We ended the hunger strike the evening of July 20, 2011, on the basis of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s top level administrators’ interactions with our team of mediators, as well as with us directly, wherein they agreed to accede to a few small requests immediately, as a tangible good faith gesture in support of their assurance that all of our other issues will receive real attention, with meaningful changes being implemented over time. They made it clear: such changes would not happen over night, nor would they be made in response to a hunger strike going on.
Due to difficulties getting the word out to other prisoners across the state – most of whom were not ever in direct contact with the outside support coalition, and many of whom were in segregation or in other supermaxes – it was several days before all prisoners had resumed eating.
During this same time, there was some confusion on the outside, as supporters were unsure whether this was one of CDCR’s tricks. Furthermore, nobody knew for sure if the Short Corridor Collective’s decision would be accepted by prisoners across the state – it was unclear if prisoners were still fasting because they had not heard it was over, or if they intended to continue the strike on their own.
By this point, however, it is clear: at present, everyone who participated in the hungerstrike has recommenced eating.
Many of the concerns that had arisen during the hungerstrike continued after the 21st. Some family members found that they were being denied visits with their loved ones who had been on strike. Medical protocol during this transitional period was in some cases simply not followed. We know of several prisoners who had been sent into segregation (i.e. solitary confinement) for participating in the strike, and it is unclear whether they remain there or not.
As a result, one call that developed at this time, was that there should be NO RETALIATION of any sort against prisoners, their families, or other supporters as a result of the strike.
Reaction to the strike ending has been mixed. The Short Corridor Collective and many other prisoners have declared victory. Some prisoners, however, have expressed disappointment that an agreement was reached with CDCR promising so little in return. Because of the nature of this strike, with the participants cut off from the outside world, it may be weeks or even months before we have a better idea of how this resolution is viewed.
One thing everyone seems to agree on, though, is that the strike can only be seen as the first step. Without ongoing pressure, CDCR will certainly refuse any meaningful changes, and any gains that have been made with prove illusory. In their vein, outside supporters are now focusing on mobilizing for August 23rd, when San Francisco Representative Tom Ammiano and the Public Safety Committee in the State Assembly of California have agreed to hold to examine conditions in the Pelican Bay SHU. On the inside, strike leaders have stated that if changes are not forthcoming, they may resume their fast.
The Montreal Hunger strike Support Committee formed on a fairly ad hoc basis to ensure that there would be some kind of activity in this city in support of the California hunger strikers.
Our activity quickly exceeded these initial expectations. A weekly picket was held outside the U.S. consulate. we also held a noise demonstration which visited 5 local prisons on July 3rd, and conducted an educational tour of local businesses making money off of the prison industry on July 16th.
While these activities were a success in the sense they were organized by a very small group of people in very little time, numbers at our events were quite small. Mobilizing people around prisoners' issues can be difficult, especially when the prisoners in question are in another country, and people here are unfamiliar with the conditions they are protesting. We hope that even though the strike has ended, people will take the time to learn more about this struggle.
The fight against U.S. prison abuse is not separate from our own fight against prisons in this country. For Canadian cops, politicians and businessmen, the United States has often provided a positive example for repressive measures to be taken here. Indeed, just a few years ago prison officials from Canada visited a U.S. supermax, with just that in mind. It is not a matter of the Harper government abandoning Canadian practices in favor of American ones, but rather of the weapons honed by the U.S. ruling class being well-suited to the Canadian ruling class’s own agenda.
In this context, and given the possibility of the prisoners recommencing their strike, we will continue holding our weekly pickets, every Friday from noon until 1:30pm, in front of the U.S. consulate (1155 rue St-Alexandre, metro Place des Arts), until at least August 20th.
We will also attempt to organize an event of some sort to coincide with the government hearings being held into conditions at Pelican Bay SHU in California on August 23rd.
We do this, both in solidarity with the California prisoners, and also as part of building an anti-prison movement in this country, recognizing the Canadian State’s increasing interest in repression.
For more information, contact the Montreal Hungerstrike Support Committee: