California Prison Focus reported this evening (July 21, 2011) that CDCR claims that the hunger strike in Pelican Bay has ended are true. They report they stopped "in exchange for a major policy review of SHU housing conditions, gang validation process, and debriefing process." While our experience of reviews within the department are universally that nothing happens, the leaders of the strike have nonetheless achieved a great victory in uniting prisoners across California and beyond for the just demands of the oppressed. This is a struggle to learn from and build on.
Presumably prisoners at other prisons (such as Chino, Calipatria, Corcoran, Tehachapi, Folsom, Vally State Prison for Women, San Quentin) are still on food strike unaware of the agreement.
Of all the agencies and offices I filed the California grievance petition with, only the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation bothered to respond. They only issued form letters disclaiming any responsibility for further investigation, and simply redirected me back to the same dysfunctional process that I had complained of!
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is clear that the U.$. Department of Injustice and the CDCR won't back up their words to give administrative remedy to prisoners with actions when they discover the process isn't working. In fact, it's to their benefit if the grievance system is broken so that they won't have to actually deal with the problems that arise in the prison system. This ensures their control over oppressed nations peoples.
The prisoner who received these defeating form letters asked for more copies of the petition in the same letter. S/he recognizes that the response from the bureaucrats isn't the be-all-end-all goal of the grievance petition. We want to show that if we ask nicely for a solution, we will be given the brush off. We also want to use this petition to recruit others into doing political work, even if it's just sending out the petition to a few administrators. Hopefully this action will be a simple beginning to a long history of contribution to the struggle against oppression.
We currently have grievance petitions prepared for California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas. If you're experiencing obstructions of your grievance procedure but your state isn't currently covered by the grievance campaign, consider modifying it to apply to your state! Write in for more info, or to get petitions.
MIM(Prisons) sent another stack of letters in support of the prisoners on hunger strike across California to the so-called Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with the cover letter below. There will also be a demonstration in support of the prisoners' demand outside of the CDCR office today:
Monday, July 18th 1-4PM Demonstration outside CDCR Headquarters. 1515 S. St. in Sacramento, CA
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
18 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Two weeks ago we sent dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison. As the conditions outlined by the prisoners have still not been addressed by the CDCR we are sending additional letters of support (see enclosed). We are all aware that the conditions of many prisoners are becoming critical and we urge you to take immediate action to remedy the conditions. The conditions addressed by the prisoners demands are in no way conducive to rehabilitation and no one should have to die for these basic requests.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
Sincerely, MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
Three weeks into the California Food Strike the CDCR has given it's official response, which can be summed up as "We'll look into it." On July 15, the CDCR made a proposal to the strikers at Pelican Bay to end the strike without promising any changes. The prisoners declined the offer and continued to fast, calling it "smoke and mirrors" and "insulting."(1) These guys are willing to die for basic rights they've been denied for years, decades for many, and CDCR comes to the table with nothing.
Our inquiries received similar canned responses from the Warden about "operating in full accordance to [all] law... while providing for the ethical, humane treatment of all prisoners." Even more outrageously, he claims they provide "the ability to safely program and actively participate in their rehabilitation." The strike is on because there are no programs or rehabilitation!
Those in close contact with the striking prisoners report that some in Pelican Bay who had stopped fasting have returned to the strike in response to the CDCR's negligence.(1) We've also received word from 4 comrades in the California Institution for Men in Chino that they have just begun a hunger strike in solidarity after getting news from MIM(Prisons).
Other recently received reports include that United Struggle from Within organized comrades in Kern Valley State Prison for a 24 hour food strike in solidarity. In High Desert State Prison, where the pigs were serving double the normal amount of food to prevent a hunger strike, a number of comrades didn't eat from July 1 thru 3rd. Whole sections of California State Prison - Corcoran are still on strike and doctors are coming in regularly to weigh the prisoners.
"Solitary confinement is not something that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations engages in," according to CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton.(1) According to our surveys, California has around 14,444 people in Control Units, defined as "permanently designated prisons or cells in prisons that lock prisoners up in solitary or small group confinement for 22 or more hours a day with no congregate dining, exercise or other services, and virtually no programs for prisoners." This is more people than any other state.
Thorton claims that prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit (SHU) have access to cable TV, books, yard time, the law library, weekly visits with family, and correspondence courses.
Yes, it is true that prisoners can occasionally receive books through the mail, as long as they aren't by or about Blacks or Mexicans. If you're not in SHU yet, such books might be used to validate you as a gang member and throw you in SHU on an indeterminate sentence. Otherwise they are often just censored as "gang material."
Correspondence courses are occasionally allowed, too. But we've confirmed 35 incidents of study materials from a MIM(Prisons) correspondence course being censored in California, 15 of which were at Pelican Bay. We've also been told that a radio show that broadcasts to Pelican Bay was shut down there after broadcasting a correspondence course on a show popular among prisoners.
Interaction with family, inmates and staff is greatly exaggerated by Thorton. We've known comrades whose only physical contact with another humyn being for many years has been guards putting cuffs on their wrists. And while Thorton makes family visits out to be a regular thing, the distance to Crescent City, California for most families is the first barrier that makes visits rare at best. One family member who spoke with MIM(Prisons) at a table while we did outreach in support of the strike described how they went to visit their brother at Pelican Bay once and had to talk through a TV screen. They have not gone back since. Others who visit Pelican Bay talk about how their freedom of association is limited just as the prisoners' is. If they are seen speaking to the wrong persyn (another visitor) while going on visit they can be restricted or banned from coming back.
Thorton described "the two ways" one can get into SHU in California, painting prisoners as either violent attackers or mob bosses running organized crime. Yet, as those who were there when Pelican Bay was being conceived can attest, it was built in response to those who dared to organize and stand up for their rights as the thousands of prisoners who went on food strike across California have done. As prisoners continue to organize and move in a positive and united direction, it will become harder and harder for the state to paint the organizations of the oppressed as enemies that deserve any torture or punishment they receive.
The CDCR is trying to blame the organizing of the statewide food strike in California prisons on gangs. Meanwhile, the liberal line being put forth in the bourgeois media is that activists dismiss such accusations. Somehow prisoners across California, and even those transferred out of state, participated in solidarity with the food strike on July 1. We know that MIM(Prisons) was one of many organizations with newsletters that contributed to spreading the word, but none of us initiated or did the groundwork to ensure the effectiveness of this campaign. CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton tried to explain this as an indication of "the reach and the influence that prison gangs have on other inmates." She went on to say, "It's one of the reasons we have a Security Housing Unit, to remove gang members influence on other general population inmates."(1)
The media is juxtaposing the pigs' assertions about gang leadership to the denials of activists to paint strike supporters as idealistic know-nothings. The prison bureaucrats make careers out of being experts on gangs and criminology, and they rely on the public to trust in their expertise to keep them "safe."
In reality, this pseudo-debate being played out in the media is painting an idealistic view of prison society that ignores history. The pigs know that groups allied to the Black Panthers and other national liberation movements used to lead the prison masses. They know because they broke that up, partly by using long-term isolation, and they encouraged oppressed nation groups with more criminal tendencies to develop with bribery and by turning a blind eye. Now they condemn the monsters they created to justify more repression.
The line MIM(Prisons) has been pushing since before the hunger strike began is in defense of the First Amendment right to association. While countless people have been placed into gangs they've never even heard of by state officials in California, there are many in the SHU who are not trying to fool anyone into thinking that they aren't members of a lumpen organization considered an enemy of the CDCR. This is evident in the statements of the strike leaders which talk about uniting all "races," including "northern" and "southern" Mexicans. Aztlán is one oppressed nation that the pigs have helped draw a line through by promoting criminal organizations that must compete. It is only the fascist conditions within California prisons that prevents prisoners from even being able to speak of their organizational ties.
When we say there are comrades in Pelican Bay SHU who are respected leaders of lumpen organizations, there is no criticism implied there. Some of those comrades have worked tirelessly to orchestrate a Peace Accord between the major divisions within the California prison population, among many other positive projects for their people, including the current campaign. The lie that is promoted by the "tough on crime" bourgeois media is that to be a member of a lumpen organization you must be an evil persyn. Just like they did for Tookie, there is no redemption for the lumpen under imperialism, even when they do more than anyone around them to change the world for the better.
Central to the demands of the striking prisoners is that the state cannot claim to abide by its own rules while it punishes people using secret evidence and petty charges like who they talk to or get mail from, what books they read or tattoos they have. The bureaucrats hide behind the presumed neutrality of the bourgeois courts to defend the torture they put these prisoners through.
The striking comrades are some of the individual oppressed nationals that the imperialists find the most threatening within their own borders. That is why they are being tortured in long-term isolation. Yet, by all indications, the state is going to let these brothers die rather than grant them Constitutional rights to association.
The oppressed nations are free to organize in this country, as long as it's on the Amerikans' terms. If not, then even talking about such organizations will get prisoners thrown in long-term isolation and will get supporters on the streets censored.
[Editor's note: We want to remind our readers that USW is open to anti-imperialist prisoners of all nationalities, just as the strike is being led by prisoners of all nationalities. MIM(Prisons) agrees with the line put forth here, because it is by building movements for national liberation from imperialism that we can best conquer the oppressive system we currently live in. And any genuine national liberation movement supports the liberation of all people. We want to be clear about this because there have been reports of the CDCR attempting to fuel divisions among the prisoners on strike along long-standing organizational and national divisions as they always do.]
A people's salute goes out to all who find themselves under lock and key in Amerika! I wanted to write and send a brief update on the conditions here in Pelican Bay coming from one of the participants of the hunger strike (HS) that began two weeks ago, on July 1 of 2011. I figured the historic precedent that the HS has accomplished thus far is worth noting as the cause of the non-violent protest is one in which many people find themselves in across Amerika. The material conditions that have forced prisoners to deny themselves nutrients and sustenance are not exclusively bound to Pelican Bay, California. Whenever imperialist lackeys run a country they will also be expected to round up the most rebellious and potentially revolutionary populations and bury these people alive as these are the ones who pose the highest threat to the ruling class.
The fact that the protest is in regard to torture chambers known as the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California, a state that has more prisons than any other state in a country that has more prisoners than any other country, should be examined more closely for what it means to oppressed nation prisoners in general but to people of Aztlán in particular. The fact that the state of California, which is geographically in Aztlán, has initiated what amounts to a war on the people of Aztlán by setting up more koncentration kamps (prisons) in Aztlán than anywhere else in Amerika, along with incarcerating more Latinos in California than any other oppressed nations, and the fact that Latinos are now the largest population of captives held in Federal prisons, and the fact that most of the prisoners held in California SHUs are Latinos, all show that oppressed nation are under attack via the injustice system, and that prisoners from the Aztlán Nation are particularly targeted in Aztlán. California is also the state with the largest Latino population in Amerika.(1) Thus the scope of what is taking place should be seen for what it is - the assault on Aztlán is real and should be met as such.
What is occurring here at Pelican Bay is an attempt to break the will and desire to resist state repression plain and simple. The SHU was opened in 1989 and this facility was designed to isolate and deprive people of the most basic "human rights." Things like human contact, a cell mate, the ability to eat salt in one's food, the ability to correspond with friends and family via the mail, the ability to have natural sunlight or even to be able to read political literature have all been stripped from prisoners in the SHU. Brutality here has been documented for decades. Beatings and physical torture have even been brought to the courts to no avail. Recently the U.$. Supreme Court has ruled that California prisons constitute "cruel and unusual punishment." They are telling the state of California to clean up its act.
Medical services are even used as barter. One prisoner was told if he wanted medical treatment then he should "debrief" (snitch on another prisoner). This is the depraved culture that has thrived here in SHU. This is a world where prisoners who are most often poor Brown and Black people are subject to a whole plethora of experimental depravity which in some cases would probably have Mengele raise an eyebrow.
It is well known that solitary confinement causes very real psychological damage even if used for a few weeks, yet here in SHU prisoners have endured solitary for years and even decades in some cases. Human rights groups have condemned solitary confinement, yet the SHU continues this brutal practice. Once here in SHU the only way back to general population is to snitch on others (even if it is false accusations), die, or parole. Keep in mind the vast majority sent to SHU have not committed any crime or physical acts but are labeled a "gang member or associate" and thus locked in this control unit for one's supposed gang affiliation, i.e. one's beliefs. They are locking one in a solitary confinement cell, sometimes for life, for what amounts to thought crimes!
Placement in the "hole" or SHU is frequently due to political affiliation of prisoners who are members or may associate with revolutionary groups or lumpen organizations that the state labels as "gangs." In their play on words, any attempt at oppressed nations to organize in a way that is not state sanctioned, is a gang. Similarly, they call uprisings "riots" in a derogatory way, to hide the real causes behind them. But many times people aren't even members of any organization and are falsely accused by others who are trying to get themselves out of SHU. In either case, prisoners held in SHU conditions overwhelmingly qualify as political prisoners.
The world would gasp should they find out the thought police are goosestepping in lock step here in Pelican Bay, jack boots and all. The Gestapo in Nazi Germany rounded up communists and others and placed them in kamps and jails under "preventative custody." And now the imperialists' first line of defense keeps oppressed nations in neo-kamps (SHUs) under "validation custody." This is what the lumpen face in the United $tates; this is our apple pie in the home of the incarcerated, land of the oppressed.
Yet, prisoners have always defied the lash, because as Mao said, where you find much repression you'll find much resistance. This is the dialectical materialism that manifests itself and blossoms, even within cinderblock gardens, in the form of our united resistance.
The first of the five demands issued for the hunger strike here at Pelican Bay is to end group punishment. This happens frequently where one prisoner breaks a rule and that whole group or ethnicity will be locked down or penalized in some way. We are talking about one person doing something against prison rules and two or three hundred people are then locked down for months over it. This is common practice and is meant to pit prisoners against prisoners.
The second demand is to abolish debriefing and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Debriefing is used to force people held in SHU to give up names and activities of others in order to leave SHU - even if the information provided is false. The accused cannot even present a good defense as the informants are not identified and often times the accusations themselves are considered "confidential." Active/inactive status is when after six years if one has no new activity one may be given "inactive" gang status and released to the general population. But this is rare since anything qualifies as "activity." For example, participating in this hunger strike will be considered new gang activity.
The third demand is that the CDCR complies with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. Commission which called for an end to isolation. The fourth demand is to provide adequate food. The food here would make a racoon's stomach turn. Often we don't know what it is we are eating and we get no salt, so all food is bland. For punishment often times we get boiled beans with no salt, and this has gone on for years. The fifth demand is to expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU prisoners. This means those of us who must stay in SHU will be able to have educational courses, art supplies, and the ability to make a phone call, which some have not done for 30 or more years.
These points are basic things that should be given, especially to people who have not broken any rules to be placed in SHU in the first place! What is happening here in Pelican Bay SHU amounts to crimes against humanity. To have people in solitary confinement in some cases for decades is incredible, and it's incredible that this has gone on so long and that for the most part the public has been silent over this. Well, today the light is shining on these torture chambers and Pelican Bay prisoners will no longer be silent while taking the lash.
I am one of the participants involved in the peaceful protest at Pelican Bay, basically and simply just to challenge our predicament. We've exhausted all other resources but no one within the system listens to our cries for human decency and respect. We are expected to abide by the designed laws of the state, but when we elect to exercise so-called given rights, we are condemned for such action.
A peaceful protest presents us the opportunity to demonstrate our humanity contrary to the misguided propaganda that's utilized to degrade and demean our intelligence. It is definitely a drastic approach and sometimes when there are no doable options, its necessary to take the struggle to the next level of development. Dialectical materialism teaches us about the science of reason and logical development in order to reach a synthesis to whatever that contradiction is, anything that isn't growing is definitely stagnant!
The hunger strike is reaching critical stage for those who have pledged to strike indefinitely, especially the elder and ill. The CDCR still refuses to negotiate and the leaders of the oppressed locked in Pelican Bay continue to exert their leadership. Here is the latest report being circulated by a point persyn on the outside:
Tuesday 8:30 AM: According to a SHU nurse, things are bad at Pelican Bay. The prisoners have not been drinking water and there have been rapid and severe consequences. Nurses are crying. All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers. As of Monday, there were about 50 on C-SHU and 150 on D-SHU. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. 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. They have refused concentrated sugar packs and ensure. The staff has taken them to the CTC and given them intravenous glucose when allowed by the prisoners, but some won't accept this medical support. As of Monday, no one has been force fed with a nasogastric tube. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some of the medical staff is freaked out because clearly some of these guys seem determined to die. Not taking the water is crushing the staff because the prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration.(1)
CDCR is reporting 800 prisoners continue to refuse food at 6 prisons.(2) However there are multiple reports of groups of prisoners joining the strike this week and even planning to join later in the month.
The campaign initiated July 1st by prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) against the torturous conditions of long-term isolation has received broad support going on for weeks now. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [sic] (CDCR) has admitted that 6600 prisoners refused food trays last weekend across 13 of their 33 prisons.(1) Meanwhile, numerous organizations have organized demonstrations and mobilized support across the United $tates and Kanada leading up to and following the start of the hunger strike. Over five thousand people have signed an online petition pledging their support. Volunteers with MIM(Prisons) have interacted with thousands of people on the streets inside and outside of California with info on the hunger strike, gathering dozens of signed letters and a handful of donations.
According to CDCR 1,600 prisoners remain on food strike one week after the start.(2) The media is reporting a sharp drop in the number of prisoners refusing food in a tone that implies the strike is losing steam. But this is hardly the case. Many prisoners we've heard from outside of Pelican Bay only pledged to strike one or two days in solidarity. One reason for this is because it is hard for them to know when the strike ends or what is happening despite the efforts of outside supporters to send updates. Even in Pelican Bay many of those protesting specified the number of days they would fast beforehand. Only a minority of participants have pledged an indefinite strike until the demands are met. The rest of us work in solidarity with them until the end.
Despite all the noise being made, word from those organizing to mediate negotiations is that the CDCR is refusing to negotiate with strikers or mediators.(3) We know the CDCR has been talking to hunger strike organizers, but it seems that no resolution is in the works as of July 8.
We've seen the ripples of this campaign in our own work as we connect with many new people in California and reconnect with people who we have been cut off from by the state. We've also seen record traffic on our website with the hunger strike campaign page and the article featuring the prisoners' demands bringing in a lot of hits. This increase in readership is a direct result of the organizing of prisoners in California. However we must admit that a good chunk of the traffic is coming from state officials trying to gather intelligence from our reporting.
Donations we've collected so far are less than a tenth of the printing and postage expenses for outreach, mailing protest letters and sending communications to prisoners in California. As always, we can use donations of money and labor to keep up with this important work.
The hunger strike comes almost a year and a half after a formal complaint was filed with the governor of California regarding the torture and violation of Constitutional rights that prisoners face in Pelican Bay. After being ignored by official channels, they turned to outside supporters who came together and organized a press campaign and negotiation support. There was enough lead time that MIM(Prisons) was able to send campaign info to all of our California subscribers prior to the strike. We also hit the streets to gather signed letters of support and explain to people the importance of this struggle leading up to the strike.
A rally in San Francisco in June against the drug war featured the Pelican Bay prisoners' demands prominently. A comrade representing MIM(Prisons) spoke on the upcoming hunger strike, stressing that Pelican Bay was developed as a tool to repress political organizing in the California prison system and that those being targeted with indefinite SHU terms are largely leaders and influential people among the imprisoned oppressed nations. A former California prisoner also spoke about the torturous conditions in Pelican Bay, urging people to support the hunger strike.
During the march, supporters of the "Revolutionary Communist Party - USA" (rcp=u$a) were chanting, "Once we have the revolution, there'll be no mass incarceration!" Which revolution are they talking about? Even on a simple issue like opposing torture in prisons, rcp=u$a's idealist/chauvinist colors showed through. As we point out in every issue of Under Lock & Key, all Amerikans should be viewed as criminals who need to reform under the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the revolution finally hits U.$. soil there will likely be an increase in incarceration of U.$. citizens, as the majority of the world experiences freedom they have not seen for centuries. The difference is that proletarian prisons focus on reform and reintegration into society not torture and isolation as the imperialist system does.
The Campaign Continues
Once the strike began, MIM(Prisons) stepped up efforts to reach the public about the sacrifices and struggles of our comrades in prison. While comrades were able to reach visitors coming to CDCR prisons with fliers and letters of support, repression was reported from a few public spaces inside and outside California. In one case police forced comrades to leave for accepting donations without registering with the state, in others merely handing out fliers on public property got shut down. One police officer claimed that activists could not set up a table on a public sidewalk to solicit support for the strike, contradicting California laws and illegally shutting down our free speech. There are contradictions in a country that locks 100,000 of its citizens in isolation cells and prevents people from distributing leaflets in public space to support their struggle against torture. Their repression only strengthens resistance, and this campaign is a prime example of that. It is ludicrous to consider the label "free country" for a country that does not even provide equal access to political dialogue to all people.
In addition to talking to people on the street, comrades made efforts to reach people through independent media and art. MIM(Prisons) hosted a video clip on its website from the documentary Unlock the Box explaining the history of control units and how they were developed to repress those whose politics were in opposition to the state. Comrades also did outreach at hip hop shows and talked to a revolutionary Chicano group called BRWN BFLO who pledged active support to spreading the word about the hunger strike. Allies in the United $tates and Kanada hosted screenings of Unlock the Box as part of the campaign. Other organizations did interviews and programs on various radio shows.
Those doing outreach reported many interactions with people who had been in Pelican Bay State Prison, in some cases multiple people in the span of a couple hours. All strongly agreed with our criticisms of the conditions there. However, some people concluded that there was nothing that could be done, and that oppressed nations will always be treated this way.
There is a common attitude among current prisoners as well that struggling is useless. The SHU was invented to reinforce that idea. The best way to change those people's minds is by showing them the possibilities. We do that by fighting smartly, as these comrades in Pelican Bay have done resulting in people all over the world knowing about their fight. Serious, diligent organizing work is needed in our struggles for liberation, and basic rights such as the right of association, communication with the outside world and access to educational materials and programs. There are no quick fixes.