In a letter dated July 20, California inmate Richard Gilliam shares his thoughts on the state prison hunger strike, which began July 1 at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif.
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I’ve always known that for political resistance by prisoners to occur systemwide there would have to exist a centralized organization or entity acting as an information clearinghouse and support system. It seems this is now the case.
Laura Sullivan, NPR
The exercise yard at Pelican Bay's Secure Housing Unit.
I first learned of the impending [hunger] strike in an article in “The Abolitionist,” put out by Critical Resistance, an organization dedicated to the destruction of the Prison Industrial Complex.
Critical Resistance reported that during the Fourth of July weekend the action reached 6,600 prisoners across at least 13 prisons, including Pelican Bay, Folsom, Corcoran, and San Quentin. They report that medical staff have been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat strikers and that some strikers are “in renal failure.”
The prisoners at Pelican Bay began the strike in opposition to conditions they describe as “inhumane and degrading,” and issued a statement with five core demands that would have to be met before the strike would be called off.
One of the things that, until now, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did very well was isolate prisoners housed at different institutions to prevent them communicating. Until recently, prisoners at one institution had little opportunity to learn of current events at another.
The advent of cell phones and organizations, such as Critical Resistance, has changed that. Now prisoners have the ability to plan and execute sit-downs, hunger strikes, and work stoppages in response to abusive treatment, poor medical care, bad working conditions, and lack of services. Whether they will take advantage of this opportunity and what response it will provoke from those who feel their authority is being undermined remains to be seen.
The appearance of Critical Resistance and other groups as prisoner advocates has been a long time in coming. We must hope they engender positive change for prisoners as well as for society as a whole. As with the dawning of every new era, this one is bright with promise but also ripe for corruption. As of this writing the hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison continues.
Richard Gilliam is a writer currently serving time in a California prison.