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No Let Up by Hunger Strikers in Pelican Bay

Rachel Johnson

“We don’t have to go to Guantanamo to see torture,” said Manuel La Fontaine of the Oakland-based prisoners’ rights advocacy group, All Of Us Or None.

SACRAMENTO -- Holding signs and chanting through bullhorns, about 100 demonstrators lined both sides of the street in front of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation here Monday, to call for a quick response to the demands of the Pelican Bay prison hunger strikers.

“CDC meet the demands or their blood will be on your hands!” participants cried out.

Since July 1, several inmates at the maximum-security prison near the Oregon border have been protesting long punitive stays in isolation cells known as Security Housing Units (SHU).

Inmates are sent there for violating rules, and are kept alone for as long as 22 hours a day. They are allowed out for medical visits and for exercise in individual wire cages on the prison yard.

An estimated 6,600 inmates from 13 other California prisons have joined the strikers to show their solidarity, according to Manuel La Fontaine of the Oakland-based prisoners’ rights advocacy group, All Of Us Or None. Prison officials however said yesterday that 432 prisoners in four prisons are currently striking.

La Fontaine, a former prisoner and one of the organizers of Monday’s demonstrations, said that prisoners are treated inhumanely and that what happens behind prison walls is unacceptable.

“We don’t have to go to Guantanamo to see torture,” said La Fontaine. “It’s 2011 and we are ahead in technology, but in terms of humanity we are still behind.”

As of yesterday, no striking prisoner had died, but prisoners’ rights advocates said that several inmates have lost at least 10 pounds each and some are showing signs of kidney failure.

Several have been sent to prison infirmaries because of irregular heartbeats and fainting, according to a statement issued Monday by California Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, which says it represents
attorneys and family members of inmates. "Most have lost 20-35 pounds," the statement notes.

Protestor Maria Rivas, said her two sons are among the strikers in Pelican Bay. “They are in bad condition,” she said, noting that one of them has lost 20 pounds and the other has been vomiting.

Some supporters at the demonstration talked about their own experiences in California’s prisons, or those of people they know.

Former prisoner and member of All of Us Or None Pastor Andrè Harris said: “When I was in prison they denied me medical assistance. I was on crutches at the time and they told me I had to learn to walk on my own.”

Michael Ruan, a nephew of a prisoner in Pelican Bay SHU, said, “They will start eating again if they (officials) negotiate.”

But CDC spokeswoman Terry Thornton told NAM they have been having discussions with prisoners since “day one”.

“There are some things we can’t do and some things we are considering. And we will continue to have discussions,” she said.

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