Revolution #241, July 31, 2011

"They are our brothers. They're our fathers. They're our family. Treat them like humans."

Posted July 26, 2011

The following is another correspondence we received from a group of people who went to Pelican Bay State Prison to support the prison hunger strikers and demand that prison officials meet the prisoners' demands. (To read other reports from this trip see: "They are courageous men to do what they got to do." and "From the Gates of Pelican Bay State Prison"):

July 17—The visiting hours were almost over. We set up in a parking lot on the edge of a beautiful forest, down the road from where the Supermax is situated, its concrete bunkers surrounded by barbed wire, an ugly, sprawling compound nestled in the redwood trees. (A bitter irony: Pelican Bay is located in redwood country along the northern coast of California, where the tallest, and some of the most beautiful and majestic trees on earth are to be found. But prisoners can never even glimpse this beauty.) We displayed our banner and set up a small table with Revolution newspaper and a sign that asked people to "talk with us and share your story."

The first car that pulled in to talk was four women who carpool together from Southern California as often as they can. They are Latina, as were most of the women we would meet that day. They wanted to talk before they made the long trip home and they wanted to share their simmering outrage: "They don't get human contact! No phone calls. No sunlight." Another: "My boyfriend has been here since they opened up in '89. I try to come every other weekend. When I first heard about the hunger strike I was concerned for their health and well-being. But I have been concerned for their health and well-being, anyway: for years." They wanted us to know that they strongly supported the strike.

Another car pulled up and two sisters got out, they had been visiting their brother who had been in the SHU for 10 years. One of them said that she just wanted one thing: an end to the isolation, that it is torture. She repeated these words several times while her sister nodded. "They are human. My brother is a human. He's human."

Everyone got a copy of Revolution newspaper and a flyer for the Monday protest at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) headquarters in Sacramento, the state capitol, happening the next day. The women appreciated the level of support and the depth of coverage in Revolution and they were very glad to hear that famous people had been making public statements of support. One woman remarked to her friends that "this is the paper" that had been banned in Pelican Bay, the one that the prisoners had fought to continue receiving.

All the women were very supportive of the strikers and their demands and most had relatives in the SHU who were strike participants. One or two had had to drop out for health reasons, many have diabetes. They told us that some of the men they had visited had been in the Pelican Bay SHU for 24 years, since it first opened. Some of them were in their 40s, 50s and even 60s.

We learned of the strikers' degrading health, how the strike was going inside, what the conditions are in the SHU, and we heard about mistreatment, the lies and manipulations of the guards, prison officials, CDCR. Some recounted how the guards have been taunting the prisoners with food, and telling them no one knows or cares about them, that no one hears them. Most of the women had seen us the day before, and said that the men inside were very glad to hear about us standing in front of the prison with our banner of support. Some of the women were already actively involved in supporting the prisoners, organizing protests and calling the media.

They told us that the guard kiosk at the parking lot entrance had only been put in since the strike began and that they were told by the guards that it was to prevent the media from just driving in. The women told us that they wanted more journalists to write about what was going on in the prisons, and they wanted more people to investigate and to "speak out. To support them. To learn the actual facts before they judge." They said that they wanted people to know that the prisoners inside the SHU, whatever they had done, "are still human beings" and deserve basic rights. "They are our brothers. They're our fathers. They're our family. Treat them like humans. They need to be able to make a phone call. To let them know their family hasn't abandoned them. That they still care."

About 4 more cars pull in to the lot to greet us and share their thoughts with our impromptu revolutionary press center. For over an hour, while one of us held up the banner for the view of passing cars, the other four of us hung out with the 15 women, some with more family members waiting for them in the cars. Some were quieter but as the lots filled, people started smiling, waving and greeting each other and our group with hugs, even laughing. One woman snapped a picture of our banner, saying she will send it to her town's newspaper. Even though their loved ones are going hungry, and they are worried for them, the women clearly feel pride in the actions of the prisoners and draw strength from that. The men are not broken and these women are clearly determined to continue the fight.


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