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.)
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