Revolution #240, July 24, 2011

From a reader:

Spreading the News about the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike at the Prison Bus Lines

Have you ever wondered how you visit a loved one in prison? Here and in most cities the prisons are outside the urban areas, far away from public transportation. Prisoners are often sentenced to a prison very far away from the city they come from. This is done to minimize the visits, and to further isolate the prisoners. In most cases the families have to pay a high price for the transportation, and sometimes pay extra money for lodging arrangements because the round trip is too long to make in one day.

In this city about 10 years ago, a few ex-prisoners got together and raised money to charter buses to drive families to the prisons. The cost the family pays is low. They get picked up in the city on Friday night, travel all night, get to the prisons for Saturday visiting hours and then head back on the bus for a long trip home.

"This government makes it very hard for parents to love their children, or to keep families close," was what an older Puerto Rican man told us, as he explained to us what it took for him and his wife to visit their kids. Because of the cost they take turns. One week they visit his son and the following week they visit her son. Both of their kids are in their middle twenties and have sentences of 10-15 years for possession. They were forced to make a deal or else they were told they would get 20 to life. They were sentenced to two different prisons in opposite sides of the state.

But the cost of the trip is not all…sometimes you have to take a day or two off work to be able to visit. Then when you get there, they make you stand in long lines in the sun or snow. You have to get through metal detectors, searches of your bags, and then you are patted down, while being humiliated and insulted. If you're a woman, you can almost guarantee being molested by a guard during the patting down. After standing in line and sometimes waiting for hours to go through this process, you may be told by the guards that your son/husband/father/brother/daughter is in lockdown and you can't see them. "They never have the decency to at least tell you this before you start the process," he adds, "and of course you are not told if they would be available for next week's visit either."

Volunteers from Revolution Books went out this week with Revolution newspaper to the "prison bus lines" to let people know about, and build support for the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike.

News about the hunger strike had not reached any of the people waiting in line or on the streets. At first when we asked if people knew about the incident in Pelican Bay, most said "yes," that they had seen it on TV. Then we found out they were referring to a "reality" show called "Lockup" that makes all the prisoners seem as savage animals that need to be locked up. But once the families heard about the hunger strike, it gave them so much heart, hope and feeling of encouragement. Everyone said they would tell the person they were visiting that this was happening, that the prisoners were doing this for them, so they would stop feeling so alone. The families wanted to learn more and figure out how they could support it. A lot bought Revolution newspaper and gave us a way to reach them. Many signed a banner we brought saying, "We are Human Beings—uniting as the voice for the thousands of silenced prisoners on hunger strike." Some of the messages written on the banner were:

They also wanted to talk about what happened to their loved ones in prison. We heard many horror stories, like the following:

For many, hearing about the hunger strike gave them heart and opened the doors for other possibilities. One woman said she felt the big problem was this whole system, that we just have to get rid of it, but there was no way we could go up against them, we would just lose, so the best we could do is to try and win some rights back for prisoners, and that we should organize ourselves to do that. One of the volunteers with me agreed with her that we just need some basic human rights. I interrupted and said, we are building a movement for revolution, and we have a strategy on how to make revolution, and the relative said, very matter-of-factly, "Can you e-mail me that, please!" We talked further and I said I can do better, here is BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, who has forged a whole new vision of how society could be and in Chapter 3 you can read all about the strategy for revolution. She bought the book and said she would read it on the bus.

A young couple with a child were dropping off the man's older parents, who were going to visit their son [the man's brother] upstate. The young man told us about how long his brother has been in prison over bullshit, and how every week their parents go visit. How they came back every week more and more saddened by their son's situation. The young man said he has felt hopeless about the situation, not knowing what to do. At times he has blamed his brother for getting in trouble. But knowing about the hunger strike, and knowing he can spread the word, made him feel like we could do something to change this. He bought Revolution newspaper in English and in Spanish so his parents can bring the news to his brother.

There were many other stories of people we could share, but I would like to end by describing the scene at the end of the night at the bus stop. The buses pick people up in the middle of a very upscale area in the city. People line up at 2 corners starting at 9 pm, as people are walking by dressed up, ready to go out to eat, to the theater, a movie, or a bar near by.

It is mostly women, many with children, and some men. People bring a bag of food, clothing, blanket and a pillow for the long ride. They mostly stand in silence. But this night, there was a lot of talking and discussion about the hunger strike, a lot of people had Revolution newspapers in their hands. The owner of a nearby business bought newspapers for the drivers. Some of the excitement made the people walking by stop and learn about the hunger strike. To them we posed the question of "Do you want to live in a society were people are being tortured, in your name?" and most said no. A family member told a person walking by, "they are counting on you not caring about the prisoners, show them that you care." The family member told me later, she had never dared speak to anyone walking by because she had felt so much shame.

Many family members, and some of the people walking by, bent down to sign the banner that will be mailed to California to show the prisoners that they support and care about them!


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