On July 8th, California prisoners began a hunger strike against inhumane conditions, including indefinite solitary confinement, which doctors and researchers call torture. The hunger strike made me realize that many California prisoners are not in solitary because of anything they did, but because a gang investigator arbitrarily identified them as gang members, because, for example, they have tattoos, possess a book by George Jackson, or speak an African or Native American language.
With the hunger strike in its 52nd day, Governor Brown has to decide. Will he negotiate, and if not, will he allow prisoners to die protesting? At least 45 hunger strikers have ingested only water, vitamins, and electrolytes since July 8th and must therefore be on the verge of organ failure, coma, and death. In May 1981, 10 Irish Hunger Strikers died after refusing food for between 44 and 73 days.
Ghandi’s longest fast was 21 days.
Last week Judge Thelton Henderson gave medical officers the authority to force feed prisoners, even if they signed “do-not-resuscitate” forms.
Prisoners’ mediators say that they are willing to negotiate, but Governor Brown is not, not even on demands for adequate food, a weekly phone call, radio access, and correspondence courses requiring proctored exams.
Governor Brown’s Corrections Secretary called the hunger strike a gang power play. But where’s the gang power to be gained by eating adequate food, listening to the radio, or completing a correspondence course?
Prisoners do not surrender their 8th Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment upon sentencing. Limits to punishment, like limits to surveillance, are limits to what the state has a right to do to us. Any of us.
With a perspective, I'm Ann Garrison.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.