Prison hunger strike enters month two


As a hunger strike staged across California prisons enters its second month, inmates and their advocates are mourning the loss of Billy “Guero” Sells, a Corcoran State Prison inmate who committed suicide on July 22 after 14 days of fasting.

Advocates with the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition counts Sells as the first casualty of the mass protest. Donna Willmott, a member of the coalition’s media committee, told the Bay Guardian that "people who knew him  believe that [suicide] was very uncharacteristic of him. As a coalition, we’re not saying, ‘no he didn’t commit suicide,’" Willmott added, "but we still think that the CDCR is responsible for what happened to him.”

State Assembly Member Tom Ammiano noted in an Aug. 1 statement that “although the death of a prisoner who had participated in the hunger strike has been ruled a suicide, I can’t be comforted by the knowledge that conditions in taxpayer funded institutions have led to unusual rates of suicide instead of reasonable rates of rehabilitation.”

Ammiano said he “remain[s] concerned about the hundreds of prisoners still participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions. These are not minor prisoner complaints; they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts
of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept.”

On August 8, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released a tally of 349 inmates in seven prisons who had skipped the last nine consecutive state-issued meals, including 193 who hadn’t eaten at all since the strike began on July 8.

Strike leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison have demanded reforms surrounding solitary confinement. They have asked the CDCR to address the unreliable method by which inmates are flagged for segregated housing, conditions in confinement, indeterminate and long sentences, and the lack of clear and fair guidelines on how inmates can work towards being released back into the prison’s general population.

Activists have organized a number of recent events to demonstrate support for the inmates. Demonstrators picketed outside of San Quentin State Prison recently. On Aug. 5, seven protesters were arrested after locking themselves to the front doors of the Elihu M. Harris State Building in Oakland.

The loss of Sells spurred a renewed sense of urgency amongst prisoners’ rights advocates. Danny Murillo, a formerly-incarcerated student at UC Berkeley, told the rallying crowd in Oakland that “as time progresses, we do need to put pressure, because we’ve already seen one of our brothers fall.”

Sanyika Bryant, a Civic Engagement Organizer at Causa Justa, added that “when people are going to go on a hunger strike, that’s really a last stand. The conditions are just so bad that you have to take your life on the line to stand up.” He added, “this is for real life and death.”

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos participated in a day of action on July 31 by forgoing meals. “I’m fasting today in solidarity,” he told the Guardian on that day, and went on to describe long-term solitary confinement as “completely inhumane. You take away so much liberty. You shouldn’t take away their humanity. People should have the ability for self-actualization.”

So far, a team of mediators has made little progress in reaching an agreement with state prison officials that could put an end to the strike. In the meantime, California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) says it’s adhering to a care guide crafted by CDCR, outlining the protocol for dealing with inmates who reach the point of starvation.

Care providers are required to conduct body-mass index (BMI) determinations, and after 14 days of striking, fasting prisoners receive informational notifications from CDCR staff, informing them of their options if they reach a critical medical condition. Some inmates have reported not receiving BMI determinations, and being subjected to increased isolation or excessive heat or air conditioning, to the point of severe discomfort.

Ron Ahnen, Associate Professor of Politics at St. Mary’s College and President of the human rights non-profit California Prison Focus, expressed concern about “the coming tsunami of people collapsing and having serious medical issues. Especially all at the same time."

Inmates have the right to refuse medical treatment, explained Joyce Hayhoe, Director of Legislation and Communications for CCHCS. “We cannot force them to eat or take measures to force them to eat without a court order. We do have inmates that fill out advance directives. If, for some reason, an inmate lost consciousness and there was not an advance directive, doctors would take whatever steps were necessary to preserve their life.” This could include feeding tubes, she said.

Melissa Guillen, who is 22, said her father Antonio Guillen is a strike organizer who has spent a decade in solitary at Pelican Bay. She’d heard from his counselor that “he’s doing okay. That he’s strong. He’s not planning on stopping anytime soon. But, you know, they’re getting weak.” She added, “We know he’s strong. I hope he gets what he wants out of this.”


sympathy than felons, I struggle to think who they might be.

The average hard-working, law-abiding citizen is just going to look at this hunger strike and say "let them die of starvation if they want to".

The whole point of prison is that it is supposed to suck.

Posted by anon on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Spoken by someone who hasn't shown an ounce of sympathy for any strikers, anywhere.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 6:58 am

Uhmm.. No, Draco. Prison for rehabilitation for those not sentenced to life without parole. The idea is to reform the criminal element and protect society from them.

Otherwise, why not just put all those in jail to death? Seriously, if prison is not to reform/ rehabilitate the criminally minded, shouldn't we just put them to death since without rehabilitation they are very likely to re-offend and end back in prison anyway.

Posted by Draco's Opposite on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 11:54 am

To persons who love freedom, loss of that freedom is "sucky" enough without the added torture of solitary. However there seems to be an element in our culture that takes a perverse delight in state sanctioned torture and abuse of society's biggest losers. The conditions experienced by those in solitary are inhumane and needlessly painful, beyond what is needed to protect us from criminals and discourage inmate on inmate violence.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

The prisoners who are in solitary are hardend gang leaders, who can run their criminal organizations from general population. They refuse to abandon their gang affiliations, or gang activities. That is why they are in solitary.

Posted by Richmondman on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

You base your opinion on propaganda

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

You can be put in solitary if someone else denounces you as someone "affiliated" with a gang, and prisoners are routinely pressured to make such denunciations in exchange for perks. Sadistic guards love to play games pitting prisoners against each other. You can also be put in solitary for having a tattoo -not necessarily a gang tattoo, because guards don't know the difference and often consider you to be affiliated with a gang if you have tattoos in general. I've even heard of cases where people have been put in solitary for the mere act of reading the wrong books (such as books about black liberation struggles).

Aside from the arbitrary nature of who gets placed in solitary, it's increasingly being recognized as a form of torture, which is why Europe has largely abandoned it.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 7:05 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... should I really expect COMPASSION and HUMANITY from the posters here in regard to medical rights, medical care, human dignity or will a sea of INHUMANITY rise to drown out their BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS?

My money is on the sea of INHUMANITY ... why? Pointing fingers is easier than taking responsibility .... I mean a JUDGE has ruled that their medical care and overcrowding was WRONG ... now the governor is going to appeal some more. Sound like the GOP continuing to fight DOMA. Yes, propaganda, spin, and naturally retirement for all gravely concerned and just dead inmates ...oh, "we really tried..."

Now why do I say these painful things? Maybe because I too have had MEDICAL LAW BROKEN against me and left as the VINDICATED INNOCENT VICTIM for DEAD. When I went back to the LAWBREAKERS (CCSF) ... no one from DPH to the city attorney nor the courts could explain to me HOW they could have my case dismissed in 2003 (C02-3485PJH) with TESTILYING and FRAUD only to sign a confession admitting fault and guilt to the OFFICE of INSPECTOR GENERAL in 2007 for a crime they committed in 2001. I mean WAS IT A MEDICAL DECISION TO LIE IN FEDERAL COURT? I still have an arrest record (never having been arrested before) sitting next to a signed confession from the city for CRIME THEY committed... no EXPLANATION, NO HELP, NO REMEDY, NO RE-DRESS and NO JUSTICE.

Now it has started all over again ... watch over 199 videos of seeking accountability, rational thought, humanity, correction and arrest. Note the CRIMINAL FRAUD with the FALSE restraining order and watch OCC, MOD, HRC, the Sheriff, SFPD, Chief of Police and Police Commissions' MISHANDLING of it.

Oh and if you think I don't speak from experience ... read the article where the byline is "This is nuts: A bizarre tale of the insanity that is SF's mental health system " ... so if this could happen on the outside and continue as I have shown above ... why should the ABUSE in prison NOT happen? I have proven that NO ONE ENFORCES MEDICAL LAW on the outside ... not SFPD, not the Sheriff and the Mayor's Office on Disabilities DOES NOT ENFORCE ADA and Disability Right LAWS as per their FALSE website ... " The mission of the Mayor's Office on Disability is to ensure that every program, service, benefit, activity and facility operated or funded by the City of San Francisco is fully accessible to, and useable by, people with disabilities. MOD is responsible for overseeing the implementation and local enforcement of the City's obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as other federal, state and local access codes and disability rights laws."

Oh that is RIGHT ... the TRUTH and HUMANITY do not matter ...


Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

I have numerous letter from these guys and they are standing up for what they believe is right. Validating inmates because of hearsay and holding them in isolation for periods that exceed their original sentences is inhumane.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 12:45 am

I read about it and I guess that the authorities should develop a new set of laws to control these infractions!

Posted by Dufour 445 on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 12:50 am

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