Friday, July 22, 2011

Statement by Mumia Abu Jamal on the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike


"Dying For Sunlight" (Pelican Bay Hunger Strike)

Recorded 7-17-11

Today, at the notorious California super-maximum prison, Pelican Bay, hundreds of prisoners are on a hunger strike. As of July 1, 2011 a number of men ceased eating state meals in protest of horrendously long-term confinement, government repression, lack of programs and the hated gang affiliation rules.

According to California Prison Focus, the health of some the men are dangerously deteriorating. Some have ceased drinking, as well as eating and haven’t urinated in days. Some are threatened by renal failure, which can result in death.

Why? The demands of the strikers seem relatively tame, which gives us some insight into the level of repression. The five core demands are:

1. Individual instead of group responsibility.
2. Abolition of the “gang-debriefing” policy, which endangers both those who debrief and/or their families.
3. An end to long-term solitary confinement.
4. Adequate food, and
5. Constructive programs, such as art, phone privileges and the like.

A sub-demand is adequate natural sunlight – sunlight. There are few things more torturous than dying by starvation. These men are killing themselves potentially for fresh air and sunlight, and about a third of California prisoners, 11 out of 33 prisons, have joined them.

Contact the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition to find out how to support this effort for human rights. On the web at:

From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.

International Concerned Family & Friends of MAJ
P.O. Box 19709
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Phone - 215-476-8812/ Fax - 215-476-6180
E-mail -

Send our brotha some LOVE and LIGHT at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal
AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Petition: Pelican Bay hunger strike protesting solitary confinement

I'd like to pass along a message from the National Religious Coalition Against Torture:

For nearly three weeks, prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison have waged a hunger strike to protest their conditions of confinement including long-term solitary confinement. They have been joined by prisoners from a dozen other California prisons. Many of these prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement which is a form of torture. So far, state officials have not taken action to address the prisoners’ concerns about abusive treatment.

While the hunger strike is focused on the treatment of prisoners in California, inhumane conditions exist in prisons and jails across the country. In particular, tens of thousands of prisoners are held in prolonged solitary confinement – a situation which can cause long-term physical and psychological damage to prisoners.

Call for an end to the use of prolonged solitary confinement.

Please add your voice to the chorus of people of faith who are calling for a change in the treatment of prisoners. NRCAT has produced a new statement asking federal and state governments to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement. We are distributing this statement to people in all 50 states, with plans to deliver the list of endorsements to governors, state legislators, and prison officials as an appeal to improve the treatment of prisoners in all 50 states. Please sign the statement today!

Let's work to end the inhumane and barbaric use of prolonged solitary confinement.

Sign the petition at:

Visit the NRCAT website:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prison Conditions and Inmate Resistance

Two important stories on troubling prison conditions and inmate efforts to change them:

First, in Jamaica, HIV-positive prisoners are speaking out against what they describe has horrific conditions. One anonymous prisoner states, "If the doctor said allow him [the inmate's] parents or family or whoever to bring him fruits, or food, or whatever,whichever thing his system can contain, they don't approve it. The superintendent and the people that are in high place constantly try to turn it down."

Meanwhile, prisoners at the Bay Area "supermax" Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit are staging a hunger strike to protest living conditions in the facility. Yesterday, the hunger strikers rejected a proposal from the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tennis at San Quentin

So often the media focuses on negative stories of incarcerated individuals. We hear about prison riots, smuggling of contraband, and the occasional escape. We rarely, however, hear about some of the positive things that go on behind the bars.

Sports Illustrated recently ran a story about the tennis team at San Quentin State Prison. The author of the article, Marc Howard, went to San Quentin to play with and alongside the inmates.

My favorite quote in the article...
"Playing tennis in the notorious San Quentin sounds oxymoronic. But within the confines of a tennis court, these men are learning to play inside the lines. And tennis may be giving some of them the hope of finding a new direction in their lives."

I think one reason I appreciated this article was that the author didn't just end there. Instead, he took the time to write about the individuals on the tennis team. He acknowledge their skills and abilities. He didn't simply group them together and call them inmates or prisoners. He talked about them as people. Flawed people, but people.

Click here to read more.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Mental Competency


Gary Haugen waived his further appeals, thus “volunteering for execution” by the State of Oregon. Gary has been in Oregon’s State Pen since he was about 19 years old and was sentenced to death with a co-defendant for the murder of inmate David Polin in 2007.

Now graying slightly and facing the prospects of spending his 50th birthday on Death Row next spring, having recently lost loved ones and family members, Gary has had his execution postponed by a State Supreme Court. The Court ordered a mental competency hearing and reinstatement of the legal advisors Gary had dismissed before Judge Guimond issued the execution order last month.

Gary Haugen is seeking execution. There are many people (they blog, too) who applaud the swift application of death as justice. As an abolitionist who would rather have a world in which people get a chance, where we work hard and do the little things we can to give people good chances, I don’t want to see Gary Haugen – or any inmate – executed.

At the same time, knowing Gary has made me acutely aware of the ways in which prison so often contributes to, rather than mitigates against, criminality. Death Row is toxic in other ways. Both strike me as the kind of place in which it is tough to be mentally competent. And it is hard to know how someone would be different if you’ve only even known them depressed or anti-depressed, dis-illusioned or delusional, living in a cage in one of the cloudiest, rainiest, and most hopeless cities in the U.S. What passes for mental competency on Death Row? I can’t help thinking of the pacified and passive men released from Nurse Ratchett’s ward in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Gary has given reasons for abandoning his appeals. Some are marked by a sense of grandeur, others are practical and purposive. From news articles and our correspondence, I think there are many reasons, including:

· A desire to call attention to the politics of the death penalty;

· A need to feel he’s done something meaningful;

· An effort to publicize the injustices and hypocrisies of the criminal justice system;

· A recognition of the suffering his existence causes to his victims’ loved ones;

· A sense of guilt and remorse;

· A fear of his own anger and hopelessness;

· A need to be seen as noble;

· An unwillingness to do the hard work of transformation;

· A difficult environment and fatalistic worldview.

So we await the results of the hearing and I cross out the words that seem obscene in my calendar: “Gary’s last weekend,” “Gary’s execution” and consider the re-writing. And then I think of the young woman whose husband is gone forever, who hears the same radio story I do, but differently.

Sister Helen Prejean reminds us of the importance of reaching out to victims, too. But I’m not sure how to do that – for it also seems obscene to ask the widow of my friend’s (alleged) murder victim to “friend” me on facebook. It occurs to me that our introduction may be on the occasion of Gary’s execution.