Tuesday, August 20, 2013

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Day 44

Statewide Prisoner Hunger Strike to Stop Torture, Long-Term Isolation & Indefinite Solitary Confinement in Prisons [link]

Emergency: Publish Call to Stop Torture & Force-Feeding in CA Prisons!
Join Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, actor Viggo Mortensen, artist Chuck D, Robin D.G. Kelley, Wayne Kramer, Marjorie Cohn, Jackie Sumell & Hilary Donnell of “Herman’s House,” Luis Valdez, Blasé Bonpane, and many others to help publish the Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons next week (or as soon as possible) in the Los Angeles Times. 
This is an emergency.  It’s day 44 of the California prisoners’ hunger strike to end the torture of solitary confinement andother abuses.  Never have so many prisoners participated (30,000) and never have so many (nearly 100) maintained a hunger strike so long.  Now California is preparing to force-feed these hunger strikers.  Guantanamo all over again - further torturing those protesting torture.  This must be stopped!
So please sign the Emergency Call to Stop Torture.  Make a generous contribution so it can be published.  ($6,400 is needed for half-page ad, $13,000 for full-page.)  Talk to others about doing likewise.
Publishing this ad in the LA Times will inform 100's of thousands who know little or nothing about the hunger strike; it will counter authorities' lies and vilification of the prisoners, and it will show California that growing numbers see their actions as unconscionable and illegitimate!

Tens of thousands of people imprisoned in the US are being subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions.  Many are:
•   Held in long term solitary confinement; locked in tiny, windowless, sometimes sound proof, cells;  cut off from fresh air and sunlight for 22-24 hours every day and given small portions of food that lack basic nutritional requirements.
•   Denied human contact and violently taken from their cells for petty violations.
•   Put in solitary arbitrarily, often because of accusations for being members of prison gangs based on dubious evidence, with no way to challenge the decisions of prison authorities to place them in solitary.
Many are forced to endure these conditions for months, years and even decades!  Mental anguish and trauma often results from being confined under these conditions.  Locking people down like this amounts to trying to strip them of their humanity.  These conditions fit the international definition of torture!  This is unjust, illegitimate and profoundly immoral. WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!
People imprisoned at Pelican Bay and other prisons in California launched a nationwide Hunger Strike on July 8, 2013.  Prisoners at Pelican Bay also issued a call for unity among people from different racial groups, inside and outside the prisons.  People who are locked down in segregation units of this society’s prisons, condemned as the “worst of the worst,” are standing up against injustice, asserting their humanity in the process.  We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!
A nationwide and worldwide struggle needs to be built NOW to bring an end to this widespread torture and to support the prisoners who have put their lives on the line.
To the Government: We Demand an Immediate End to the Torture and Inhumanity of Prison House America – Immediately Disband All Torture Chambers.  Meet the Demands of Those You Have Locked Down In Your Prisons!
To People in this Country and Around the World: We Cannot Accept, and We Should Not Tolerate This Torture.  Join the Struggle to End Torture in Prisons Now!

2013-08-20 "CA Hunger Strikers and the Malnourished American Conscience; DAY 44"
by Rebecca McCray [http://www.full-stop.net/2013/08/20/blog/rmccray/california-hunger-strikers-and-the-malnourished-american-conscience/]:
“We are not in search of death; we are looking for real life.”  — Tiananmen Square Hunger Strike Declaration, 1989
In an eight by ten foot cell in California, Todd Ashker is starving. He hasn’t eaten in nearly six weeks, and his body has begun to lose muscle mass. Exhaustion has set in, and his organ functions have slowed. In the windowless cells on either side of his, more men steadily starve. These men are isolated in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay Prison, a tidy euphemism for long-term solitary confinement. Pelican Bay is the state’s most notorious supermax prison, reserved for what officials identify as “the worst of the worst” criminal offenders.
In this space, California’s “worst” are engaging in one of the most radically nonviolent acts of resistance a protestor can employ. They have elected to starve themselves until the state agrees to meet their five core demands – chief among which is a call to end the well-worn practice of indefinite solitary confinement. To achieve a life behind bars that resembles one worth living, they are risking death. After repeated attempts to negotiate with the California Department of Corrections to improve the conditions of their confinement (as well as two previous hunger strikes), these men have turned to the only tool they have left, offering their bodies in a dramatic act of corporal dissent.
In spite of their extreme isolation, the stark SHU cells at Pelican Bay are the unlikely birthplace of the California prisoners’ hunger strike, which spread to two-thirds of the facilities across the state, engaging 30,000 prisoners at its peak. Prisoners held here are the most dramatically exiled segment of an already banished population; the most aggressively marginalized people confined in the state’s massive and dysfunctional correctional system. More than 500 prisoners at Pelican Bay have survived in solitary confinement for more than a decade.
Historically, politically motivated hunger strikes have been employed by the free and the imprisoned alike; from Irish prisoners to Chinese students, to imprisoned activists and tomato harvesters, to suffragettes and journalists.  While for obvious reasons self-starvation is generally considered a desperate last resort, the strategy has been most notably utilized en masse by prisoners, who lack the mobility and power to engage in other modes of protest.
Bobby Sands, an Irish nationalist who lead the 1981 Irish prisoners’ hunger strike, sought to reclassify thousands of people as political rather than criminal prisoners, thereby demanding reforms to their conditions of confinement. He was so successful as a leader and gained so much media attention during the strike that he was elected a member of Parliament. Though the hunger strike ultimately lead to his death, his election galvanized public support for the prisoners’ cause, leading to the election of numerous nationalist party members. In today’s world of mass incarceration as the accepted American standard, it is a challenge to imagine a parallel political success story for prisoners in California.
While advocates throughout the state and across the country have demonstrated in solidarity with the hunger strikers, California prisons chief Jeffrey Beard only begrudgingly agreed to meet advocates on behalf of the prisoners after weeks of protest in early August, while his office made clear that this meeting should not be misinterpreted as “a mediation or negotiation.” Shortly after, he wrote an inflammatory editorial for the LA Times, dismissing the hunger strike as “gang power play,” and needlessly highlighting the violent backgrounds of the incarcerated strikers. According to Beard’s disjointed logic, an individual’s violent past is enough to warrant the inhumane conditions that the United Nations has likened to torture.
With more than 300 remaining hunger strikers closing out their sixth week of refusing food, a question uncomfortably lingers: is anyone really listening? A recent LA Times editorial cartoon bluntly and accurately notes that a hunger strike can only succeed if the society whose attention it seeks to engage has a conscience. A fleeting mention in an article or a social media share is a start, but these passive actions alone have clearly not inspired enough support behind the prisoners in California to motivate large-scale change on the part of the CADC. As their situation grows more perilous by the hour, the question of American conscience, or lack thereof, rings louder than ever.

2013-08-20 "Day 44 – Statement from Mediation Team"
Hunger Strikers, Gavin Newsom’s Citizenville and the Frontline -
Years ago a defense attorney, who was contemplating acceptance of her first death row client, talked to me about how hard it would be to keep this person from ending up in San Quentin’s Death Chamber. But she was anxious to take on the task. I asked her why? She simply and eloquently explained that in every society there must be people who are willing to stand in the way of those who abuse the power they have over individuals under their control. If there is no one there to point out that abuse, to push back against those powerful forces, the abuse will spread and deepen and will become unstoppable.
On Day 44 of the prisoner hunger strike, we are watching a real-life display of that lawyer’s philosophy—prisoners are starving themselves to disrupt the abuse of power displayed by the CDCR’s inhumane policies and practices involving indeterminate solitary confinement.
They have put themselves on the frontline of protest to demand to be treated like human beings.
Meanwhile, not long ago some of the family members of the hunger strikers attempted to meet with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom about these important matters. At the time, Newsom was temporarily serving as Acting Governor while Jerry Brown was traveling out of the country. The meeting never happened: Acting Governor Newsom said he would not have any more to say about the prisoner hunger strike than the Governor had to say about it, which, thus far, has been nothing helpful.  Well, pretty much nothing at all.
Ironically, the Lieutenant Governor recently released a book he authored called Citizenville. His promotional email states that “Citizenville shows how we can make government as useful and engaging as your iPhone.” He adds: “I talked to technology pioneers, entrepreneurs, and social media stars for Citizenville to come up with clear steps we can take to reshape our government and engage ordinary citizens.”
Perhaps the “usefulness” of government as depicted in Newsom’s marketing material for his book would be better measured by him and Governor Brown agreeing to talk to the hunger-striking prisoners themselves. The two elected officials could learn of some meaningful fixes to CDCR policies and practices that would do more than merely “engage ordinary citizens,” such talks could actually save lives—those of the protestors as well as those prisoners who are being made morose or insane or both by indeterminate solitary confinement for decades.
On behalf of the Mediation Team, Barbara Becnel 510-325-6336
Hunger Strike Mediation Team
* Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
* Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
* Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
* Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
* Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
* Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
* Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
* Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

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