San Francisco Bay Area–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 Sitawa has been a tireless advocate and thinker in PHRM. Before, during and after the historic PHRM victory, Sitawa projected that the core of that victory and the path forward for the general prison population was prisoners’ reshaping themselves beginning with their own human relations. 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” is prisoners’ refusal to acknowledge “rehabilitation” in the official California Department of Corrections name. Sitawa saw those who signed onto 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.”
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 rights activists and human rights activists globally. Over several decades the CDCr and the 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’ own ability to define who they are and how they choose to relate to others–other prisoners, guards and the outside–according to their own sense of what it means to be human.
We are all hoping for Sitawa’s speedy recovery to have his voice again as a beacon not alone to prisoners but humans everywhere aiming to create their own relations to overcome the barriers to their full development under prevailing conditions of life.