PRISON officials are preparing to force feed thousands of inmates who are on a mass hunger strike across the US state of California in protest against “medieval conditions”.
About 12,000 inmates being held in two-thirds of California’s 33 prisons have refused meals for the fourth consecutive day in a show of solidarity about conditions in one of the state’s harshest facilities.
The hunger strike began in a special unit of Pelican Bay State Prison, which lies in northern California near the border with Oregon, and has near-solitary confinement conditions.
Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) are isolated for at least 22 and a half hours a day in cramped, concrete, windowless cells.
They are denied telephone calls, contact visits and education, work or rehabilitation programs.
Held under these conditions for more than a decade and claiming psychological and physical suffering, the SHU prisoners began striking on Monday and the protest spread.
Originally, 29,000 men went out in sympathy.
Although the number of hunger strikers has dropped, Californian officials instituted an official state response when the strike entered its fourth day, which includes aggressive monitoring of inmates’ health and possible force feeding.
Prison bosses have described the hunger strike as misguided because SHU inmates are “gang member associates” segregated “to prevent gang activity and racially motivated violence”.
However, family members of the men incarcerated in the unit say it is “medieval” and a “living hell”.
A publication called Truth-out has published stories about the men of the SHU, including this quote from Luis Esquivel, 44, held in Pelican Bay for 13 years: “I feel dead. It’s been 13 years since I have shaken someone’s hand and I fear I’ll forget the feel of human contact.”