Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War in their struggles for social change in the U.S. Women prisoners have also been subjected to isolation in supermax prisons and SHUs, particularly women Political Prisoners active in the Black Liberation and Puerto Rican Independista movements. Due to acts of Congress and the courts over the last two decades, these arbitrary and capricious decisions to lock prisoners up in isolation (sometimes for decades) have become more and more insulated from governmental and judicial review and challenge. Regardless of why a prisoner was sent to a supermax or SHU, the bottom line is that ALL prisoners must have their fundamental human rights recognized and respected by U.S. and state governments and the growing number of private corporations that outrageously profit from government contracts, prison labor, and prison consumer markets.

In their courageous struggle for justice, the hunger strikers are not simply highlighting their own specific plight, but also the general plight of the over 2.3 million men, women, and children who are locked away in U.S. prisons. As Michelle Alexander has argued, the U.S. prison system is now the dominant institution for the creation and maintenance of a “New Jim Crow” racial caste system that attempts to subordinate large segments of Black, [email protected], and Asian communities to the ideology and demands of white supremacy. The overwhelming majority of prisoners of color have been incarcerated as a result of the racist, selectively prosecuted “War on Drugs”. When these prisoners are finally released, they are subjected during the rest of their lives to “legal” forms of discrimination in employment, housing, government benefits, and voting. All people of conscience must stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers in California and with prisoners everywhere in their fight for their human rights and for the abolition of the prison- industrial complex.

(Garrett Wright is a staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. The Project provides legal, technical, and research and policy assistance to grassroots community organizations throughout New York City. He is also a co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Anti-Racism Committee and on the Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild-New York City Chapter.)

——————————————————————————– Ted Yanow

Debs said you judge a country by how it treats its prisoners. We have steadily moved away from any pretense of humane treatment, let alone reasonable support for rehabilitation, to an absolute and relative enlargement of the number of imprisoned, to the point where we rival the most tyrannical regimes on the earth. Support of the rights of prisoners has become a paramount issue and support of their strike on behalf of minimally humane treatment.

——————————————————————————– Kevin Zeese, It’s Our Economy:

Prisoners are standing up for basic humane conditions, now people must stand with them and say prisoner abuse is unacceptable. The abuse these people are suffering is unacceptable and shows that the U.S. prison system needs major re-revaluation. For too long we have allowed prison conditions to deteriorate while prison populations have increased. It is time to reverse both trends—reduce prison poulations and improve conditions—both need dramatic improvement.


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GTMO has been open:

U.S. Hunger Strikers

Hunger Striker's Blog

 U.S. Faster in Solidarity w/Gitmo & Pelican Bay Prisoners


Foreground: EMT prepares the tool for the nasal intubation.       Background: U.S. Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina Middleground:...agony awaits. 

The feeding demo is extremely painful, yet it is done with consent. The long-term solidarity fast continues with nasogastric nourishment in front of U.S. governmental symbols of power. The twice-daily force-feeding of Gitmo hunger strikers is nonconsensual and therefore real torture by the standards sponsored by U.S. taxpayers and authorized by members of Congress who just raised the debt ceiling to nearly $17 trillion. President Obama's actions continue to belie his empty words "Close Guantánamo."  As Commander-in-Chief, he could easily order an end to what the Pentagon refuses to call "forced-feeding."   The force-feeding is premeditated  relentless forced penetration of plastic into their innermost sacred cavities !

Andrés Thomas Conteris - fasted on water and coconut water with vitamin and electrolyte supplements. Solidarity fast began July 8, 2013 with 30,000 hunger striking California prisoners urging fulfillment of 5 Core Demands of the Pelican Bay supermax prisoners.  Force-feeding protests began Sept. 6 & Sept. 25 in front of the White House & later in front of the Oakland Office of CA Dept of Corrections and Rehab (CDCR) to depict how prisoners in Guantánamo are tortured with force-feeding twice-daily and how CA prisoners as future hunger strikers have been threatened with a court order authorizing force-feeding.  On Oct 4 and Oct 8 he was tube-fed in front of the U.S. Embassies in Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. On Oct 15 a similar protest took place in Santiago, Chile.  On Friday, Oct 18 the feeding protest returns to Washington, DC outside a Federal Court hearing on the lawsuit challenging force-feeding in Guantánamo.  He is now on a maintenance fast losing about 1 pound per week, unlike the 5 pounds/week the first 11 weeks.  In January 2014 with the anniversary of Guantánamo on Jan. 11, the force feeding protests will recommence.  Please spread the word. 

Join a Rolling Fast

U.S. Hunger Strikers who have suspended their fast






Diane Wilson - Water only 58 days (lost 48 lbs). Diane, co-founder of CodePink and member of Veterans for Peace, suspended her hunger strike on June 27, 2013 after detention following her arrest for scaling the White House fence the day before. She faced a jury trial in DC District Court on Sept. 5th, 2013.


S. Brian Willson - Suspended Hunger Strike on June 10, 2013 after 31 days on 300cal/day, when a car accidentally hit him. Supporters continue a vigil with a rolling fast, in Portland, OR.



Elliott Adams - Went 80 days on 300 cal/day from May 18, to August 4, 2013 losing 45 lbs.   He is past President of Veterans for Peace.







Tarak Kauff - Ended fast on August 4, 2013 after 58 days on 300 cal/day since June 7.  He lost 29 lbs. On Board of Directors for Veterans for Peace.


Cynthia Papermaster - After 84 days on 300 cal/day, Cynthia suspended her  hunger strike on Sep. 6 which began June 15, 2013. Code Pink member,  lost 35 lbs. The transfer of two Algerian prisoners on Aug. 29, 2013, inspired her to suspend her fast. 

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The Justice Campaign

The London Guantánamo


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   through active nonviolence"

- Metta Center for Nonviolence


No more Guantánamos

Nonviolence International

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