Coastal Voices: Why inmates are fed up


Regarding the many objectors and angry people against the inmate hunger strike, such individuals are partly why the prison system is dysfunctional and violating human and constitutional rights.

Linda Sutter's July 2 letter ("No sympathy for well-fed inmates at Pelican Bay") vented much anger toward inmates. Imagine her then with those feelings working at Pelican Bay State Prison; you can see how CDCR got into its correct predicament and the conditions that inmates are complaining about. It's a recipe for disaster.

Mike Stern's July 5 letter ("Has no sympathy for prisoners that take part in hunger strike") said, "Try to find someone else who has some sympathy for you." He seems to think everyone in prison (the Secure Housing Unit) has killed someone to get there! Oddly enough, killing someone only amounts to no more than four years in the SHU, while being accused of gang activity with no factual proof will give you at least six years in the SHU.

Clearly, these two and others believe and promote misconceptions of

reality. The truth is that there are inmates like myself who

rehabilitate themselves, or attempt to, and are discouraged by prison

officials. I am a member of the Jane Goodall Institute advocating for

the environment and animal rights, a volunteer for the Boys and Girls

Club of the Redwoods, a sponsor of Children International and more that

PBSP frowns upon and discourages.

Then Mike Cuthbertson's July 13 letter ("SHU not solitary

confinement; it's for gang members, jerks") believing that the SHU is

not solitary confinement? Well, no matter what you call it - SHU,

solitary confinement, isolation or administrative segregation - it's all

221andfrasl;2 hours a day in a cell alone. I eat alone, exercise alone and go

everywhere alone. He also states he heard inmates say that "a stint in

SHU is like a vacation!" A stint! How can someone call 15 years or more a


Terry Thornton of the California Department of Corrections and

Rehabilitation in desperation reaches for the scare tactic: "The fact

that there are inmates in other prisons refusing to eat state-issued

food to show sympathy for inmates at Pelican Bay shows the influence of

prison gangs." The fact is that CDCR uses solitary confinement or the

threat of it so broadly and the poor conditions of all its prisons shows

that inmates are fed up!

However, the allegation of gang activity by CDCR shows exactly how

easily a prisoner can be accused of being involved in such, and that is

at the heart of the hunger strike. (If I pass gas I'm accused of sending

coded gang messages.)

If CDCR wants to seriously clear itself of the allegations, then all

it has to do is be transparent, allow the inmate mediators and

representatives to investigate how CDCR operates and applies it

regulation instead of stonewalling, and CDCR needs to follow the rest of

the world and states and find an alternative to its current practices

and decrease the use of the SHU for inmates who have not committed any

crime or rules violations (individual responsibility).

Taxpayers do have the right to have their voices heard, including

inmate families who are also taxpayers, citizens, active military and

veterans of war (we're all not in prison). As taxpayers you should know

that you pay an extra $20,000 a year to keep an inmate in SHU, and you

should know that for me you've been paying that extra a year for the

past 15 years (you do the math) to keep me in the SHU for not committing

any acts of violence, crime or any rules violations, but solely for

wishing someone happy birthday, mere possession of artwork and hearsay

given in exchange for their release from SHU.

I am not the exception; rather, this is the norm.

In closing let me just say that if your child's school lunch is worse

than what we are fed, as one letter-writer said, then as a parent

myself, I would be knocking at the district office door demanding

something be done or I'd have my child out of that school by now!

Gabriel Reyes is an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison.

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