Hungry for reform

California prisoners prepare for another hunger strike to protest persistently deplorable conditions

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Sitawa Jamaa is a prisoner at Pelican Bay who helped organize the hunger strikes.

news@sfbg.com

Sitawa Jamaa is among the thousands of California inmates who, two years ago this summer, took part in the largest prison hunger strike in US history to protest harsh conditions and their invisibility to those outside prison walls.

Now, Jamaa and other prisoners are about to launch another hunger strike to highlight the system's unfulfilled promises and the persistence of inhumane conditions.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) counted 6,000 prisoners throughout the state who refused food over several weeks in July 2011. During a follow-up strike that September, the number of prisoners missing meals swelled to 12,000, according to the federal receiver who was appointed by the courts to oversee reforms in the system. At least one inmate starved to death.

As one of four inmates who call themselves the Short Corridor Collective, Jamaa was a key organizer of the hunger strike. The group of inmates drafted a list of core demands calling for the strike when they weren't met.

That was no easy task for Jamaa, who has spent most of the last 28 years alone in a windowless, 8-by-10 foot concrete cell in Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax facility not far from the Oregon border, where some 1,200 men are held in similar conditions.

Inmates held in solitary confinement (in government lingo: "Segregated Housing Units", or "SHU" for short) aren't supposed to communicate with each other, verbally or through the mail. But they were able to organize with the help of their lawyers, who they are allowed to communicate with, and prison reform advocates outside.

Jamaa and other inmates are planning to launch a second hunger strike on July 8. The Short Corridor Collective has drafted a list of 45 demands, reflecting concerns ranging from inadequate health care to extreme solitary confinement—conditions that prison advocates characterize as cruel and unusual punishment.

The list is an extension of the five initial demands that Pelican Bay inmates presented in 2011 before initiating a hunger strike. Most of those demands were never met, or they were met only with lip service, leading prisoners back to where they started.

 

 

CONFINEMENT AS TORTURE

High on the list are concerns about conditions in the SHU, the amount of time prisoners can be made to spend in isolation, and the public's inability to monitor the situation.

"I feel dead. It's been 13 years since I have shaken someone's hand and I fear I'll forget the feel of human contact," Pelican Bay prisoner Luis Esquivel told attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights in an interview.

Along with Jamaa and others, Esquivel is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state of California that would effectively cap the time someone can spend in solitary confinement to 10 years.

"The hunger strike is an extreme act," says Terry Kupers, a Piedmont-based psychology professor and clinical psychiatrist who has testified before the California State Assembly on long-term solitary confinement. "It's very dangerous, and you can die. So when a group of prisoners go on hunger strike, it means they've exhausted all ways of expressing themselves and having their demands considered. And that's very much the case here—some of these guys have been in SHU for 30 or 40 years."

Kupers believes solitary confinement in California prisons violates the 8th Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, a view echoed by activists who've launched a statewide effort called the Stop the Torture Campaign.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez, an expert on torture, has called for a ban on solitary confinement where inmates are kept in isolation for 22 hours a day or more, saying the practice should only be used in very exceptional circumstances and for short time periods.

Comments

Hello,

Thank you so much for printing this article. My prayer is that none of what is taking place in the prisoners will be done in vain. And that Gov. Jerry Brown, the CDCR Officials, and the staff of PBSP would truly look inside themselves, tap into that heart of flesh that GOD gave them, and make the needed changes toward humanity for these prisoners.

Thank you,
Marie Levin

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

Great article that really exposes what is going on in California SHU's. Prolonged solitary confinement must be abolished! Thank you to Toshio for writing and the Guardian for printing.

Diana Block, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Posted by Great article! on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

Please include details concerning the crimes these Pelican Bay inmates committed to get them where they are. I would like to hear from the victims and their families prior to getting teary-eyed over these murderers - because that is who is housed at Pelican Bay.

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

You are very closed minded I would bet you a million many that are in pelican bay are not murdered..and many do not belong in there..please go look up info of inmates before you make ignorant comments..god bless you my little stupid child

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

Richmondman...If I may ask you one question? Do you believe in justice? Because if you do then you would acknowledge the fact that these men "murderers" as you call them, are being held behind these walls in solitary confinement for an indeterminate time without due process of the law. I have a brother in the SHU and he has never murdered anyone but he's still back there. I feel sorry for families who have lost anyone to violent crimes but I believe we must never lose our compassion or understanding for vengeance. I would like to share a verse from the bible with you

Isaiah 61:1 ESV / 42 helpful votes

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Posted by Gilbert Pacheco on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

Well said ...I also have a brother..and people are so close minded or disable and make comments without knowledge...if you know of any upcoming events protest let me know I like to attend..this needs to end the abuse and torture..its awfull ...lfabua@yahoo.com

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:25 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 7:49 am

locked up alone for some extended time have done something while in jail to get that treatment.

I don't know if Jesus was part of the governing body that decided the fate of our states thugs.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

I had the need to apologize for RICHMONDMAN'S comment he is ignorant speaks without knowing that many inmates in SHU are not murderers nor rapest..or child molester...many are wrongfully convicted and many again wrongly thrown in the SHU.. Please Richmond read ..hear inmates story ..the charges in witch inmate is in prison I can give you few that should not belong in the SHU... Mr.Pachecco please let me know of any events or protest I am a supporter against this abuse and torture..

Miracles1g@yahoo.com

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

"The majority of inmates housed within the SHU are validated prison gang members/associates. A validated prison gang member/associate will spend an average of six years in the SHU. However, inmates are afforded the opportunity to "debrief" and give a written account of their gang participation. If they are proven to be truthful and forthcoming they will be transferred to a different prison and allowed to "do their time" in protective custody. However, most inmates choose not to participate in the debrief process."

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 09, 2013 @ 10:23 am

The majority of inmates housed within the SHU are validated prison gang members/associates. A validated prison gang member/associate will spend an average of six years in the SHU. However, inmates are afforded the opportunity to "debrief" and give a written account of their gang participation. If they are proven to be truthful and forthcoming they will be transferred to a different prison and allowed to "do their time" in protective custody. However, most inmates choose not to participate in the debrief process.

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 09, 2013 @ 10:24 am

we lead the nation in incarceration and like Gitmon many of the men and women held in incarceration and solitary incarceration are wrongfully held, over charged, charged because of nationality, color, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, an over zealous prosecutor or prison official . . . . Solitary confinement is torture and we should be way better than this . . . let's try to be who we can be, instead of vengeful and vindictive. We don't have to become like the worst we can be, we can be the leaders of the world in human rights . . .now that would be something to be proud of . . support these prisoners struggle to be treated as human beings no matter what they are accused of for crimes.

Posted by babysoft on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 7:58 am

we lead the nation in incarceration and like Gitmo many of the men and women held in incarceration and solitary incarceration are wrongfully held, over charged, charged because of nationality, color, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, an over zealous prosecutor or prison official . . . . Solitary confinement is torture and we should be way better than this . . . let's try to be who we can be, instead of vengeful and vindictive. We don't have to become like the worst we can be, we can be the leaders of the world in human rights . . .now that would be something to be proud of . . support these prisoners struggle to be treated as human beings no matter what they are accused of for crimes.

Posted by babysoft on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 8:00 am

felons who we are spending a fortune on incarcerating might actually cost us a lot less by dying of starvation?

Hmmm.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

Jason Grant Garza to Toshio ... I would like thank you for the above article and bring forward some VERY IMPORTANT issues. I too have had MEDICAL CARE, POLICE SERVICES, ADA SERVICES not be. What do I mean ...

A good start would be to show you an article and what the city did before ... http://www.sfbg.com/2007/06/27/crazy and then show you a signed confession where the city broke the MEDICAL law, left me for dead and now the process has started all over again ... http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html and for more background read http://myownprivateguantanamo.com . ( Documented MEDICAL LAWBREAKING - in case you don't believe it is TRUE)

Now go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo to see the CRIMINAL FRAUD or the sheriff's "CUP OF POISON" on 11/27/12 (see all six videos) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xax7ksytpu4 and then go to DPH http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa7kfWNt4aQ or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk (where I was BRUTALLY ASSAULTED by the sheriff's deputy.) Then you can watch other videos for the FAILURES of SFPD, OCC, MOD, Sheriff and Chief of Police and Police Commission.

So as to further illustrate my point ... NO ENFORCEMENT of MEDICAL LAW even in PRISON and what the agencies responsible (for the malpractice - both legal and medical) are trying to SPIN as far as a fix and HOW LONG NOW? Then, look at what I am subjected to ... if you look at the above videos on youtube ... neither the POLICE nor SHERIFF ENFORCE medical law violations ... so here is ANOTHER CORRUPT METHODOLOGY and please note all the access and accommodation to escalate to the highest level in order to CORRECT. None from the SF Police Department, NONE from the Sheriff's Office, NONE from the Office of Citizen's Complaints, NONE from the Human Rights Commission, NONE from the Mayor's Office on Disabilities, NONE from the Police Commission. So where is the HUMANITY ???? I can show you WHAT as the PRISONERS can ... what HAPPENS with NO MEDICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ...

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

I spent 10 years in California prisons on drug charges and 4 years in Solitary Confinement where I started writing novels about the drug war and prisons. I am now a best seller with over 10 books on the subject and over 400 reviews on Amazon. Underdog is about the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike and Solitary Confinement found in my catalog here~ That particular book got the interest of a Criminal Justice Professor at U.C. Irvine and I got to speak to 100 students as a guest Lecturer and be on the radio. Here's a front page story in the O.C. Register about it~
Other interviews and reviews on my site here

God bless you,

Glenn Langohr

Posted by Glenn Langohr on Jul. 15, 2013 @ 8:46 am