We had another support strike here on Calipatria's A-Yard from Aug 26 to the 28th. The July 8th support strike went on for 7 days and involved all races. There was also broad refusal to go to work or school. This time around, however, only Mexicans refused food and people still went to work. On top of all that, the food strike was called off right after a race riot broke out on the yard between us (Mexicans), and the whites. We skipped 9 meals but I'm not even sure that the pigs reported this as a hunger strike.
The pigs have clever ways of manipulating our numbers here. During normal program we get a sack lunch as we exit the chow hall after breakfast and I believe they lump this together as one meal because during the July strike they didn't come around to acknowledge that we had skipped 9 meals and ask if we were participating in a hunger strike until after we skipped breakfast on the fifth day. By then about half of the strikers had started eating and going to work. They also followed their question of whether we were on hunger strike by asking if we would allow them to take the food we had in our cells. Many answered "no," others answered "yes." The following day the pigs came around and only bothered with the cells that answered "yes," going right by the cells that answered "no." CDCR claims that confiscating food is done in order to monitor our food intake. They can say that they couldn't start monitoring our food intake until they confiscated the food. If they start counting how many meals you skipped after they took the food then you're not even counted as a hunger striker because we only lasted a day and a half after that.
When they asked if they could remove food items they only accepted yes or no answers. I told the pig over and over that there was no food for them to take but that wasn't even a question. If you answered no then they could say that you acknowledged having food in your cell but wouldn't allow them to take it. They pretty much don't have to count anybody by using these tactics.
We need to go on an indefinite work strike that should last as long as they insist on having indefinite SHU terms, but there's not enough people with jobs in level 4 yards making it easy for CDCR to target those few inmates who refuse to work and replacing them with people from lower levels or PC yards.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This discussion of the latest action in Calipatria underscores the importance of our work to build unity and a United Front before engaging in serious actions. We commend everyone who stands up against the system and puts their lives and health at risk, but without unity we end up with small numbers of protesters and struggle to present a united position to the prison system. As we discussed at length in our article summing up the strike suspension, we don't anticipate the state will meet the strikers demands, but the struggle against torture continues.
According to the Collective's statement, they have suspended their strike in response to a pledge by state legislators Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock and Tom Hayden to hold a legislative hearing into conditions in the Security Housing Units (SHU) and the debriefing process. MIM(Prisons) is not optimistic of the outcome of such hearings. Ammiano held a hearing in August 2011 in response to the first of three mass hunger strikes around this struggle, and nothing changed, leading to the second hunger strike that October. Back in 2003, our comrades as part of the United Front to Abolish the SHU attended a legislative hearing on the conditions in the California SHU and the validation process. They published an article entitled, "CA senate hearings on the SHU: we can't reform torture." Ten years later, little has changed. These hearings keep happening, but they are little more than pacifying talks by those in power. The facts have been out there, the state has known what is going on in these torture cells. So what is the difference now? And how can we actually change things?
CDCR Done Addressing Problems
Before we look at how we can change things, let's further dispel any illusions that the CDCR or the state of California is going to be the source of this change. In the latest iteration of the strike, an additional 40 demands were drafted around smaller issues and widely circulated to supplement the 5 core demands. On 26 August 2013, the CDCR released a point-by-point response to the demands of those who have been on hunger strike since July 8. The announcement by the CDCR cites a 5 June 2013 memo that allegedly addresses many of these supplemental demands. Others are listed as being non-issues or non-negotiable.
This CDCR announcement implies that we should not have hopes for negotiations or actions towards real change from CDCR. The Criminal Injustice System will not reform itself; we must force this change.
The Struggle Against Torture Continues
At first glance, the fact that this struggle has been waging for decades with little headway (especially in California) can be discouraging. However, our assessment of conditions in the imperialist countries teaches us that right now struggle against oppression must take the form of long legal battles, despite claims by the censors that we promote lawlessness. Sporadic rebellions with lots of energy, but little planning or longevity, do not usually create change and the conditions for armed struggle do not exist in the United $tates. We are therefore in strategic unity with the leaders who have emerged to sue the state, while unleashing wave after wave of peaceful demonstrations of ever increasing intensity. All of us involved have focused on agitation to shape public opinion and promote peace and unity among prisoners, and then using those successes to apply pressure to the representatives of the state. These are all examples of legal forms of struggle that can be applied within a revolutionary framework. Lawyers and reformists who can apply constant pressure in state-run forums play a helpful role. But make no mistake, prisoners play the decisive role, as the strikes are demonstrating.
Control units came to be and rose to prominence in the same period that incarceration boomed in this country. As a result, in the last few decades the imprisoned lumpen have been a rising force in the United $tates. Within the class we call the First World lumpen, it is in prisons where we see the most stark evidence of this emerging and growing class, as well as the most brutal responses from Amerikans and the state to oppose that class.
In California prisons in the last three years we've seen that with each successive hunger strike, participation has more than doubled. Just think what the next phase will look like when the CDCR fails to end torture once again! And as a product of this rising force in prisons, support on the outside has rallied bigger each time as well. As we said, this outside support is important, but secondary to the rising imprisoned lumpen.
Over 30,000 prisoners, one-fifth of the population in California, participated in this latest demonstration against torture. Many who didn't strike the whole time wrote to us that they, and those with them, were on stand-by to start up again. These grouplets standing by should be the basis for developing cadre. The 30,000 plus prisoners should be the mass base, and should expand with further struggle and education.
If you're reading this and still wondering, "what is it that MIM(Prisons) thinks we should do exactly?" — it's the same things we've been promoting for years. Focus on educating and organizing, while taking on winnable battles against the injustice system. Fighting to shut down the control units is important, but it is only one battle in a much larger struggle that requires a strong and organized anti-imperialist movement. We run our own study programs and support prisoner-run study groups on the inside. We provide Under Lock & Key as a forum for agitating and organizing among the imprisoned lumpen country-wide. We have study materials on building cadre organizations, concepts of line, strategy and tactics and the basics of historical and dialectical materialism. Each of these topics are key for leaders to understand.
Organizing means working and studying every day. In addition to the topics above, you can study more practical skills that can be used to serve the people such as legal skills, healthy living skills and how to better communicate through writing and the spoken word. Prisoners are surrounded by potential comrades who can't even read! We need Serve the People literacy programs. Combining these practical trainings with the political study and trainings promoted above will allow leaders to both attract new people with things they can relate to, while providing guidance that illuminates the reality of our greater society.
Principled organizing builds trust and dedication, which are two thing that comrades often report being in short supply in U.$. prisons. Principled organizing is how we can overcome these shortcomings. It is not an easy, nor a quick solution. The opponent we face is strong, so only by studying it closely and battling strategically will we be able to overcome it.
Whatever other tactics comrades on the inside decide to take to continue this struggle against torture, the need for building, organizing, and educating is constant and at the strategic level. Without that the movement does not strengthen or advance. If you're taking up this work, we want to hear from you and we want to support you in your efforts.
I was confined to Ad-Seg in Harris County Jail while my case was under trial. Texas law requires the jail to give prisoners at least one hour a day for exercise and meaningful recreation. I stayed in segregation for nine months. Not once was I allowed out of cell exercise. I filed grievances, which were denied. I then filed a Section 1983 lawsuit for violation of my 14th amendment right to due process. The litigation is ongoing, however the jail refuses to stop this barbaric and inhumane treatment of 24 hour lockdown. The "justice" system is failing to protect the incarcerated individual. Again.
I traded several of my meals to other prisoners for a few stamps. I was only able to gather 5 stamps. I know it's not much, but I hope it helps some. I have been spreading the MIM(Prisons) campaigns, and have put together a small group of other prisoners to remember the Attica uprising. We have planned a fast for September 9, 2013.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is organizing others to participate in the country-wide demonstration September 9. Calling attention to the treatment of prisoners, this demonstration coincides with the anniversary of the Attica uprising.
22 August 2013 — I write to inform you that our hunger strike (in this unit for death row) has officially been suspended. In good faith we'll allow the warden to fulfill his promises of productive and positive change. It is these changes that will eventually improve death row for the best. It is a start and the right steps towards changing this whole system for the best.
Although we may have suspended ours, many more continue to struggle to bring about change in their torture dungeons. And we shall not stop exposing this place for what it is. We shall not stop sharing our stories, our truths and helping others end their plight. The battle has just begun and this exposure, this movement has united us even more. It has unmasked our captors and brought many individuals to our aid who have helped change things already. And with each passing day many more join the movement.
I want to thank you for getting us this far. For making it possible to put enough pressure on the warden and his administration to come to terms with our demands. Without your help, we wouldn't have made it to this point. Thank you for all you've done and continue doing in helping to end these injustice and torture dungeons. We are only half the movement, while you're the other half. Together we will change this world for the best.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend our comrades at San Quentin for their perseverance in this hunger strike. We know, however, that the prisoncrats have a long history of false promises. This comrade is right that this battle has helped to build unity, education and gained more activists for the movement. These are real victories, regardless of the outcome of the warden's promises.
While we don't have the details on the promises made, another report claims that the only written agreement at the time was that searches would not be done outside if it is raining. This came from a report from a striker who passed out from liver failure, who reported others in San Quentin were also facing difficult health conditions due to lack of food.(1) We posted the full list of demands developed at San Quentin back in June.
Here in the Ad-Seg unit at North Kern they've transferred a lot of us to A4 which is on the main level III yard, and half of the building is Ad-Seg, the other is orientation. All of us are on single cell status and validated members and associates of STG (Security Threat Group types) I & II but there's unity in here.
The hunger strike/work stoppage is over, and most if not all received 128 G chronos for participating. This will be used as validation points, but no one cares. We don't get our 10 hour a week for yard, no laundry exchange, or supplies being passed out, and our food is cold because they serve it on paper trays.
Our mail has to get rerouted from the other Ad-Seg unit and the IGI/ISU informed us that the SF Bayview, CA Prison Focus, The Rock, Revolution, Militant, PHSS, MIM(Prisons) and any of the literature that makes reference to our struggle behind these walls will be screened and withheld. I've been receiving mail that's 2.5 months old. We have a group 602 going around collecting signatures so we can show the yard captain we're not happy with this program we have here in the A4 location. Just yesterday they cell extracted someone and all of us above the incident on the top tier had pepper spray in our cells, because it came up through our cells, and the ventilating shaft.
I'm writing to give you an update on the protest back in June. The protest in June was just the start. The real protest will jump off in October. The one in June went on for six days, not two. It was on for two days before the south and north compounds took part. We really wanted to go off with the July 8 one, but things here were getting so bad the prisoners just couldn't hold back any longer. By October all should be ready. If not, those that are prepared will be ready to share the understanding of what is going on so all the population will be on the same page. And everyone understands this is a peaceful protest, too much is just not right. I'm not the one doing the talking but I'm surely a part.
MIM(Prisons) adds: As another comrade from New Jersey reported: "Although nothing has changed as of the writing of this report, it is important to highlight that the level of unity achieved across nations and groups, the effective organization of the protest, and the fearful response by the state demonstrate the power of non-violent resistance in a corrections environment." We agree this unity is critical. We are seeing unity in resistance in prisons across the country. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to educate and build. As this prisoner points out, those who are ready for October in New Jersey will share information so that all the population will understand. We call on anti-imperialist comrades in prison to expand this education and take this opportunity to educate others about the nature of the injustice system and its role in imperialism in general. Protests to improve conditions are important, but they are just the start.
19 August 2013 - Today, a federal court approved the force-feeding of people who are on hunger strike in California prisons to protest torture in the form of long-term isolation and group punishment. The force-feeding itself is considered torture by many, including those who have been on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay since February and have been suffering through force-feeding for months.
The decision in California came shortly after we posted a report from a comrade who was denied liquid supplements and collapsed on July 21 in Corcoran State Prison. Many others have collapsed since then, and the state's behavior has made it clear that the health of prisoners has not been a concern of theirs. They apply very strict rules to how they count people as being on "hunger strike," knowing that strikers depend on the state to report their numbers to the public, forcing them to abide by these rules that don't allow for any electrolytes.
The state has consistently used health care as a weapon to manipulate prisoners into submission, rather than act as the custodians of health and safety that they claim to be. Now that strikers are approaching life-threatening conditions, the CDCR is acting to prevent them from exercising one of the strongest forms of protest that they have from within these isolation cells. The attention given to the situation inside California prisons right now is already unprecedented and they fear that if more prisoners die they may lose their power to torture prisoners in the future. The torture is important to them because it is what they believe to be their best tool to prevent the oppressed from fighting their oppression (the injustice system's true purpose). The ongoing hunger strike, decades in the making, has begun to turn the tables on that idea though.
This recent report asserts that 70 of 130 prisoners currently on hunger strike have been going since July 8, 2013. There are a number of groups of prisoners in California who are ready to restart hunger strike in support of the 70 (or more) who are in it for the long haul as the struggle heightens.
In the months leading up to July 8, there was some debate about the return to the hunger strike tactic, particularly as previous attempts were aborted prematurely without any changes from the state. But those first two strikes resonated among the oppressed across the country, and particularly in California where 30,000 prisoners stood up against long-term isolation on July 8, 2013. As we approach 50 days on strike, and repeated assertions from participants that they will not stop for mere promises this time, this struggle is approaching a crucial point. To date, control units have been a fairly effective tool of repression. But if oppression breeds resistance, then even these tools of total control can be overcome. At no other point have we been closer to that goal than we are right now. Those who have and will give their lives for this struggle must not die in vain. Those 30,000 plus prisoners who supported this campaign must take every opportunity over the coming months to build, educate and organize to prepare for the next phase of this struggle. A failure to seize this moment in the prison movement will mean much more suffering for the imprisoned lumpen in the decades to come.
I'm writing to report on the hunger strike from Calipatria State Prison. Everyone here on the facility showed their support. Not all of us agreed on the tactics that some chose to pursue but nonetheless we all participated. Some people refused to go to work while others chose only not to accept food. Everyone who chose not to go to work received write ups (CDCR 115) for refusing to work and participation in security threat group (STG) activity. So now those people have STG points against them. Some guys were trying to force everyone not to work but calmer heads prevailed and they allowed people to make the choice themselves.
Out of the 850 prisoners on this yard, at least 700 participated. It only lasted for a week. The staff passed out a flyer on what can happen medically to a person who goes without food for long periods of time. They sent the nurse from door to door asking if people were alright but it didn't get to the point where they had to start weighing people.
A lot of questions are now being asked like what did that accomplish? Although we had a high level of participation we had no one to actually explain what the strike was for or what are the goals we are trying to accomplish. Most guys just get involved because they were told to. The people who are socially conscious and politically conscious didn't want to speak up for fear of being labeled as inciting the strike which will land you in the SHU. A lot of guys who have been down for 30 years have been broken and refuse to stand up to the administration.
All in all we here at Calipatria showed our support until next time.
MIM(Prisons) responds:First let us recognize what this comrade said about prisoners receiving STG points against them for a peaceful refusal to eat or go to work. This is what the CDCR is using to label people a Security Threat Group member and put them in torture units for years or even decades - the main thing that the strike is protesting in the first place! Such outrageous injustice should fuel the struggle for basic humyn rights in Calipatria.
Second, let's acknowledge the amazing accomplishment of having 700 out 850 prisoners participate in a united action that was part of a planned strategic approach towards change in the interests of all prisoners. This is historic, and it is happening all over California!
That said, the masses are correct to ask, "What did this accomplish?" This report exposes the importance of building political consciousness and educating our comrades behind bars both before and during protest actions. We must build leadership to ensure that the political message of these protests is effectively conveyed, both to those participating and to the target of our protests.
Of course, the application of leadership in such closely monitored conditions should be done cautiously as the comrades in Calipatria did. Materials like Under Lock & Key can be tools for spreading education and providing leadership. But even then we face censorship, and prisoners get written up just for possessing literature, which presumably was given to them by prison mail staff in the first place. The solutions to this are tactical questions that should be part of the sum up of the experiences in California prisons this summer. As the masses are struggling for answers, now is the time to step in and have these discussions however you can in your locality. What is the opinion of the actions? What do people think should have been done differently? How did leadership fail, and how could you build differently in the future? If you come up with universal conclusions send them to us to share, however as conditions vary over time and place, most of these conversations should be applied locally.
On the large scale we can make a few points. First, the strike was about ending conditions of torture in California prisons, in particular in the long-term isolation units (SHU, ASU, etc.). And the strike continues with almost 300 people having not eaten for over 40 days according to the CDCR, and an unknown number of others still participating who are not being counted. So the struggle continues there.
If comrades in Calipatria are asking what their one-week actions accomplished, we encourage them to look back at the agreement to end hostilities and the United Front for Peace in Prisons statement on page 2 of Under Lock & Key that were used to form a basis for the massive support seen this time around. The goals of these projects are to unite prisoners around their mutual interests as prisoners and prevent the state from pitting them against each other as a form of social control. We hope that comrades in Calipatria were inspired by the tremendous level of solidarity this author reports on. There are many ways to build on this unity through things such as study groups, health campaigns, literacy programs, and other forms of mutual support. In our own work we model such programs after the Black Panthers and Chinese Serve the People Programs, which had the purpose of providing for survival needs pending revolution.
On July 19th I was escorted to the medical clinic to request liquid nutrients, vitamins and proper directions on the re-feeding process after hunger strike. I was denied all requests. I was specifically told by nursing staff that CDCR officials have told all medical staff not to intervene in the on-goings of hunger strike patients until otherwise directed. I continued to request said items during daily nurse/medical rounds for the days leading up to July 21st only to be denied with some sort of unprofessional response.
On July 21, during my allotted rec time my body shut down. I fell, hitting my head on the concrete and knocking myself unconscious for at least two minutes. I was brought to the emergency prison hospital and once again provided with inadequate medical care. After blood/urine/vitals samples and testing I was told there was the possibility of death if I were to continue hunger strike for 24 hours. I obviously requested liquid nutrients/vitamins/etc. And I was denied. I was told by the doctor that CDCR officials are not letting med staff intervene in hunger strike participants and was told to go back to cell with no medical help.
[In response to the article MIM(Prisons) printed about the Martinez hunger strike demands, calling on prisoners there not to isolate the "mental health" prisoners from the "non-mental health" prisoners, we received the following update and clarification.]
Maybe we were not clear on the housing of mental health prisoners here in Ad-Seg. Our point is that there is an entire module for mental health prisoners where they can get help for their issues with trained staff. There is no mental health staff stationed in Ad-Seg, and no groups or therapy for prisoners. Bottom line is, mental health prisoners should not be housed in Ad-Seg on the whims of classification unit. Yes these guys are a headache to have in Ad-Seg, but more importantly they receive no help and deteriorate further by being warehoused in Ad-Seg. We are not trying to cause division in the prison population.
There are 53 inmates housed in Ad-Seg here. 13 prisoners did a 24 hour support strike while 5 of us continued for 6 to 12 days. We continue to support all those still on strike. Our strike is suspended, not stopped. If we do not continue to move forward in our demands or we come to a place in time when it is warranted, then we will continue our strike.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter addresses our criticism of the demand by MDF prisoners to "immediately cease and desist the unconstitutional custom, practice and unofficial policy of improperly housing inmates with mental health issues among the non-mental-health-status Ad-Seg detainees" as unnecessarily divisive. The original demand complained of the disruptive behaviors from the mental health prisoners but did not mention the lack of treatment options for these individuals. If conditions are better in the mental health module, it would be an improvement for these individuals to escape Ad-Seg and be placed there. However, the "treatment" for people with mental health problems in the United $tates is, at best, a targeting of the symptoms, and at worst leaves people either physically or medically restrained in a drug-induced stupor.
Mental illness in prisoners can often be linked to the conditions in which they are housed, especially long-term isolation. So we are naturally skeptical of any treatment offered by those same captors who insist on locking people up in conditions that induce the health problems in the first place. But we appreciate the additional explanation that the MDF prisoners did not intend the demand for mental health prisoners to be divisive but rather targeted treatment for these individuals. We hope they will consider carefully the wording of such demands in the future.
In the short term, we know that capitalism will continue to produce new cases of mental illness which can not be successfully treated until we address the problems of a society that generates these illnesses. We look to China under Mao for an example of successful treatment of mental health conditions by addressing both the immediate problems and the systemic roots of these conditions.
Meanwhile, the comrades in Martinez are not the only ones on suspended hunger strike. A number of comrades have reported a willingness to restart in support of the five core demands as the struggle heightens.