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PORTSIDE  July 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE July 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Protests Grow in Solidarity with California Prisoners as Hunger Strikes Enter Third Week

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Date:

Mon, 18 Jul 2011 00:38:31 -0400

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Protests Grow in Solidarity with California Prisoners as
Hunger Strikes Enter Third Week
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
Democracy Now!
July 15, 2011
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/7/15/protests_grow_in_solidarity_with_california

Thousands of inmates in at least 13 prisons across
California's troubled prison system have been on hunger
strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in
solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State
Prison, California's first super-maximum security
prison, over what prisoners say are cruel and unusual
conditions in "Secure Housing Units." We play an audio
statement from one of the Pelican Bay prisoners and
speak to three guests: Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All
of Us or None" and executive director of Legal Services
for Prisoners with Children, and one of the mediators
between the prisoners on hunger strike and the
California Department of Corrections; Molly Porzig, a
member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
coalition and a spokesperson for Critical Resistance;
and Desiree Lozoya, the niece of an inmate participating
in the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, who visited him last
weekend. [includes rush transcript]

Guests: 

Molly Porzig, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike
Solidarity coalition and a spokesperson for Critical
Resistance.

Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All of Us or None." He is
also the executive director of Legal Services for
Prisoners with Children. Nunn was incarcerated from 1971
to 1982 in San Quentin Prison in California. He is one
of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike
and the California Department of Corrections.

Desiree Lozoya, is the niece of an inmate participating
in the Pelican Bay hunger strike.

Rush Transcript This transcript is available free of
charge. However, donations help us provide closed
captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV
broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to California, where
thousands of inmates in at least 11 prisons across the
state's troubled prison system have been on hunger
strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in
solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State
Prison, California's first super-maximum security
prison.

The hunger strike began on July 1st in the Pelican Bay's
Security Housing Unit, when inmates began refusing meals
to protest what they say is cruel and unusual
conditions. Prisoners in the units are kept in total
isolation for 22-and-a-half hours a day, a punishment
some mental health experts say can lead to insanity and
is tantamount to torture.

Democracy Now! obtained a recording of an audio
statement that one of the Pelican Bay inmates, Ted
Ashker sic, made to his legal team in the secure
prison's Secure Housing Unit, which is referred to as
the SHU. You will need to listen closely as he explains
his reasons for joining the hunger strike.

    TODD ASHKER: The basis for this protest has come
    about after over 25 years-some of us, 30, some up to
    40 years-of being subjected to these conditions the
    last 21 years in Pelican Bay SHU, where every single
    day you have staff and administrators who feel it's
    their job to punish the worst of the worst, as
    they've put out propaganda for the last 21 years
    that we are the worst of the worst. And most of us
    have never been found guilty of ever committing an
    illegal gang-related act. But we're in SHU because
    of a label. And all of our 602 appeals, numerous
    court challenges, have gotten nowhere. Therefore,
    our backs are up against the wall.

    A lot of us are older now. We have serious medical
    issues coming on. And we believe that this is our
    only option of ever trying to make some kind of
    positive changes here, is through this peaceful
    protest of hunger strike. And there is a core group
    of us who are committed to taking this all the way
    to the death, if necessary. None of us want to do
    this, but we feel like we have no other option. And
    we're just hoping for the best.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Todd, not Ted, Todd Ashker, one
of the prisoners in Pelican Bay's Secure Housing Unit
who is on hunger strike. California's Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson, Terry
Thornton, responded to the hunger strike, saying, quote,
"This goes to show the power, influence and reach of
prison gangs." A prison guard told MSNBC that prisoners
are kept in the SHU for their own safety.

    PRISON GUARD: Inmates that were placed into the SHU
    housing unit were placed in here, for the most part,
    because of violence, and that violence could be
    against other inmates or against officers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, activists who support the strikers
dismiss allegations of gang ties. They describe the
conditions inside the prison's highest-security special
isolation wing as inhumane.

In May, the federal Supreme Court ruled that California
must reduce its prison overcrowding to be able to
provide inmates with adequate healthcare. In a five-to-
four ruling, the court said conditions in California's
prison system are, quote, "incompatible with the concept
of human dignity, causing needless suffering and death."

Supporters of the hunger strikers protesting these
conditions say, as the prisoners continue to refuse
food, their health has deteriorated to critical levels.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we're joined by three guests. In
Oakland, California, we're joined by Dorsey Nunn, who is
co-founder of All of Us or None. He's also executive
director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
Nunn was incarcerated from 1971 to '82 at San Quentin.
He's one of the mediators between the prisoners on
hunger strike and the California Department of
Corrections.

Also joining us from the University of California,
Berkeley, is Molly Porzig. She's a member of the
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition and a
spokesperson for Critical Resistance.

And in Arizona, we're joined by Desiree Lozoya. She is
the niece of a prisoner participating in the Pelican Bay
hunger strike. She went to the prison last weekend and
visited her uncle.

Desiree, let's start with you. Tell us what your uncle
explained to you, why he's on hunger strike, and what's
happening at Pelican Bay.

DESIREE LOZOYA: Well, basically, just as Todd had
explained in his video clip, they're just wanting to be
treated better. They're cold. They're losing weight. And
like he had explained, a lot of these prisoners are
trying to be-basically gang-labeled. However, there's
nothing to be labeling them for. For instance, my uncle
was an interstate transfer to Pelican Bay. He was
supposed to be transferred closer to home. However, he
was still transferred 17 hours away from us. And then,
as soon as they saw a tattoo on his hand, they labeled
him right away. Although he has had no write-ups, has
gotten into no trouble, they automatically put him in
the Ad-Seg, which is now called the new SHU. They are
now expanding that. And so, that's where he sits.

AMY GOODMAN: Because they said the tattoo indicates he's
a member of a gang?

DESIREE LOZOYA: Yes. And the tattoo, he ended up getting
when he was a teen. He was only 18 years old when he
received the tattoo. It was in no gang affiliation
whatsoever.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And we're also joined by Molly Porzig.
She's a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
coalition. Molly, talk about how this has spread to the
rest of the California prison system.

MOLLY PORZIG: Right. So, on the first day of the hunger
strike, thousands of prisoners across the state of
California, more than 6,600 prisoners that we know of
across at least 13 prisons, joined the hunger strike in
solidarity with the prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU and
their demands. What's really significant about that is
that people are risking their own lives in joining this
action, while being in very similar, or even the same,
brutal conditions as the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay.
And that speaks to the fact that while this struggle
speaks to particular conditions at Pelican Bay and in
the SHU, it's also part of the larger system within
California, which was just mentioned that has been
condemned by the Supreme Court as inhumane and cruel,
due to severe medical neglect and overcrowding.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm wondering, Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of
All of Us or None, if you could explain how this strike
has spread and how you are negotiating between the
prisoners and the prisons.

DORSEY NUNN: I think this strike has spread, just like
anybody else that supports injustice. So for them to
consider-I heard in your clip when he said the 6,000
people that's supporting this strike is-demonstrates the
influence of gang leaders. I think it demonstrates the
need for justice. Just as Martin marched and people
followed Martin, people followed Gandhi, people are
actually striking because they are being tortured. So I
think that this strike has spread because torture is a
threatening thing to anybody in the California
Department of Corrections.

People are being tortured. Some parts of what I know, as
a formerly incarcerated person who have did time within
the California Department of Corrections, that they are
guilty of torture. It's like being locked-it's not
"like." People are being locked up in the bathroom for
23, 24 and 30 years. It may not have been torture maybe
the first 30 days or the first 60 days, but when you
start getting into multiple decades, then we can call it
torture.

When you start extracting information in Pelican Bay or
Guantánamo Bay, the purpose is the same. You're
torturing people. And I think under international
standards, it can be referred to as that. I think the
thing that is troubling, that this thing is happening on
the shores of the United States. We never did have to
get into renditions if we were going to allow torture in
northern California.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Dorsey-

DORSEY NUNN: So this thing is spreading.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dorsey Nunn, what's been the response of
prison officials or government officials? Have they
attempted to negotiate or mediate through you or with
the inmates?

DORSEY NUNN: I think that we entered discussions. I
wouldn't necessarily call it "negotiating." We entered
discussions, you know. So I guess if I was in a cage
with a 600-pound gorilla, you couldn't necessarily call
it a dance.

AMY GOODMAN: And where do you-

DORSEY NUNN: You know, so I-you know, what you-

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Dorsey.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, what brings me into this studio
this morning at 5:00 in the morning is that I'm scared
people are going to start dying. You know, the only
model that these guys got left is the model of Bobby
Sands and the Irish strike. That's their model. So these
guys-

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by that.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, somebody needs to think about
what would drive human beings-yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Dorsey, you're talking about-you're talking
about fasting to death, if you're talking about Bobby
Sands.

DORSEY NUNN: Yeah, that's what they're talking about.
And that's what they've been like-that's what I'm
frightened of. So what brings me into your studio is, I
think they're betting on the compassion of people who
live in the state of California, people who live in the
United States. And what's frightening to me is that I
don't know if that compassion really exists.

MOLLY PORZIG: I mean, just to add to that, to back up to
the question of what has the response of officials been,
I mean, it's very, very clear that the CDCR is more than
willing, if not wanting, people to start dying. They
want this to go away quickly and quietly. They pride
itself on Pelican Bay being the end of the line, not
only for people in California, but to be a model for the
United States, and really the world, in terms of how to
repress political organizing and resistance and any sort
of defiance to any sort of establishment.

And I think that, you know, what the challenge is for
supporters outside of prison is that we need to be
tirelessly working at, in a very urgent way, taking the
risks that we can to match the courage of these hunger
strikers, because, like Dorsey is saying, people-it's
not just that we're afraid of in a few weeks people
dying. People are getting to that point now. And we need
to be acting more. You know, historically, people have
used civil disobedience to prevent mass death. And
that's exactly the moment that we're in right now.
That's exactly what these hunger strikers and thousands
and thousands of prisoners across the state of
California are doing. Some prisoners at Ohio State
Penitentiary are also joining this. You know, so this is
really, really huge.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.

MOLLY PORZIG: And if people start dying, if it gets to
that point-OK.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but I thank you
so much, all, for being with us. We will certainly
follow this hunger strike. We've been joined by Dorsey
Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None, by Molly Porzig
with Critical Resistance, and thank you to Desiree
Lozoya, who joined us from Arizona.

___________________________________________

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