Civil Rights

CA Prison Strike Exposes US Domestic Torture

By Anthony Castillo

At the same time that mostly innocent prisoners at Guantaamo Bay are being force fed after going on hunger strikes to protest their hopeless, indefinite detentions, here in CA, prison inmates are being threatened with force feeding for their on going hunger strike which began on July 8 of this year. The hunger strikers here in CA (and four out of state For Profit prisons contracted by the state of CA) are not asking to be released, but instead have five simple, humane, core demands:

  1. Eliminate Group Punishments for Individual Rules Violations.
  2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria.
  3. Comply with the Recommendations of the 2006 US Commission on Safety and Abuse in American Prisons Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement.
  4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food.
  5.  Provide and Expand Constructive Programs and    Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.

This is the third time in three years that the people housed in the Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Units aka Solitary Confinement) and other CA prisons have gone on a hunger strike for essentially these same basic humane demands. By the time you read this the hunger strike will likely be past the fifty day mark, well onto a full two months! One hunger striker at Corcoran State Prison, 32 year old Billy Michael Sell, known as “Guero,” has died. An estimated 30,000 CA inmates participated in the hunger strike starting on July 8 and 2,300 CA inmates went on a work stoppage. This covered roughly two thirds of CA prisons. In the build up to this most recent hunger strike on October 10 2012 an end was called by the inmates to “racial hostilities.” This, much to the dislike of prison personal who often use racial tensions to keep prisoners fighting amongst each other and isolated.

“Solitary Confinement can amount to cruel punishment, even torture” according Juan E. Mendezto, United Nations Rapporteur on Torture. Prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU are kept in tiny, windowless cells for 22 hours each day. Some people have been kept in the SHU for decades with no real human contact of any kind. While the hunger strikers’ demands may seem self explanatory, it’s the second demand that we need to take note of. CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) would like the outside world to believe that only “the worst of the worst” get locked in the SHU, but that’s not the case at all. An inmate can be placed in the SHU because of a tattoo they may have, a piece of art they may have produced, or by another prisoner’s Debriefing. In fact it’s most often a totally arbitrary decision. How can a person get out of the SHU? By going through the Debriefing process in which you rat out another inmate to get them locked in the SHU. Weather the statements given in the Debriefing are true or not is irrelevant to the CDCR as long as it keeps the SHU full of bodies. Thus keeping the justification for the SHU’s existence intact, and the prison industrial complex humming along nicely.

There are 80,000 people held in Solitary Confinement across the US, 12,000 of those in CA alone. The same way the US Government likes to characterize anyone who questions its foreign policies, blows the whistle, or dares not to believe the conventional wisdom, a “terrorist.” The CDCR is going out of its way to characterize all hunger strikers as being “gang members.” Anything to dehumanize the very people bringing to light their inhumane treatment at the hands of the CDCR and Governor Jerry Brown. As long as there is a profit motive to mass incarceration, look forward to more hunger strikes and other forms of resistance from both inside, and outside of prison walls. To learn more about the CA prison hunger strike, or to get involved, go to