some inmates are showing signs of starvation, reports the Huffington Post.
If you have not yet heard about the widespread hunger strike, in which as many as 6,600 California inmates have participated, join the club. I had not heard of it, either, until a friend told me. It has been spottily covered by national media. Read this excerpt from a New York Times account of the confinement conditions inmates are protesting, and you will see why many Americans, including many journalists, would prefer that this story remain invisible behind concrete walls:
The protest was organized by inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit, where prisoners are kept in isolation more than 22 hours a day. ...Most of the prisoners who remain on hunger strike are in security housing units like the one at Pelican Bay, where they are kept alone in windowless, soundproof concrete cells. ...The lack of human contact often leads to depression and bouts of rage, psychologists say.
Prisoners and activists say that such conditions are cruel and unusual punishment. Most inmates end up in these extreme isolation blocks because of ties to gang activities. To get back into the general prison population, activists say, they are pressured to divulge information about other gang members in prison, a process known as “debriefing,” which can jeopardize their safety.
“We do see this long isolation and debriefing process as torture,” said Carol Strickman, a staff lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an advocacy group in San Francisco. “These are inhumane conditions designed to extract information from someone.”
But a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman, Terry Thornton, said that the restrictive conditions at Pelican Bay had been litigated numerous times.
Got that? Twenty-two hours a day in windowless, soundproofed concrete cells. All in an effort to force prisoners to rat out other prisoners' alleged gang connections. And to thereby endanger their own lives. (In the joint, there is no such thing as a witness protection program.) And the State of California's answer to this moral obscenity is, in effect, Well, nobody's told us to stop.
Notice, too, that California prison officials employ a sterile euphemism -- "debriefing" -- because they cannot bring themselves to call their actions what they are: torture.
Hmm. What was the euphemism at Guantanamo again? Oh, yeah: "Enhanced" or "harsh" interrogation techniques. AKA simulated drowning, extreme sleep deprivation, locking prisoners in agonizing positions for days, putting prisoners on leashes and making them perform like dogs, slamming them against walls, wrapping their heads in duct tape. Again, all done invisibly, concealed behind walls and the pretext of a no-holds-barred "war" against "enemy combatants." (St. Petersburg Times story detailing these Guantanamo practices here.)
So here we are again, folks. Just as we were asked to excuse these wicked acts at Guantanamo and at secret prisons abroad in the name of "national security," we are now being asked to look away when it comes to horrific treatment of prisoners right here on the mainland. You, as a voter, are being asked to not think about what is happening to "those people" (that is, chiefly nonviolent offenders convicted on drug charges) hidden behind the thick walls of the prisons in your own neck of the woods. You are being asked to drive past the prisons in your community, on your way to the park or the mall, and to not wonder what is being done in your name in these places. You are being asked to keep your eyes straight ahead and your ears and mouth shut when it comes to the increasingly for-profit human abuse industry that you subsidize with taxes taken out of your income.
Which means, if you are an obedient citizen, you won't read the details in the New York Times story about how prisoners in these California prisons are treated; and you won't read the Huffington Post story about the hunger strike involving inmates at one-third of California's prisons, some of whom are making good on their pledge to starve themselves to death; and you won't visit the blog created by prisoner advocates providing updates on attempts by the strikers and their supporters to gain political and public support for their demands for human rights in prisons.
Or will you?
Thanks to Linda.