Today marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It also marks the 12th day of a hunger strike in Georgia prisons to protest the beatings, retaliation, and torture that came as a reaction to the Georgia prisoner labor strike over a year ago. Just this past week, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) held a hearing on Capitol Hill to probe the use of solitary confinement in America. This method of sensory deprivation is used within every American prison, yet made famous by underground facilities such as the Florence, CO supermax and California’s Pelican Bay.
On Friday, June 29th, from 10am – noon, a solidarity action will convene at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta. As if coming full circle, the statewide organizing of the Georgia labor strike preceded the multi-prison California hunger strikes that began in Pelican Bay. As Mumia Abu Jamal put it, the strikers were “dying, for sunlight.” In fact, three prisoners have died since then. The Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, all in extreme sensory deprivation situations for years, suspended their strike to negotiate for light, food, and educational programming, as well as a method of getting out of these conditions other than finishing their sentence. Next month marks the one year anniversary of the hunger strike, and California prisoners, families, and activists will be marking it accordingly.
Several weeks ago, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against Pelican Bay, for these torture conditions. Like the overcrowding suit and inhumane conditions case won by the Prison Law Office, the California taxpayers sit as legal pinatas for what is done in their name. Within all the California activity is Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and All of Us or None, which is a part of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement. In the South, the Georgia prisoners are supported most adamantly by another member of FICPM, The Ordinary People’s Society.
Seven prison guards were arrested in Georgia for the retaliatory beatings, yet mounting a case based on the secrecy of a prison is difficult. Although the prisoners are held in extreme isolation, the defendants have every opportunity to “get their story straight,” intimidate witnesses who are captive to these conditions, and hide evidence. Last year I had an opportunity to speak with a wife of one of these prisoners, Miguel Jackson. He is still in the same situation, after having been beaten with a hammer while handcuffed.
As the hearings in the U.S. Senate proved, some of these torture victims are not even guilty of the crime that landed them in prison. Anthony Graves, an exonerated Texas death row inmate explained what he endured, and witnessed, over 18 years. And surely that was just the smallest of snippets. He also shared that the culture of prisons is that the sentence is not the punishment, it is the treatment during the sentence that is the punishment. Perhaps the hearing will lead to a genuine course of action, or perhaps it will merely be a moment where America acknowledges that we are the global leader in prisons and have the most people under conditions that have been condemned by the international community. We have known this for decades, but when does it stop?
Organizations participating in the Georgia day of solidarity include the Prodigal Child Project, National Action Network, FICPM, Project South, Drug Policy Alliance, NAACP, NEC, and the National Justice Council. Those wanting more information can contact Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, at The Ordinary People Society (334) 791-2433.