I am currently at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP) and I was involved in the recent hunger strike. We stayed on strike until July 5th, not just the 24 hour strike that your article stated we did at KVSP. It would have gone on longer until ISU and IGI started pulling out certain individuals and demanded we get off the hunger strike! As you know, validations are very easy to come by nowadays. So the hunger strike ended.
I got your letter about the food strike. I did my best to hang in there, I gave it 2 weeks and I had to eat. Sorry, I could not last any longer. So what is the outcome of the food strike? Did they accomplish their goal? Can you please let me know what's going on right now? I am validated and I got 6 years clean and they won't let me out of the SHU either.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are doing our best to keep our comrades behind bars updated on the food strike, which ended at Pelican Bay on July 21, at least temporarily. The latest issue of Under Lock & Key just went out with this update. The original goals of the strike were not won, but the administrators promised a major review of policies and the latest report from others in touch with strike leaders say that the CDCR has a few weeks to complete their review before the strike begins again.
One thing is for sure, if we don't keep up the pressure and hold them to not only review but actual policy change, the conditions of abuse and torture in prisons across California will remain the same. In addition, hunger strikers are likely to face reprisals as punishment for their protest if we don't continue to increase support inside and outside California prisons.
The recent mass hunger strike got the prisoncrats' attention even though the prisoncrats seek to downplay or minimize the success of the strike by spoon feeding the media. In particular, their Sacramento Bee spin doctor stooge accepts the official representations which contain very few facts mixed with the typical misleading, provocative and confusing innuendo so as to perpetuate their coined myths.
The public is gullible and must be constantly educated to see through muddy water. Such has been the case for years because of the assumption that government officials and law enforcement allegedly have their safety, security and best interests at the forefront when it's really all about the money or budget. The CDCR purveys to the public that the most dangerous and supposedly most hardened prison gang leaders called for the hunger strike even though they also claim that the modus operandi of gangs are violence and intimidation which is totally contrary to the utilization of a passive non-violent form of protest which requires self restraint and determination.
The secretary, Matthew Cate, stated in a CDCR prepared statement that "hunger strikes are dangerous and ineffective as a means for prisoners to attempt to negotiate." Yet, the administrative appeal process is also dangerous and ineffective as each level rubber stamps the arbitrary decision of the prior level. Even when the decision was obviously in error and a threat to prisoner health and safety, they refuse to accept responsibility and accountability.
What the secretary has not said is that the hunger strike by masses of prisoners have in fact overwhelmed the prison medical department with additional medical expense to an already overburdened prison healthcare system. The strikers pose a more significant problem for the prisoncrats' budget than the shooting and gassing of violent prisoners in prison uprisings or even non-violent prisoners who are also shot, gassed/sprayed and beat with zeal as prisoncrats claim they were a threat to institutional security [see grievance campaign].
Prisoncrats, as any conscious prisoner should know, could not care less about the health of prisoners. They do care about the expense of providing constitutional mandated medical care. Therefore we should question the prisoncrats' claim to have had plans since January to review and change some policies, which were only revealed to us after weeks of food strikes.
Prisoncrats tend to take full advantage of the divide and conquer concept and are at their best when they are able to pit the lumpen divisions against each other for amusement or distraction which is why one should be suspicious of any claim by the prisoncrats to want to eliminate what they have for years encouraged and perpetuated in the penal system to justify the excessive prison budget.
The mass hunger strike may have only lasted 20 days, but it was like a shot across the bow of the CDCR's battleship by an enemy they can not justifiably target with all their massive violent resources and infrastructure. Yes the mass hunger strike got the prisoncrats' attention and their immediate response was to again expand the censorship of information prisoners receive so as to keep us unaware of what's going on. However, it also got their budgetary attention via their healthcare pocketbook.
The hunger strike also got the attention of the CCPOA which realizes that such strikes benefit the SEIU who are gaining more clout in the prison system and custody staff have effectively been rendered impotent as they do not have a real or effective contingency for dealing with non-violent forms of protest that they can not counteract or employ violence to suppress and to that extent the mass hunger strike was a success.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Many are writing in disappointed with the outcome of the California hunger strike so far. But as this comrade points out, the strategy of the hunger strikers was effective in a number of ways. And as the CDCR is given a "brief grace period," as one of the strike initiators called it, we are regrouping. There are many who just found out about the strike as it was happening. If the CDCR continues to drag its feet on making any real changes, as we all expect they will, we should see an even stronger and more widespread response from prisoners across California and beyond. Of course, CDCR is regrouping as well, and we must guard against efforts to trick prisoners into thinking they do not share the same conditions and the same enemies.
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.
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.
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 $tates and Kanada hosted screenings of Unlock the Box as part of the campaign. Other organizations did interviews and programs on various radio shows.
Those doing outreach reported many interactions with people who had been in Pelican Bay State Prison, in some cases multiple people in the span of a couple hours. All strongly agreed with our criticisms of the conditions there. However, some people concluded that there was nothing that could be done, and that oppressed nations will always be treated this way.
There is a common attitude among current prisoners as well that struggling is useless. The SHU was invented to reinforce that idea. The best way to change those people's minds is by showing them the possibilities. We do that by fighting smartly, as these comrades in Pelican Bay have done resulting in people all over the world knowing about their fight. Serious, diligent organizing work is needed in our struggles for liberation, and basic rights such as the right of association, communication with the outside world and access to educational materials and programs. There are no quick fixes.
On this fourth day of July, Amerikans all across the country are celebrating their freedoms with beer and bangs. Yet in the same country there are more people locked in tiny cages for 22 to 24 hours per day, with little or no access to the outside world, than in any other country in the world. In Pelican Bay State Prison in California many are in such "control units" because of who they associate with, and they were put there based on secret evidence. For any student of the U.$. Constitution or the Bill of Rights it is obvious that the promised freedoms of Amerikkka are not granted to its internal semi-colonies.
Today we are sending dozens of signed letters from residents of California who share our concerns for prisoners forced to live in these torturous conditions and who support those in Pelican Bay engaging in a peaceful hunger strike.
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
5 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Included with this letter are dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican bay State Prison. We are sending these letters to you in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The letters are asking you to do all that is within your power to do to change the conditions in PBSP to meet the strikers' demands.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
To view a copy of the general letter that people signed, click here.
Please stop any abuses that are going on inside the prison complex. - Oakland, CA
Stop locking up prisoners who need other kinds of help (drug, etc.) P.S. Wasting my tax dollars 4 real! - Berkeley, CA
P.S. U.S. signed the Convention Against Torture. It has been ratified. It is the law of the land. Please do not violate our laws! Thanks. - Richmond, CA
Please attend to this!!! NOW! - Oakland, CA
I just don't understand how people in this day & time are still so devilish, when they got power & it's a very fucked up feeling because we are human beings & you all treat us like shit! -Oakland, CA
Dehumanizing prisoners is sickness; you are helping commit crimes against humanity by abuses and deprivation of basic rights and needs of prisoners. -Eureka, CA
In the letters to Warden Lewis, the California cities of Hercules, San Francisco, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Stockton, Napa, Chula Vista and Vacaville were also represented and supporters have forwarded letters they wrote from as far as BC, Canada.