FEARS MOUNT AS CORCORAN PRISONERS STARVE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, COMMUNICATIONS CUT
Deborah Dupre , Human Rights Examiner
In California's "barbarous confinement" of prisoners, as 300 inmates at Kern Valley State Prison on Wednesday and 60 inmates at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison on Tuesday rioted, men down the road in Corcoran Prison, are instead peacefully starving themselves to end prison abuse, the nation's most pressing and ignored human rights violation.
“It is very disturbing that humans in America have to resort to starve to try and receive humane treatment,” prisoner human rights defender Kendra Castaneda told Deborah Dupré early Friday morning in a private email.
Since late December, Castaneda has been communicating with the Examiner about prisoners confined in California’s “most troubled” prison, Corcoran, where staff killings of prisoners have been so rife, the subject has been featured on many special news reports and in movies.
Men in California who initiate a hunger strike can be retaliated against, according to a new code adopted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as the peaceful Pelican Bay Prisoner Hunger Strike, the nation’s largest prison strike in history in which 17000 inmates participated, resumed on September 26, 2011.
In a KPFK interview on Sept. 27, Matthew Cate, Secretary of CDCR, threatened prisoners with retaliation saying, “If they still want to be on a hunger strike then there will be some consequences to that, because you can’t shut down prison operations with no consequences.”
The men who initiated what is estimated as a 100-man hunger strike at Corcoran’s ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit (solitary confinement)] are Pyung Hwa Ryoo, Juan Jaimes, and William E. Brown, their names on the Dec. 19 hand-written petition to California prison officials.
“ASU is a building not attached to the prison itself, so it is extremely isolated away from other prisoners or staff,” Castaneda explained.
Not knowing if Ryoo, James and Brown are being retaliated against, human rights defenders, including Castaneda, are worried. She mentioned to Dupré the possibility of the men being denied water, as Calipatria ASU prisoners were during their hunger strike in September.
“The most bothering of all, no one has heard from the men,” she told Dupré early Friday. “Their mail has been stopped, going in and out, so no one knows their medical conditions; no one knows anything at all with these men.
In the KPFK interview, Cate repeatedly describe the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike as a “mass disturbance” and compared it to a riot. Attempting to justify why media were denied access to the prisoners on strike, risking their lives to demand an end to inhumane conditions, Cates said it was “the same reason that we don’t allow media to have access to Charles Manson.”
A September 27 CDCR memo threatened all participants in the hunger strike with “disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulation.” Such disciplinary actions are used to deny prisoners parole, privileges, or other forms of punishment. The memo included:
“Information has been received that a number of inmates have engaged in behavior consistent with organizing a demonstration/hunger strike event. The Department will not condone organized inmate disturbances... participation in mass disturbances, such as hunger strikes or work stoppage will result in the Department taking action.”
Conflicting 'official reports'
Over the past three weeks, Castaneda has been receiving emails from CDCR officials providing conflicting dates and information about the present Corcoran Prison hunger strike, including one official saying that it stopped after three days, on December 31.
“Men do not plan and prepare to starve themselves as a whole, almost over 100 people, just to stop in 3 days and have 1 or 2 men to keep starving,” Castaneda told Dupré early Friday.
The strike was well planned and organized. A hand-written 12-page communiqué including the petition dated December 19, and a cover letter December 28 to Mary Ratcliffe of San Franciso Bay View News, detail the alleged inhumane and cruel treatment including torture and a list of eleven demands. The three abovementioned inmates signed the communiqué on behalf of the "United KAGE Brothers and Others."
(See the petition here at San Francisco Bay View News)
In the communiqué, the prisoners asserted that an all-race, unified, hunger strike would commence if their human rights-based demands were not met in a timely manner.
Tuesday, Castaneda had written to CCDR Deputy Press Secretary, Terry Thornton, “I hear you gave a quote to a newspaper recently stating the hunger strike at Corcoran State Prison ASU had stopped on 12/31/2011, but now I hear directly from Nancy Kincaid there are men hunger striking still?"
An inmate is not officially on a hunger strike until he or she misses nine consecutive meals, three days, according toThornton.
In a January 10 email, Thornton told Castaneda, “On Dec. 28, 59 inmates housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison refused their state-issued meals.
- “On Dec. 29, that number dropped to 54.
- On Dec. 30, 49 inmates refused state-issued meals.
- By Dec. 31, all inmates resumed eating state-issued food.
- In a January 12 email to Castaneda, Thornton saidshe had contacted Nancy Kincaid, Director for Medical Services by CDCR at the Receiver’s Office and “two inmates at Corcoran State Prison are still on a hunger strike.”
- Thornton added, that ”an official at Corcoran State Prison confirmed the information” she provided is accurate.
Nancy Kincaid, however, told Castaneda otherwise on Thursday, saying men are still starving.
Early Friday morning, Castaneda said, “We don’t know anything but that CDCR has lied about this and men are still starving to fight against their torture.”
Inmates Rattle the K.A.G.E.
“We are asking for your media support in the civil non-violent protest as we come upon the Hills of those Ancestors who have Set all Footprints before us,” an inmate wrote in a handwritten cover letter dated December 28 from United K.A.G.E Brothers and Others to Mary Ratcliffe.
The letter, with the subject “Blks Southsiders Protest in ASU Corcoran,” is part of a 12-page hand-written communication that included the prisoners’ petition to the Director of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Matthew Cate in Sacramento California, and Chief Deputy Warden, C. Gipson, CSP – Corcoran, in Corcoran, California.
The prisoners said in their letter to Ratcliffe that Corcoran inmates of all races had united for peaceful protest, following great leaders who peacefully protested, naming MLK, Malcolm X, Chavez, Gandhi, Buddha, Mao, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, NAACP “and others, alike seeking justice and equal protection for All Races, Inmates or Pedestrian.”
“Please feel free to send out message through your media base in hopes that those who may otherwise be of interest Come in Solidarity Cause to Rattle the K.A.G.E.”
The prisoners’ hand-written petition was drafted on December 19, the day the prisoners vowed to beginning their hunger strike if the prison conditions did not improve in a timely manner.
In the communiqué preceding the petition to Mr. Cate and Mrs. Gibson, the subject line is, “RE: Petition and/or constructive notice re: peaceful for improved conditions in Administrative Segregation Unit of CSP – Corcoran”
“We, inmates currently housed in Administrative Segregation Unit (hereafter “ASU”) of CSP – Corcoran, hereby petitions the Director of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Matthew Cate and Chief Deputy Warden of CSP – Corcoran C. Gipson for the redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violates our constitutional rights.
Furthermore, this petition will serve as a constructive notice for the peaceful protest which will be carried out as an alternative means of petition in the event that our conditions and demands are not met in a timely manner.
Petitioners have attempted to address the issues brought up in this petition by filing numerous inmate appeals/grievances and requests for interviews to no avail. Our constitutional rights under the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments are being violated by CDCR and CSP – Corcoran officials and therefore we demand the following:
The December 19 Corcoran Prison Petition details a list of ten core demands to end sensory deprivation torture and other human and civil rights violations.
California State Prison, Corcoran (COR)is a male-only state prison located in the city of Corcoran, in Kings County, California. The facility is also called Corcoran State Prison, CSP-C, CSP-COR, CSP-Corcoran, and Corcoran I.
An August 1996 front-page Los Angeles Times article claimed that COR was "the most troubled of the 32 state prisons." COR officers had shot dead more inmates "than any prison in the country" in COR's eight years of existence; many shootings of prisoners were "not justified;" and sometimes, "the wrong inmate was killed by mistake."
A March 1997 CBS News 60 Minutes episode discussed "the alleged cover-up” of a 1994 death and alarming number of shootings at COR."
In 1997, CDCR conducted its own investigation, clearing itself of wrongdoing: finding "isolated incidents of staff misconduct" but no "'widespread staff conspiracy' to abuse prisoners."
The 1998 film, "Maximum Security University" used prison surveillance tapes showing four 1989-1993 fights and a guard fatally shooting a “combatant." The month that the film was released, eight California correctional officers and supervisors were indicted "on federal criminal civil rights charges in connection with inmate fights that occurred at Corcoran State Prison in 1994."The eight men were acquitted of all charges in June 2000.
Castaneda wrote Friday, “Deborah these men are starving to get their voices heard that they are being tortured in administrative segregation units.
“The new CDCR SHU regulations do not apply to them, so they took it upon themselves in the only way they knew, to starve to be heard.
“They petitioned with their demands because their requests for change through the department always go unheard.”
For more information on California's Assembly Bill 1270, that would allow reporters access to prisoners for interviews, contact Assemblymember Ammiano's office by telephoning 916.319.2013.
Click here to learn how to support Solitary Watch and here to learn about the ACLU Stop Solitary Project. For updates on the Hunger Strike from Inside and Outside Prison, see Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity.
For more information or inspiration to get involved in stopping prison abuse, read the love story about Kendra Castenada, an "ordinary" young woman in love with a Falsely Imprisoned Person, as over 30,000 people are in California prison system, and what she is doing to end this human rights violation for thousands of people.
For an overview of a prison alternative that is working in communities that try it, see Dupré's article, "Restorative justice works: Repairs community, heals lives."