For the past 40 years California prison officials, and their counterparts around the country, have embarked on a massive program to construct supermax facilities designed to physically isolate prisoners and mentally destroy them – a program that has been highly successful. It is not a coincidence that the rise of control units began in the 1970s as the federal courts imposed limits on the physical brutality and torture that U.S. prison officials could impose on prisoners.
As reported in this month's PLN and prior issues, prisoners have sought to protest this ongoing torture by the only means at their disposal, which is to refuse food. Never before have so many prisoners engaged in a hunger strike. Whether American prisoners have the wherewithal to starve themselves to death like Bobby Sands and the other 9 martyrs of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army did in 1981 remains to be seen.
Political prisoners in Turkey staged a hunger strike in the early 2000s that led to dozens of deaths, to protest efforts by the government to move them from communal prisons into control units designed by U.S. officials. [See: PLN, April 2002, p.22; Aug. 2001, p.18]. Political prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp are currently staging a hunger strike to protest their ongoing captivity without trial, charge or prospect of release.
What is significant about the California hunger strike is not so much that the prisoners in control units are participating, but that large numbers of prisoners not in control units are also taking part. We will report on events as they unfold. Prisoners are hungry for justice, and the resort to starvation comes as the executive branch of government imposes the long-term torture of solitary confinement, the legislature has duly acquiesced to and continues to fund it, and the judiciary is unable or unwilling to remedy it.
This month's cover story interview with Jeff Deskovic continues PLN's series of interviews with people whose prison experiences have been notable. What is interesting about Jeff's story is not that he was wrongfully convicted and railroaded into prison for a crime he did not commit. As PLN readers know, that happens with monotonous regularity and is not unusual. Nor was it noteworthy that he was successful in recovering damages for his wrongful conviction. What was, to my knowledge, a first, was that he used a significant portion of his lawsuit awards to establish a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing the wrongfully convicted. It is very unusual for plaintiffs of any stripe to use their financial resources to seek reform of the system that wronged them.
Jeff's insights and comments about the judiciary, prisons and his own experience are well worth reading and inspirational to anyone involved in the criminal justice system.
Our office relocation to Florida has gone well, though we are still getting caught up on mail and book and subscription orders. We were behind on our printing schedule due to the move but plan to be back to our regular schedule within the next month.
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