Day 59 of California Prison Hunger Strike: “Their Spirits Are High, Their Bodies Are Weak”

by | September 4, 2013

Starvation affects every part of your body and will make you weak and vulnerable to infections. The function of all your cells and organs will decline. Your skin may become fragile and you are likely to develop uncomfortable sores, particularly in the mouth and bony pressure points. You may feel very cold and experience constipation and/or diarrhea. Lack of food is likely to affect your ability to think clearly. You may become depressed or withdrawn. Eventually, starvation will start to damage your major organs which can then fail completely. Heart failure and sudden disturbance of the heart beat are the leading cause of death in starvation. Your choice to refuse food can result in death.

If you are well nourished when you began to refuse food and you take in adequate fluid, you are unlikely to die from starvation for at least six to eight weeks.

So reads a “Pelican Bay State Prison Hunger Strike Informational Sheet” revised in June 2013 and distributed to California hunger strike participants protesting long-term segregation in cells the size of a bathroom, for average terms of 6.8 years, with limited opportunities to demonstrate a willingness and potential to reintegrate in the prison general population and by extension, society . The hunger strike is now eight weeks in, with 40 on hunger strike all 58 days as of yesterday. An additional 88 hunger strikers are still on hunger strike.

Hunger strikers are known to be at Pelican Bay State Prison, where the four hunger strike leaders remain in the Administrative Segregation Unit, isolated from others even further. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation chief, Jeffrey Beard, a former psychologist, has publicly denounced the strike as merely a “gang power play” and an effort by “violent prison gangs” to stay in business. How demands for better food, more constructive programming, and behavior-based segregation practices would strengthen prison gangs and undermine institutional security has yet to be explained.

Notably, California State Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano have announced their intentions to hold hearings on the SHU. Assemblyman Ammiano has previously held two hearings on the SHU in 2011 and earlier this year.

Hunger striker Mutope Duguma, who has been in the Pelican Bay SHU for over a decade for alleged affiliation with the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), has reported that on August 23rd, two busloads of hunger strikers at Pelican Bay were transported to California State Prison, Sacramento (“New Folsom”), on an eight hour bus ride that was a harrowing experience for the weakened hunger strikers. Solitary Watch has also received reports of hunger strikers at California State Prison, Corcoran also being sent to New Folsom in the past two weeks.

The wife of one hunger striker from Pelican Bay who was transported to New Folsom who recently visited him reported to Solitary Watch that her husband was “very skinny.” She also reported the following information from her husband: “On the buses, they had no medical personnel, though the men were being told they were being transferred due to medical reasons or medical monitoring. Their visits have not been taken away and per Assistant Warden Baufman, they will not be taken away. My husband has now lost 58 lbs and was told that before he is sent back to Pelican Bay, he must gain back a certain percentage of his body weight..he has lost [at least] 27% of his body weight. As of right now, he and the other men have no plans to resume eating until negotiations between hunger strikers and CDCr are met. My understanding is these men could end up being at New Folsom for several months. My husband said everyone is doing fine and their spirits are high, though their bodies are weak.”

The medical receivers office has told Solitary Watch that not all hunger strikers are consenting to being weighed, though of those who have, “two hunger strikers have lost more than 15% of their body weight; 12 have lost more than 10% of their body weight.”

Also according to the medical receivers office, there are three prisons with hunger strikers. It is unclear what the third prison is, alongside Pelican Bay and New Folsom. On August 28th, there were three prisons on hunger strike; on the 29th, there were also three prisons on hunger strike, though the medical receivers office reported that these were not the same three as on the 28th. In other words, one prison ended its participation while another joined. Determining which prisons are involved has been a challenge.

On August 27th, the CDCR press office told Solitary Watch that the hunger strike at Corcoran had ended and that “there were no negotiations. The hunger strikers chose to resume eating.” However, Solitary Watch later received word from a hunger strike mediator that some black inmates were resuming their hunger strike, a claim that hasn’t been reflected in CDCR’s official hunger strike counts.

On the issue of hunger strike counts, the unnamed mediator also reported to Solitary Watch several examples of improper hunger strike counts they had received:

  • “In clinic, man gets glucose gel pack squirted into his mouth. He spits it out. He’s told ‘too late, you’re off HS.'”
  • “In clinic/hospital, doctor tells prisoner, drink this ensure or I won’t treat you.  The prisoner, afraid he’s in real danger of organ failure, drinks it just to get treated.”
  • “Prisoners pass each other notes or magazines by fishing. The sender and receiver are both declared off hunger strike.”
  • “A prisoner is told he’s off HS because he accepted his dinner tray the day before. He denies it. The guard shows him the log of trays for that prisoner, which shows he accepted it. ‘That’s false! I did not,’ says the prisoner. ‘Oops, my bad,’ smirks the guard.”
  • “A prisoner starts eating again after getting dangerously ill.  But after a few days, he resumes the HS. He’s not counted until he misses another 9 consecutive meals, and we’re not sure he’s counted even then. Unknown.”
  • “In some locations, prisoners are counted as off if they get the gatorade; in other locations, not.”

There is also the possibility that Calipatria State Prison resumed hunger strike activity last week, as they reportedly said they would do if the hunger strike leaders weren’t negotiated with, which clearly has not happened. Either way, there is no clear evidence of what the third prison on hunger strike is.

The hunger strike participation levels reported by CDCR have varied widely over the past week and a half:

  •  September 3rd: 128 hunger strikers in three prisons; 40 on hunger strike since July 8th.
  • September 2nd: 135 hunger strikers in three prisons; 40 on hunger strike since July 8th.
  • August 30th: 123 hunger strikers in three prisons; 41  on hunger strike  since July 8th.
  • August 29th: 156 hunger strikers in three prisons; 41 on hunger strike since July 8th.
  • August 28th: 123 hunger strikers in three prisons; 41 on hunger strike since July 8th.
  • August 27th: 118 hunger strikers in three prisons; 41 on hunger strike since  July 8th.
  • August 26th: 92 hunger strikers in two prisons; 41 on hunger strike since July 8th.
Meanwhile, the CDCR  released a response to the demands of the hunger strikers on August 26th. As it has consistently done in the past, the CDCR claims it “does not utilize ‘solitary confinement.'” In response to the demand to “Expand and Provide Programming and Privileges for SHU inmates” the CDCR countered that it has made changes. CDCR claims it has approved “proctors for college examinations,” authorized “watch caps, sweat pants,” allows SHU prisoners to have “wall calendars, art supplies and hobby items,” in addition to allowing disciplinary free SHU prisoners to take yearly photographs to send to loved ones. How these constitute sufficient programming that can prepare someone in the SHU for life on the outside isn’t explained.
Overall, CDCR pointed to the creation of the Step Down Program and revised criteria for placement in the SHU. In addition, CDCR cited the case-by-case reviews it began in October 2012 of all 3,000 SHU prisoners placed in segregation units in Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tehachapi State Prison, and New Folsom for alleged gang affiliation. The reviews have so far lead to over half of all reviewed SHU prisoners being released or endorsed for release to the general population, indicating that CDCR had previously labeled them gang affiliates without sufficient evidence that they were actively involved in gang activity.


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  • Pr BAGARA Papias


  • Bob

    “How demands for better food, more constructive programming, and behavior-based segregation practices would strengthen prison gangs and undermine institutional security has yet to be explained.”
    Well then let me explain it to you. If they are successful in their attempt to strong arm the state to their demands, they will gain more credit with the general population and therefore more followers that they can then use to further force the states hand.

  • Kim

    This is stupid! Let them all kill them selves. Less people my tax dollars have to pay for. Do the crime do the time, don’t like the surroundings don’t do illegal acts and you can choose your surroundings.

  • cliff

    Thus is sad. Why the secrets? How come its not on national/world news this is big news.

  • CA the barbarian state in a nation of torture.
    Good luck to the hunger strike survivors.

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