90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, August 19, 2013

California Prison Official: ‘Hunger Strike Needs To Be Resolved’

A lock is seen on a small port where items are passed to inmates without having to open the cell door in the Secure Housing Unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

A lock is seen on a small port where items are passed to inmates without having to open the cell door in the Secure Housing Unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In California, a prison hunger strike has been going on for six weeks.

At the beginning of the strike, 30,000 inmates across the state began fasting to protest prison conditions, including solitary confinement.

As of yesterday, 129 California inmates remain on strike. Of those, 69 have reportedly been fasting since July 8.

Prison officials believe the strike is part of a strategy by violent gang members to resume interaction with other inmates for criminal activity.

In solitary for 23 years

Among those on hunger strike is Ronnie Dewberry, also known as Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who has been in prison since 1981 for murder. Dewberry is a plaintiff in the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit challenging long-term solitary confinement.

His sister, Marie Levin, is part of the coalition Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

“It’s a concrete, windowless cell that’s 8 by 12 [feet],” Levin told Here & Now. “It only contains a sink, a toilet and a little stub that they sit on. There’s not windows, so they’re circulating air that comes in, but no fresh air. They can’t look out to see the sunlight.”

Official: It’s not solitary confinement

But the Department of Corrections says that it has already met the demands of the prisoners, including the demand to limit the length of solitary confinement.

“The hunger strike needs to be resolved. They need to resume eating,” Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the department told Here & Now, noting that she’s hearing reports that “many of them are suffering some very dire health issues.”

Thornton said the California Department of Corrections does not consider holding prisoners in secure housing units (SHU) and administrative segregation units a form of solitary confinement.

“Certain inmates are housed in SHU because their conduct endangers the safety of others or the safety of the prison,” Thornton said.

A high-risk form of protest

Thornton added that inmates should raise their concerns in “more productive ways” than not eating.

“I don’t want to sound cold-hearted, but this department does not condone inmate disturbances,” Thornton said. “The department can’t negotiate and change policy or make policy or even discuss policy under threats or intimidation.”

Meantime, Levin stands by her brother’s continued participation in the hunger strike — despite the risk.

“I don’t want him to die,” Levin said. “But if him continuing in this fight for some kind of relief for himself and for the other prisoners that are suffering under the same conditions, if that means that he needs to go forth and continue on, then I’m with him.”


  • Marie Levin, sister of incarcerated inmate participating in hunger strike. She’s also a member of the coalition Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.
  • Terry Thornton, deputy press secretary for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.



Well now to California, where a prison hunger strike has been going on for six weeks. At the beginning of the strike, 30,000 inmates across the state began fasting to protest prison conditions. As of yesterday, 129 remain on strike, 69 of them since the beginning on July 8. One of those is Ronnie Dewberry. He's been in prison since 1981 for murder, a crime his sister Marie Levin says he did not commit.

Levin is part of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, and she's with us now from Berkeley, California. Marie, why is your brother still striking?

MARIE LEVIN: My brother has been in the security housing unit at Pelican bay for 23 years, and in the - altogether 29 years. So for 29 years, he's been under these conditions, and his thing is for the people that are coming behind him, it's time for him and the other representatives, they made it up in their minds it's time for them to make a decision to end this madness that they've been going through for all these years of inhumane treatment.

HOBSON: Well, explain what that is. Explain what kind of treatment you're talking about in these security housing units, or SHUs.

LEVIN: Well, in the SHU, it's a concrete, windowless cell that's eight by 12. It only contains a sink, a toilet and a little stub that they sit on. There's no windows, so there's circulating air that comes in but no fresh air. They can't look out to see the sunlight. They can't even feel the sunlight from anything, even when they go in the dog run, which they - is supposed to be called their exercise yard.

They don't have any sunlight coming in from there. It's a skylight that's 30 feet high, and it's got stuff on top of it where they really don't get any kind of sunlight. They sleep on a concrete slab with mattresses on top of it, and you don't get a chance to get anything - no kind of comfort.

So my brother, he has chronic lower back pain problems from sleeping on this concrete for all these years, arthritis, you know, a lot of medical problems that have resulted from sleeping and living in these conditions.

HOBSON: And he has been in these security housing units all this time, all these years?

LEVIN: Yes, he's been locked up for 32 years, but 29 of those years it's been in solitary confinement.

HOBSON: Now it's been over a month since the hunger strike began. Do you think that he should continue on it? Do you know how he's faring?

LEVIN: I hear that my brother is faring well, and do I want him to continue? You know, I don't want him to die. But if him continuing in this fight for some kind of relief for himself and the other prisoners that are suffering under the same conditions, if that means that he needs to go forth and continue on, then I'm with him.

It's something that I support him in. I don't want to see my brother die, and I'm hoping that there will be change within the CDCR that he will not die, you know, because he's adamant about continuing on until they make some kind of agreement.

HOBSON: Jeffrey Beard, the head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, and he says that the strike is not about living conditions, it's about gangs who want to be able to talk to each other and communicate with each other and that when they're in these units they can't do that. How do you respond to that?

LEVIN: He is totally uninformed. If the leaders - and he's saying that the representatives, there are four main representatives and there's a total of 16 representatives - if he's saying that these people are gang members and that they want to continue this on, they would never have issued out a statement. And they typed this up, sent it out so it could be, you know, circulated, stating to end all hostilities amongst all people who are imprisoned. That's something far more than what the system has done in trying to bring - stop division amongst the races and even the gangs.

HOBSON: Right. Marie, there was a meeting earlier this month between prison advocates and prison officials. Are you satisfied with what came out of that meeting? Do you think there will be another meeting? How hopeful are you that this can be resolved?

LEVIN: They are doing some things, and that's good, the things that they've done, but they're not trying to meet all of their demands. And because they're not trying to meet all of their demands, they're going to continue on with this hunger strike. Am I hopeful that they will? I'm praying that they will. I don't know if they will because Beard has painted a picture that these men are not worth living. You know, he's trying to paint this picture that these prisoners are so bad that they don't deserve to live, you know, and if they should happen to die on a hunger strike then so be it, we lost another prisoner, so what.

HOBSON: Well, he says brutal killers should not be glorified. This hunger strike is dangerous, disruptive and needs to end.

LEVIN: I can only speak about my brother in terms of him saying brutal killers. You know, everybody is not like that. It's true enough there are some people who are in solitary confinement, have done heinous crimes. And no, they don't need to be glorified, but it's not about glorifying them. It is about lives that need to be saved off of this hunger strike.

And why do they need to be saved off of the hunger strike? Because the living conditions in which they are living in and the rules that they make up as they go, whatever they decide as guards to do is unfair. They are not asking to be let out on the main line. That's not what they're asking for. They're asking to end long-term solitary confinement, abolish the debriefing, change the gangster validation criteria, end group punishment, provide educational and vocational self-help programs and to provide adequate, nutritious food. That's it.

Of course there's 40 other demands, but that's in the educational part, where they want to be - their minds to be able to be liberated from where they are. Who wouldn't want somebody that's released from the solitary confinement to be educated, to be amongst people? Because they don't have any physical contact. I haven't touched my brother in a couple of decades. So, you know, for them not to want them to be rehabilitated, I mean seriously rehabilitated, you will continue to perpetuate what you keep saying that is a bad thing. Rehabilitate them.


Marie Levin, whose brother, Ronnie Dewberry, also known as Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, is on a strike, a hunger strike that started on July 8 in California. He is at the Pelican Bay State Prison. Marie, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your views with us.

LEVIN: Thank you.

HOBSON: And just ahead we will hear from the other side, from a prison official, about the hunger strike. We're back in a minute, HERE AND NOW.


HOBSON: It's HERE AND NOW, and let's continue our conversation now about the prison hunger strike in California. 129 inmates in six prisons across the state remain on a hunger strike, 69 of them since July 8. The inmates say they're protesting prison conditions, but officials believe there are other motives at play. Terry Thornton is a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and she joins us now. Terry, how much longer can this hunger strike go on, do you think?

TERRY THORNTON: That's hard to say. I don't have a crystal ball, and I can't predict that, but I'm hopeful that it will be resolve soon. The people are very, very concerned about the health and the well-being of the inmates who are still participating in this.

HOBSON: What kind of a toll is this taking on both prisoners and the prison staff?

THORNTON: For the prisoners, the toll is obvious. It's affecting their health. I'm hearing reports that many of them are suffering some very dire health issues, and fortunately our medical staff are there to tend to their needs. The toll it takes, though, on custody staff is that it really diverts some of our resources away, actually for medical and custody staff, away from the normal operations of a prison, away from the inmates, which - the vast majority of inmates who are not participating in this thing.

And it just takes away staffing resources for other things. For instance the department has had to temporarily restrict media access to the prisons where the hunger strike is occurring because we just don't have the staffing resources to accommodate media visits. And so that's not something we're pleased with because we pride ourselves on being as open to media as we possibly can.

HOBSON: You've had to not allow media just because you don't have the staff to do it? Because some may look at that and say they don't want them to see what's going on.

THORNTON: It's because of the staffing resources. I mean, staffing resources are always very limited. We've been going through, you know, fiscal challenges over the last few years, just like many people and other governments have, as well. And so we just don't have the resources that we need to accommodate media visits. And as soon as things are resolved, we hope to open it right back up to reporters.

HOBSON: One prisoner named Billy Sell has died. He committed suicide at the Corcoran State Prison on July 22 after 14 days of fasting. He reportedly had been in security house units, or these SHUs, also known as, to some, as solitary confinement, for more than five years. Inmate advocates say he was heard screaming for medical attention before his death. Do you believe that his suicide was related to the hunger strike?

THORNTON: There is no evidence that his suicide was related to the hunger strike. The suicide was a very tragic occurrence, and these reports that he was screaming for medical help, that is simply not true. I need to also point out that inmate Sell had been housed in the security housing unit on a determinate term because he killed his cellmate, and he was facing a death penalty trial for that murder that he had committed.

That is one reason why some inmates are in security house units, because they've committed a specified offense while in prison, like murder, attempted murder, arson, rioting, drug trafficking, those kinds of serious crimes. And inmate Sell was in a security housing unit at Corcoran State Prison because of the murder of his cellmate.

HOBSON: But how can you avoid further deaths? Is there anything that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can do at this point to avoid not just prisoners committing suicide, but also with the weakening condition of this going on for more than a month now, you're going to have some health problems on your hands that could get quite serious quickly.

THORNTON: There are already health problems on our hands, and medical care is in federal receivership. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is closely working with the receiver and the doctors on his staff to address those concerns.

HOBSON: Now the prisoners have five core demands. They want to put a limit on the length an inmate can be put in this long-term confinement, the security housing units. They want to end group punishment. They want to make sure that adequate and nutritious food are provided. Are these demands, do you think, unreasonable?

THORNTON: The demands have already been met.

HOBSON: Well, there is still long-term confinement.

THORNTON: There is still long-term confinement, and I need to stress at this point in the conversation that we do not consider housing in a security housing unit or an Administrative Segregation Unit or any other kind of unit in California prisons solitary confinement.

Certain inmates are housed in security house units because their conduct endangers the safety of others or the security of the prison. Inmates who are housed indeterminately in these units are there because they are validated as gang members and associates.

But despite all of that, the CDCR implemented reforms beginning last October, and these reforms include case-by-case reviews of every single validated inmate in the entire prison system, and because of that hundreds of inmates have already been let out of security housing units. Our new strategy for SHU confinement and for managing gang members and their associates provides for individual accountability.

HOBSON: Well, you say that their demands have been met. They obviously disagree with you.

THORNTON: They do disagree.

HOBSON: Well, so how does that get resolved? It doesn't seem like there's any way out of this unless somebody gives on one side or the other.

THORNTON: And the department has already fulfilled everything it committed to do in 2011. We've done all the giving. We fulfilled all of our promises.

HOBSON: So if somebody is going to give from this point, you're saying it's going to have to be the inmates and their demands, they're going to have to give up the hunger strike at this point, you've given them what you're going to give them.

THORNTON: Well, the hunger strike needs to be resolved. They need to resume eating. There are more productive ways for them to have whatever concerns they still have addressed. You know, I don't want to sound, you know, cold-hearted, but this department does not condone inmate disturbances.

And a mass hunger strike, you know, inmates compelling other inmates to not eat, compelling them to not show up for work, these are disruptions to normal prison operations. They take away resources from inmates who are not engaging in this behavior.

And you have to realize that all of these actions were ordered by leaders of prison gangs. You have to look at who these people are and their motivations for leading this action.

HOBSON: Terry, is the Department of Corrections going to meet again with the prison rights advocates?

THORNTON: We've been meeting with them consistently even before the hunger strike started on July 8. We have met regularly with the inmates, including the inmate strike leaders, regularly for the past two years. And they have filed a lawsuit. that's a perfectly acceptable way to address your grievances.

And so we're not saying that inmates can't share their concerns. We have numerous ways for them to do that. What we are saying is that the department can't negotiate and change policy or make policy or even discuss policy under threats and intimidation.

HOBSON: Terry Thornton is a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Terry, thank you so much for joining us.

THORNTON: You're welcome, thank you for letting me participate today.

HOBSON: So Meghna, two very different views on this. We would love to hear your thoughts at hereandnow.org.

CHAKRABARTI: And a quick note on another story we're following. NPR's CEO Gary Knell has announced he'll be leaving the network to become president at National Geographic. NPR's David Folkenflik tweets that Knell's replacement will be the seventh permanent or acting CEO of NPR in the past seven years. The latest news is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • NotSureHowToFeel

    I know it’s terrible to say, but isn’t prison supposed to be crappy? How is it a deterrent if it isn’t?

    • nic78

      Prison IS supposed to be crappy, I agree, but the treatment of
      prisoners and the conditions in California prisons have been reported on for years and they almost always are shamefully
      bad. Prisoners are not given any rehabilitation, the solitary confinement cells are inhuman, and the overcrowding of the prisons directly contributes to the gang problems and poor conditions. When you leave prisoners in there to rot and learn only how to be a better criminal and then when they leave they can’t find a job, can’t vote, or can’t live in their community, there is no wonder we get a revolving door of recidivism.

      • summa100

        You should tell that to the DEAD VICTIM of murder.

        • austin

          Exactly. A 10 foot cell looks generous next to a 6 foot box

        • Lynne Monds

          Summa100, the victim of the crime is only one of the victims involved. You must also think of the rest of us who must deal with the inmate who is released from prison after living for 30 years with no contact with other human beings and with no rehabilitation whatsoever. How are we going to be safe around a person in that condition?

          • austin

            You’re acting like this system is taking someone who is safe and making them dangerous. These are people that can’t even be trusted in the general prison population.

            Frankly, if they’re in for 30 years, I don’t care if they get out.

            Spend the $$ on helping the next generation not get in the same situation. If you want to pay to improve the SHU environment, raise private $$ for the cause. Seems to be enough passion to write blog comments. Maybe some of you will put your $$ where your keyboards are.

          • Lynne Monds

            Austin, whether or not you care if they get out, the fact is that many inmates do get out after a number of years. Wouldn’t you rather have a rehabilitated inmate with job skills and prospects for a future being released back into society than one who had simply languished in a windowless cell for 30 years and then was dumped onto the streets with no skills but drug dealing?

            Wouldn’t you be willing to spend the money to contribute to a safer, more productive member of society moving into our neighborhoods? If not, I would say you are just as much a problem for America as the inmates.

          • austin

            Preferring to spend my taxes on Head Start & public health makes me as much of a problem as a murderer?

            (jaw drops…)

            I guess we’re done here.

          • Lynne Monds

            People who commit crimes, people who don’t want to spend money on rehabilitating inmates in order to lower crime: It all boils down to continuing crime, in my book.

            Many fiscal conservatives are in favor now of shorter prison sentences because they are bankrupting states. So your answer to the problem:

            “Frankly, if they’re in for 30 years, I don’t care if they get out.”

            — is moving in the opposite direction of fiscal conservatives such as yourself.

            Here is what Grover Norquist of Americans For Tax Reform thinks about long prison sentences:

            “Norquist was an early, key supporter of Proposition 36, the successful November ballot initiative that eased California’s tough Three Strikes Law.

            “In a short lecture before a group of about 125 law students, Norquist explained why he and a growing group of other conservatives are no longer embracing a costly tough-on-crime, lock-them-up approach.

            “It’s not just about (saving) money,” the youthful-looking 56-year-old libertarian-leaning activist said. “It’s all about liberty. Let’s have the smallest possible footprint in people’s lives while keeping people as safe as possible.”

            “But he also favors proceeding carefully and incrementally with alternatives to prison, such as GPS monitoring and treatment programs, and with any changes in parole regulations, mandatory-minimum sentences.”

          • austin

            I guess if i was a fiscal conservative I might give a damn what Grover Norquist thinks. But, since I’m not and I tend to think him an ass, and quoting him only makes me more skeptical of the argument. (Fun Fact: people supporting Head Start are not typically considered “fiscal conservatives”.)

            Again, making an equivalency between those who commit crimes and those that believe additional funds are better spent in crime prevention than on prisoners is either intellectually lazy or flat out stupid.

          • Gaeleus Canis

            they do… not everyone in prison is dangerous going in, but coming out is a whole other story…..
            we dont care what you care. you have a very inhumane attitude… you dont think of anything but yourself. and what if it was your child in prison for a “mistake”?

        • nic78

          But not every person in a solitary confinement cell is a murderer. What about Bradley Manning?

          When the US has more prisoners than the gulags of Russia during the heyday of the USSR, things are definitely not right in the system. Continue to look the other way and spout rhetoric while prison guards and laws run amok and your tax dollars are used to fuel an inhumane system of torture that creates more career criminals.

          • austin

            From what programs would you pull funding to improve prisoner benefits, per the hunger strikers request?

          • Gaeleus Canis

            guard pensions and OT

          • austin

            Why would you choose that?

          • Max Hadley

            Close the SHU, save millions, put alleged gang leaders in a Max B yard, still isolation away from general population, but not in SHU cells. Saves money and is not torture. Prison is the punishment for the crime. We don’t need to fund torture on top of it. Also funding is already pulled every year for prison expansion at the cost of schools and other social programs. Closing the SHU would save money!

        • Gaeleus Canis

          what do you tell the one who is wrongfully convicted?

          • austin

            What do you tell the wrongly convicted about being in jail at ALL?

        • Gaeleus Canis

          you should tell that to the WRONGFULLY CONVICTED of a victimless crime

      • austin

        Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

        The money for these increased prisoner benefits doesn’t come from thin air. It comes out of funds that would be be much better used for education, roads, public health, etc.

        • Gaeleus Canis

          DUH!! to your first lame comment, and double DUH!!! for your second for not realizing it is EXACTLY how THEY( your elected and appointed officials, and Corporate Rule) want it…. if they wanted a better community they wouldnt invest so much in punitive action

          • austin

            Yes, it is all THEM and THEY. You are helpless to effect any change beyond posting snarky blog posts. Just give in to The Man while railing away behind your keyboard…

          • Gaeleus Canis

            cowardly comments from someone who hasnt a clue… so typical. Enjoy your fema camp bunk

      • Katie

        Of far greater concern should be the manner in which we treat the members of society who have not been convicted of crimes that require them to be removed from normal contact. Prisoners are offered rehabilitation when they prove themselves worthy of it, but a classroom full of children in need of elementary level reading courses cannot obtain them. Solitary confinement may seem inhumane, but worse is allowing a violent soul to wreak havoc an inspire terror in all other inmates. We will never find the right balance between justice and comfort, because for the victims there is no comfort in justice.

  • nycXpat

    Thank you for letting Marie Levin speak in complete paragraphs. I don’t know who is now or has been in prison. That said, I do appreciate the balance and pace of today’s story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689913316 B Cayenne Bird

    The system is unresponsive to inmate grievances and there is retaliation on the prisoners who dare to file a complaint on a bully prison guard. There is no justice in the courts either when inmates try and sue for their ongoing abuse. I hope that the DOJ actually comes into this and does something. The citizens need to get Jerry Brown out of office. He is the one causing the corruption and refusing to hold prison guards accountable for torture and murder.

  • wrongfulconviction

    Read about 16 year old Torey who is innocent yet he has been locked in isolation longer than 9 months, even befor trial, he is serving LWOP The Guilty Innocent by Shannon Adamcik http://goo.gl/YFOsZ Amazon http://goo.gl/TG5cn Apple

  • Davids

    I feel sorry for all involved, especially the victim who is now in a box 6 feet under ground. Is prison any worst. Education and humane treatment might be a start.

  • summa100

    Prison is prison. Its not supposed to be a hotel suite. Its a hard life in there because of CRIMINAL convictions. Who will speak for rape and murder victims? Can we give them a soft pillow to sleep and have windows in their rooms. STUPID! Liberal media is horrible. You should interview the DEAD VICTIMS and see how they will react to this hunger strike.

    • Gaeleus Canis

      self defense murder…now what? punish a person for surviving?

      Prison is prison, so why include torture chambers?

      and what I must think of those who are all for prison torture chambers…

  • Lynne Monds

    No ordinary human being could compel another to spend 30 years in a cell with no windows and no contact with others. These prison officials are not like you and I, and decisions about the lives of the inmates should be removed from their jurisdiction and put under the authority of real human beings.

  • Old Wife

    Rational thinking must prevail in this discussion. These men are not in solitary confinement because they stole a trycicle. These are hardened criminals who, due to their behavior, have been removed from sociey, and for their further actions, removed even from the other men in the prison. Their own behavior has dictated their confinement. People in free society have kept the rules dictated by reasonable laws-these men have not.
    I am certain they are using the hunger strikes to gain media attention, to coerce the prison officials to bend to their will.

    • wrongfulconviction

      Solitary confinement is used at times for most prisoners, even non-violot people are locked in isolation by the judgment of guards. You should read The Guilty Innocent by Shannon Adamcik http://goo.gl/YFOsZ Amazon http://goo.gl/TG5cn Apple

  • Lynne Monds

    No ordinary human being could compel another to spend 30 years in a cell with no windows, no contact with others and no rehabilitation — regardless of the infraction committed. These prison officials are not like you and I, and decisions about the lives of the inmates should be removed from their jurisdiction and put under the authority of real human beings.

    • it_disqus

      What about the cell mate that was murdered. Isn’t society compelled to protect him? Would you share a cell with any of these guys for a single night?

      • Lynne Monds

        I agree with you, it_disqus. An inmate who kills his fellow cell mate has lost his right to share a cell with another inmate, and would have to spend the rest of his time in the SHU. However, he still should be provided with books and at least an hour of sunshine every day IMHO.

        • it_disqus

          “his RIGHT to share a cell”….you just don’t get it. If Jeremy had the guts to do the journalism (or at least ask) what was done in jail by the brother of the lady he interviewed; maybe we could get the whole story.

          • Lynne Monds

            It was not Ms. Levin’s brother who killed the cellmate. It was the inmate who committed suicide last month.

            Ms. Levin’s brother has been in the SHU for the past 29 years because prison officials allege he is a member of a gang — a charge that he denies.

            Of course, there is no ‘jury of your peers’ in prison, so if prison officials say you’re a member of a gang, there is no pathway to dispute it.

            I did some research and found out that her brother was in jail for being with a man who killed someone. However, after the trial the man who did the killing signed an affidavit saying he was alone at the time. However, the DA chose not to give her brother a new trial based on the new evidence.

      • Gaeleus Canis

        maybe if all prisoners had single cells, there wouldnt be the tensions and problems that cause one man to kill another when he cannot get away from him.

    • twells

      I cannot comment on the innocence or guilt of anyone in prison, but they are NOT accused of infractions … they are accused of felonies. An infraction is a speeding ticket. A felony is murder. Felonies typically deprive the victim of his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The same rights are taken away from those accused of these heinous crimes.

      • Lynne Monds

        Here is the breakdown of types of offenses for the past two years:

        Inmates in Federal Prison on July 27, 2013

        Drug Offenses:

        (46.8 %)

        Explosives, Arson:
        (16.3 %)

        (11.8 %)

        (.1 %)

        Burglary, Larceny,
        Property Offenses:
        (4.1 %)

        Extortion, Fraud,
        (5.8 %)

        Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses:
        (3.0 %)

        (0.8 %)

        Sex Offenses:
        (6.1 %)

        Banking and
        Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement:
        (0.4 %)

        National Security:

        Inmates in State Prisons on Dec. 31, 2011:

        1,341,804 sentenced prisoners

        710,875 for violent offenses (53%)
        245,351 for property offenses (18%)
        225,242 drug offenses (17%)
        141,803 for “public order” offenses
        (which include weapons, drunk driving, court offenses, commercialized vice,
        morals and decency offenses, liquor law violations, and other public-order
        offenses ) (10%)
        18,534 for “other/unspecified”. (2%)

  • John Jeffs

    Anyone read Papillon?
    Step back a minute and take who the criminals are out of the
    equation. Solitary confinement is a long
    term vindictive form of torture that is a life sentence, nothing less. If that is what we want to do as a society,
    we are as bad as the criminals. It is
    disgusting that our prison system all the way up to governor Brown would
    advocate that long term solitary confinement is humane and defend it. If we watched this behavior in a country we
    didn’t like, we would call the political leaders monsters.

  • Karen

    It’s PRISON! You get food and shelter and that’s it. It’s not supposed to be a pleasant experience. As for solitary confinement, you don’t just draw a number out of a hat and get stuck with crappy bunk. They are there because of themselves.

    • Lynne Monds

      Your desire to punish the inmates is causing you to be blind to the long-term consequences. You must also think of the rest of us who must deal with the inmate who is released from prison after living for 30 years with no contact with other human beings and with no rehabilitation whatsoever. How are we going to be safe around a person in that condition? Prison itself is crappy enough punishment; we also must be thinking of what kind of people we want to have walking out when their terms are over.

  • Kevin Ouyoumjian

    I can only say that if the speaker is the best spokes person for their cause, they are in trouble. I laughed out loud when she said all they want is education, nutritious food, and no group punishment…”that’s it, that’s all”…and 40 other demands. I do not feel for the prisoners. I believe in the punishment of people who commit crimes. For those have raped and murdered, I can’t separate the punishment from what they have taken from their victims. I must admit I was glad to hear that they do not get to feel the warmth of sunshine on their faces.

    • Lynne Monds

      I thought the exact same thing about the prison spokesperson, Kevin. All she could talk about was how bad these prisoners were and not about the long-term consequences of the prison’s actions against them.

      Your desire to punish the inmates is causing you as well to be blind to the long-term consequences. Okay, we got it, you don’t “feel for the prisoners.” How about feeling for the the rest of us who must deal with the inmate who is released from prison after living for 30 years with no contact with other human beings and with no rehabilitation whatsoever. How are we going to feel safe around a person in that condition? Prison should not be simply about punishment; it should also be held responsible for the kind of people we want to have walking out when their terms are over.

      • firewalkwme

        Prison should also be about redemption and atonement but our “justice” system hardly does anything about that. Oh, you raped and killed a person, ok lets give you free food, shelter, education, and entertainment without asking anything in return. Then we let the prisons run rampant with drugs, gangs, and more crime, on the basis that we need to protect their “civil liberties”. Outside of certain drug offenders these people got there on their own recognizance depriving another person of their rights, I fell no burden by offering them a taste of their own.

        • Lynne Monds

          I am sorry to say this, but I cannot believe I am seeing a posting such as this in 21st century America. Our forefathers hated the British debtor’s prisons because once a person was in jail, there was no way he could make the money to pay his way out.

          Firewalkwme, are you seriously advocating for a system in which the inmate would not be let out of prison unless he could pay his way out? How would he do that unless he had a wealthy family to help him?

          Would this also be true for people who were in prison for, say, shoplifting or a DUI?

          We already have two Americas, rich and poor. Your suggestion would exacerbate that by allowing the wealthy to buy the release of their family members, while people serving for the exact same crime would languish in prison because they could not get a job — while in prison ?!

          Really, my mouth is just agape as I am contemplating the meaning of your post….

          • firewalkwme

            I am not saying that money buys your way out, only that your voluntary actions as a means to support yourself be considered before you are once again allowed become a member of society. Our current parole system is obviously flawed and is distinct from the prison system which creates the rates for such recidivism.
            Why are we exporting jobs to other countries and importing illegal labor when we have a very viable, cheap, and plentiful workforce available? What is wrong with asking that 2/3′s of the time you are imprisoned be used for something that is productive to the general populous?
            Your comments give no alternatives only problems, offer me solution that does not cost me more than I am already paying and prove to be productive then I will listen. But assume that I will pay more on a context of contently giving to those that choose not to be part of society and you will get nowhere.

          • Lynne Monds

            According to Grover Norquist, shorter prison sentences is a solution that does not cost anything, and that saves a huge amount of money. I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s more expensive to send a man to prison than to send him to Harvard.

            Work programs are a good idea, but they must be done within the prison system, because the cost of watching the prisoners outside the prison is so high. So this limits the kinds of jobs that can be done.

            Prisoners used to make license plates — perhaps they still do….

          • firewalkwme

            And I have just given you circumstances that they can contribute in an economic sense to alleviate the burden, which you have acknowledged, but to a certain extent it must become militant to enforce those rules or further punish those which don’t abide, i.e. the inmates of SC.

  • it_disqus

    Listen to the questions asked in this story and you will see the definition of slanted media coverage. Jeremy Hobson gave Marie Levin and her anecdotal stories a pulpit to preach from and then grills the facts given by Terry Thornton.The only question asked Levin was when he asked her to comment on a quote from the head of the dept of correction to which she was allowed to say he was “misinformed” then move on. The question to Thornton about the guy who committed suicide bordered on an accusation of crime. When she said he was there because he killed his cell mate, Jeremy side steps the answer and moves on. I am at a loss about what to say about that battering questions about who gives in at this point. Sad excuse for journalism.

    • Gaeleus Canis

      its all in truth in other publications…. but most people wont read the BayView

  • Katie

    What do they do with the food that the inmates refuse to eat? I think they should let them strike, send the food to people who need it, and truly make something incontestably good come of this.

  • http://www.audiobookprisonstories.com/ Glenn Langohr

    Governor Jerry Brown Should Negotiate with The California Prisoners Who Are Participating in the Hunger Strike to end this before another inmate dies.

    But, The Governor probably won’t negotiate because it is to his political detriment to do so. He has a number of District Attorney’s with a 99% conviction rate waiting for him to look weak on crime, so they can seize upon it and say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”

    Should he? Yes. If this issue was about animal cruelty, he would…If it were about global warming, he would…If this human torture were happening in prisons in Russia, he would speak out against it.

    Here’s why he should negotiate with them, the path for inmates to get placed in Solitary Confinement isn’t regulated by a court of law. They are asking to be treated like humans, not dogs.

    I spent 10 years in California prisons on drug charges with 4 years in Solitary Confinement where I started writing novels. I wrote Prison Riot to shine a light on how an inmate can be sent to Solitary and become mislabeled and get stuck in the system, without a court of law to oversee the process. Prison Riot is based on his true story where I was involved in a riot where northern Mexican inmates rushed the southern Mexican inmates and myself and one other White inmate happened to be in the way. While in the hole, Solitary Confinement, the Prison Administration assumed I was a southern Mexican inmate and the label stayed with me for 6 months until I was sent to another prison. At that prison, the prison administration placed me back in Solitary for another 7 months while trying to pressure me into saying I was part of a Gang. Prison Riot is available in Print, Kindle and Audio Book here~ http://amzn.to/1akV3J4

    Underdog is about the 5 Core Demands the prisoners are Hunger Striking over and is also in Print, Kindle and Audio book here~http://amzn.to/16pHX9h

    God Bless us all.

    • firewalkwme

      Wait a second, was that a book plug?

      • http://www.audiobookprisonstories.com/ Glenn Langohr

        No, It is more of a discussion on the Hunger Strike.

        • firewalkwme

          Ok then, how have you has your time behind bars given back to society?

        • http://www.audiobookprisonstories.com/ Glenn Langohr

          Thanks Lynne! For Firewalkwme… Writing has been a useful tool for me, since Solitary confinement, to process things and shine a light on conditions in prison and on our Criminal Justice system. All of my prison sentences were over drugs.

          As for what else I have done for society besides writing… I love to speak to kids at Probation and to Men at the Salvation Army to inspire change and hope.

    • Lynne Monds

      I’m happy to see you have found your way to this forum, Glenn. I’ve heard you interviewed and feel you are someone who can enlighten us all on what is really going on with the overuse of solitary confinement in today’s prisons.

      Thanks for joining the discussion….

  • Sue Scroggins

    And this is why they should have the death sentence back and in full swing. These people MURDERED others. Some multiples. This is Pelican Bay..maximum security. They can’t even do well in regular prison. They do nothing but cost taxpayers for years, including using the taxes of their victim’s families! That is just ridiculous. Working to support the one who murdered your loved one(s). Use a hemp rope, hang them right away after sentencing, and get a green grant from the feds as well for using a renewable product. Then the inmates won’t have all this “suffering” to go through. Two birds one stone. You won’t need to have parole for them, or housing, meds, education. Let their family know the feel of a loss instead of supporting them. Maybe they will learn to remember what that savage put someone else’s loved one through. Save a huge amount of money otherwise wasted on murderers who will most likely pull crime again when they are released. Parole officers can focus on those who can be rehabilitated instead of chasing a repeat offender around.

    • ginger6666

      So much hysterical hyperbole about inmates who are consigned to solitary confinement. Not everyone in there is a murderer!!

      not all the inmates housed in the SHU are alleged gang leaders. For
      example, Ernesto Lira was a petty thief serving time for minor drug
      possession. He was sent to Pelican Bay for an indefinite term, after
      authorities determined he was associated with a violent Latino prison

      “But Lira was not accused of actually doing anything tangible for the
      group. The key piece of evidence against him: a drawing found in his
      locker that allegedly contained gang symbols.

      “My first two months it was hard to get used to the fact that I’m
      going to be here,” Lira said. “I looked and thought?maybe in a month or
      two they’ll realize that this is all a mistake and kick me out of here.”

      “There was a way out of isolation, officials told Lira. He could
      debrief, or snitch, on other gang members. But as a judge later
      determined, Lira couldn’t do that because he wasn’t a member of any
      gang. He wasn’t released from the SHU until his release from prison
      eight years later.

      “Lira eventually won a judgment in US District Court against the
      Department of Corrections, in part for psychological damage he suffered
      while locked in isolation. Prisoner right’s attorney Charles Carbone
      has represented dozens of inmates locked in Pelican Bay’s SHU.

      “In Ernesto’s case, I think it’s very emblematic of the fact that
      people can be placed in solitary confinement for the littlest of
      reasons: for having a drawing, for having an address in an address book,
      without confirming or denying whether that address was used for
      furthering gang activity,” Carbone said. – See more at: http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201108230850/a#sthash.hS8gPnyZ.dpuf

      “And they’re put there not because they’ve done any misconduct in prison,
      not that they’ve committed an assault or other disciplinary misconduct,
      but simply because they’re labeled as either a gang member or even
      simply having some vague association with a gang, such as having some
      artwork of an Aztec warrior that the gang people say is related to a
      gang or having a tattoo or being found on some anonymous list of
      so-called gang members. And what they want, and their main demand, is to
      put an end to that system.” (Quote by Jules Lobel, Attorney and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights).

  • Carl Toersbijns

    It’s time to cut the bull as there are reasonable alternatives available to keep staff safe and prison costs down.. without sacrificing public safety. CDCR is not working in good faith to resolve the matter; in fact they are escalating their internal policies to end this hunger strike by coercion, deceit and misrepresentation the fact about their housing conditions and cultural influences that dictate power and control at any costs. I have seen it at first hand basis and know how tacit approval corrupts the policies written and the discretionary decision making that is undocumented and denied by all to cover their arses in many different ways. – you don’t have to make concessions,, just changes and there is a difference between the two..

  • Carl Toersbijns

    Flexibility is what it will take to resolve this matter.. now or then, meaning we can pay for it now or later.. these force feed methods are most expensive and the CDCR is squandering money they can’t afford to spend but will lie to the taxpayers it was completely necessary in the name of public and staff safety.. How can you believe what you are being told when they won’t even let the press in to monitor these conditions? What are they hiding? the truth as they know it to be but refuse to allow it to be told…. thus clamping down hard on hunger strikers to break them down.. its a strategy you should all be aware of for the government does it every day in one format or another.

  • Max Hadley

    Terry Thorton is playing word games when she says they “don’t consider SHU as isolation.” You can dress up a pig and call it whatever you want, but it’s still a pig! Then she had the nerve to say that demands have been met and talk about “new strategies.” Come on!! The SDP (step down program) within the STG (their new way to dish out indefinite SHU terms is more inclusive and ambiguous than what they use now. Debrief or Die to get out of SHU is still the policy.. Again she’s playing word games! The SDP requires the participant to inform on others in the program. There is no avenue, other than being a snitch, to get out of SHU as long as de-briefers and staff allege you are associated in any way even “in good standing” with a gang you can be locked up for decades in SHU. These token concessions like plastic cups the CDC promises are just as easily taken away. Today I spoke to Property in D Facility, Aguirre, was her name. She said, “I’m just as confused as you. One person says it’s rescinded another says, it’s not. One day I’m issuing them, the next day I’m told I can’t. Then I was told that they only get those items if they’re in the SDP.” Then I spoke to Statenham in Property C Section who read me the 6/5/13 memo of new items allowed and she said all she has heard is that the typewriters have been rescinded…..
    The CDCR does what they want at will and on a whim. The only way to resolve these things is to have an outside agency, not full of old CDC Chronies, oversee it. Toss out the STG all together… it is a gateway to more isolation not LESS! Please everyone Read it!

  • Jamiu

    America prides itself on being the world’s moral compass as it parades around the globe promoting a western idealism of democracy which has so far been as successful as the world’s first lead balloon. But you have to question the humanity of a country that solitary confides inmates for upwards of 30 years and beyond with some even noting that they can’t remember the last time they saw the moon or experienced sunlight, and for the corrections representative to say that the biggest inconvenience of this hunger strike, I quote “we now don’t have enough staff to entertain the media, something we really enjoy doing” even John Stewart couldn’t come up with a better line. Regardless to what crimes and convictions these people are responsible for, when you start to lose your humanity for these people then you might as well give up now because this is nothing short of torture. Once again congratulations to the world’s moral compass.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 16 7 Comments

Kathy Gunst Explores Community Supported Agriculture

Kathy Gunst joins Cook's Illustrated executive food editor Keith Dresser at his CSA pickup and offers recipes for the seasonal CSA fare.

September 16 11 Comments

Remembering Jesse Winchester

Jimmy Buffett remembers his friend the late songwriter Jesse Winchester, whose posthumous album is being released today.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 28 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.