Prison Hunger Strikes Continue In California

Day 49 of California Prison Hunger Strike: “Our Lives Are in the Hands of CDCR”

Today is Day 49 of the California prison hunger strike. The hunger strike began on June 8th, and began with the participation of approximately 30,000 prisoners in 24 facilities across the state (as well as out of state facilities holding California prisoners). The number soon dropped to approximately 12,000 three days later when it was officially recognized by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as a mass hunger strike, or, as CDCR has referred to it, a “mass hunger strike disturbance” that is nothing more than a “gang power play,” as CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard called it in a Los Angeles Times editorial.

Corridor at Pelican Bay

Corridor at Pelican Bay

The most recent participant numbers for the past week are:

  • August 25: 96 hunger strikers in three prisons; 42 continuously since July 8
  • August 24: 86 hunger strikers in three prisons; 42 continuously since July 8
  • August 23: 84 hunger strikers in 3 prisons, 41 continuously since July 8.
  • August 22: 79 hunger strikers in four prisons; 44 continuously since July 8.
  • August 21: 80 hunger strikers in four prisons; 44 continuously since July 8.
  • August 20: 94 hunger strikers in six prisons; 45  continuously since July 8.
  • August 19:  136 hunger strikers in six prisons; 69 continuously since July 8.
  • August 18: 129 hunger strikes in six prisons ; 69 continuously since July 8.

CDCR will not state which prisons are still on hunger strike for “safety and security” reasons.

Hunger strike mediator, Irene Huerta, released a statement on behalf of the mediation team today: “Right now, all of our lives are in the hands of CDCR; we’re all at a standstill. We have to sit around and wait – wait for a call to hear that the men have reached their demands and called off their hunger strike or a call that’s going to tell you that your loved one has passed due to starvation.”

The frustration and worry evident in the statement reflects the particularly brutal response by CDCR to this round of hunger strikes.

Since day three of the strike, hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay and California State Prison, Corcoran were immediately segregated in other segregation units. Strikers across the state had property taken from their cells, had visitation denials, had sandbags placed at the bottoms of their cell doors, and have widely reported delays or rejections of mail to and from family members. Participants have even reportedly been given extended terms in segregation units of two to three months following disciplinary write-ups for their participation.

A participant at California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi described the process:

“I went today and plead not guilty but was still found guilty. Everyone was found guilty. I was prepared and even took two sheets of paper explaining why I was not guilty of that write up. The hearing officer at least heard me out and looked over the evidence I presented but it didn’t change his mind. One thing that I was trying to dodge was that part about the hunger strike being ordered by validated gang members…I was talking to the hearing officer about that and he knew why I brought it up–he knows how IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) works–and he told me that since all races and factions in the system participated they can’t use that as any form of gang involvement since everyone was involved, it wasn’t a gang thing, it was a prisoner thing.”

Several major news developments occurred in the past week.

It was confirmed on Monday that, ten days ago, the hunger strike at Calipatria State Prison came to an end. According to a CDCR spokesperson, “The warden at Calipatria informed the inmates that local issues would be discussed only after they ceased their involvement in this disturbance. (Note that case reviews of all associates in the CAL Administrative Segregation Unit had resumed. That may have had an impact on the inmates’ decisions to stop their participation.)”

This confirms in part an earlier report by activist Kendra Castaneda, wife of a hunger strike participant at Calipatria, that the hunger strikers agreed to end on the condition that they be able to negotiate certain changes, which include installing pull-up bars.

On August 19th, CDCR was granted their request to “refeed” hunger strikers without their consent. CDCR sought the order, according to court documents, because of their concerns of “coerced participation in the strike or coerced execution of ‘do not resuscitate’  directives.”

Spokesperson Joyce Hayhoe, who represents the medical receivers office, told Solitary Watch that “our court order was sought proactively so that we had appropriate protocols in place should the need arise in the future. We have no plans to use the court order at this time. We would only use this order as a guide for an inmate near death.” As of Friday, Hayhoe reported that the order had yet to be used. Though she couldn’t give direct numbers, she stated that very few hunger strikers ever signed “do not resuscitate” orders.

Also according to Hayhoe, in the past week one hunger striker was hospitalized today and two were observed at the hospital at Corcoran State Prison to monitor their resumption of eating.

A sister of a hunger strike participant in the Corcoran SHU for nine years, visited him a week ago with their mother. “My mom said it was hard seeing him because he looked pale and thinner. One last thing he told was he doesn’t know what will come out of all this but ‘I’m going to stand up for myself and not five up.’”

He has reportedly been involved in two stretches of hunger strikes. For 15 days beginning on July 8th he refused food and lost seven pounds. After eating for three days he refused meals for 11 days.

“He said guys are dropping weight so fast. When they begin eating some eat too fast and get sick,” she told Solitary Watch, “a nurse asked every inmate if they would like to take at least a packet of multi-vitamins and a small powdered form of Gatorade to help with the deterioration for some.”

A wife of a hunger strike participant from Pelican Bay told Solitary Watch that two days ago she “received a postcard from an inmate who was with my husband at Pelican Bay. He said that my husband had been moved. I called around, but no one could tell me to which institution he was moved or why. Finally, Saturday morning, the Inmate Locator was updated and I saw that he had been moved to New Folsom.”

Though she is the emergency contact, she was not notified by the prison about this transfer. Many hunger strike participants have been moved to California State Prison, Sacramento (also known as “New Folsom”)  for medical treatment. For some, this has included being held in the ASU.

In a letter dated August 20th, days before the transfer, her husband wrote her: “The last time you saw me, I weighed 216 lbs. I just got out of the I.C.U. (Intensive Care Unit) today and I weigh 162 lbs.” Their last visit was on July 7th.

The letter continues: “Since last Thursday, I’d been asking to see the doctor. The homies said I went on Friday, but I don’t remember that…This morning, they transferred me down to Ad-Seg, cause they say the federal oversight of medical is better. Plus in the SHU, they wasn’t giving us no kind of care. Be lucky to get vitamins and 2 tsp. of Gatorade.  It’s crazy and I’ll tell you everything when I see you…They told me today that I was also dehydrated real bad. When they tried to take three vials of blood, they couldn’t even take one…my blood wouldn’t flow and it was like thick syrup…These fools even broke my T.V…said the cart got away…I heard that, right?!?…You know I’m doing this, Babee for us. I could except my first six years, but another six years, they just holding me for nothing and it’s a fight to get out of here. I know in my heart, Babee that I’m doing the right thing for me, for us and for our son. That way he’s not so easily caught in this systematic web and gets lost back here.”

The San Francisco Bay View has also published letters from three hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. Randall Ellis reported that, as of August 19th, he had dropped weight from 187 to 160 pounds. “There are men here willing to die who can’t be silenced by intimidation or cheap psychological gimmicks like “this is a ‘gang power play,’” Ellis writes.

Tracey Miller reported that all participants had received disciplinary write-ups for their participation in the hunger strike. He also wrote that he hadn’t  “heard anything new in regards to talks on the hunger strike. Honestly, with the communication being so bad, you guys probably find out before most of us back here.”

Mutope Duguma reported that he had lost 44 pounds. “I am weak and fragile, Mary [Ratcliff, SF Bay View editor], but my mental capacity is strong still.”