CI: A Call for Every California Prisoner ~ 150,000 and More

February 08, 2012 at 7:01 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, International Law, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Print Friendly

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

A Call for Every California Prisoner ~ 150,000 and More
by Nancy A. Heitzeg

“We must win this struggle not simply because it is morally correct, upholds international standards of humanity, opposes governmental collusion in corporate exploitation of underclass people, and serves the interests – social, political and economic – of society as a whole, but also because it’s necessarily our survival. We are men in earnest; consequences have little meaning in the face of such conditions.

Some of you reading these words are no doubt grappling with the reality behind them, attempting to find some point of relatability, some common experience from which to draw a correlation. Unless you’ve experienced this firsthand, such an attempt is an effort in futility. But for the sake of this discussion, I challenge you to run an experiment: Go to your bathroom and close the door. Imagine that you will never leave that room. Your tub and shower, that’s your bed. Yes, your toilet is only a step or two away from where you lay your head. Your food will be brought to you here twice a day.

Stay there as long as you can. How long do you last? Twenty minutes? An hour? Six hours? Imagine you sit in that bathroom for a year, 10 years, 24 years, 40 years. You will never leave that bathroom unless you are released from prison, agree to be an agent for the same people who stuck you in that bathroom, or you die of old age and infirmity. How long would you last? How strong is your will?” ~ Heshima Denham, January 8 2012 from the NCTT Corcoran SHU

What would you do? Dare you contemplate it?

However difficult, however painful, we must.. It is the least we can do to honor the struggle of men who have deemed their conditions of confinement so tortuous, so barbarous — that they, in fact, are prepared to die in protest.

The resistance to draconian conditions of solitary confinement , sometimes extending for decades, began by Pelican Bay SHU inmates last summer has persisted, through two rounds of hunger strikes, three alleged participant “suicides”, and mass retaliation.

The strikers, who numbered 12,000 at the strike’s peak,continue to adhere to the original five core demands:

1) Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;

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 long term solitary confinement;

4) Provide adequate food;

5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

In addition to raising awareness of the plight of the nearly 15,000 keep in solitary confinement in California, the Hunger Strike has called attention to the over-use and ill-effects of this practice nation-wide, where an estimated 80,000 persons are kept in isolation, often for decades. (Please see Victoria Law’s excellent CI piece – Pelican Bay is not Enough!! Continuing the Struggle Against Extreme Isolation and Sensory Deprivation – for additional background information and action options.)

Take Action: 150,000 Calls in Support of the Hunger Strike

The US imprisons over 2.5 million people in jail, prisons, detention centers and juvenile halls, about 150,000 of whom are Calironia prisoners.

While hunger strikers recover from two rounds of the historic strike in the summer and fall of 2011, supporters outside need to send a clear message of support to the CA legislature and continue building pressure to fully implement the five core demands.

Jam the CA Legislature’s communication with overwhelming support for the hunger strike! A Call or letter for every CA prisoner!*

~ Forward the 150,000 Calls materials on to everyone you know! (use email blasts, facebook, twitter, etc)
~ Coordinate a mailing & calling party in your neighborhood
~ Pass out fliers about the 150,000 Calls drive at events
~ Go door-knocking in your neighborhood with copies of the open letter & ask people to sign it.
~ If you visit people in prison, pass out copies of the open letter and/or fliers outside the prison about the 150,000 Calls drive to family and friends visiting their loved ones.

What other creative ideas do you have to make 150,000 calls on the CA Legislature in support of the hunger strike?

*You do not need to be a CA resident (or citizen) to support. The goal is to jam up legislators’ communication systems and show them how much support the hunger strikers (and all prisoners) have.*

“If you are reading these words, you can no longer claim ignorance; to stand idly by now would be complicity. A wise man once said, “All that is necessary for evil men to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” We are under no illusions. The ultimate arbiter of our fate – and this society’s fate – is the people. YOU. YOU must rise up against this injustice and inhumanity. YOU must let the state know that substantive change at every level of society is something the people demand…

To treat us this way is wrong, evil and unsustainable socially. Stand with us. Lend your voices, your labor, and your ideas to this historical work. We can win, but only with you all by our sides. In the final analysis, this is a struggle to determine the nature of humanity itself. We are on the right side of history; we encourage you all to stand on this same side with us. Our love, loyalty and solidarity to all those who cherish freedom, justice and human rights and fear only failure.

Until we win or don’t lose.”~ Heshima Denham, January 8 2012 from the NCTT Corcoran SHU

Chey Bryant
Chey Bryant

What I find refreshingly interesting about this movement to change the CA prison system & their solitary confinement policies is that it seems to be very organized. I have not (recently, in the past few years) seen a social movement for change that is so clear in it's demands. I think that this concise knowledge of what needs changing is vital to a movement of people in prison, considering that there can be a disconnect between inmates who are going through horrible and unnecessary punishments in prison and those on the outside world who can really help to develop support and change. 

I also think that the use of solitary confinement as a long term punishment can be seriously detrimental to the minds and bodies of inmates, seeing as how humans seem to be naturally social and these inmates are left are alone in a tiny cell (that may often  have little access to direct sunlight) for days, months, years at a time with very little time outside of that cell. Because of bodily and psychological risks I don't understand why solitary confinement is used as a punishment at all, because this practice, in many ways, seriously hurts people, people who are our fellow humans. So is this really how we should be treating folks, even if they have committed crimes? and what about people who are falsely imprisoned who go through this type of punishment for no reason? What if the same was done to us, or someone we love? There seems to be a lack of common decency in this practice, and possibly in the entire prison system. 


As I read I realized that the discussion on food injustice has only been apart of the community who are not in prison.  I am really surprised that there is also food injustice in some of the harshest place, places that I thought were fair.  It has become so much clearer to me that the prison system (that I had thought was a good place for us, those who are afraid of the deviants) is rather really a brutal place.  It seems that if we don't do anything about it and live happily but ignoring these injustices, we are rather living at the expenses of the hard reality of people suffering.


I feel that the process of acknowledging brutal realities includes stages of denial (where, unfortunately, many if not most people get stuck), depression, anger, acceptance, hopelessness, and then ACTION! 
I agree that people need to be willing to face and work through painful emotions and realizations. I think that it can be easy to get stuck in them, but I also believe that people can use their anger, sadness, etc., as fuel for change and as a tool in finding their voice. 


The use of solitary confinement as long term punishment (long-term meaning decades, with prisoners still on lock-down after 39 years), is cruel and unusual; I doubt that anyone could make a convincing argument otherwise. 
Prisons are peculiar: the general public rarely thinks about them; and if they do, they do not think about them from a critical standpoint. The general public, I would argue, is predominantly made up of those who represent the "norm" on some level; whether that is white, heterosexual, male, middle-upper class, etc. For socially defined "others," prison is more likely to be an intrusive and unavoidable presence in their lives. Not only is prison largely neglected in public discourse; but those who are in prison are there in part because they are and were prior to incarceration largely neglected and invisible. 

“If you are reading these words, you can no longer claim ignorance; to stand idly by now would be complicity. A wise man once said, “All that is necessary for evil men to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” 

For those who look for issues surrounding incarceration, or for those who fall into some knowledge concerning it, there comes a definite need, urgency, and responsibility; to spread knowledge, to continue research, and to fight for those who cannot win the fight on their own.  

McKenzie Daul
McKenzie Daul

This idea of isolation is disturbing to me on so many levels. I do not understand how someone is supposed to learn from their mistakes by being kept in a cement box for years on end. There is scarce treatment involved. Isn't the point of prison to make one learn from their mistakes. Rather, this technique only confirms the idea of torture and makes it seem okay. The beginning of this blog was quite moving to me; I think many people get confused by what the prison system is really like now a days. It is no longer about treatment rather simply about punishment in the harshest way possible. A person is a person each one deserves the basic human rights. This article just confirmed my passion to continue on my journey through college then law school in order to work within this system protecting not only prisoners rights but also citizens like us. 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

and how could i forget --

no numbers kept at all on the number of juveniles kept in such circumstances

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thank you Kay -- knew you would be calling..

Much appreciated

I really feel that the 80,000 figure is a gross mis-underestimation..

i know at Angola alone -- there are  more than 1200 in permanent lock down in Camp J -- plus the Ad Seg Units in each of the other 4 "camps"

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Welcome to all - returning and new visitors..

Hope you all join in the conversation..

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Invisible yet omnipresent.. Yes..

we all must do what we can to increase the knowledge and then the resistance

as our comrade Victoria Law often writes here and elsewhere --

"For a World without Cages"

Patricia Levesque
Patricia Levesque

It renews the faith in people to know many are inspired to take up fighting within the system for those who can not fight for themselves. 

 You can't "unknow" something, and if you turn your back after seeing these realities, than you are as guilty as those who institute these tortures.  But, there is a sense of powerlessness, how do you help from such distance?  

While I will share this with friends and family in CA, and I see no reason why I can't call my own senators, I'd really like to study more how we can keep future populations in the prison system to a minimum. 

As Kay points out, these men come from populations who were invisible and neglected in the first place.  Lets be honest, they are in many ways in the eyes of authority, disposable.  Looking at the criminal systems in Western Europe, the emphasis in many countries places a priority on "correcting their course" rather than throwing them in jail.

No wonder they find our system barbaric.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thanks so much McKenzie

Amen to all you said -- torture indeed

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

"I see no reason why I can't call my own senators,"

Exactly -- this is an issue everywhere

thank you!