On the Mass Political Movement Inside US Prisons

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four years and still fighting

July 14, 2015, SF Bayview Newspaper

by Claude Marks and Isaac Ontiveros

Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013 – both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison.

“Will You Stand Up and Let Your Voice Be Heard July 8th 2013?” – Art: Michael D. Russell

The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscape.

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The Five Most Important Demands from the California Prison Hunger Strike

Thousands-strong strike is the latest chapter in the state’s unfolding prison crisis

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-five-most-important-demands-from-the-california-prison-hunger-strike-20130716

July 16, 2013

For more than a week, the California prison system has been gripped by the largest hunger strike in its history. Today, campaigners say that some 12,000 inmates continue to refuse food in roughly two-thirds of the state’s 32 facilities. That’s down from the 30,000 who kicked off the strike, but still more than twice the number who participated in a similar action two years earlier.

The strike – which began with a group of men held in isolation in Pelican Bay State Prison before spreading across the state – was principally motivated by California’s aggressive use of solitary confinement. In many cases, the strikers’ demands are simple: one photo a year, one phone call per week, permission to use wall calendars.

“The prisoners are not on a suicide mission,” says Roger White, campaign director of a Bay Area coalition called Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity. “If they didn’t have hope that things could change and that CDCR [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] could actually implement the demands, they wouldn’t be striking.”

In 2011, a United Nations torture rapporteur called for an absolute and international ban on indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, arguing that just a few a days locked up alone in a cell has been shown to produce lifelong mental health problems. In California, hundreds of Pelican Bay prisoners have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement – some for as many as 20 or 30 years. Continue reading

Occupy movement stages day of protests at US prisons

Joined by the three hikers detained in Iran, activists point to overcrowding and inhumane conditions in US prison system

,guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 February 2012

Occupy4Prisoners protest outside San Quentin State Prison in California. Photograph: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Occupy demonstrators participated in a nationwide day of action to protest against the US prison system on Monday, with demonstrations carried out at over a dozen sites across the country, including prisons in California, Chicago, Denver and New York.

The call to protest was issued by activists with the Occupy Oakland movement and was co-ordinated to coincide with waves of prison hunger strikes that began at California’s Pelican Bay prison in July. Demonstrators denounced the use of restrictive isolation units as infringement upon fundamental human rights. The hunger strikes followed a US supreme court ruling in May which stated that overcrowding in the California prison system had led to “needless suffering and death.” The court ordered the state to reduce its overall prison population from 140,000 to 110,000, which still well-exceeds the state’s maximum prison capacity.

Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer – the American hikers who were held for over a year by Iranian authorities – took part in demonstrations outside San Quentin prison in Marin County, California. Addressing the crowd, Shourd described the psychological impact of solitary confinement, saying her 14 and a half months without human contact drove her to beat the walls of her cell until her knuckles bled. Shourd noted that Nelson Mandella described the two weeks he spent in solitary confinement as the most dehumanising experience he had ever been through.

“In Iran the first thing they do is put you in solitary,” Fattal added.

Bauer said “a prisoner’s greatest fear is being forgotten.” He described how hunger strikes became the hikers’ own “greatest weapon” in pushing their captors to heed their demands. According to Bauer, however, the most influential force for changing their quality of life while being held in Iran was the result of pressure applied by those outside the prison. It was for that fact, Bauer argued, that “this movement, this Occupy movement, needs to permeate the prisons.”

Occupy supporters are calling for a fundamental change in the US prison system, which today houses one quarter of the planet’s prisoners; more than 2.4 million people. As of 2005, roughly one quarter of those held in US prisons or jails had been convicted on a drug charge. Activists point out that in the past three decades the nation’s prison population has increased by more than 500%, with minorities comprising 60% of those incarcerated. The number of women locked up between 1997 and 2007 increased by 832%.

Demonstrators are broadly calling for the abolition of inhumane prison conditions, and the elimination of policies such as capital punishment, life sentences without the possibility of parole and so-called “three strikes, you’re out” laws. Continue reading

The California Hunger Strike: Repression, Resistance, the US Prison System, and Political Imprisonment in India

An Introduction by Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati

The demand for the release of political prisoners is a major demand of democratic movements in India now, and the condition of prisoners in jail a major cause for concern. The case of Binayak Sen had brought the issue of political prisoners into focus, but there are thousands like him languishing in jails, including people like Jiten Marandi who have been sentenced to death.

The situation has parallels to the USA, which has the largest prison population ratio to the total population in the world, and has political prisoners who have been in jail for more than thirty years, from the time when the Black population of the US stood up in struggle for their rights. In the following article, the author Isaac Ontiveros of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Condition writes about the recent historic hunger strike by prisoners in California prisons, which had focused attention on the US prison system and the condition of prisoners therein. This hunger strike, which at one point had 12000 participants throughout the California prison system, exposed the inherent repression, maltreatment and misery of the prisoners in the US prisons and became a symbol of resistance against these.

prisonerindia.jpg

In India, over the last one year there have been many hunger strikes in prisons, led mostly by political prisoners in various jails, although they have never received any media attention as the hunger strike by Anna Hazare did. As the aggression by the Indian state against its own people continues, and as resistance builds against it, India has come to have one of the largest political prisoner populations. Draconian central laws such as the UAPA, and various state laws have been used to incarcerate a large number of political activists in various jails [for example, this letter from the incarcerated Chhatradhar Mahato, from Midnapur jail in West Bengal, details the inhuman condition of political prisoners there and the resistance]. Together with these, application of various sections of the Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) has resulted in a large number of cases, in most instances false, against people who have resisted or protested in any form against the aggression by the state or corporations. And just as the US prison population has a disproportionately large number of African-Americans and Hispanic people, who form the most downtrodden and marginalized sections of the American population, the political prisoner population in Indian jails has a disproportionately high number of adivasis and dalits, who have borne the brunt of the repressive state policies.

For example, amongst the 250 odd political prisoners in Midnapore central jail, around 240 are adivasis of all ages and gender. The political prisoners have gone on hunger strike a number of times in jails in West Bengal, demanding better treatment and better facilities for all prisoners, and for the recognition of their status as political prisoners. Even that has been hard to come by, both during the previous Left Front regime and the new Trinamool Congress government which had promised to release the political prisoners before the polls.

Currently, more than 800 under-trial prisoners in Presidency, Alipur and Dum Dum jails in Kolkata are in the fifteenth day of a hunger strike demanding speedier disposal of their cases and better conditions in prisons. This week, the hunger strike spread to Medinipur and Krishnanagar jails, with the political prisoners and other prisoners in these jails joining the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners in the Kolkata jails. As of now, more than 1500 prisoners are on a prolonged hunger strike in West Bengal.

As the struggle for the release of political prisoners continues to build up in India, this article gives us a glimpse of the resistance by US prisoners and reminds us about the need of international solidarity to bring the issue of political prisoners to the fore.

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November 21, 2011

By Isaac Ontiveros.

The author works on the media committee of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition.

The California Hunger Strike: Repression, Resistance, and the US Prison System

This past summer, at least 6,600—probably many more—prisoners in the US state of California’s prison system went on hunger strike. After more than 20 days, prisoners suspended their strike when prison administration was forced to respond. Then, in late September, because repression had increased, and there was no movement on their demands–and reprisals were targeted against those labeled as strike leaders, the prisoners resumed their strike. The second round of striking, which lasted nearly three weeks, at one point had at least 12,000 participants throughout California. Both waves of the strike were initiated in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison.

SHUs are some the highest security facilities in the United States—often referred to as “prisons within prisons.” Prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day in eight by ten feet cells made of smooth concrete that have no windows. Fluorescent lights can be kept on 24 hours per day. Armed guards control entrances and exits electronically and are strategically located to be able to fire on prisoners at any time. The average amount of time a prisoner spends in the Pelican Bay SHU is 6 ½ years, while some have been held for over 20. Around 4,000 prisoners in California are held in SHUs. Nationally, it is estimated that 80,000 people are held in some form of solitary confinement. Many organizations internationally have condemned SHUs and other solitary confinement facilities as torture. In California and elsewhere, prison administrators claim that prisoners are kept in these special units because they are high level gang shot-callers, yet many have pointed out that, in fact, the SHUs are often used to break up organizing for prisoner’s rights. Continue reading

California: Prisoner Hunger Strike Grows to Nearly 12,000!

Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons!

A short video about solitary confinement by the American Friends Service Committee

For more information about AFSC’s campaign to stop torture in prison, visit: http://www.stopmax.org – On any given day, as many as 200,000 men and women are locked in solitary in U.S. prisons – alone…

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by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Numbers released by the federal receiver’s office show that on September 28th, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out of state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. This historic and unprecedented number shows the strength and resolve of the prisoners to win their 5 core demands and is a serious challenge to the power of the California prison system and to the Prison Industrial Complex in general.

Prisoners are currently on strike in Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Centinela, Corcoran, Ironwood State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison, North Kern State Prison, and Salinas Valley State Prison. Throughout the last week prisoners at California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Pleasant Valley State Prison, San Quentin as well as West Valley Detention Center in San Bernadino County were participating.

The receiver’s office and the CDCR begin monitoring prisoners who have refused food for 72 hours or for 9 consecutive meals. Representatives of the hunger strikers have previously stated that this will be a rolling strike, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain strength. Because of this, numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the duration of the strike.

prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity | October 1, 2011