Monday, November 21, 2011

Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike !

Hungerstrike News
November 20, 2011 Vol. 3, No. 1

Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents: CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths

Image by Pete Collins, imprisoned at Bath Prison, Ontario, Canada
Nov. 17: In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit. Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).
According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment), apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”
Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy in cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system.
Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death. “It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.
The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in at least 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”


What is the meaning of the California prisoner hunger strikes? A statement in support of the hunger strikers

by Kevin "Rashid" Johnson 

Rashid Johnson, a prisoner in Virginia, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter. Rashid is also the artist who drew the image that has been used extensively during the strikes of arms linked in unity and a crossed out spoon and fork. His book, “Defying the Tomb,” with a foreword by Russell “Maroon” Shoats, has been banned as “gang literature” by Pelican Bay State Prison. It can be ordered at, by writing to Kersplebedeb, CP 63560, CCCP Van Horne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3W 3H8, or by emailing Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1007485, Red Onion State Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound, VA 24279.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
Six thousand six hundred California prisoners participated in a 3-week-long hunger strike in July, seeking relief from unjust and inhumane conditions. In the face of California Department of Corrections (CDC) officials failing to honor settlement negotiations, the hunger strike resumed on September 26th, with nearly 12,000 prisoners participating in thirteen of that state’s prisons.
It is a truism that oppression breeds resistance. Indeed, the U.S. Declaration of Independence enshrines the right and duty of the oppressed to resist their oppression.
In this era of capitalist oppression on a global scale, the hunger strike exhibits the very same humyn spirit, courage and outrage that drove millions across North Afrika and the Middle East this year, to take to the streets in protest against oppressive governments. U.S. rulers, in the face of pretending to champion and support human rights, democracy, and the demands for basic rights by people half a world away, can’t admit they practice abuses just as vile against their own subjects – right here in Amerika.
Hosni Mubarak, the U.S. puppet and Egyptian dictator who was driven out of Egypt by mass protests this year, was notorious for torturing his own people. But so too are U.S. officials. Indeed, one of the key protest issues of the California prisoners is the acute psychological torture of sensory deprivation in the CDC’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) – Pelican Bay’s SHU in particular. This torture can’t be honestly denied.
It has long been the game of U.S. officials, especially since the 2004 Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture scandals, to pretend that psychological torture isn’t really torture at all. However, they secretly know the exact opposite to be true. According to torture experts, psychological – or ‘clean’ torture – is the most destructive, sadistic and inhumane type of torture. Among the most proven effective methods is the very sort inflicted by design in the isolated cells of the SHUs, namely sensory deprivation.
Noted psychologist and torture expert, Dr. Albert Biderman, long ago found as to sensory deprivation, “the effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved or deprived of sleep” [1]. The very same U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that employed Biderman as one of its torture researchers and experimenters, encoded these findings in its 1963 “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” torture manual, confirming that:
  1. The deprivation of sensory stimuli induces stress;
  2. The stress becomes unbearable for most subjects;
  3. The subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and
  4. Some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, which produces delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects.
What’s more, over a century ago the U.S. high court found and denounced the same in U.S. prisons, in the face of In Re Medley, 134 U.S. 150 (1890) [2]. These findings have been repeated in U.S. courts today in response to the conditions of SHUs and super-maximum security prisons that have swept Amerika since the 1970s, alongside massive imprisonment of the poor and people of color. In one case concerning Pelican Bay’s SHU, the California federal courts found “many, if not most, inmates in SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU.” Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146 (1995).
So it’s no wonder thousands of prisoners have been driven to starve themselves in desperate efforts for exposure and redress, and to show they are worthy of basic humyn rights and dignity.
But the typical response of officials is to discredit the resistance of those who suffer at their hands by villainizing (or “dirtying up,” as Johnnie Cochran used to called it), the victim. It was done to Civil Rights activists from the 1950s-1970s who opposed and exposed racism – U.S. officials projected them as fronts for foreign communists, and denounced as “Soviet propaganda” graphic photos of Southern lynching that appeared in world media.
Whatever happens to be the popular official enemy and bogeyman of the day, is the label used to discredit those who resist official oppression. During the Cold War, the ‘enemy’ was communists. Then it was terrorists. In the era of mass incarceration and ongoing persecution of Black and Brown youth, it’s gangs. These labels are used to provoke visceral reactions in the population at large of fear, hatred and consequent disregard for and alienation against the oppressed. And true to form, the hunger strikers have been “dirtied up’”as the work of prison gangs:
“The CDCR has continued to lie about the hunger strike – saying it was organized by gangs and attacking representatives of the strikers and others, depicting them as the ‘generals’ of the prison gangs and the ‘shot callers’ who order other prisoners to engage in gang violence.
“Dolores, whose son has been in the SHU for 10 years, said “If that is their [the prisoners’] way of thinking, then why did they just conduct a hunger strike willing to risk their own lives, to suffer on a daily basis in a nonviolent demonstration that spread across California prisons involving thousands and thousands of men crossing all racial lines? It’s because they are human beings. They do have dignity, and they want to be heard.” [3]
Not coincidentally, another of the hunger strike’s main protest issues is the CDCR’s labelling prisoners as gang members upon the flimsiest grounds, then confining them in SHUs until they “debrief” – that is, finger other prisoners as gang members to be thrown in the SHU. Thus the only way to leave SHU is as a known informant to be ostracized and targeted as such by others.
The Real Purpose of SHUs and Super-maxes
The true purpose of SHUs isn’t to control gangs and racial violence. In fact, the CDCR has long instigated and facilitated prisoner-on-prisoner violence. From the notorious ‘gladiator fights’ – where guards at CDCR’s Corcoran State Prison set up prisoner fights, gambled on the outcomes, and then shot the prisoners for fun, killing 8 and shooting 43 just between 1989 and 1994 – to massive numbers of prisoner-on-prisoner clashes instigated and manipulated by the notoriously corrupt California prison guards’ union, to generate public support for building more prisons to increase prison jobs and dues-paying membership.
In 1999, prisoners at the New Folsom Prison went on a hunger strike protesting being forced onto prison yards with rivals. CDOC Ombudsman Ken Hurdle rejected negotiations, stating “Then you’d have two groups normally aligned on the yard together. They would have only staff as their enemy” [4]. This admits officials deliberately facilitating prisoner-on-prisoner violence as a technique of prison control. This is what they fear in the unity shown by the hunger strikers. And it undermines the disunity they need to project them as animals.
Officials welcome and incite gang violence. It creates jobs, justifies their oppression, and enhances their ‘control.’ Even Crips co-founder Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams, who was killed by the CDCR exposed this [5].
More revealing is that then-California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rejected massive international pleas to stay Tookie’s execution on grounds that Tookie dedicated his book, Life in Prison, to Black revolutionary George Jackson, who was murdered by CDOC officials in 1971. Schwarzenegger said the dedication “defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed.” Which brings us closer to exposing the real reasons SHUs exist.
The actual “leaders” officials fear, and who are the prime targets of SHUs and super-maxes are those who are politically conscious and prove able to unite prisoners across racial and other lines.
The proliferation of SHUs and super-maxes began with the Marion Control Unit, which opened in 1972, following the murder of George Jackson and the peaceful 1971 Attica uprising that officials ended with the coldblooded murders of 29 prisoners and 10 civilians, and systematic humiliation and torture of hundreds of prisoners, provoking international outrage. Like the brutal government responses to mass protests in Asia and Afrika this year, when the prisoners of Attica took to the yard in protest, with grievances articulated and represented by politically conscious prisoners, the official response was murder and torture, then high security torture units. In one of the few admissions on record, Ralph Arons, a former warden at Marion, testified in federal court: “The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison and in society at large” [6]. Yet U.S. officials deny confining or persecuting people for political beliefs.
In fact, Pelican Bay officials recently banned my own book, Defying the Tomb, as “gang material,” a book of political writings and art, which many readers and reviewers have compared to George Jackson’s writings, whose books CDOC banned in the 1970s as well. And with the resurgence of prisoners’ political consciousness, they’ve recently begun confiscating this book as “gang material.” Like Nazi book burnings and concentration camps, the object is to censor and persecute political consciousness and revolutionary culture amongst the most oppressed peoples. And ‘gang’ labels are used to “dirty up” the people, practices, and ideas they seek to repress.
Just as I am confined in a remote Virginia super-max, under ‘special’ conditions of a SHU because of my political beliefs and having co-founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party as a Party of the oppressed, so too you’ll find in these units across Amerika those who hold and practice revolutionary political views and affiliations that are supposed to be constitutionally protected, not persecuted. As the high court once proclaimed:
“Our form of government is built on the premise that every citizen shall have the right to engage in political expression and association. This right was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Exercise of these basic freedoms in America has traditionally been through the media of political associations. Any interference with the freedom of a party is simultaneously an interference with the freedom of its adherents. All political ideas cannot and should not be channelled into the programs of our two major parties. History has amply proved the virtue of political activity by minority, dissident groups…” [7]
But contrast these political ideals with the political reality that such parties face at the hands of officials, as admitted by Justice Hugo Black: “History should teach us…that…minority parties and groups which advocate extremely unpopular social or governmental innovations will always be typed as criminal gangs and attempts will always be made to drive them out” [8].
This is the function of the SHUs like those that California’s prisoners are protesting, and the ones used as a weapon to censor and repress political consciousness.
Resistance to the oppression of these units is the meaning of the hunger strikes. Amerika’s oppressed and disenfranchised victims of modern penal enslavement and the New Jim Crow, are struggling like those of generations past for recognition and respect as humyn beings. As a Party of the oppressed, especially the imprisoned, the NABPP-PC stands in unity with the heroic struggles of California’s entombed, and call on all freedom-loving people everywhere to take up their cause.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
All Power to the People!
  1. Albert D. Biderman and Herbert Zimmer, eds. The Manipulation of Human Behavior (New York: Wiley, 1961), 29.
  2. The court found under conditions of solitary confinement “A considerable number of prisoner fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to remove them, and others became violently insane; others still committed suicide, while those who stood the ordeal better were generally not reformed, and in most cases, did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”
  3. “Hunger Strike to Resume September 26 – Support the Just Demands of the Pelican Bay Prisoners,” Revolution #243, September 25, 2011.
  4. Quoted from Sacramento Bee, December 8, 1999.
  5. “Yes America, as unbelievable as it may seem, ‘hood cops, with impunity, commit drive-bys and other lawless acts. It was common practice for them to abduct a Crip or Bounty Hunter and drop him off in hostile territory, and then broadcast it over a loudspeaker. The predictable outcome was that the rival was either beaten or killed on the spot, which resulted in a cycle of payback. Cops would also inform opposing gangs where to find and attack a rival gang, and then say ‘go handle your business.’ Like slaves, the gang did exactly what their master commanded. Had they not been fuelled by self-hatred, neither Crips, Bounty Hunters, nor any other Black gang, would have been duped: “The ‘hood cops were pledged to protect and serve, but for us they were not there to help, but to exploit us – and they were effective. With the cops’ Machiavellian presence, the gang epidemic escalated. When gang warfare is fed and fuelled by law enforcement, funds are generated for the so-called anti-gang units. Without gangs, those units would no longer exist.” Blue Rage, Black Redemption (2004).
  6. Stephen Whitman, “The Marion Penitentiary – It should be Opened-Up Not Locked-Down.” Southern Illinoisan. August 7, 1988, p. 25.
  7. NAACP v. Button. 371 U.S. 415, 431 (1963).
  8. Barenblatt v. U.S., 360 U.S. 109, 150 (1959) (J., Black, dissenting).

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Hungerstrike News can be reached at

Throughout the month of July, and for weeks in September and October, 2011, thousands of prisoners across California participated in a hunger strike against torturous conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit.
Hungerstrike News documented their struggle and the actions of those who stood in solidarity with them.
In the current period, Hungerstrike News will be released intermittently to provide updates about the struggle against isolation torture in the California gulag. 

Has Your Mail to Someone in Prison Been Refused?

From Julie Tackett:
Having your mail rejected is one of the most upsetting things to have happen when you have a loved one in prison. Whether is just a mistake on your part, a concerted effort cut family bonds or blatant retaliation for things like the Hunger Strike, it will help to keep track of trends. I have a spread sheet to record mail rejected by CDCR. I will watch for trends of increased rejections by facility, type of rejections, reasons for rejections, and otherwise keep an eye on things.

If you ever have a piece of mail rejected by CDCR for any reason, just message me, email me at or call 206-214-8208.

Thanks, Julie

Secretary Matthew Cate
1515 S Street
TEL: (916) 323-6001
Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
CDCR Public Affairs Office: (916)445-4950

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