“Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) began an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment.” What they are asking for is heartbreaking — they shouldn’t need to be on strike: their demands should be a given. It has now been eleven days since the hunger strike began, and “the medical conditions for many strikers have deteriorated to critical levels, with fears some prisoners could start to die if immediate action isn’t taken.”
I am horrified by the update on many of the strikers’ medical conditions, as well as by their treatment in prison (I am horrified by the prison industrial complex as a whole as well, but that’s for another post). Some may say that the hunger strikers have brought it on themselves by refusing to eat — but that they are deliberately refusing to eat in order to bring attention to their conditions only speaks to how utterly inhumane their conditions must be. They would not go to such extremes if it were not of the utmost importance, or if they had other alternatives.
Unlike their treatment, the hunger strikers’ five core demands are not extreme. Regardless what you may think about them as having been convicted of a crime, they deserve their demands as a matter of being human.
One demand is for adequate food — they’re not even asking for especially good food or food that can be found on the outside, just food that conforms to prison regulations.
Another is that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) “comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement.” Again, it’s not something they created themselves; they’re basically asking that the government’s recommendations be followed.
A third is that group punishments are eliminated — that when an individual prisoner breaks a rule, that individual is punished, as opposed to a group of prisoners the same race.
All of the demands are basic. The hunger strikers aren’t asking for anything extravagant. They aren’t even asking to be freed. It breaks my heart that they feel forced to go on a hunger strike — one that is endangering many of their lives — in attempt to change things that should never have been allowed in the first place.
What can we do? Sign this petition in support of the hunger strikers. Call Governor Jerry Brown (916-445-2841) and CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate (916-323-6001) and urge them to immediately negotiate with the prisoners in good faith. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity has examples of what we can say here. Spread the word — Facebook, Twitter, emails, in person.
Don’t just ignore the hunger strikers. Don’t pretend that these isn’t happening, that they “deserve” whatever is happening because they were convicted of a crime. Don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t matter and that it doesn’t affect you.
As the quotation goes, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Will you allow evil to triumph? Will you do nothing?