"If You Note Me Drifting or Grammatical Errors...I've Not Eaten in 35 Days"
A hunger striker's letters from California's Corcoran prison.
On July 8, 30,000 California prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of those who are kept in extended solitary confinement. Even the slightest evidence of gang affiliation—such as possessing a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince—can land prisoners in the short corridor isolation unit (a.k.a. the SHU, or "the hole"), where they are confined to tiny windowless cells for 23 hours a day, denied many provisions and visitors, and often kept apart from other inmates. Hundreds of prisoners have been in the hole for a decade or more. (Read our hunger strike explainer for more.)
What follows are excerpts of letters from the hole by a leader of the prison strike who was eventually hospitalized after nearly starving to death. The group Legal Services For Inmates With Children provided the letters to Mother Jones on the condition that the prisoner’s name be withheld. He is a self-identified member of the New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist Collective Think Tank, and an alleged member of the Black Guerilla Family, a prison gang. He resides in the SHU of the California State Prison, Corcoran. These excerpts are lightly edited for clarity and brevity, and are organized according to the date of the events being described.
July 11 — They came to me and [my cellmate's] cell and told us they were moving all "strike leaders" (us and 7 others) out of the 4B1L C-Sections short corridor isolation unit to an undisclosed location on 4A yard. After an initial discussion, we all refused. Warden Gipson's immediate reaction was to order a mass cell extraction of all of us—an attempt to provoke a violent confrontation with peaceful protestors, which would have occurred with serious injuries or casualties to people on both sides. Enough prisoners came to the consensus that maintaining the peaceful posture of this protest was our primary concern, so we agreed to move."And he responded, 'Well, apparently you're not isolated enough.'"
They opened our tray slot and told us to "cuff up." Captain Smith of the I.G.I. [Institutional Gang Investigators] came through the yard gate and stated to us: "The warden ordered that all of you 'strike leaders' be put on 4A yard to isolate you." I responded: "We're housed in the short corridor isolation unit already—isn't that it's purpose?" And he responded, "Well, apparently you're not isolated enough."
We're all now housed in 4A3R—a debriefer's block. They've isolated us in a block full of snitches, rats, state agents, informants and unprincipled elements of every description.
With all of the cells they could have moved [my cellmate] and I into, they've moved us into a cell with "FUCK YOU NIGGERS" written in big black ink print over the cell door and window, so that's the first thing we see every morning we wake up. No one can tell me that that was not intentional.
July 21 — Today is the 14th day we haven't eaten and my thinking's kind of fuzzy. I was 223 lbs in June and [my cellmate] was 178. We've both lost over 10 pounds thus far."They really did fuck over our property—most of the other guys still haven't been given more of their stuff."
I'm tired, and I'm sluggish—but other than a little light-headedness I'm holding up well, as is [my cellmate]. They have me [and 10 other hunger strikers] all stuck in C-Section around all these rats. I.G.I. said they would move us back when the protest is over. They really did fuck over our property—most of the other guys still haven't been given more of their stuff and they lost almost $100 of my books, which I'm appealing now. I'll be alright—such is the nature of sacrifice.
It is only through the exercise of the First Amendment to protest government when its laws are unjust, immoral, and inhumane have such crimes against humanity been abolished.
July 30 — This is the 23rd day I've not eaten. I was 235 on 7/7 and 204 on 7/26, a loss of 31 lbs.
They started giving [my cellmate] and me B-complex, thiamine, and a multivitamin yesterday to delay organ damage or failure (at this point). I do feel a little better, less dizziness, though I'm still light-headed and weak. This pain in my right side has intensified considerably—but my pain threshold is extraordinarily high—I can handle it.
I'm sure that you heard about how they've written us up for hunger striking. In classic authoritarian fashion, they seek to mask this crime of maintaining a domestic torture program by charging us with the "crime" of protesting this inhumane practice and couching it in the terms "gang activity." This is no different than what slave owners sought to do to abolitionists and runaway slaves in that epoch.
We're unwilling to start eating again—no matter what Pelican Bay and Sacramento decide—unless they rescind these 115s [disciplinary write-ups] and return these soldiers property (after they return us to 4B1L; we're still trapped in this rat block full of debriefers and informants).
If I had the ability, I'd hound, embarrass, and shame mainstream news agencies relentlessly for their utter failure to honestly report on this program of torture CDCR is running or our protest to it.