Revolution #239, July 17, 2011

Emergency Press Conference in San Francisco:

"We cannot stress enough how critical the situation is"

In response to a crisis situation concerning the medical treatment of prisoners on hunger strike in Pelican Bay and other California prisons and the refusal of the prison authorities to negotiate with prisoners or their representatives, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition called an emergency press conference on Wednesday, July 13 in front of the California State building in San Francisco. TV, radio and print media were present together with about 40 supporters of the hunger strike.

"We cannot stress enough how critical the situation is," said Isaac Ontiveros from the coalition who emceed the press conference. "The health of some of these prisoners has deteriorated to the point of it being potentially fatal. The time now is for the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners."

Carol Strickman, an attorney for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, and a member of the mediation team that has been attempting to meet with prison officials, gave an update on the medical situation the prisoners face. "The medical staff is overwhelmed, they've put the SHU on lockdown, nurses are going around every hour to look for people who have fallen over or passed out. Dozens of people have fallen over or passed out, some hitting their heads. They are removed and taken to the infirmary there or outside hospitals. We don't know any details," she said.

Strickman continued, "We received a report Monday night that some of them are getting intravenous glucose and are being resuscitated to some degree in that way. Blood sugars are down for some people. There are some people who have significant medical conditions already and I'll point out that one of the leaders originally stated, that the leaders were not asking for those with serious medical conditions to engage in this hunger strike. Nevertheless many people have and this shows you just how serious and just how horrible the conditions are in the SHU that all prisoners would risk their lives for improvement."

Despite the hunger strikers' extreme medical situation, the California Department of Corrections has refused to meet a single one of the prisoners' just and urgent demands; in fact they have refused to even negotiate with the prisoners or meet with mediators chosen by the prisoners or any outside medical personnel. This is after 13 days of the hunger strike. Instead, a prison spokesperson claimed that the courageous hunger strike and solidarity between prisoners "goes to show the power, influence and reach of prison gangs." This hunger strike has crossed racial and gang divides—and this is a crude attempt to justify ongoing, perhaps stepped up, torture and abuse of the prisoners. One woman who has two sons that are taking part in the hunger strike told of visiting her sons just days after the strike began. "As I walked by the other windows to go and see my sons, I looked at the other prisoners and they all looked pale. I could tell that they were suffering but that they are also holding up their strength."

Samir Shaheen-Hussain, a pediatrician from Montreal, Quebec, presented a letter signed by medical professionals in the U.S., Canada, and other countries supporting the prisoner demands. "We are appalled at the conditions of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons in the state have to endure," Dr. Shaheen-Hussain said. "Not only is the physical health of the prisoners being destroyed by the actions of the CDCR with which medical practitioners are complicit but so is the dignity of the prisoners themselves because of the conditions that they have to endure. It is a sign of utmost courage that prisoners are fighting these conditions through this hunger strike and it's lamentable that medical care is either being withheld or not adequately provided by medical professionals. The medical doctors here must step up."

Supporters of the prisoners announced plans to continue and intensify their support in the coming days in the Bay Area including the following:

  1. Daily actions (Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm) are planned at the State Building in San Francisco (Van Ness and McAllister).
  2. A vigil in solidarity with the prisoner hunger strikers will be meeting on Thursdays from 5:00 to 7:00 PM in front of the Alameda County Courthouse (located at 1225 Fallon St, Oakland) until the hunger strike in California prisons is over.
  3. A "Bring the Noise" action in support of the hunger strike is planned for downtown San Francisco at rush hour. "Let the world know that the prisoners are human beings and that their demands must be met." Meet at 5 pm at UN Plaza—Civic Center BART.
  4. Mobilize thousands to make daily calls demanding that the just demands of the prisoners are met:
    1. Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Phone: (916) 323-6001
    2. Governor Jerry Brown. Phone: (916) 445-2841
    3. CDCR Public Affairs Office. Phone: (916)445-4950

Other actions are also being planned.

A mother with two sons on hunger strike in Pelican Bay speaks to the media in front of the California State Building in San Francisco on July 13 surrounded by members of the Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition.

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