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.

Continue reading

Testimony on Solitary, the Routine of Torture: “SACRAMENTO: ABOLISH THE SHU TODAY!”

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”  ― Nelson Mandela

Video of the Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California Prisons in the California Legislature on October 9, 2013.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Countdown in the Struggle for Humane Conditions

Day 32

August 8, 2013 — Today is the one-month anniversary of a hunger strike initiated by prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison that quickly spread to other correctional facilities across the state of California. To be precise, it is Day 32 of a month-long period of no solid foods for what are now hundreds of prisoners.


These are men risking their lives to insist on humane conditions and certain terms for those prisoners who have otherwise been banished to indefinite sentences of solitary confinement in California’s prison system. Many of these men have been isolated for decades with no windows, no contact visits, no outside sunlight and no real exercise.


Recent reports from these prisoners demonstrate that their brave efforts have been made all the more difficult by prison guards who are treating them very harshly.


Guards are knocking them into walls, handcuffing them incorrectly to cause suffering and bending their arms to provoke extreme pain. Guards are spitting out racial epithets or deliberately placing an African American prisoner, for example, in a cell with racist graffiti. Guards are also being strategically divisive by tactically treating some prisoners nicely and others in the most demeaning ways, hoping—as the guards openly discussed in front of some prisoners—to create division so the prisoners will begin to fight each other. The guards’ goal: to undermine the hunger strike. According to these same talkative guards, this unprofessional behavior is what they were instructed to do to help bring the hunger strike to an end. Continue reading

What Will It Take to Free Our Political Prisoners?

July 16, 2013

By Liz Derias

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a revolutionary organization based in the u.s. that fights to uphold the self-determination and the human rights of Black people in the world, has been working to free political prisoners for over three decades. The organization has actively worked on the cases of Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, the San Francisco 8 (SF8), the MOVE 9, the Cuban 5, and more. Additionally, MXGM has worked with the founding Black August Organizing Committee of California to popularize Black August, a month of commemoration and action in support of political prisoners.

Through the heed of political prisoners Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun, MXGM has also taken a lead in inspiring and mobilizing the Hip Hop generation to take action in support of political prisoners, particularly through the annual Black August Concert, which has featured artists such as Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, and others. MXGM works with other leading organizations that have championed action to free political prisoners, such as the National Black United Fund, the Prisoners of Consciousness Committee, the Nation of Islam, and numerous support committees around the world.black august

This article will describe the history and current context of political prisoners in the u.s., the conditions for them while incarcerated, and the organizing strategies employed by MXGM over the years to free them.

The Legacy of COINTELPRO

We cannot discuss the case of political prisoners in the u.s. without having an understanding of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO, or the Counter Intelligence Program, was the federal government’s secret program during the 1950s-1970s used against many forces of the Black Liberation movement, leftists, and political dissidents in the u.s., including the Chicano Nationalist Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. It was secret because it was illegal.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI and local police forces assassinated, arrested, tortured, and framed hundreds of leftists, particularly Black leftists, who were considered to pose the greatest threat to the racist status quo of u.s. society. The tactics of COINTELPRO can be categorized in four main areas: infiltration of organizations, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence, including extrajudicial killing and outright murder. The FBI’s stated motivation for the program was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order. Continue reading

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


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


California prisoners started a hunger strike and work actions today for basic human rights.
Support their demands – join us for a demonstration at Corcoran Saturday – July 13th!
Check out this new video!

Edited by Lucas Guilkey & Nicole Deane
Music: Fatgums ‘Kill the Vultures” & The Coup ‘My Favorite Mutiny’
 Published on Jul 8, 2013




MORE INFORMATION: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in California’s Security Housing Units (SHU or solitary confinement). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised meaningful reform as a result of those protests, but nothing meaningful has reached the people living in these cages. Prisoners have announced another hunger strike will begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise. Continue reading

California prison officials say 30,000 inmates refuse meals

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013

California officials Monday said 30,000 inmates refused meals at the start of what could be the largest prison protest in state history.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.

Continue reading

Attica’s 40th Anniversary: Still on the Wrong Road

[An important survey and review of the US’ mass incarceration program from the time of the Attica Rebellion, 40 years ago, to the present. — Frontlines ed.]
Saturday 24 September 2011
by: Michael E. Deutsch, Truthout

September 9 marks 40 years since the uprising at Attica State Prison, in upstate New York, and the deadly and sadistic retaking of the prison – and mass torture of hundreds of prisoners all the rest of the day and night and beyond – by state police and prison guards on the morning of September 13. When the shooting stopped and the gas lifted, 29 unarmed prisoners and ten hostages were dead, slaughtered by the assault force.

Over a hundred more prisoners were shot, some maimed for life and many others seriously injured. In addition, almost the entire 1,200-plus prisoners who occupied D yard and had hoped that their demands for humane treatment would be addressed by the authorities, were systematically stripped and beaten, made to run gauntlets of club swinging police as they were herded back into cells, while dozens of supposed leaders and other special targets were taken aside for more personal vengeance. The United States Court of Appeals, hardly a pro-prisoner or even liberal institution, called the rehousing of the prisoners, “an orgy of brutality.”

Attica and its aftermath exposed the powder kegs ready to explode inside the US prisons and the urgent need to change the reigning penology and administrative practices throughout the federal, state and local prison systems. Attica uncovered the hidden reality that the prisons and jails were increasingly the socioeconomic destination for the poor and wildly disproportionate numbers of black people, as well as political militants. The Attica prisoners’ demand for human rights also revealed that both men and women were treated like modern-day slaves in prison, denied minimal humane treatment, decent medical care and fundamental constitutional rights.

It is true there was much liberal sentiment expressed for prisoners in the wake of the rebellion and massacre and a small flurry of activity in support of prison reform, involving recognition that prisoners had some rights, and the need for rehabilitation programs to prepare them for release. There was even some concern raised about the racist underpinnings of law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system. These efforts at reform, however, in comparison to policies already in motion to make the prisons chiefly into warehouses for the unemployed and internment camps for militants, were minimal and soon largely abandoned. Continue reading

California Prisoners Hunger Strike resumes

[The historic California prisoners hunger strike continues on September 26, 2011, to press for relief from the oppressive and tortuous life-draining conditions and confinements in the “Security Housing Units.”  There has been no positive response by the prison officials, but they have come back with reprisals and threats of cancelling paroles, petty privileges, and job assignments.  (see the threatening letter from the CDCR, below). (note–CDCR has released sobering numbers on prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU:  Of the 1,111 people currently held in the SHU:  Over 513 have served 10 years or more in the SHU; Of those, 78 have been in the SHU for 20 years or more; 544 have been in the SHU more than 5 years, but fewer than 10 years).  — Frontlines ed.]
Gearing up for Round 2 of Hunger Strike

September 23, 2011

On Monday, September 26th, prisoners at both Pelican Bay & Calipatria will resume the hunger strike to stop the torturous conditions of Security Housing Units (SHUs).

Prisoners first went on hunger strike on July 1st for nearly four weeks, until the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to begin implementing some of the prisoners’ five core demands. The strike became one of the largest prison strikes in California history–stretching across a third of the California’s prisons (at least 13 State prisons), including more than 6,600 prisoners at its height. However, the CDCR’s response has been inadequate to say the least, giving prisoners & their families false hope of timely substantial change and an end to torture. For a detailed summary of the CDCR’s response to the strike, and why Pelican Bay prisoners are resuming it, read “Tortured SHU Prisoners Speak Out: The Struggle Continues.”

CDCR officials seem to be preemptively cracking down on prisoners in anticipation of the strike and have publicly said they were preparing to take harsh actions against strikers. Illustrating the CDCR’s hard-line stance, Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan said in a recent interview, “If there are other instances of hunger strikes, I don’t think the Department will approach it the same way this time around.”

  • Lawyers who have recently visited Pelican Bay have taken testimony from SHU prisoners who have been retaliated against by prison officials for their participation in this summer’s strike. “Prisoners are receiving serious disciplinary write-ups, usually reserved for serious rules violations, for things like talking in the library or not walking fast enough,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “It’s clear that prison officials are trying to intimidate these men and to make them ineligible for any privileges or changes that may be forced by the strike.”

It’s these sorts of responses from the CDCR & forms of retaliation that show us prisoners are not recognized & treated as human beings, are constantly abused & tortured by the CDCR, and that the CDCR has no intention of stopping this. The prisoners clearly have no other recourse but to risk their lives, again.


Hunger Strike Resumes in One Week!

September 19, 2011

Prisoners in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) will resume their hunger strike against torturous conditions of imprisonment next Monday, Sept. 26th 2011. Read Tortured SHU Prisoners Speak Out: The Struggle Continues for more details on why they are resuming the strike.

According to family members, prisoners at Calipatria State Prison will also resume the hunger strike on Sept. 26th in solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay and also to expose the brutal conditions they are in at Calipatria, where hundreds of prisoners are labeled as gang members, validated and held in administrative segregation (AdSeg) units, waiting 3-4 years to be transferred to the Pelican Bay SHU indefinitely.

The Calipatria hunger strikers have a similar, separate list of demands from the strikers at Pelican Bay, including abolish the defriefing policy & modify active/inactive gang criteria and expanding canteen/package items & programs/privileges for validated/SHU status prisoners (such as art supplies, proctored exams for correspondence courses, P.I.A. soft shoes, yearly phone calls & two annual packages).

Never forget the prisoner rebellion of Attica, New York, 1971

September 9-13 mark the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion. This massive prison takeover by hundreds of inmates and the callous repression and murders by the state of New York are part of a unique moment in US history. The legacy of Attica and the fight for human rights is carried on in the prisons of Georgia, Ohio, California and wherever people are caged for years on end.

video by the Freedom Archives

New York: 40th Anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion at The Riverside Church, September 9th and 10th, 2011

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August 30, 2011
Dear Friends, Family, and Supporters:
Forty years ago prisoners in New York State’s Attica Correctional Facility staged a four-day protest against the inhumane conditions they were forced to endure. Some 39 people including 10 hostages were brutally shot down by state police and corrections officers despite the willingness of the prisoners to negotiate. Four decades later, prison populations across the nation have exploded, and conditions are as abominable as ever.
Sarah and I have been helping to plan this event. Please join us in an evening of conversation, performances and music that will address how the United States came to have the largest prison population in the world, and what steps need to be taken to reverse this reality.
In struggle,
Emily Kunstler
Friday, September 9, 2011 is the 40th Anniversary of the
Attica Rebellion and Massacre
Join us for an evening of
conversation, performances, and music to mark this occasion and address
current prison struggles in this country.
Guest Speakers
Attica Brothers: represented by Joseph Harris, Calvin “Hutch” Hutchinson, William Anthony Maynard, Melvin Muhammad, Carlos Roche and Al Hajji Sharif· asha bandele: Writer, Poet, Activist; Drug Policy Alliance · Amiri Baraka: Poet, Playwright, Activist · Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin-Wahad: Consultant, Institute for Development of Pan African Policy (Ghana, W. Africa) · Soffiyah Elijah: Executive Director, Correctional Association · Elizabeth Fink: Attica Brothers Legal Defense · Amy Goodman: Journalist, Author; Host and Executive Director, Democracy Now! · Joseph “Jazz” Hayden: Campaign to End the New Jim Crow · Jamal Joseph: Former Black Panther; Chair, Columbia University’s School of the Arts Film Division · Dr. Cornel West: Professor, Princeton; Public Intellectual and Activist
Friday, September 9, 2011
7:00 – 10:00 pm
Doors open at 6:30 pm
The Riverside Church
490 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027
Enter at 91 Claremont Avenue, between 120th and 122nd Street (MAP)
Subway: Take the 1 train to 116th Street, Columbia University
Free and open to the public
 or call 347.788.0275
“Attica Is All of Us” is presented in collaboration with The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Drug Policy Alliance, The Culture Project, The Nation, and The Brecht Forum.
Additional Events
Day Two of Attica is All of Us 
“Attica is Now: A Message from the Grassroots”
Special Guests: Herman & Iyaluua Ferguson
Authors of “An Unlikely Warrior, Herman Ferguson:
Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary”
With Afrika Bambaattaa, Pam Africa, Glenn Ford, Laura Whitehorn, George Tait, Circle of Brothers, Zulu Nation, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement  
Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:00 – 5:00 pm  
The Riverside Church
490 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027

Tuesday, September 13 & Thursday September 15, 2011 
30 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Films playing at 4:30, 6:50 and 9:30 pm
Panel discussions to follow 6:50 pm screenings
For a list of other events planned to honor the 40th anniversary,
visit: www.atticaisallofus.org
Join our mailing list HERE Join our Facebook page
Click HERE to make a secure, online tax-deductible donation to Attica is All of Us.

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George Jackson video to commemorate 40 years since his murder – August 21st

[As we approach the 40th anniversary of the execution of Black Panther leader George Jackson on August 21, 1971, this video produced from the Freedom Archives of San Francisco provides valuable memories of that historic time, which continue to resonate in the struggles today.  We urge our readers to check out the substantial materials from Freedom Archives at http://www.freedomarchives.org. — Frontlines ed.]

August 21st marks the 40th anniversary of the execution of George Lester Jackson. The Chicago- born Jackson would have celebrated his 70th birthday on September 23rd.

Jackson was a prisoner who became an author, a member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison organization. He achieved global fame as one of the Soledad Brothers before being executed by prison guards in San Quentin Prison.

Based on an edited portion of Prisons on Fire by the Freedom Archives (2001) with video editing by Oriana Bolden. 

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 863-9977

Questions and comments may be sent to claude@freedomarchives.org

California Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Isolation Units at Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons

[Supporters of the prisoners demonstrated on July 1st, as the prisoners launched their hunger strike at Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons.  The bourgeois media has limited coverage of the events, focusing on their standard methods of discrediting the struggle for justice with slanders like “they have other food, it’s not really a hunger strike” and “they complain all the time and refuse to eat often” and they are vicious hardened criminals who deserve no support or sympathy.”  Below, we post the words of one of the hunger strikers.  Frontlines ed.]

originally printed in the  San Francisco Bay View – http://sfbayview.com

Hunger strikers protest perpetual solitary confinement

June 29, 2011


John Martinez

The following letter from PBSP SHU prisoner John R. Martinez is addressed to:Edmund G. Brown, Governor, State Capitol, First Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814

Matthew Cate, Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1515 S St., Sacramento, CA 94283-0001

G.D. Lewis, Warden, PBSP, P.O. Box 7000, Crescent City, CA 95532

Re: Petition for redress; notice of hunger strike


On July 1, 2011, I and my fellow prisoners – on their own free will – will be commencing a hunger strike to protest the denial of our human rights and equality via the use of perpetual solitary confinement. The Supreme Court has referred to “solitary confinement” as one of the techniques of “physical and mental torture” that have been used by governments to coerce confessions (Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 237-238 (1940)).

In regards to PBSP-SHU, Judge Thelton E. Henderson stated that “many if not most, inmates in the SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU” (Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1235 (N.D. Cal. 1995)). Not surprisingly, Judge Henderson stated that “the conditions in the SHU may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate” and that sensory deprivation found in the SHU “may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience” (Madrid, 889 F. Supp. at 1267, 1280). Four years later, a Texas federal judge reviewed conditions in isolation of a Texas prison that mirrored those of PBSP-SHU. He correctly held:

“Before the court are levels of psychological deprivation that violate the United States Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It has been shown that defendants are deliberately indifferent to a systemic pattern of extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation. These deprivations are the cause of cruel and unusual pain and suffering by inmates in administrative segregation …” (Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 914-915 (S.D. Tex.1999)). Continue reading