From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters
In early November 2019, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, one of the four main representatives in the historic 2011-13 hunger strikes initiated in Pelican Bay prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), suffered a stroke. Just the week before, we were privileged to hear him speak via phone on the ongoing Prison Human Rights Movement (PHRM). The group was called together to begin a Free Sitawa campaign.
Sitawa spent over 30 years in the infamous torture of the Pelican Bay perpetual solitary confinement before the historic hunger strikes ended indeterminate solitary confinement in California. Since then he has been a tireless advocate and thinker in PHRM. Sitawa projected the core of the PHRM victory and the path forward for the general prison population.
The human perspective encapsulated in the PHRM’s “Agreement to End Hostilities” (AEH) has, wrote Sitawa, “changed the face of race relations without any help from CDCr.” (The small “r” shows prisoners’ refusal to acknowledge “rehabilitation” in the official California Department of Corrections name.) Sitawa saw those who signed on to the AEH as beacons who “must take a protracted internal and external retrospective of our present-day prisons’ concrete conditions to forge our PHRM onward to the next stage of development, thereby exposing CDCr’s racial discrimination and racial animus tactics against our prisoner class.”
STRIKE INSPIRED NEW MOVEMENTS
The human perspective of the successful California prison hunger strikes, initiated by the Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, inspired a new movement among prisoners, prisoners’ families, prison and human-rights activists globally.
Over several decades CDCr and their guards fomented racial animosity, sowing discord between prisoners with a policy of “snitching” to implicate others. AEH continues to shock to its foundation the prevailing CDCr and guard prison culture by taking back prisoners’ ability to define who they are and how they choose to relate to others—prisoners, guards and the outside—according to their own sense of what it means to be human.
Sitawa wanted a campaign to free him to illuminate the many obstacles to prisoner activism. All of the leaders of the hunger strikes have been before the Parole Board since their release from solitary and all of them have been denied parole, mostly based on “confidential information” (unverified snitching) used by CDCr to sow discord among prisoners. We are hoping for Sitawa’s speedy recovery and to have his voice again as a beacon to prisoners and humans everywhere aiming to create their own relations to overcome the barriers to their full development under prevailing conditions of life.
—Bay Area Marxist-Humanists