Akili Castlin is a prisoner housed in solitary confinement, in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit. Akili is an author, avid reader and dedicated political activist, and this is his forum.
**** Prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU (Security Housing Unit) went on hunger strike on July 1, 2011, with 5 core demands. The strike ended on July 21. A second strike began on September 26, 2011 and ended by October 13th. Thousands joined them throughout California prisons. Visit the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity page for more information. Below is a statement from Akili on this strike ****
June 26 2011
Starving to Live!
Dearest friends, family and comrades, it’s with the greatest humility and sincerity we seek your assistance. To follow, you’ll find an explanation of the reason for our hunger strike, our collective demands in summary, and a description of conditions here.
Initially, I know many of you may feel confused as to what causes such a drastic move on our part. I’ve even been asked “How is killing yourselves gonna help?” coupled with rhetorical explanations of how and why we’d only be hurting ourselves.
In that very statement/sentiment is the explanation and indication of why this hunger strike is a propos!
Foremost, it should be understood, we are not starving ourselves to die, but to live I’m sure all of us are aware of the often-quoted wisdom, “Man cannot live on bread alone.”
Human beings are social creatures. We need communion with other human beings, decency and socio-cultural interaction. We here in PBSP-SHU have been denied these for 10 to 45 plus years, for no other reason than to fatten the pockets of CDCR policymakers and guards.
We’re starving for life, for a right to live, for human decency, decent food, shelter, clothing, medical care and the right to better ourselves and maintain meaningful, loving relationships with you: our friends, family and comrades.
The key to this type of protest being successful will rely greatly on our ability to raise public (inter)national awareness and support to our strike and demands, as well as to the circumstance and events that led up to it. (Inter)national support will be vital to generating pressure on CDCR, as will our determination to remain on strike. The courts have failed us, so we MUST now call upon the court of public opinion to force CDCR to compromise. Without this mass public support network, our strike will be futile.
Once we initiate our Hunger Strike on July 1 2011, it will be incumbent upon our support network to get our hunger strike on the radio, TV and in newspapers. This strategy, our hunger strike, relies heavily upon a public support system from the national and international communities. This network is the sole means of generating pressure on CDCR. Our strike MUST become so popular and ignite such support for us and outrage against CDCR that it will force CDCR to concede. A strong and well-established base of support for us and outrage against CDCR will force CDCR to concede. Without a strong and well-established base of support, our strike will fail, despite our sacrifices on the inside. If no one knows about our strike, no one will care, least of all CDCR. Without massive pressure, these pigs will simply sit back, smiling, and watch us die.
Therefore, we seek your capable and most compelling voice to end our peaceful protest as quickly as possible and without the loss of any of our lives.
You can exercise your considerable power by calling both Pelican Bay State Prison, the Warden and CDCR headquarters director Matthew Cate as often as possible, demand an end to the hunger strike and immediate agreement to our demands.
You can also write, email, fax both PBSP’s warden and the Director of CDCR. The names and numbers are below
Thank you all,
love and loyalty,
your brothers, fathers, uncles and friends
Secretary Matthew Cate
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
1515 S Street
Phone: (916) 323-6001
Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Warden Greg Lewis
(707) 465-1000 x 9040
Ombudsman, Pelican Bay State Prison
For updates and more information on what you can do, visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
Inhumane conditions within the SHU at Pelican Bay
a. Structure: The facility consists of a total 22 units, with 48 cells in each unit, each housing 1 or 2 people. Cells are constructed from poor quality concrete slab, held in place by steel beams. CDCR has failed to provide any “insulation” on the outside concrete wall in back of the cells, allowing complainants to be exposed to the outside winter cold and summer heat that constantly permeate into the interior wall cell, causing complainants to either freeze or feel extremely overheated.
b. Living Quarters: Climate inside the cell warehousing complainants 22 ½ to 23 hours a day are directly impacted by the outside weather coming into the cell, through the concrete wall. It is trapped within the interior (especially the back bunk area) of the occupants’ living quarters. It lingers and intensifies the temperature within the cells. For example, during winter months (December 1989 to the present) the inside of the complainants’ cells become freezing cold, leaving these occupants forced to sleep, eat, sit, bath, etc. in these inhabitable weather conditions. It causes the majority of the paint inside complainants’ cells and shower area to peel, getting on the occupant’s body and hair and in their eyes, food and mouth. It is also ingested, which is creating life threatening health conditions.
c. Artificial Lighting: For the past 15 years or so many of the complainants warehoused in the CDCR isolation units have been continuously exposed to artificial poor quality lights from fixtures inside the cells, pods and facility. This denies them all access to any natural sunlight, gradually damaging or destroying their eyesight. For example, upon his arrival (Nov 1990) one complainant had excellent, healthy eyes with 20/20 vision. After nearly 14 years of deliberately being denied access to natural sunlight, and forced to see, read, etc. by artificial lighting, this complainant suffered from a degenerative, debilitating eye disease. This caused chronic eye pain, blurred vision, and headaches. The complainant was forced to use special tinted eyewear. Other complainants have complained of similar eye complications such as blurry and loss of vision. Many are now forced to wear glasses. It is well established from data recorded by the medical service community that little or no sunlight has damaging effects upon people in general, and people of color in particular. It should be noted that the majority of persons being kept indefinitely locked in these isolation (SHU) facilities are people of color, including people of Hispanic and Afrikan descent.
d. Heating/cooling ventilation: The facility ventilation system does NOT provide adequate fresh air to the complainant warehoused in the short corridor/SHU. The air that is sometimes provided is stale, directly recycled air, barely entering through the vent. In the winter the air is extremely cold, further aggravating an already freezing climate. The same holds true for the hot air in the summer. All in all, whatever recycled air is provided through the inadequate ventilation system is full of dust and other particles, causing complainants to suffer respiratory complications in their breathing. For example, many of the complainants who had no respiratory breathing medical conditions upon arrival years ago, are now suffering severely from such respiratory related medical health complications, and sinus problems, asthma, etc. Many are diagnosed and on some breathing inhalers and other prescribed medication.
e. Animal kennel (aka yard): At the end of each housing unit – pods A-F, there exists what the state officials/employees refer to as a ‘yard.’ The ‘yard is actually a small concrete walled enclosure, approximately the size of a small dog’s kennel, similar to what is found at an animal shelter, with sky-high walls preventing any view of the outside world. It has a small opening at the top, partially covered with plexiglass that leaks when it rains, causing flooding. The person using the ‘yard’ must stand in this flood water during their 90 minutes of ‘yard.’ Over the course of 20 plus years, these kennel ‘yards’ have accumulated large concentrations of mold and fungus up and down the walls and on the concrete kennel floor. The complainants breath/ingest the spores of this fungal environment, each time they step into this kennel ‘yard.’ This further contributes to, and aggravates, complainants respiratory-related medical and health conditions.
f. Sanitation: The toilets and sink plumbing system in complainants assigned housing cells are enjoined. This causes the waste matter in one toilet to come into the toilet of another cell when backed up. This in turn gets into the air of the cell and is inhaled by the occupant, creating an unhealthy environment. Also, the water coming out of the sink turns clothes bluish-green in color.
g. Medical/Healthcare Treatment: The majority of complainants being kept indefinitely in a state of isolation under extremely hazardous conditions over the years, have been injured, afflicted and suffer from one or more biological, psychological, etc medical/health issues. Furthermore, as a result of the complainants being kept enclosed in these small housing unit-pods/cells, it’s common for prison guards to enter and bring their cold/flu viruses, diseases, etc. and spread them from host to host via coughing, sneezing, handling food trays, etc. The state medical/health employees responsible for treating and caring for complainant’s medical/health conditions do not take into consideration the adverse effects that “years” (over 2 decades) of exposure to these environmental, structural, etc. conditions have had on the complainant’s medical and overall health. Medication has neither remedied, prevented, nor accurately treated the occupant’s conditions, due to failure to consider the effect of the isolation SHU conditions within the etiology of the medical problems.
h. Idleness, Desensitization, and Dehumanization: The lack of social interaction with other human beings, under extreme isolation confinement conditions, with no recreational abilities, in particular with the complainants’ families, is cruel and inhumane. It has a debilitating, in fact gradual adverse effect upon the natural innate state of being for the complainants.
For more information on what you can do, visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com