On July 1st, 2011, in an exciting show of racial unity, the prisoners at Pelican Bay went on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU). They have five very reasonable demands:
1. Eliminate group punishments.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate food.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates
Influenced by the panopticon, Pelican Bay state prison’s Security Housing Unit consists of 8x10 foot cells made of smooth concrete. Prisoners spend upward of 22 hours per day in these cells. An armed guard opens and closes the doors of the cell from a central control booth. Prisoners spend, on average, two years in the SHU, though some have spent as long as eighteen. The extreme sensory deprivation causes long term psychological damage, according to prisoners, lawyers, psychologists, people with common sense, and prisoner advocates.
“Mass incarceration is the product of the failures of society in terms of social institutions, economy, politicians, and state and federal governments. Prisons and prisoners are the cover-up and scapegoats of these failures. Prisons have become increasingly relied upon to hold back and stamp out social protest of the errors and tyranny of government, and the desire for people to be really free, by locking up anti-social and anti-government protesters and anyone who challenges injustice, inhumanity and tyrannical rule.”
-sister amazon, Corcoran state prison (also on a solidarity hunger strike)
The struggle against prison is not only for those incarcerated. Showing solidarity with prisoner struggles is not charity work. We all live with the alienation of police, laws, and networks of surveillance. If we step out of line, we live with the threat of imprisonment hanging over our heads. Their fight is our fight.
Showing solidarity to the strikers is to detract from their isolation. We can help amplify their voices through noise demonstrations, solidarity actions, facilitating communication between prisoners, or things altogether new and creative.