In March of this year R.H.H.R. received a letter from Mutawally, long-term correspondent of ours and current prisoner in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). The letter stated: “July 8, 2013 is the deadline given to Governor Jerry Brown to adhere to the 5 core demands as well as the 40 supplemental demands. We will resume a peaceful protest by way of Hunger Strike and Prison Work-Stoppage, this protest is indefinite! Everyone here in Pelican Bay Prison remains 100% committed to these demands. To date three California prisoners have sacrificed their lives and many more of us have suffered some type of permanent damage.” We hoped that there would be some concrete changes made by the Governor and the California Department of Correction that would keep further sacrificing and suffering from happening, but sadly as the deadline neared we realized that the Hunger Strike was eventual.
Starting on Monday, July 8th about 30,000 of California’s inmates in 22 of the state’s 33 jails, and four jails outside of the state, refused their meals, to work, or go to classes. The movement was spear-headed by prisoners held in the S.H.U. of Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California due to their infamous use of long-term and indefinite solitary confinement as punishment (California holds an average of 12,000 inmates in extreme isolation on any given day, some in windowless for decades, allowed out for an hour a day to exercise, some outside, others in another cage).
The original hunger strike started, according to a letter from a group of S.H.U. prisoners, “in July 2011, over 6,600 prisoners went on Hunger Strike to protest our torture. We suspended the Hunger Strike after 3 weeks to give the Department of Corrections time to make the changes promised. When they failed to respond, we resumed the Hunger Strike. This time we were joined by 12,000 prisoners. Again, the Hunger Strike was suspended when the Department of Corrections signed a statement about the changes they intended to make. It’s been almost two years now and our conditions have not changed.” In the last few days the number of current strikers went down to 20,000, then 12,500, but has resulted in growing support for their cause.
The cause revolves around five core demands: 1) End Group Punishment: punishing many because of the actions of a few or one. 2) Abolish the Debriefing Policy/Modify Gang Status Criteria: Inmates are put into solitary for not debriefing (snitching) and considered gang members for having Black and Chicano cultural artwork and liberation literature. 3) End Long-Term Solitary Confinement: Laura Downton, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told The Guardian the policy caused psychological harm and worsened violence and “after 15 days in isolation the chemistry of the brain begins to change, leading to increasing rates of hallucinations, paranoia and self-mutilation. It has become a default management tool rather than a tool of last resort.” 4) Adequate and Nutritious Food: Enough said! 5) Expand Constructive Programs for S.H.U. Inmates: Along with ending the torturous solitary practices in the S.H.U. the prisoners being held there need constructive and educational activities and reading materials. The movement also lead to the “Agreement to End Hostilities” in August 2012 which called for a halt to all race and gang related violence in all of California’s prisons and jails.
R.H.H.R. stands in solidarity with all striking prisoners, especially those in Pelican Bay’s SHU like our friend Mutawally. Recent attempts to contact Mutawally and get an update from inside have gone unanswered, with the assumption that either our letters are being withheld from him, or his letter to us is being withheld by prison officials, as they have stated they would do as punishment for those participating in the protest and strike. More reports from Mutawally can be read at: https://rhhr.org/2011/02/28/join-the-hip-hop-on-lockdown-correspondence-connection/ & https://rhhr.org/2012/02/25/rhhr-receives-letter-from-pelican-bay-while-hunger-strike-continues/
On the other side of the hemisphere about 120 detainees, being held in the “legal-limbo” prison known as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, have been on a Hunger Strike for more than 150 days now. Guards and personnel in Guantanamo have resorted to force-feeding some prisoners through tube inserted through the detainees nose, known to be extremely painful and considered by some experts as another form of torture.
Recently Hip-Hop artist and actor Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos-Def) brought attention to the force-feeding methods used in Guantanamo by voluntarily undergoing the process and recording it on video. See below:
Colonel Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo recently told Democracy Now: “you’ve got a majority of the detainee population that has been cleared for transfer out, you know, people that the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, the military has unanimously agreed we do not want to detain, we don’t need to detain, because they’re not a threat. And as John McCain said a few weeks ago, that we’re spending $1.5 million per year per person to keep them at Guantánamo. So it’s regrettable that it’s taking them putting their lives at risk to get us to pay attention, that they’ve been cleared for transfer, yet they’re still in prison. And we’ve got to—we’ve got to make this right. And, unfortunately, with the president, you know, we’ve gotten lectures when we needed a leader, and he needs to stand up and be a leader on this and bring this to an end.”