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2,500 California Prisoners Remain on Hunger Strike Over Long-term Solitary Confinement — Without Even a Window
WASHINGTON - July 17 - The Los Angeles Times reports: “2,500 inmates still on hunger strike, Lancaster on lockdown.” Reuters reported Monday: “More than 2,500 prisoners in 17 prisons in California remained on hunger strike on Monday, more than a week after refusing food to demand an end to a policy of housing prisoners believed to be associated with gangs in near-isolation for years on end.”
JULES LOBEL, lobel at law.pitt.edu
President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Lobel is the lead attorney representing prisoners at Pelican Bay in CCR’s lawsuit challenging long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. He said today on “Democracy Now!“: “My clients have spent in some case over two decades in a cell with no windows. They’re not allowed any phone calls — the only way I can get a phone call is through court order. Otherwise they’re allowed no legal phone calls, no family phone calls, no friend phone calls. This is a more draconian situation than most situations of solitary in the United States — and about 80,000 people in the United States are put in solitary. It’s an inhumane practice, but in California they go to an extreme, placing people without any windows, without any phone calls, trying to isolate them.”
MUTOPE DUGUMA aka JAMES CRAWFORD, via Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity at gmail.com
Duguma is a prisoner at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, which organized the state-wide hunger strike. He authored “The Call” that initiated the first round of hunger strikes in 2011. He was participating in the current strike as of July 8. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity can also connect media to former prisoners and family of current prisoners. The program “Making Contact” recently had an edition titled “Survivors of Solitary Confinement.”
Duguma wrote a letter to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity on Thursday, July 11, and the organization received that letter on Monday, July 15. Wrote Duguma: “We are in our fourth day and our keepers have remained true to form, because on [Thursday, July 11] they came and kidnapped my [cellmate] and took him to hell row. Hell row is an even more oppressive number of cells used as further sensory deprivation and torture for those already in prolonged isolation. They, for some reason, did not take me. You know that we remain under the usual oppressive conditions, but hell row is about breaking one’s spirits and tearing them down in hopes that they break down, but I don’t think the CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] realize it, but each and everyone they took to hell row are strong men. They will take their torture head on which is what worries me, and I know that PBSP [Pelican Bay State Prison] officials know this. We all understand what we got to do in order to expose what we [have] been suffering for years without any just cause. Therefore we have no choice but to peacefully protest. Well, I want you all to know [that] despite our circumstances we are strong.”
SARAH SHOURD, sarah at sarahshourd.com, sarahshourd.com
Shourd spent 410 days in solitary confinement while held as a political hostage by the Iranian Government in 2009-2010. She is an author, prisoner rights advocate and contributing editor at Solitary Watch currently based in Oakland, California. Her memoir, co-authored by her husband Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal, who were held hostage with her, will be published in Spring 2014.
Shourd wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post in April. In it she wrote: “In prolonged isolation, the human psyche slowly self-destructs. On my worst days, I screamed and beat at the walls. I experienced hallucinations — bright flashing lights and phantom footsteps — nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitations, lethargy, clinical depression, and passive suicidal thoughts. I would pace my cell incessantly, or crouch like an animal by the food slot at the bottom of my cell door, listening for any sound to distract me. When I finally got books and television, I found it difficult to concentrate. I would sometimes spend an entire afternoon trying to read the same page, until I got fed up and threw my book against the wall. …
“When I began to research the use of solitary confinement in the United States, I was shocked to learn that tens of thousands of people are subject to no-touch torture or prolonged isolation on any given day. I learned that immigrants and people deemed a ‘national security risk’ are held in indefinite detention without legal representation or the right to due process, just like I had been. How could I fail to draw a connection between their treatment and my own?”
Shane Bauer recently wrote the piece “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons:” “When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back.” Bauer notes that in solitary confinement units in California he recently witnessed: “there are no windows.”
ED MEAD, mead at prisonart.org
Mead is director of the Prison Art Project and a former prisoner. He recently wrote the piece “The Problem with U.S. Prisons,” which states: “The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, yet holds 25 percent of the global prisoners. In 1970 there were roughly 350,000 people in our jails and prisons. Today there are 2.3 million people behind bars in America. Another 7.3 million under some form of judicial supervision (parole, probation, etc.), and there are 14 million ex‐convicts out on the streets. That’s nearly 25 million people! Add in the family members and loved ones of people impacted by the criminal justice system in the United States and you can see the potential for building a movement for progressive change. …
“There are men who have served over 40 years in an isolation cell in Pelican Bay Prison’s infamous Security Housing Unit, subjected to sensory deprivation, 23 hours a day in an area half the size of your bathroom. They are not being held for any infraction of prison rules, but rather because prison officials believe these men might be gang members. Others have done 30, 25, 20, etc. years in these torture chambers — and long-term isolation is a form of torture.”