In Support of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
Those organizing in support of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers, who are engaging in resistance to call attention to solitary confinement and other prison conditions, have been collecting statements of solidarity from academics, artists, celebrities, political leaders and well-known activists. The activist group World Can’t Wait has posted what they’ve been sent so far.
Actress Susan Sarandon declares:
I support the inmates of Corcoran State prison, pelican bay, and other prisons in their demands to end the inhumane policies of SECURITY HOUSING UNITS. I recognize their humanity and stand with them.
Dr. Cornel West declares, “I am in full solidarity with my brothers in their courageous protest against inhumane conditions in the prisons.”
Actor/director Mark Ruffalo shares:
Today prisoners of Corcoran prison, Pelican Bay and several others have joined in a large scale hunger strike to end the inhuman treatment they are receiving in Security Housing Units. Many of them are so deep in their strike for fair treatment they are near dying. Ask yourself what it would take for you to do such a thing? What lowness of suffering would you endure to starve yourself for weeks on end? For all of their wrongs they are still people and we are responsible for their humane care and wellbeing. I support their efforts for fair and humane treatment in our prison system and hope that decency on the part of our jailers prevails.
Author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem says:
I support the courage of thousands of California prisoners who are risking their health and lives to call attention to dangerous and de-humanizing prison conditions. We are all human beings who cannot survive in isolation. Now, even before change comes, please know you are being heard. We ask Governor Jerry Brown and all relevant officials to listen and to create prisons that do not bring shame to this country.
Celebrated Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El Saadawi of Cairo, Egypt declares in solidarity:
I condemn the horrific conditions under which those prisoners live in the USA. We have a common global struggle against all types of class race gender and religious oppressions, including American-European imperialisms and neocolonialisms. We live in one world dominated by the same military police capitalist patriarchal system. We need to fight together. Unity is power globally and locally. Our Egyptian revolution is winning till today because of our unified power of millions (women men and children from all sectors of the society) who are staying in Tahrir Square day and night, and in all streets and squares all over Egypt from Aswan south to Alexandria north, and Suez Canal cities and villages.
Actor David Straithairn:
What does it portend for any citizen, incarcerated or not, if their OWN NATION is not held accountable for the violation of its OWN laws, specified in its Own Constitution, that deal with the humane treatment and conditions of incarceration? To continually allow, deny, ignore, even tacitly accept, these deplorable abuses can only lead to the ultimate breakdown of our justice system and the ascendancy of a society ruled by oppression and repression. It can only lead us further into a darkness in which no one person will be able to trust that they are equal under any law. That laws are only the bastinados of the rich and powerful. If we choose to think of ourselves as a just and humane people setting an example for others to follow, then to NOT speak out against this, is corrosively hypocritical. It breeds a communality of cynicism and shame and makes us all prisoners. Simply out of common decency and respect for each other, for the preservation of a fair and just society, the demands of these people must honored.
Boots Riley, a rapper whose projects have included The Coup and the Street Sweeper Social Club, says:
Prisoners locked in isolation in the United States penal system are subjected to torturous conditions, without the ability to redress them. This is a question of human rights. It is a sad day when prisoners locked in the hole have to risk their lives with a hunger strike- not to be set free, not for a major change to the prison system, but for the right to be treated with a modicum of human dignity. To have adequate food, and to have it not tampered with by guards. To see natural sunlight. To not be locked in isolation indefinitely. Some people are locked in the hole for decades. We can not turn a blind eye to this. I stand in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strike and I salute those of you who are striking and supporting this fight.
Actor Edward Asner professes:
America, the Beautiful! What a crock. Ask the over 6,000 prisoners in California who are willing to starve themselves to death to achieve more humane conditions, if not for them, then for those in the future who will be condemned to such vile servitude. The punishment and intolerance meted out to them makes the state more criminal than the prisoners. For God’s sake, stop the illegal executions inflicted by the state in its maximum security prisons.
Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University, indicates his support noting:
It is sad that it requires a massive hunger strike by prisoners to call attention to the deplorable conditions that have long prevailed in California prisons, and we call upon our elected leaders, citizens, and media to acknowledge the urgency and justice of the appeal, and to take immediate steps to establish prison conditions befitting the inalienable dignity of ALL human beings.
And, Kathleen Chalfant, actress, and Henry Chalfant, filmmaker and photographer, declare:
We are both appalled by the conditions at Pelican Bay and by the impossibly inhumane treatment given these prisoners in a so-called civilized society—there is simply no excuse. We stand with the inmates in their struggle for decency and justice.
There are many more statements that can be read here.
From inmates at Corcoran State Prison, where inmates face many of the same conditions inmates at Pelican Bay face, inmates plead for support and thank those who are organizing and speaking out:
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.
FDL Dissenter writer Jeff Kaye offers this statement of support:
As a matter of basic humanity and support for the principles of justice, all Americans should support the protest of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other California prisons. Driven by desperation over the conditions of their incarceration, and double-dealing by the state prison authorities, they are putting their very lives on the line to let the public know about the injurious and inhumane conditions under which they are incarcerated. The solitary confinement and the indefinite terms under which that isolation is endured is a fact of life in the SHU units. It amounts to torture.
Yet it is not without its diabolical intent, as the psychological coercion of isolation, the weakening of inmate will by providing inadequate food, and the constant and institutional demands to inform on other prisoners, even at the cost of an end to the torture, goes against all domestic and international laws and treaties, and is itself a crime worthy of investigation and prosecution. It is uncomfortably similar to conditions of detention and interrogation implemented at Guantanamo and certain other U.S. Department of Defense and CIA interrogation centers. Such procedures have been a part of the Federal and state Supermax prisons for almost 30 years now. Failure to end such conditions of imprisonment are an affront to humanity, and have ensured the perpetuation of such conditions even to today. It is not clear that one rationale or operation of such prisons has been to research the effects of stress and physical and psychological deprivation upon prisoners. This is something that should be seriously looked into by legislators and judges, as well as the press.
U.S. prison and national security authorities have stepped over the bounds of basic human rights, and should be held accountable. It is most pressing that the demands of the prisoners be met: an end to group punishment of prisoners, an end to the hated “debriefing” system, compliance with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement, independent monitoring of food and sanitation (to ensure adequate provision of each), and the provision of constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates, including opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities.”
If you would like to send your own statement of support email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have written my own statement of support, a bit longer than the statements above but necessary in my opinion.
Prisoners at the Pelican Bay supermax prison, many of them in the Security Housing Unit or the SHU, are on hunger strike and willing to die to end cruel and unusual punishment that the prison guards impose upon them. The SHU, which in some prisons is called “the hole,” is a “prison-within-a-prison.” This “cell block within a cell block” has soundproof walls, cement floors, no windows and a few dime-sized holes in the door. Prisoners in the SHU are locked down nearly 23 hours a day and are subjected to conditions of solitary confinement that amount to torture.
This in itself is inhumane enough, but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) allows guards to go a step further and employ a “debriefing” process that sounds like something exported to Guantanamo Bay for use on detainees there. Those in the SHU are given the opportunity to get out of the SHU if they can snitch and provide information on a gang member not in the SHU. Those in the SHU that don’t have intelligence on gang members can make it up. If the guards accept it, the prisoner that snitched can now get out of the SHU and the prisoners named will be put into the SHU. The prisoner is now free from solitary confinement but that doesn’t mean the prisoner necessarily wins: the prisoner’s family may face violence or harassment on the outside of the prison for snitching on the gang member. If a prisoner has a life sentence and ends up in the SHU, it could be converted into life without parole so, of course, the prisoner “snitches” to get out.
What the prisoners are subjected to is cruel and unusual punishment. It’s dehumanizing. It doesn’t just dehumanize the prisoner but also the society that tolerates such treatment of prisoners. The treatment breeds barbarism here at home. Allowing this to be justified just because those in prison are criminals makes those tolerating it no better than the worst of the worst imprisoned in any supermax prison in the United States.
It upsets me to think that I might be radical for declaring prisoners have a right to do time for whatever crime they are in jail for without being subjected to torture or inhumane treatment. However, many find supporting prisoners effectively means one supports whatever crimes they have committed. They take a de facto position that gives guards the right to abuse and treat prisoners however they want because, if they didn’t want to be tortured, they should not have done the crime.
Let’s be clear: The guards choose impose solitary confinement on prisoners. As far as I know, no judge looked at the crimes these prisoners committed and said treat them like “enemy combatants” or beasts that must be broken down.
I support the right of prisoners to resist solitary confinement and stand with any prisoner in any prison that has the guts to put their life on the line for basic prison reforms so they and their fellow inmates can live a life of detention free from torture.