Hungry for reform - Page 4

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

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

But activists say the nearly $2 million Brown received from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) during his successful bid for governor in 2010 had more to do with it than infamous serial killers.

Assembly member Tom Ammiano, who authored the most recent bill, stressed that "Press access isn't just to sell newspapers. It's a way for the public to know that the prisons it pays for are well-run. I invite the governor to visit the SHU to see for himself why media access is so important."




Last time around, Jamaa lost 19 pounds. Deprived of sunlight, the Oakland-born man has developed melanin and vitamin D deficiencies that have lightened his normally dark brown skin. He suffers stomach problems and swollen thyroid glands that he didn't have before prison. Starvation is a possibly lethal proposition. "Make no mistake, none of us wants to die. But we are prepared to, if that's what it takes to force a real reform," he and other strike leaders wrote in a statement last December. Jamaa's sister, Marie Levin, who has organized monthly vigils for the strikers at Oakland's monthly First Fridays/Art Murmur event, is worried about how her brother's body will cope this time around. "It's something that we as family members don't want them to have to experience again," she notes with anxiety. Yet both the prisoners and their advocates on the outside say they can't simply let dehumanizing conditions in California's prison system continue indefinitely. "I think things have changed, but not substantially in terms of actual conditions," Kupers argues. "What is changed is the CDCR had to recognize the strikers, and conceded some of the things. And subsequently, the various prisoner groups have come together and made a commitment not to have violence between groups inside the prisons. This is huge advancement." But unless all 45 demands are met, they say the strike will commence July 8. For now, Jamaa and others are readying their bodies for hunger, for a cause they believe goes far beyond prison walls. "Know this," he wrote from SHU, words that needed to be smuggled out through unconventional means to get around an official wall of silence. "I am a ... Prisoner of War, and I serve the interest of all people."