Day 21: Support The California Prisoners' Hunger Strike!
(Note: This is my fourth 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. Yesterday’s is here The take away: California prisoners on hunger strike for 3 full weeks have requested your support in their struggle to end long term, 23 hour a day solitary confinement in California’s Special Housing Units. I urge you to support their struggle to be free from torture.)
Today is day 21 of the prison hunger strike. This may be the most significant act of prisoner resistance in 40 years, since the Attica Uprising in 1971.
Yesterday, I had a conversation in which I was asked (I’m paraphrasing) what the big deal was. Why do I care what is happening to prisoners California claims are the worst of the worst, murderers, rapists, gang members? Why do I care if they are in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for years at a time? And why do I insist on writing these diaries over and over again, asking for readers to support the Hunger Strikers? It was a fair question. And my answer to it is that nobody would ask what’s the matter if they really understood solitary confinement. If they really understood solitary confinement they would see that it’s torture, and that civilized people do not treat other people as vermin.
There are two ways I can explain solitary confinement. The first is this powerful video from the American Friends Service Committee:
The second is the words and links and photos in an essay I wrote in January 12, 2010, Torture In Your Own Backyard. I admit I was tempted to paste the entire essay here. I won’t. That will make today’s essay entirely too long and unmanageable. Please follow the link.
All of which brings me back to the Hunger Strike. Please forgive me for repeating myself.
There is a story that when Oscar Wilde was first transported to prison, he looked out the train window and said, “Well, if that’s how the queen treats her prisoners, she doesn’t deserve to have any.” How true of California. A rightwing Supreme Court recently ruled that conditions in California’s prisons denied the prisoners freedom from cruel and inhuman punishment. Conditions were that horrible. But the Court did not focus on California’s widespread use of long term solitary confinement. Or its insane policy of holding alleged gang members in solitary confinement for six years or longer if they did not snitch and/or renounce gang membership. And it did not consider the damage to prisoners’ bodies, minds and souls from unremitting isolation from other people. No. The prisoners themselves had to bring that to our attention. And they did so in the only way they possibly could: by starving themselves. This reminds of Bobby Sands. The prisoners had no other choice. And they knew when they began that they had little chance of forcing changes in the barbaric conditions of their confinement unless you, that’s right, you get involved and stand with them and support their struggle to be free from barbaric treatment.
In recognition of this, prisoners at Corcoran have specifically requested your assistance:
“Our indefinite isolation here is both inhumane and illegal and the proponents of the prison industrial complex are hoping that their campaign to dehumanize us has succeeded to the degree that you don’t care and will allow the torture to continue in your name. It is our belief that they have woefully underestimated the decency, principles and humanity of the people. Join us in opposing this injustice without end. Thank you for your time and support”
This is not about whether prisoners should be released. It is not about whether prisoners should remain in confinement. It is not about frivolous demands for country club treatment. This is not a general debate about correctional policy. This is about stopping the torture of brutal, long term, unremitting solitary confinement. We could understand that when we opposed it in Gitmo. We could understand that when we opposed it in “Black Sites” and Bagram. We could understand it when we opposed it for Bradley Manning. The task now is to recognize that these prisoners, too, deserve to be free from the torture of long term solitary confinement. And to take whatever steps we can to oppose it in California, just as we would anywhere else in the world.
The core demands of the prisoners are here with a petition in support of the strikers. I urge you to read the demands, all of which are designed solely to protect prisoners’ from being harmed by abusive solitary confinement, and to sign the petition.
Please call and/or write the Governor and the Commissioner to support the striking prisoners:
Secretary Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, Telephone: (916) 323-6001
Governor Jerry Brown, State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, Telephone: (916) 445-2841
Please speak up for the striking prisoners. Put their struggle on your blog. Put their struggle on facebook. Tweet it. Tell others about the strike. You, if you are reading this, understand the magic of the Internet and its ability to spread important information far and wide. The striking prisoners need you to do that for them. They need you to open your eyes and hearts and mouths and stand against domestic torture. They need your compassion. But they most need your voices.
Only your support can bring their struggle to a safe and humane solution.