Corcoran SHU Prisoners Start Hunger Strike for Decent Healthcare; Support Needed Now

I cannot tell you how much the name of this prison aggravates me. And given the Irish-American experience, how much it also doesn’t surprise me.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

by Annabelle Parker

On Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, three men locked inside unit 4B-1L of the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California State Prison-Corcoran started a hunger strike: Heshima Denham (J-38283), followed on Sept. 27 by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough (D-83611), and Kambui Robinson (C-82830) will join them the following day for a few days or as long as he can considering his poor health.

Why? The medical care at Corcoran SHU is so bad that life-threatening situations have occurred on too many occasions to the people in the SHU and possibly also elsewhere at CSP-Corcoran that they have had to resort to a hunger strike, the ultimate nonviolent protest, in order to make this point known to the warden, the medical receiver appointed by the court to oversee California’s notoriously bad prison healthcare, and the administration of the California Department of Corrections (CDCr).

Several factors made the three decide to…

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peace on earth, war in heaven

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“To be clear, our Peaceful Protest of Resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly. This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met (despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable). The core group of prisoners has been, and remains 100% committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory, even if it requires us to make the ultimate sacrifice.  With that said, we clarify this point by stating prisoner deaths are not the objective, we recognize such sacrifice is at times the only means to an end of fascist oppression.”

The third and longest hunger strike was suspended yesterday.  I hope this means that humanity can learn lessons before falling again to feed the demons of tragic indulgence.  No sense in kicking dead horses at rock bottom.  I want to hear these men tell their stories when we do smash the prison-industrial complex and they’re all out of this colonial hell.  I do not want to be marching for years to come holding pictures of the dead.  I want to hear their stories.  And if there has to be a fourth hunger strike, no doubt we’ll all start losing them.

California politicians have promised reform.  The families are glad it is over.  So am I, but it’s not over.  There has been impressive organization against the prison-industrial complex in the US, but it is clear that the past 60 are a prayer to kick things into high gear.  I can’t say that I know what this means for me or others like me.  But I will say that the Irish are world renowned for prison solidarity, and I know I have a responsibility to carry that ancestral energy to this west coast.

We need to be the winners who write our history, we who fight with our lives for decolonization.  Ciallaíonn díchoilíniú díothú bpríosún!

“This hunger strike is historic on many levels: the number of prisoners who went without food; the international media attention; and the impressive mobilization of groups on the outside who published in-depth analyses, organized demonstrations, worked with the media, and promoted the prisoners’ demands and their Agreement to End Hostilities.  Coupled with the lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights and other attorneys, this peaceful protest was a tremendously courageous effort that has the potential of securing real change in California’s practices related to solitary confinement.”

We fierce dreamers who call ourselves Cascadians must see Pelican Bay as the festering wound that it is upon the beautiful bioregion whom we call home.  And it is our responsibility to stop the hurting and heal the wound.  And the interconnection and interdependence of the bioregional vision extends our solidarity all the way down to Imperial County, and beyond that colonial boarder to the south.  Then on to Guantanamo.  Palestine.  I have no doubt that so many of us could be the ones on the inside if we don’t act with full force to live out the truths that this hunger strike has put into our hearts.  Decolonization means prison abolition.  And uncompromising solidarity until our day dawns.

 

 

an old love and a new love

Day 60.  New moon, I dream of an old love.

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After meeting with fellow prisoners, Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers will be making an announcement in a couple hours, their supporters delivering the message down in Oakland.

“Their statement comes amid growing international condemnation of California’s practice of solitary confinement, as well as the commitment of California Senate and Assembly Chairs of Public Safety Loni Hancock and Tom Ammiano to convene a series of hearings in response to the strikers’ demands that would “address the issues that have been raised to a point where they can no longer be ignored.”  Legal representatives have just reported that this morning strikers were able to have an unprecedented meeting with fellow prisoners at Pelican Bay where they reached consensus on moving forward in their struggle to end torture in California prisons, and toward reducing violence among prisoners.  Their advocates are encouraging communication between strikers at Pelican Bay and their fellow prisoners who were forcibly removed to New Folsom in the past weeks.”

Frances Hughes died after 59 days.  Michael Devine died after 60 days.  Today’s hunger strikers have been given gatorade and vitamins, which must make a significant difference.  But we’ve already heard that their vision is failing, pounds and pounds have been lost, and no doubt many must be flirting with organ failure.  I still don’t have a concrete number or all the names.  But could I find them?  No doubt the Californian State does not want names and pictures circulating in the media.  I’m still trying.

Michael Devine RIP

The men in California do not need to die.  The 5 demands are not too much to ask by any means.

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The gatorade and vitamins could mean that history does not need to repeat itself.  Humanity has sacrificed enough for a better world.  And the hell of the US prison-industrial complex has no right to exist on our beautiful planet.  Jerry Brown, will they make a film about you someday called “Iron Heart”??

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If anyone has pictures of rallies being held outside California that I don’t know about, please send them my way.  There are rallies today in Arcata and Oakland:

“On September 5th at 12pm, California Prisoner Hunger Strike solidarity activists outraged at Governor Brown’s refusal to enter into meaningful negotiations with prisoners will start an open-ended Solidarity Fast in front of Governor Brown’s Oakland home.

This day marks the 60th day of the prisoner hunger strike with perhaps hundreds risking their lives for justice and humane conditions in the prison system. Our goal is to support the hunger strikers demand that the governor enter into immediate substantive negotiations to end long-term solitary confinement. We invite everyone to join us, whether fasting or not, as we hold this public space to bring attention to the policy makers that are failing us.

We will be in front of the governor’s condo on Telegraph Ave. and 27th St. PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD AND JOIN US!

Yes.  I, Cathasaigh Brian Ó Corcran will be fasting from noon on, sending prayers from the Upper Deschutes.  Any friends in town want to join me?

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Decolonization means abolishing the prison-industrial complex.  Prisons are the explicit confluence on capitalism and racism, both tools of colonialism used by the occupiers to suppress the self-determination of all peoples.  Our fights are connected over both time and space.

This Electronic Intifada podcast makes the connection between prison struggles in California and Palestine.  And such connections have never been lost on us Irish.

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حرروا فلسطين  Saoirse na hÉireann.  California Über Alles?  Je ne crois pas.  Tiocfaidh ár lá.  Tiocfaidh ár lá.

the sky a blank canvas

Day 59.   Dreaming last night, but I can’t remember a thing.  I just know I was dreaming, the feeling was still with me, awake again before sunrise.  Looking for a sliver of the moon, but no.

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Lorenzo Benton.  Abdul.  HB.  Mutawally.  I can count 12 names now.  Randall Ellis makes 13.  At least 60 were moved without medical personnel from Pelican Bay, leaving the 4 representatives {Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Antonio Guillen, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry)} behind.  Separated.  And how many in Corcoran?  How many in all the other prisons?  This article only mentions 44 men on hunger strike?  Names.  Numbers.  Places.  Why don’t I have all of this information?  They’re all just a bunch of criminal right?  Gang members.  So what does it matter?

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White Supremacy.  There’s an answer.  We Irish know the names and faces of our own hunger strikers, and knew them at the time.  Why is this not happening here?  Maybe it is because we had enough gang members on the outside to paint murals on the walls of the sections of our towns that we controlled, using guns and barbed wire to keep the occupiers and colonists out of our neighborhoods.  We made our own media.  And racism in Ireland was not about skin color.  Some of the hunger strikers of 1981 had been driven and burned out of their homes by racist mobs.

But America constructed race-as-skin color and wrote this new construct into it’s constitution, and that’s the shadow we live under here today.  So is it because so many of the hunger strikers today are just so many People of Color?  Criminals all, no doubt.  What if they were all young, cute, female, white political activists and the media had their pictures?  Every one in the US, and plenty elsewhere, would be seeing their faces on the news every night after 2 months of starvation.  It would be history in the making.

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This is only to bring up the question: “How much is a life worth?”  And what is more oppressive?  Anarchists being incarcerated for months after refusing to snitch before a grand jury, or 500 men in solitary for over 10 years?  80 men in solitary for over 20 years?  One man in solitary for 48 years? What if they are murderers?  Does this “justice” make you feel better?  Make the world a better place?  And what if race, religion, or other affiliations are illusions used by those in power to hide the political and social consciousness of those who would dare resist?  Gang members.  Criminals.  Terrorists.  Not living, breathing human beings with mothers, children, spouses, or families who suffer also from the theft of members of their community.

I’m going to do some serious digging for information.  The invisibility of this moment is greatly the responsibility of people like me.  And since I’m not being paid to be a journalist, I can say what I want and ask whatever I need to ask.  I won’t waste time being sorry, I have some phone calls to make.  “Tiocfaidh ár lá,” is say to myself.  “Tiocfaidh ár lá.”

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“we can only hope that our strength is a reflection of your strength.  ALL RACES – prison solidarity”

-Mutope Duguma, on hunger strike right now!

i am not 1066

Day 58.  Again, I am awake well before sunrise.  The moon now looking like God’s thumbnail, waiting to hitch a ride with the passing sun.  I didn’t watch the sunrise, my nose was in a book called Skylark, Sing Your Lonely Song.  I dreamt last night of the house I lived in when I was born. I was  brought home from the new hospital in the snow of Samhain, 18 months after the hunger strikers of 1981 began to cross over.  In this dream, I walk upstairs.  There is a T.V. left on, but no one in the room.  I turn around and look at the T.V.  Pornography is on the screen.  I try to be un-averse.  But it feels so desacralizing.  I am repulsed. That’s all I remember of the dream.

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More names.  I can count 8 names now.  I was well aware the day the hunger strike started on July 8.  I’ll admit to not paying attention until day 45 when I was in Seattle and I saw the sign counting the days at the Black Coffee Co-op.  It hit me.  A red haired girl with a copy of a book called Ten Men Dead in her hand walked by.

More names.

J. Heshima Denham, 41 , Corcoran State Prison SHU. Denham has been in the SHU for over a decade following validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family. As evidence of gang activity, he has reportedly has his cell raised by prison guards for Japanese artwork involving dragons; the dragon is a symbol of the BGF.

Michael “Zaharibu” Dorrough, 59 , Corcoran State Prison SHU. Dorrough has been in the SHU since 1988, following validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family. He has subsequently been kept in the SHU for reasons including writing for black nationalist newspapers and eulogizing a deceased inmate who was a BGF member.

Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), 46, Pelican Bay SHU. Incarcerated since 1988, Duguma has been in the SHU since 2001, following his validation as a member of the Black Guerilla Family; a charge he claims is false. “I was involved in gang life as a young man in South Los Angeles, like many other young black men from broken communities, but I was never a member or associate of the BGF. I never even met a member of the BGF during my first decade in prison,” he has written. He claims he was targeted for political activity, and last year won a lawsuit against CDCR for withholding his mail on the basis that his political writings constituted “gang activity.”

Kijana Tashiri Askari (Marcus Harrison), 41, Pelican Bay SHU. Following validation as a Black Guerilla Family member, he has been in solitary confinement since 1994.

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Day 57.  I’m writing an hour before midnight Pacific.  It was a very long day.  What are their names?  Do all of their families know, because how many are there really?  How much isolation is keeping true stories form being heard.  From all I can gather, there are still over 100 people on hunger strike  that have been since the beginning.  Then after moving 80 hunger strikers from Pelican Bay to New Folsom Prison, others have joined.

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The names of hunger strikers in 1981 were known.  Bobby Sands was elected as a Member of Parliament while in prison on hunger strike.  I know 4 names out of what could be hundreds.

“We are calling on all people of conscience to make their opposition heard. The people have the power to change things now. Know this: Our spirit and resolve remain strong and we know we can count on you all! Together we are making it happen, not only for ourselves, but, more importantly, for the generations to come.”

With the Utmost Solidarity, Love, and Respect—Onward in Struggle,
Pelican Bay State Prison Short Corridor Collective
Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP-SHU
Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP-SHU
Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP-SHU
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP-SHU

and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth

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Day 56.  I saw the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen last night.  Sparks flying off of it as I was counting seconds.  More followed later into the night, but none as spectacular as the first.  I didn’t dream and I was awake more than an hour before sunrise.  Apparently the dream givers could care less about comparing Jerry Brown and Margaret Thatcher.  I can feel the new moon approaching, another window for planting the seeds of our future.

Francis Hughes lasted 59 days.  Kieran Doherty lasted the longest at 73 days.  Martin Hurson had crossed over on day 46.  Most died around day 61.

Others survived.  Laurence McKeown had survived 70 days when his family intervened.  Liam McCloskey 55 days.  Patrick Sheehan was on day 55 when the hunger strike ended on October 3, and 5 other lives were saved that day.

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You don’t start a hunger strike expecting to live.  Only a few have been brave enough to admit this.  Why am I saying this?  It’s a big can of worms.

the sun rises towards the waning moon

Day 55.  The waning crescent moon had not reached midheaven as I waited for the sunrise over the Ochocos from my perch above the city.  I should still have been asleep like most of the other humans.  I’d stayed up late last night, talking into the early morning with a dear friend, but I was awake before sunrise.  Day 55 I thought as I looked up at the moon.  The sun burned its way into the sky.  Off to work for a 9 hour shift serving lattes to tourists.  Day 55 I said to a few of them.  Blank looks.  My co-worker pondered out loud as to why most of the media is ignoring the hunger strike.  Even the BBC covered the events of 1981 on a daily basis.  I guess most people would rather be twerking.  And what about war in Syria?  This summer is far from over.

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I can’t bring myself to say anything yet about those who are dismissing the hunger strikers as common criminals who are getting what they deserve.  To much anger.  I’m reminded of the words of Cascadian poet philosopher Derrick Jensen who lives near Pelican Bay and used to go into the prison to teach creative writing:

“The whole reform vs revolution question is bullshit. I used to teach creative writing at Pelican Bay, which is a Supermax security prison. I fully recognized that every time I walked in to that prison that I was participating in the biggest, most racist gulag on the planet. You can’t get much more reformist than teaching creative writing there. But at the same time many of my students said that the only thing that was keeping them sane was our classes. So in that moment any sort of belief I had in reform vs revolution question just fell apart….”

This hunger strike  is not happening in a vacuum.  I’ll get to the statistics later, but it is not an exaggeration to refer to the US prison-industrial complex as a “gulag archipelago.”  The mass incarceration  of marginalized people is very political, racist, and about as colonial as it gets.  And the consciousness and bravery of these hunger strikers is historically epic.  And the use of solitary confinement is completely political.

We can look back and wonder at the cruelty of history’s famous evil heads of State, whether in Russia, Germany, or the occupied north-east of Ireland.  What do they have to gain by being so calloused and sadistically stubborn?  But colonists are heartless in the face of the suffering of the colonized, history shows us this over and over again.  Now the State is threatening force feeding.  I don’t know who is worse,  Jerry Brown or Margaret Thatcher.  I’ll ask my dreams tonight and see what they say.

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Day 54.  Bobby died on day 66.  His last journal entry was 17 days after he began the first fatal hunger strike of that year on March 1, 1981.

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In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Summer of 2013 is already burning a permanent mark on the memories of your decedents.  The hunger strike that began throughout the California prison system on July 8, 2013 hit home for me like few things can.  For starters, Pelican Bay State Prison is located in the heart of Cascadia’s Deep South.  I have walked through the ponds and woods of Yontoket, where settlers massacred Indigenous Tolowa as they took refuge at the place where their world began, a place not 5 miles as the Raven flies from where Pelican Bay State Prison now sits.  The beauty and power of this place was not lost on  me, nor the irony of the location of this particular prison.

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Continuing further south from the bioregion that is home to me,  you will find another prison, and I find my name on it.  What are the odds?  Corcoran State Prison is the location where the first hunger striker of 2013 died (as if there might be more, pardon my Irish attitude).  Billy “Guero” Sell died on July 22, and of course the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) ruled the death of a hunger striking prisoner in solitary confinement a “suicide”.  But I know from personal experience that 14 days is not long enough to starve to death.  The conditions of his death are being investigated.

Next, let’s talk about what the words “HUNGER STRIKE” mean to us Irish.  I was born the year after 10 Irish Republican prisoners had died on hunger strike, but this was not the first time Irish people starved to death on their own Island.  The 22 well know Irish hunger strikers over the last 100 years should never obscure the fact that millions of Irish people died of starvation for objectively political reasons under British colonial rule.  An Gorta Mór, known to the rest of the world as the “potato famine” that gave the title “Black ’47” to the year of my grandfather’s grandfather’s birth in Ros Comáin, is still remembered by our own people as the colonial genocide that it was.  So back here in the 21st century, when over 30,000 inmates start a hunger strike throughout Imperial California’s prison system, us Irish can, well, just eat our hearts out.

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And it doesn’t stop there.  The California prisoners have 5 demands that they want to be met before they will end the “indefinite” hunger strike.

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates

Sound familiar to any of you Paddy’s out there?

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I am going to be writing every day from here on out.  There is so much I want to say, and so much more I am feeling.  I know so many others have been feeling it also.  My mind is pregnant and heart is full.

-Cathasaigh Briain Ó Corcráin – The Farewell Bend, Oolichan, Cascadia – Day 54

(Casey Bryan Corcoran – Bend, Oregon, The Republic)

“Tiocfaidh lá eigin nuair a bheidh an fonn saoirse seo le taispeáint ag daoine go léir ne hEireann ansin tchífidh muid éirí na gealaí”

Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh