Revolution Online, October 10, 2011

Taking Prisoner Hunger Strike Support to the Gates of Pelican Bay State Prison

We received the following from some readers of Revolution:

Late Friday night, September 30, as reports came out of threats and retaliation against the prisoner hunger strikers, and their lawyers, three of us, including a UC Berkeley student, set off from the SF Bay Area for Pelican Bay State Prison, over 350 miles north.

When we got there the next morning, we headed straight to the main gate of the prison and unfurled our large banner:  "Support Pelican Bay Prisoners Hunger Strikers. Prisoners Are Human Beings."

While we were chanting in support of the Hunger Strikers, and doing a live radio interview with KPFA radio back in Berkeley, prison guards surveilled us with a video camera.

Our chants went like this: "We support the courageous hunger strikers.  From Pelican Bay to Guantanamo Bay, End torture now....The whole world is watching.... The courageous prisoners crossing racial lines in unity together...Pelican Bay Brothers, we support your courageous stand."

That evening we were invited to a share dinner and to speak to about 75 people about the hunger strike at a CopWatch event in Arcata, a seaside college town 90 miles south of Pelican Bay. We gave each person there a copy of Revolution #244 and signed up several people for online e-subscriptions. We told people about the significance of this struggle, the vicious retaliation they were facing by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for a non-violent hunger strike, and how their action is challenging others to assert their own humanity by building and spreading support.  And we shared the incredible news, which we had just heard, that over 12,000 prisoners in California and elsewhere had joined the strike. Afterward, a young woman asked us if she could join us the next morning.

As we arrived on Sunday, we not only brought our banner, but a very powerful bullhorn. We announced our presence and that we were supporting the courageous hunger strikers. The sound echoed off the concrete of the human warehouses in the distance. Then we blasted out the news of 9,000 California prisoners on hunger strike and 3,400 more in Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi. When we paused, we could hear cheers in the distance. They must have been coming from prisoners, somewhere in the sprawling prison complex!

A woman hung a U-turn in her car and joined us. She lived a few blocks from the prison, had been in prison herself, and wanted to show support. As we were leaving, a local blogger chased us down on his bicycle to do an interview. Both said they wanted to help organize support for the hunger strikers.

Families were not permitted to stop at the gate to talk to us. So, both days after we left the front gate we set up the banner, at a wide spot further down the road. We also displayed a sign, "Prisoners' families, please stop and talk to us!"  We gave all the families that stopped copies of Revolution #244 and #246, and encouraged them to get an e-sub.

Two different couples were from Oregon. One, a Mexican woman and her son were very glad to see the protest and had lots to say about "justice" in America. They carried on passionate conversation with one of our crew who spoke Spanish—how their relative, an artist who does indigenous cultural drawings, has already been in Pelican Bay in the general population for 12 years, but was now under threat of being sent to the SHU because he had been accused of doing "gang art."  They said he had to stop doing all art to try to avoid being put in the SHU.

We had seemed surprised that we had run into two families from Oregon. "No," the man said, "in the prison we meet families from all over, every state and all over."  We handed him a copy of Lo BAsico and turned it to the quote 1:14, "why do people come here." He was shaking his finger at the page as he read. "This is true!"

Two families were traveling together from Southern California. One family was denied a visit because their friend was on hunger strike. The other family was allowed a visit to someone who had been on the hunger strike during the first round, but was too ill to continue the second. He told them of the leaders of the hunger strike being removed from their cells, and having all their things taken and placed in other SHU cells in a different part of Pelican Bay. As he told his family, "we are all in a hole, but they have put them in a Hole within a Hole." They donated $40, which will be used for a Revolution subscription to their loved one through the PRLF (Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund).

Our presence at Pelican Bay was very visible and out of the ordinary. Many people exhibited strong emotional responses, both positive and negative. Welcomed by the families and some others, not so welcomed by others in a town whose main economy is based on incarceration and torture.

One of our crew said that during the weekend, "I talked to over 40 people. Half of them asked me what I thought about Occupy Wall Street and if there is something happening in S.F. around that."

During the exhausting 8 hour drive home, it caused us to imagine what it is like for families to travel 16-22 hours or more, for that precious short visit with their son or father or husband through thick glass—or the bitter cruelty of being denied that visit. What kind of a system would do any of this!?

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