On July 8, 30,000 people joined together across racial lines to participate in the largest hunger strike in California history. These people are prisoners at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and other California prisons. Their current strike action renews a two-year peaceful protest against conditions of extreme isolation, arbitrary punishment, Kafka-esque policies, and inhumane living conditions in California prisons, particularly in the SHU, or Security Housing Unit. The SHU is a euphemism for solitary confinement, which in turn is a euphemism for living death. Prisoners are held for 22½ hours a day in an 8 ft. x 10 ft. windowless cell that looks something like this:
As at Guantanamo Bay, the lights are kept on 24/7. And even when prisoners are released from their cells for recreation, they remain in isolation in “exercise yards” where only a small glimpse of sky is visible between concrete and wire mesh.
Pelican Bay was built in 1989 to house “the worst of the worst” in the California prison system. But the truth of the matter is that hundreds of prisoners are isolated in the SHU without having done anything, let alone something violent, simply because they have been identified as gang members. The gang “validation” and “debriefing” process reads like the Standard Operating Procedure at Guantanamo Bay. Gang validation (or classification as a gang member) is managed through a points system that tracks such criteria as tattoos, incriminating photographs, banned reading material, telephone conversations and other forms of communication, and information from debriefing reports, inmate informants, and the allegations of correctional officers (Sharon Shalev, Supermax, p. 74-88). A quote from George Jackson and a picture of a dragon, together with some hear-say from inmates or guards, can be enough to get you validated as a gang member (see Shane Bauer’s recent article in Mother Jones for more on this process). READ MORE »