Monday, September 2, 2013

Don't forget the California Prison Hunger Strikers

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The US prison system is well known for is harsh conditions and brutality.  Here in the US, minors and mentally impaired people are executed and/or incarcerated often spending years in solitary confinement. What solitary confinement is in actuality is a sentence the results of which is insanity; Dead Man Walking if you like.  The incarceration of workers and the poor and the racist justice system is well known. Prisoners in the US lose many rights all human beings should have, basically the right to be human.

Back in July, 30,000 prisoners went on hunger strike in California. We have commented on this strike more than once on this blog.  You can read the prisoners list of demands here.  The strike has now been on for 57 days.  Many of the prisoners have been relocated and are under threat of being force fed like the inmates at Guantanamo. The authorities refuse to deal with the issues they are raising.

A major issue is solitary confinement which is used as a form of punishment in California’s SHU’s or Security Housing Units. An inmate has only to be declared a gang member in order to be confined to solitary.  California has almost 12,000 people in extreme isolation which costs over $60 million per year. As prison rights advocates point out, “The cells have no windows, and no access to fresh air or sunlight.” This is torture, there’s no way around it. The UN declares solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture but in US prisons an inmate can spend form 10 to 40 years alone.  I would ask any reader of this with an ounce of humanity in them; what would that do to you? Solitary confinement drives people mad.

On the issue of gangs, members of the most ruthless and powerful gang of all, the US capitalist class manages to avoid jail time no matter what they do. They can make conscious decisions that lead to massive environmental pollution and death (BP spill). They cause millions of people to be homeless or deny millions more health care in the interests of personal gain. They lie to us about events abroad seeking our support and money in the slaughter of those who resist their predatory invasions, yet are lauded as fine upstanding citizens.  This gang has many affiliates and sub-branches like the US Chamber of Commerce, The National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Round Table.  They meet in secret in places like Jackson Hole Wyoming, The Bohemian Grove here in California and other fine resorts.

In the streets and urban centers of the US sometimes belonging to a gang can mean security or for other young people a way to riches and recognition.  And if you find yourself in the US Gulag, the inmates there, having no right to a union which is something that must be demanded for prisoners, might seek safety in one of the ethnic gangs that exists. The prisons are generally segregated and racism is used by authorities much like it is in the workplace and society as a whole as a divide and rule tactic.

A guaranteed job and a minimum of $15 or $20 an hour for society in general as well as for inmates re-entering society, is what would change this situation. Recognizing that the public needs to be protected from some people, prisons should cease being mere centers for the warehousing of human beings to genuine correctional centers that would help people and help them re-enter society.  Prison employees should be trained in all the fields that deal with mental health and human behavior in order to actually help people.   The prison industrial complex as it is, is a massive industry with very lucrative profits to be made.  It is not human friendly.  In California this industry has grown massively. Prisons are constructed in rural depressed communities and are often the only job around. They are also constructed hundreds of miles from urban centers where the families of inmates live. The authorities consider this a plus, something that again isolates the inmate from whatever family structure they may have. When I was visiting an LA gang member in prison it was assumed I was a lesser person by the guards as well.  The families of inmates are not respected.

I commented on the decision to allow authorities to force feed prisoners and to ignore prisoners "do not not resuscitate requests" in an earlier commentary. The state is concerned about their safety apparently but we know it is about denying the individual some form of control over their lives and existence. The object of prison life is to take every aspect of human dignity away form the inmate.

The other issue to point out is the so-called free press. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to protest as a prison inmate, the consequences are severe.  The fat that so many initiated this strikes tells us something but the media in the main ignores it, or as is the case with workers on strike, demonizes the participants and gives their cause no credibility. The mass media in the US is the most unfree and censored of all the advanced capitalist economies. It is mind numbing demoralizing rubbish in the main.

Don’t forget the prison hunger striker. If you can get your union or organization to send letter to the governor and demand he intervene and repsond to the prisoners genuine concerns.  Readers can call California governor, Jerry Brown at: Phone: (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, (510) 628-0202 fax 916-558-3160  and urge him to respond to the prisoners valid complaints.

There are still 70 prisoners refusing food after 57 days.  For more up to date information go to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity webpage

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