[Pnews] Prisoners United of Silicon Valley thank each other and supporters for a largely successful hunger strike against solitary confinement
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 26 11:16:12 EST 2017
Prisoners United of Silicon Valley thank each other and supporters for
a largely successful hunger strike against solitary confinement
*/by Mary Ratcliff - January 25, 2017
In late September, prisoners in the Santa Clara County jails who are
part of what they then called the Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement sent
a letter to Sheriff Laurie Smith
with a list of demands and a notice that in October the inmates would
initiate a hunger strike to continue their “peaceful protest to end this
torturous practice of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment until
there is tangible and meaningful change for all prisoners – most whom
are un-convicted pretrial detainees,” they stated.
The letter begins by recalling the Ashker settlement, the 2015
resolution of a lawsuit against solitary confinement in the state prison
system that was initially filed by prisoners and fueled by a series of
hunger strikes, the largest in history. Though it didn’t end solitary
confinement, it severely limited it and released thousands of prisoners
who had suffered the torture of solitary confinement for a decade or
more into the relative freedom of general population.
Building on that precedent, the Santa Clara prisoners write: “Currently
there are over a hundred prisoners held in solitary confinement
throughout Santa Clara County jails.” Then they list their core demands:
* End meaningless classification review and the biased appeal process;
* End placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious
rule violation to merit such placement;
* End the policy and practice of denying prisoners sufficient clothing;
* End jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and their
families through contract bidding of commissary vendors based on
kickbacks and political incentives for campaign contributions;
* End recidivism and misappropriation of prisoners’ welfare funds.
In calling the strike, which was inspired by the nationwide prison
strikes that began Sept 9, 2016, they wrote to their comrades: “Said
hunger strike will begin at 12 midnight on Oct. 17, 2016, and will go on
for two weeks, or 14 days. It will end on Oct. 30, 2016, at 12 midnight.
This strike is not mandatory, but instead it is highly encouraged to all
who are concerned, willing and able.
“We especially reach out to those who are healthy and inﬂuential. We
lean upon you and ask that you utilize your inﬂuence to help further
push and inspire this movement through your words and actions by leading
“For those who might not be able to hold up for the full 14 days, it’s
OK; just do your best. But this county does not acknowledge a hunger
strike until you refuse nine straight meals through the course of three
days, so we ask that at a minimum you hold out for four days so that
your sacriﬁce and efforts are acknowledged.”
Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary confinement,
joined the strike. And after only four days, jail officials held a
meeting with about a hundred prisoners that resulted in suspension of
the strike, which continues.
Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary
confinement, joined the strike.
“In an unusual turn,” the San Jose Mercury News reported
“the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union for the rank-and-file
enforcement officers of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office,
publicly sided with the inmates and released a statement lambasting
Sheriff Laurie Smith for not being responsive enough to the protest of
conditions ranging from how solitary confinement is doled out to
Now, under their new name, Prisoners United of Silicon Valley, the
strikers have issued their own newsletter and topped it with this statement:
*Letter of appreciation*
Greetings and solidarity to each other and all who participated in our
initial hunger strike to end the arbitrary use of solitary confinement
and inhumane treatment in Santa Clara County jails.
Before we set off into the body of this letter, we would like to extend
our respect and appreciation to all who participated and sacrificed to
provoke change. Although we came from diverse backgrounds – be it race,
religion, color or creed – we set our differences aside and interlocked
arms, forming a formidable force through civil disobedience in solidarity.
Allow the sacrifices each participant has made to be an inspiration to
others to join in our struggle, allow our peaceful protest to
demonstrate the power of unity and the positive changes that can be
effected when we view each other not as a classification of inmates
defined by the color of clothing issued to prisoners by administration
but instead as human beings who share the same oppressive conditions.
For decades, prisoners have been slammed down in solitary confinement,
locked away from education and rehabilitation programs or barred from
participating in the fellowship of their faith due to administration
beliefs. Meanwhile, our families are being exploited with practices
that amount to price gouging through exorbitant commissary and phone
rates, while they survive in a region with rising rent costs, plagued by
a homeless epidemic in a city with ordinances that throw people in jail
for having no place to live.
Let’s be thankful we have religious leaders and community organizations
like De-Bug [Silicon Valley De-Bug is an excellent media, community
organizing and entrepreneurial collective in San Jose] who rally behind
us to champion our cause and see us as different, who are the
difference, who see us as human beings, who are not persuaded by those
in positions of authority. They define us by our allegations and
classification rhetoric to pump fear in the heart of the public in their
effort to kill our support base when they are preoccupied beating us to
death like Michael Tyree. [Tyree was a mentally ill prisoner beaten to
death by guards in 2015. Santa Clara County settled the wrongful death
suit for $3.6 million, and the three guards facing murder charges were
to go on trial Jan. 23. – ed.]
In the spirit of thankfulness, perhaps one might consider reaching out
to their family and friends letting them know they are appreciated; we
appreciate you and yours for your support, so Thank You!
Before we bring this letter of appreciation to a close, we would like to
abreast the prisoner population that our hunger strike has not ended; it
has been momentarily suspended. We gave the administration 30 days to
bring about tangible changes for the benefit of all prisoners. We will
continue our efforts until all of our core demands have been met.
We will not be duped by the superficial, such as movie night and a
snack. We must persist as a collective that stands firm on principle. We
must not be deluded by a carrot on a stick offered to us by an oppressed
system that is fueled by greed and political ambitions.
We would like to abreast the prisoner population that our hunger
strike has not ended; it has been momentarily suspended. We gave
the administration 30 days to bring about tangible changes for the
benefit of all prisoners.
To prevail in our struggle for prisoners’ human rights, we respectfully
ask the prisoner population to exercise diplomacy, for it is not in our
own interest to engage in combat with one another when we are fighting
together to improve our conditions of confinement. We ask those of you
who sway influence in your housing unit to work with each other to
resolve conflict peacefully by promoting prisoner solidarity.
Let’s try not to provide ammunition to the administration that allows
them to justify the reasoning for the use of solitary confinement. Our
goal is to promote our cause by unifying like-minded people to support
our next planned hunger strike.
In closing, we thank you for your time.
/Prisoners United of Silicon Valley/
The Prisoners United newsletter follows the letter of appreciation with
updates spelling out how their demands are being met. On Oct. 21, they
Prisoners formerly in solitary have been programming together on the
yard with good spirits. They send their love and appreciation to all the
organizations, individuals and media that showed support. The hunger
strike is on suspension out of good faith that the administration will
do the following:
1. Classification: In 90 days, strikers will be able to down-class
based on behavior into general population.
2. Solitary confinement: Hunger strikers have been released from
solitary with handshakes and hugs.
3. Clothing: Additional clothing has been ordered.
4. Overpriced commissary and welfare fund: Due to contract constraints
with the commissary vendor, the administration has agreed to
subsidize lowering commissary prices through the Welfare Fund,
meanwhile shopping for another vendor after contract completion.
On Oct. 25, we spoke with administration. In our discussion, we made a
few supplemental demands and requests:
1. Phones: We requested to install more phones in each unit that will
be releasing more prisoners out to program, as each unit was
designed for no more than one prisoner. In addition, installing
sufficient phones will reduce the potential rise of inmate fights as
a result of overlap. For example, 4C and 4B have only one phone in
each pod. We ask to install at least two of three more phones per
pod. All other units within Main Jail North should have at least 10
phones in each pod.
2. Televisions: We requested at least one more television in the units
that house a high capacity of prisoners to accommodate Spanish and
Vietnamese speakers as well as to reduce the potential rise of
inmate fights as a result of incapacity.
3. Sporks with handles: We requested sporks (spoon-fork eating
utensils) with handles.
4. Tattoo removal program: We requested a tattoo removal program.
There was a shortlist of additional requests and demands we made. This
was just an example of the few. Currently there is a total of 10 small
yards. Unfortunately, only one yard is being occupied by prisoners
formerly in solitary, leaving a majority of prisoners who are still in
solitary due to the administration’s claim of incapacity.
As of Dec. 15, 2016, prisoners have been down-classed and/or re-housed
to the fourth floor. Prisoners formerly in solitary are now on the
fourth floor. Who and why is still a question.
Prisoners who have been re-housed to the fourth floor are said to now
only have 45 minutes of programming a day in comparison to 10 hours a
day where they were housed prior.
Exercise shorts have yet to be received.
Commissary prices have yet to be reduced.
Dec. 22 update: Previously the name PHRM (Prisoners Human Rights
Movement) was used as a representative body to harness the hunger
strike in Santa Clara County’s main jail. The PHRM name was used due to
lacking an actual name and was directly inspired by the PHRM in CDCR
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state
prison system). Moving forward, we will now be known as Prisoners United
of Silicon Valley.
/Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at //editor at sfbayview.com/
<mailto:editor at sfbayview.com>/or 415-671-0789. Contact Prisoners United
of Silicon Valley via Silicon Valley De-Bug, 701 Lenzen Ave., San Jose,
CA 95126, 408-971-4965, //info at siliconvalleydebug.org/
<mailto:info at siliconvalleydebug.org>/or SV Debug on Facebook and Twitter./
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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