California prisoners on hunger strike: what it’s about and what you can do

Inmates in California’s prisons protesting the inhumane conditions under which they are being housed are in the second week of a hunger strike, the third in two years. The first two strikes occurred in 2011 and were halted when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) proposed a settlement. Unfortunately CDCr failed to follow through in any meaningful way, necessitating this current strike.

The prisoner’s five core demands are these:

  1. End long-term solitary confinement
  2. Abolish de-briefing and change gang validation criteria
  3. End group punishment
  4. Provide educational, vocational and self-help programs
  5. Provide adequate nutritious food.

Reasonable requests, wouldn’t you say?

A Voice from Inside SHU

The words of prisoner, Paul Sangu Jones, who has been in the solitary housing unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison since it opened in 1989, may shed some light:

I would say that you certainly don’t have to go to prison to lose your humanity. I’ve read about many on the outside that don’t have humanity to lose! But, I would also say that going to prison should never be equated with the loss of humanity. Further to that, if it does, then we should all look at how we are allowing prisons to be run. Men and women everywhere err and make mistakes. Everyone suffers, to some degree, from the power of fear and loneliness, whether a person has done some wrong that warrants them being placed in a prison, or whether it’s a person in the street, shouldn’t we all, as fellow human beings, allow them to keep a decent amount of dignity so their humanity grows, not diminishes?

A prisoner is first and foremost a human being.

If you all agree that prisoners are in fact human beings, then you and the prison authorities must regard and respect prisoners as such. You and they must understand that all prisoners are capable of thought, emotion, pain, suffering, faith, religion or spirituality, remorse and rehabilitation. All prisoners at least deserve the opportunity of becoming better as human beings. Isn’t that what prisons are for, to rehabilitate the guilty so they can rejoin society as a productive member?

Here is another provoking thought. Many people on the outside of prison have committed crimes. Many of you have stolen as a child. Many of you have been involved in illicit drug use and perhaps sales of the same. Many of you have cheated or committed fraud against another. Many of you have driven a car under the influence. Many of you have done harm to another. What is the difference between you and us? The prisoners are in prison? You did not get caught? The point that I am attempting to make here is that prisons are full of people that got caught committing a crime. You all may be just as guilty but escaped or hid your involvement and exposure of it. Before you condemn a prisoner, look into your own past or look at your neighbor—could you or could they be just as guilty?

What Can Be Done?

California’s Governor has the power to compel the CDC to negotiate with those on the inside and end this strike before inmates’ health is compromised, quite possibly irreparably.

1) Call Governor Jerry Brown
Phone: (916) 445-2841
(510) 289-0336
(510) 628-0202
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Suggested script:

I’m calling in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The governor has the power to stop the torture of solitary confinement. I urge the governor to compel the CDCR to enter into negotiations to end the strike. RIGHT NOW is their chance to enter into clear, honest negotiations with the strikers to end the torture.

2) Share this message with your friends, families, and networks. Ask them to stand in solidarity with the strikers – sign the petition today and help us reach 30,000 calls.

3) We encourage you to plan a gathering in your neighborhood to make calls and organize other solidarity actions.

4) Check this website for more information:

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