Families stand up for prisoners’ rights

September 21, 2013

Editor’s note: Marie Levin spoke at many of the demonstrations. This statement is from July 31.

Oakland, Calif.—My name is Marie Levin. My brother, Sitawa Jamaa, is in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay. He has been on hunger strike since its beginning, 24 days now. It’s a shame that our government has allowed these prisoners to go this long, 24 days of sacrificing their bodies in response to the injustice they are receiving. I am here to stand with them, and I am so happy that there are so many of you here to stand with them as well.

The five core demands are just human things that you and I would expect: end group punishment and administrative abuse; abolish the de-briefing policy and modify the gang status criteria; comply with the U.S. Commission recommendations to end long-term solitary confinement; provide nutritious food; create and expand constructive programming. These are easy things for California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to grant. Who would not want a person locked in solitary to have a program that gets them acclimated to the public? People released from solitary back onto the street, within three years are back in prison. If they would be allowed into the mainline and mingle with other people, they would have a better chance to succeed when they get out.

Recently we went to Sacramento to take 60,000 signatures on a petition supporting the prisoners’ demands to Gov. Jerry Brown. We weren’t able to speak directly to him. Ron Ahnen of California Prison Focus, Dolores Huerta and I—a white man and a Hispanic and a Black woman—walked up to his office, showing that the different races can stick together. We walked inside. Those signatures are usually accepted only by the mailroom. But with all the attention, we were able to take them directly to the governor’s office. Then we walked to the CDCR building. CDCR did not allow the mediation team inside.

The lawyers able to visit hunger strikers report that they are very strong, very positive. Normally the prisoners in the SHU cannot see each other. As a punitive measure, CDCR put the hunger strikers in Ad-Seg (administrative segregation), an even worse part of the prison than the SHU. They were put there without their property, specifically their legal documents or even their regular clothing, just their underclothes, and they have cold air pumped in full blast. But in Ad-Seg they can get outside and see sunlight, which they don’t get in the SHU. More importantly, in Ad-Seg they get an opportunity to see one another, to speak to one another. Although their bodies are becoming weak, they are very strong in their spirit. They are willing to go on and on and on.

We stand together on the outside as they stand together on the inside. We are hopeful that CDCR will make the changes and that the governor will put pressure on them to do that. We are looking forward to gathering even more support. Recently a letter signed by some prominent people, including Jay Leno, for example, got some publicity. All across California, the U.S. and abroad, people support what these prisoners are fighting for.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

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