|Robert Luca, an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison |
who was a gang member, looking out the grates of
his cell, near Crescent City, California,
February 10, 2012.
In October 1990, only months after being transferred to Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit (SHU), Todd Ashker was shot in the right wrist by a prison guard. "This nearly severed my hand from my wrist and caused severe damage to hand, wrist and forearm," he recounted. Ashker stated that he was denied medical care, including pain management, and was told by medical staff, "If you want better care, get out of SHU. It's your choice." Only after he won a court injunction in February 2010 was he given an arm brace and physical therapy. [Letter from Todd Ashker, November 13, 2011.] Ashker's experience is the norm rather than the exception. "Prisoners with medical concerns are routinely told by prison officials that if they want better medical care for their conditions or illnesses, or improved pain management, the way to obtain adequate care is to debrief," states a federal lawsuit filed by Ashker and other SHU prisoners.
On July 1, 2011, Ashker and thousands of other prisoners went on hunger strike to protest such draconian conditions. As reported in Truthout last year, for three weeks, at least 1,035 of the 1,111 inmates locked in the SHU refused food. In the SHU, which comprises half of California's Pelican Bay State Prison, prisoners are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Over 500 people have been confined in the SHU for over a decade, over 200 for more than 15 years and 78 for over 20 years. The only way that a person can be released from the SHU is to debrief, or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Even those who are eligible for parole have been informed that they will not be granted parole so long as they are in the SHU. "They are told they can debrief or die," stated Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which recently filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the SHU prisoners. [Press conference by phone, May 31, 2012.]
"We have decided to put our fate in our own hands. Some of us have already suffered a slow, agonizing death in which the state has shown no compassion toward these dying prisoners." Mutope DuGuma, one of the hunger strike representatives, wrote in the original announcement for the hunger strike. "No one wants to die. Yet under this current system of what amounts to immense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms." READ MORE