From Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report
Vowing to die, if necessary, inmates at the dreaded “SHU” section of California’s Pelican Bay prison begin a hunger strike on July 1. “Like the strike by inmates in Georgia’s prison system late last year, the Pelican Bay protest cuts across racial lines.” The core issue: a brutal, soul-killing policy of solitary confinement and other deprivations aimed at turning every inmate into a snitch on everyone else.
“Inmate organizers say prisoners have been subjected to solitary and a whole range of deprivations for ten, twenty, even forty years.”
On Friday, July 1st, between 50 and 100 men at the Security Housing Unit of California’s infamous Pelican Bay prison go on hunger strike to protest cruel and unusual punishment. It is a punishment inflicted, primarily, on their minds. At the heart of the protest is solitary confinement, the barbaric torture that deprives prisoners of contact with fellow human beings, condemning them to a kind of “social death” – some for decades.
This is the “dark side” of the American repressive arsenal that Vice President Dick Cheney was so happy to unleash as a weapon in the so-called War on Terror: the stripping down of captive people through methodical deprivation of everything that makes them human. Yet these excruciating mind-destruction techniques are routinely deployed on the domestic front, in the American prison gulag, at places like Pelican Bay.
Inmate organizers say prisoners have been subjected to solitary and a whole range of deprivations for ten, twenty, even forty years. They are most incensed at the policy euphemistically called “debriefing,” in which inmates are pressured to confess to every crime they have ever committed in life. They are then expected to inform on other prisoners, their crimes, conversations and gang affiliations. This information – whether true or false – is then used to throw fellow inmates into the special Hell of solitary confinement. It is a brutal, sadistic cycle of degradation, a bizarre world in which everyone is compelled to “snitch” on everyone else. Prisoners are routinely given indeterminate solitary on the mere word of an informer. The worst section of the SHU is called the “short corridor,” where 200 men languish in the deepest isolation. These are the men at the center of the hunger strike.
“It is a brutal, sadistic cycle of degradation, a bizarre world in which everyone is compelled to ‘snitch’ on everyone else.”
One of them is named Mutope Duguma, formerly known as James Crawford. The “call” for the hunger strike was put out under Duguma’s signature. It asks that “all prisoners throughout the State of California who have been suffering injustices in General Population, Administrative Segregation and solitary confinement…join in our peaceful strike to put a stop to the blatant violations of prisoners’ civil/human rights.” Like the strike by inmates in Georgia’s prison system late last year, the Pelican Bay protest cuts across racial lines, involving, in the prisoners’ words, “united New Afrikans, Whites, Northern and Southern Mexicans, and others.” The organizers warn inmates to “beware of agitators, provocateurs, and obstructionists” among the prisoner population.
The Pelican Bay hunger strikers vow to die, if necessary, in a struggle against dehumanization. In the San Francisco Bay area, supporters from the outside have formed Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (firstname.lastname@example.org), to let the inmates know that they are not alone, and “to make sure their voices are heard outside of prison.”
From the inside, inmate Gabriel Huerta reminds us that “Using indeterminate total lock down to extract confessions is torture by international standards as is the use of prolonged solitary confinement.” This is a global, human rights issue.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com