Prisoners In Cali Go On Hunger Strike: Who Cares?

“Going on a hunger strike to hurt someone else is like lighting yourself on fire and expecting your enemy to burn. It is useless in the most idiotic way.”

I wrote an article a while back concerning the Gitmo hunger strike. My main point was: who cares? Well, now prisoners in a California penitentiary are on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of solitary confinement. A hunger strike is defined as missing more than nine meals in a row. The strike began with over twelve thousand participants, and is now down to about 387.

According to ABC:

“The prisoners want changes to solitary confinement known as the Security Housing Unit or SHU…St. Mary’s College Professor Ronald Ahnen is ready with a mediation team…’The conditions that they’re being held in is torture,’ said Ahnen. ‘They’re human beings. That doesn’t give us the right, no matter what they did, it doesn’t give us the right to torture them.’“

According to WSWS:

“…more than 2,000 prisoners are serving ‘indeterminate’ (indefinite) SHU terms because they have been ‘validated’ by the prison authorities as members or associates of prison gangs.” There are at least 4,527 inmates currently serving indefinite terms of solitary confinement in these units.”

So, there are numerous prisoners serving possibly permanent sentences in solitary confinement. But does that matter? They are prisoners after all. Let’s look at both sides.

The prisoner advocates say that indefinite terms in solitary confinement constitutes inhumane treatment, violating prisoners’ protection against cruel and unusual punishment. They say being alone for extended periods of time can lead to insanity, which constitutes as torture.

Those in favor of the way in which the prison operates say that solitary confinement isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. According to ABC:

“The Corrections Department insists conditions are not inhumane, pointing out inmates in the SHU are double bunked, get cable TV and daily contact with staff. ‘As far as we’re concerned, it’s not solitary confinement,’ said Jeffrey Callison of the California Corrections Department. ‘Is it a great place to spend time? No, it isn’t. But no prisons are.’“

In the end, I tend to believe the officials, rather than the prisoners, and their advocates. That being said, let’s go back to the hunger strike. Why go on the strike? Hurting yourself—though you are in the care of the federal prison system—does nothing to change your lives, or the conditions in which you live.

Finally, why should we care? Why is it the responsibility of the prison system to force feed inmates if they are refusing to eat? Whatever the truth is behind all of this, I feel nothing for the inmates; I feel nothing for their “plight.” Hunger strikes are an absurd way to make a statement, and the prison system shouldn’t have to acquiesce to any of the prisoners’ demands.