Revolution #240, July 24, 2011

Torture at Sacramento County Jail

We returned to the Bay Area from three days in Crescent City, meeting with and learning from families and supporters of SHU prisoners at Pelican Bay. The next morning, the two of us drove to Sacramento for the July 18 protest at CDCR headquarters. A couple hours into this very strong street rally, we saw two Black women approaching and went to talk with them. They both were overjoyed to come upon the demonstration. One woman had two cousins recently sentenced to life at the Pelican Bay Supermax prison. Her son was also in the Sacramento County Jail (in Elk Grove) awaiting the resolution of his case. The other woman's son was also in Elk Grove. Neither had heard about this hunger strike.

One of the women conveyed her outrage at treatment her own son and others were getting at the county jail, where many were incarcerated for such long periods of time it amounts to a prison sentence. She was excited to hear about the strike and said that her son had been talking to her that weekend about plans men were making there to go on their own hunger strike against the horrible food. He told her, "Mom, send the news up here: we’re eating maggots." She said her son was then punished for refusing his kitchen job. "He didn’t want to see the potatoes crawling." She was impressed with the commitment and courage of the Pelican Bay prisoners. "I don’t know if my son knows about the Pelican Bay strike, but he will as of today." She began talking with one of us about racism in this country and that whites "like you" were different. She pointed two fingers, first at her own eyes and then at his, saying that we see each other as human beings.

The other woman was quite soft-spoken and weeping when she began explaining that her two cousins had just been sent to Pelican Bay for life and her son was awaiting sentencing. He had been in the county jail in Elk Grove for three years, tried as an adult when a teenager and was now 19 years old: "My son’s been downtown for three years. I’m pretty sure he ain’t the only one." She said her two cousins had been in county jails for five years. They were now at Pelican Bay, in the SHU. Their sentences? "227 years to life, 110 to life."

When asked how anyone could be sentenced to that many years she ran down a list, "Gang enhancement laws, aiding and abetting, being in a gang, and... basically just being Black."

When we described the conditions of torture at Pelican Bay, she told me torture was also going on in the county jail. She said there was a "black chair" where prisoners are immobilized by restraints for long periods of time. That there had been a scandal in the news about it. That it was so cruel Amnesty International had gotten involved. She choked up when she told us what had happened to her son. "They had this chair, they strapped people down on. My son was put in a chair, they strapped him in. He has hypertension, his heart rate got high, and a nurse came and they got him out of it. But they still use it."

(After we got home, I looked this up and saw that as of 2000, five people had died because of being strapped down in this chair which was used at a number of jails. See

She said her cousins deserved to be treated like human beings. We showed her the back poster of the paper in issue #239 featuring Bob Avakian’s "Three Strikes…." quote.

She said she had just finished reading the book The New Jim Crow and was very excited about it. We exchanged quotes and statistics from the book. She and her friend asked us how their sons and cousins could receive Revolution newspaper in jail and prison. We told them about the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund.

Meeting these women drove home the bitter reality of the situation for the oppressed, and especially for Black people today—the pervasiveness of "the new Jim Crow."

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