OAKLAND, Calif. - In a dramatic announcement Sept. 5, leaders of the nine-week-long hunger strike by California prison inmates said they are suspending their strike.
In a statement read at a press conference at the State Building, the strikers vowed that resistance to "decades of systemic state-sanctioned torture via the system's solitary confinement units is far from over."
They pledged to continue their efforts to end "torture policies and practices in which serious physical and psychological harm is inflicted on tens of thousands of prisoners as well as our loved ones outside."
The inmates expressed particular appreciation for the support they are receiving from state legislative leaders Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who said in a statement just before the Labor Day holiday that they will soon hold hearings on solitary confinement in the state's prisons.
"From our perspective," the inmates said, "we've gained a lot of positive ground toward achieving our goals. However, there is still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights." Prisoner advocates, including members of a mediation team that has been trying to negotiate with prison authorities on the inmates' behalf, greeted the announcement.
Mediation team member Barbara Becnel emphasized the new phase of the struggle: "It's a glorious day, and it's just the beginning. There is tremendous work to be done to reform the California criminal justice system," she said. "We intend to be by their sides in the weeks, months and perhaps years to come."
Fellow team member Laura Magnani, of the American Friends Service Committee, said the legislative hearings "will give us a real opportunity to share the inmates' grievances and their reasonable demands. Now we will need to keep pressure on our legislators and let them know this is not going away."
Some 30,000 inmates at over two dozen prisons were participating when the strike was launched on July 8.
About 40 prisoners refused food for the entire 60 days, while another 120 strikers had participated for shorter periods.
The inmates' core demands include ending long-term solitary confinement and group punishment, changing the criteria for claiming inmates are gang members - a key reason for their isolation in security housing units, or SHUs - providing enough nutritious food, and offering those in solitary more constructive programs and activities.
For more information on the ongoing efforts by inmates and their supporters, see http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW