Third Hunger Strike Ends: Reflections on the 42nd Anniversary of Attica

Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary marking the beginning of the Attica prisoner uprising in 1971. As I think about the prisoners in California who have just completed their first week of eating food again I am deeply saddened at where we are today with our prison system in the United States. The prisoners in Attica had their own list of five demands they required to be met in order to end the uprising. Their demands were, “1.) We want complete amnesty, meaning freedom from any physical, mental, and legal reprisals; 2.) We want now, speedy and safe transportation out of confinement, to a non-imperialistic country; 3.) We demand that the federal government intervene, so that we will be under direct federal jurisdiction; 4.) We demand the reconstruction of Attica Prison to be done by inmates and/or with inmate supervision; 5.) We urgently demand immediate negotiation. We guarantee the safe passage of all people, [we have chosen], to and from this institution. We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation, so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end.”

I find myself thinking about the demands from 1971 and their following list of “15 Practical Proposals” and am filled both with inspiration by their leadership and anger that not a single proposal has been met at Attica. I received a text this morning from Megan, “I have dueling feelings about eating. I’m really glad to not fast today but hating why (sad face) how do we win?” The PBSP-SHU, Short Corridor Collective Representatives, who called for the Hunger Strike to begin, released a statement on September 5th bringing an end to the Hunger Strike. In their statement they wrote, “Our decision to suspend our third hunger strike in two years does not come lightly. This decision is especially difficult considering that most of our demands have not been met (despite nearly universal agreement that they are reasonable)…The fact is that Governor Brown and CDCR Secretary Beard have responded to our third peaceful action with typical denials and falsehoods, claiming solitary confinement does not exist and justifying the continuation of their indefinite torture regime by vilifying the peaceful protest representatives… From our perspective, we’ve gained a lot of positive ground towards achieving our goals. However, there’s still much to be done. Our resistance will continue to build and grow until we have won our human rights.”

So to answer Megan’s question, we win by continuing to build and grow. We win when we keep fighting in new and creative ways. We win when we understand that the prisoners who participated in the Hunger Strike did not give up, rather they listened to their loved ones, they listened to their own hearts, and they made a strategic decision. The prisoners in California displayed incredible power when more than 30,000 prisoners participated in the first day of the strike. Even though their 5 Demands were not met, a victory can still be claimed. Even though Governor Brown’s heart continues to be hardened, a victory can still be claimed. The prisoners in PBSP-SHU and in prisons across California are far from retreating, they are choosing strategic actions for moving forward. As they do so, we on the outside need to continue fighting as well. Che Guevara rightly declared, “solidarity means running the same risks.” While taking the same risks on the outside may be difficult, we need to be willing to get uncomfortable and be ready to bring up this struggle in places that may not be popular. Have you talked to your family about the solidarity fast? Have you talked with co-workers about prison justice? Have you spoken up at church about the need to be engaged in authentic prisoner solidarity? Are you willing to push the conversation into places that are far too often silent? To be in solidarity is to begin taking risks and to keep this work going.

The Attica Uprising ended with that National Guard storming the prison and murdering 39 people. Governor Rockefeller and President Nixon decided the lives of prisoners, particularly Black prisoners, were of no value. Yet prisoners across the United States, and free world allies, were so inspired by the Attica uprising that they began fighting in their own communities. Prisoners across the country won major victories and allies worked alongside prisoners with respect. While the demands of the California prisoner hunger strikers have not yet been met, we need to feel inspired by their leadership and by their sacrifice. We must work in our own communities. We must build relationships with prisoners nearby us. We must work to end solitary confinement everywhere. We must not settle for lip service by government officials. The California Hunger Strikers gave up food for 60 days, it is on us to follow their lead and put ourselves on the line in whatever way we can. We do all of this work knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

– Rev. Jason Lydon

Tomorrow Marks One Month

Monday was the beginning of the fifth week of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike. Join the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, of which the UUA is a part, in a Call-in to CA Gov. Jerry Brown, today.

Last week alone people took action in San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, London, Philadelphia, New York, Santa Cruz, Berlin,San Jose, Sacramento, at San Quentin Prison, at Solano Prison, San Francisco, Crescent City, Bakersfield, to name only a few places! In Chicago, UUs participating in the solidarity fast bought food for an Iftar Dinner in solidarity with hunger strikers in California, Guantanamo, and Palestine. You can see photos here:
This week we saw people on the outside up to ante. Six organizer/activists in Oakland chained themselves to the CA state building and were arrested to bring attention and a message to the state to meet the demands of the hunger strikers.
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Tomorrow, Thursday Aug 8th will mark one month since people in solitary confinement began their courageous hunger strike. The solidarity coalition is calling on all of us to take action:
May the hunger we feel during our our Monday fasts keep us connected to the people inside struggling to create a better world for all of us, one in which the torture of other human beings is unacceptable.
Towards a day without solitary confinement or any prisons,
Megan Selby
Chicago Area UU Young Adults Ministries Coordinator

First Hunger Striker Dies – Day of Action to Support Demands

From CURB – Californians United for a Responsible Budget

On July 22, Billy “Guero” Sell, a prisoner held in solitary confinement at Corcoran State Prison and a participant in the 3-week-long hunger strike that has shaken the California prison system, passed away. Sell’s death is being ruled a suicide by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Fellow prisoners reported that Sell had been requesting medical attention for several days prior to his death. Attorneys received numerous reports of medical neglect of the health needs of the strikers, and these reports have generated an outcry from the medical community. Over 100 health care providers have signed onto a letter denouncing the CDCR’s failure to provide appropriate medical care to the strikers.

The prisoners are still committed to continuing the strike until California Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections take decisive action to meet their demands.

Today is Day 23 of the hunger strike, and CDCR continues to retaliate against prisoners participating in this peaceful protest while refusing to negotiate. It is important that we continue to show our support & keep the pressure on Gov. Brown and the CDCR!

We have over 5,000 people that have signed the petition to Governor Brown. Now we need 30,000 CALLS for 30,000 Hunger Strikers!


1) DAY 23: Call Governor Jerry Brown
Phone: (916) 445-2841
(510) 289-0336
(510) 628-0202
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Suggested script: I’m calling in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The governor has the power to stop the torture of solitary confinement. I urge the governor to compel the CDCR to enter into negotiations to end the strike. RIGHT NOW is their chance to enter into clear, honest negotiations with the strikers to end the torture.

2) Make sure you send this email to your friends, families, and networks. Ask them to stand in solidarity with us – sign the petition today and help us reach 30,000 calls

Support the Day Long Hunger Strike this Wednesday! “Hunger for Justice” will have convenings throughout California. We fast in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strikers. And we fast to get justice for Trayvon and for people of every gender, race, and religion who have been killed by state and vigilante violence. 

– Wednesday, July 31st at 11am (Oscar Grant Plaza :14th and Broadway, Oakland, CA)

– Wednesday, July 31st at 12pm (Downtown Los Angeles Federal Building, 300 N. Los Angeles St. LA 90012)

– Wednesday, July 31st All Day Community Education (Pick up Materials at SubRosa Community Space & Cafe: 703 Pacific Ave Santa Cruz, CA 95060 and Mobilize at 6:30pm at Santa Cruz Downtown Clocktower on Ocean st. & Pacific St.)

Thank you for your commitment. Ya Basta!


Third Week of Hunger Strike Begins: Let Us Be Agents of Loving Solidarity

Today marks the third week of the Hunger Strike in prisons across California. It is important to first remember that while the focus has been on efforts out of Pelican Bay State Prison, the organizing is statewide. Prisoners are taking action all across California’s abusive prison system. On today’s third solidarity fast day I am thinking about the power of relationships and solidarity.

Megan Selby and I have been sending each other text messages on the Monday’s so far. They read like this:

“First hunger pangs…”
“Heart… Pangs for Justice”
“Heyo. Would love to check in with you on this first day of our fast. I’m free until 330p my time. Call me if you can.”
“Thank f*cking god we decided to only fast once a week”
“Hahaha seriously”
“I’m hungry”
“Me tooooooo so much. Biking plus fasting sucks. Sure am glad we haven’t been fasting for 8 f*cking days”
“Did i mention i’m hungry? I’m amazed that over 6000 ppl have been doing this for 8 days. I feel really compelled to pray right now”
“Aww <3”

Our shared moments of hunger do not make us weak. Our moments of recognizing our discomfort do not make us insensitive to what is going on in California. Our acknowledgment of the difficulty is not a lack of solidarity. These texts remind me of exactly why we organized together for a solidarity fast. Each moment that we feel hungry, each moment we whine, each moment we choose not to eat when we know we could, this is when our minds and hearts are most reminded to focus on the prisoners in California who are starving, possibly to death, in their struggle for justice. For me, a solidarity fast is a spiritual practice as well as a political statement. It is a moment to turn inward and focus energy towards justice while also telling people exactly what I am doing and why. It is a reminder that liberation and justice will not come without sacrifice, especially from those of us with privilege.

My prayer for today, the prayer I am especially reminded to say when I feel those moments of hunger:

Loving Divine,
It is with anger at injustice and hope in community that I pray.
I am thankful for the leadership of those locked inside the concrete and steel cages in California. I am thankful for their courage, resilience, and power. I am thankful for those who continue to fight for liberation even when suffering is ever present. I am thankful for the hunger in my belly that reminds me to pray and to act.

Loving Divine,
May the hunger strikers be filled with the power to win. May their hungry bodies be filled with care and compassion. May the demands they have made be met and may we get ourselves closer to the day there are no more cages. May those charge of the prisons be wrapped in blankets of understanding and empathy. May those in power take the actions required of them to bring relief to those who suffer. May they have moments of their own hunger, reminding them that they can take action to stop pain.

Loving Divine,
May we all be blessed with the strength to carry on in the ministry of liberation. May we all be blessed with the willingness to make sacrifices of our privilege. May we all be blessed with the willingness to listen to the cries of others and refuse to be complicit in their pain. May we all be blessed with an understanding that we will indeed be free when all are free.


Day 8: Call Gov. Jerry Brown


Today, begins the 8th day of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike. The LA Times has reported that 6,300 people inside California prisons have been on strike since Monday July 8th and hundreds have continued the work stoppage.

We have learned once again, through the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, that we cannot trust the legal system in this country to protect the lives of people of color.  This system has locked up more black men in prison than were enslaved in 1860. It has placed 80,000 human beings in torture chambers called solitary confinement. The criminal-legal system does uphold justice; it institutionalizes injustice. The people are the ones who must demand and implement justice.

In addition to fasting today we’re being asked to call California Gov. Jerry Brown and demand that he compel the CDCR to enter negotiations to end the strike.

Let’s make 30,000


Phone: (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, (510) 628-0202

Fax: (916) 558-3160

Suggested script:
I’m calling in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The
governor has the power to stop the torture of solitary confinement. I
urge the governor to compel the CDCR to enter into negotiations to
end the strike. RIGHT NOW is their chance to enter into clear,
honest negotiations with the strikers to end the torture.

People around the world are acting in solidarity with the strike. On Saturday, July 13th, over 400 people gathered outside a prison in Corcoran, CA to support the hunger strikers there and all across California. Check out some photos of the action. More actions continue to be planned around the country.

For everyone engaging in the solidarity fast, may you feel the strength and commitment of our family inside. Together we can end the torture.

New Statement from Strike Representatives

Read the statement below from the strike representatives – the Short Corridor Collective, then sign this new petition they reference and share it with everyone you know.

July 9, 2013

Greetings to our supporters and all people of conscience.

We are grateful for your support of our peaceful protest against the state-sanctioned torture that happens not only here at Pelican Bay but in prisons everywhere.  We have taken up this hunger strike and work stoppage, which has included 30,000 prisoners in California so far, not only to improve our own conditions but also an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.

We encourage everyone to take action to support the strike wherever they live.  Sign the petition demanding California Governor stop the torture; plan rolling solidarity fasts if you are able; use every means to spread the word; and participate in non-violent direct action to put pressure on decision-makers.

If it was not for your support, we would have died in 2011.  Thank you everyone.  We are confident we will prevail.


In Solidarity,

– Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP-SHU, D4-121

– Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP-SHU, D1-121

– Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP-SHU,D1-117

– Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP-SHU, D2-106

The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Representatives