California Prison Hunger Strike Ends Peacefully
(Note: This is my fifth and final essay in support of the California prisoners on hunger strike. The first is here. The second is here. OPOL’s wonderful treatment of the situation is here. The third is here. Yesterday’s is here.
SF Gate reports that after three full weeks the California Prisoners’ Hunger Strike has come peacefully to an end. Prisoners across California are now eating:
Inmates have ended a three-week hunger strike in the high-security Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County to protest conditions in isolation units at the facility and what they said were oppressive gang-security measures by prison officials, California prison officials say.
Advocates for the prisoners said they got confirmation late Thursday from the inmates themselves. Meanwhile, some inmates in three other state prisons who were refusing to eat in solidarity with those in Pelican Bay were continuing their strike until they could also receive confirmation, state officials said.
"Most inmates at Pelican Bay started eating again last night, and as of 1 p.m. today they were all eating," Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Thursday.
"Our staff is now consulting with the prisoners in the other institutions who are still refusing to eat prison-issued food, and we are hoping they start eating again soon," she said.
The hunger strike began at Pelican Bay near the Oregon on July 1 and spread to 6,600 inmates in 13 of California's prisons, according to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition in Oakland. On the twentieth day, the number of strikers had fallen to between 160 and 400.
As a sign of its willingness to look further into the prisoners’ five core demands, and in recognition of the time it will take to enact structural changes, the Department of Corrections is initially easing restrictions in isolation units so inmates can make phone calls and get calendars and cold-weather caps, as well as expanded educational opportunities. Other reforms—the main demands of the prisoners-- are also being considered.
Inmate leaders said they do not consider their eating the end of anything. They consider it a beginning. Today would have been Day 22 of the prison hunger strike. This may have been the most significant act of prisoner resistance in 40 years, since the Attica Uprising in 1971. And, fortunately, unlike Attica, this phase has not ended in violence.
The main issues, of course, remain. Long term, 23-hour per day solitary confinement continues. But the prisoners managed to bring together Black and Latino prisoners who are normally set against each other. And they managed, despite restrictions on their communicating with each other and with those outside the walls, to assert their humanity and challenge others to reclaim their humanity by standing with them in solidarity.
Thank you for supporting this struggle so far. The march toward humane treatment of prisoners continues in California and across America.