California Prison Hunger Strike – So What’s It Really All About?

pelican-bay-hunger-strike-protestOn July 8th, a reported 30,000 prisoners started a hunger strike in California prisons, most in Pelican Bay State Prison.  At the end of the month, only about 600 inmates were still refusing two of their three daily meals.  This so-called “hunger strike” was the brainchild of convicted killer, Todd Ashker, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, and three other inmates, representing the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia and the Black Guerilla Family, four of the most violent and influential prison gangs in California, according to a recent op-ed piece in the L.A. Times.

When I first read about this hunger strike, I said to myself, “what kind of hunger strike allows you one meal a day?”  To me, a hunger strike is a hunger strike – you give up food during the strike, thus the word “hunger” is applicable.  As far as I’m concerned, if you’re eating one meal a day, it’s not a hunger strike.

I guess their big complaint is that too many of these animals are kept in “solitary confinement.”

According to the op-ed piece, the Security Housing Units at Tehachapi, Corcoran and Folsom allow for direct sunlight and at Pelican Bay, they have skylights.

In all the facilities, they have FREE radios and color TVs.  I have to pay for my radios and color TVs.

They have FREE access to cable channels.  I have to pay for my cable television.

They have FREE weekly access to a law library.  I have to pay a monthly subscription fee for my access to an online law library in addition to the books on appellate and dependency law I need in my office.

They have FREE daily exercise time.  I have to pay for my annual gym membership.

They have FREE computers.  I had to pay for every piece of equipment in my office.

They can earn degrees for FREE.  Killer, Todd Ashker, earned a paralegal degree behind bars.  I had to pay for my law degree.

Since 1987, Mr. Ashker has filed or been party to 55 federal lawsuits against the CA prison system, winning the right for inmates to order books and collect interest on prison savings accounts.  I’d bet money that he didn’t have to pay one filing fee for any of these lawsuits, yet, I would have to pay thousands of dollars in filing fees for 55 lawsuits.

They can send letters for FREE.  I have to pay for my own postage.

Their FREE food is the same kind and amount as the general population inmates.  I have to pay for everything I eat.

Their utilities are provided to them for FREE.  I have to pay for my own electricity, water, oil, propane and garbage disposal.

They are provided with FREE clothing.  I have to pay for all my own clothes.

They are provided with FREE laundry services.  I have to pay for all my water, detergent, softeners, bleach and dry cleaning services.

They are provided with FREE air conditioning.  If I had air conditioning, I would have to pay for it myself.

They are provided with FREE medical and dental services and free prescriptions.  Prisoners are now expecting the taxpayer to pay for their hormone therapy and sex-change operations.  I have no dental insurance so I have to pay for my own dental work as well as medical insurance, services not covered by insurance and prescriptions.

If they’re getting interest on their savings accounts, they’re earning money.  Are they paying Social Security like the rest of us?

I love how these guys complain about the inhumane conditions under which they purportedly have to live in a place like Pelican Bay.  I have absolutely zero sympathy for any of them.  I’m more concerned about the inhumane and cruel punishment they inflicted on their innocent victims.

Having your food, clothing, medical and dental, utilities, postage, computer access, educational opportunities, fitness equipment and everything else paid for by the American taxpayer can hardly be considered punishment.

As I expected, it wasn’t all about unwarranted “solitary confinement” in the SHUs, but rather the gangs’ need to assert their power in prison.  According to the op-ed, many of the inmates “say they want to resume eating but are afraid of the retaliation they will suffer at the hands of the other inmates acting on orders from their gang leaders.” These four gang leaders are directly responsible for at least five murders, 35 violent assaults, including stabbings, and have racked up more than two dozen violations for possession of weapons and other contraband.

If I were Empress of the World, I’d have Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in charge of each and every one of these prisons in California.  I’d also have each of these prisoners doing hard labor on chain gangs and not hanging around pumping iron on the taxpayers’ dime.

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
Author website:
  • Sal Rodriguez

    This is article is sloppy editorializing based on incorrect, made up, or selective information.

    Her second paragraph includes a major factual error. She claims that the participants on hunger strike are only refusing two out of three meals. The only possible explanation for this is that she read the earliest news reports, written on the night the strike began, that stated that so far, breakfast and lunch were refused by ~30,000 hunger strikers. If Leona had done her research, she’d know that CDCR only considers an inmate on hunger strike if they refuse nine consecutive meals and are no longer considered on strike the moment they eat solid food.

    Her information on “free” things is inaccurate and I seriously doubt she even bothered to check on any of the facts on the section.

    She also seems to have only read the op-ed by Jeffrey Beard and decided that obsessing over what the leaders of the strike have done and may or may not be (gang leaders) is more important than an intelligent, rational review of policies that are at the heart of the hunger strike, a pending federal lawsuit, and have been the subject of two California Assembly hearings and one US Senate hearing.

    • chief98110

      OK, what makes your response valid? Have you been incarcerated in Pelican Bay? Where do you get your information?

      • Sal Rodriguez

        I actually read the policies and CDCR press releases. I’m assuming neither you nor Leona bothered to do any fact checking.

  • Ron F

    Since the article caused such a backlash, I looked into it a little more. I can understand somewhat the need for isolation units because in Todd Ashker’s case his second degree murder conviction was for killing another inmate while in jail. On the other hand, a July 28, 2013 Los Angeles Times article about the security housing units, such as Pelican Bay, in which the worst prisoners are held states: “Once a day, that door slides open. The prisoner can enter an empty concrete `dog run’ for 90 minutes to exercise. Kept indoors for years, men in the SHU take on a ghostly pallor, as if dusted with flour. They get less canteen food than do other inmates, less clothing, and are allowed limited belongings, fewer visits and no phone calls. Every privilege, from mail to medical care, is rationed.” Since Mr. Ashker was able to organize the hunger strike with 3 other inmates, he was not in solitary confinement.

  • Kaycee

    Clearly you are ignorant about anything going on inside the prisons. They don’t not get free radios or tvs, and they don’t get a gym membership. In the SHU they don’t even necessarily get out for one hour a day. So why don’t you take a step back think and research what you’re going to write up next time. You’re 100% entitied to your own opinion but next time you should be a little less ignorant. You’re hurting the families of the inmates not proving a point or changing anything.

    • chief98110

      So, where did you get your information? Have you been to Pelican Bay?

  • Roger Ward

    Whatever your thoughts about Mrs. Salazar’s article, it doesn’t change the fact that she has the right to her opinion. She apparently feels that criminals are coddled in today’s prison system. In some of her examples, I agree …. in some examples, I think there is a basis for this “coddling.” Either way, it’s still her opinion and she’s entitled to voice it.

  • LC DeVine

    What kind of lying human being are you? If you are going to go with the story at least me man enough to get and put truthful facts out there.

    • chief98110

      Like what?

  • plsilverman

    Really? JOE ARPAIO? The dude who uses taxpayer $$$$ to go to DC to prove that Barack Obama is not a U.S. Citizen. Yeah, Joe Arpaio…a real gem.

    • Ashaman_Kupo

      He’s a man who uses tax payer money to prove how our “man in charge” isn’t supposed to be in charge. I think that’s good use of our tax payer money. Or would you prefer that our “man in charge” keep sending “OUR” tax payer money over to other countries instead?

      • plsilverman

        funny subjective use.

      • plsilverman

        send money overseas? I did not know he is in favor of corporate raids.

  • LeonaSalazar

    Of course I’m not suggesting that prisoners should be drawn
    and quartered. My article was directed at those prisoners at Pelican
    Bay, who are complaining about “solitary confinement.” From my
    experience with the criminal justice system, these guys are the worst of the worst; they’re the ones who’ve eaten their parents and lived to talk about it. From what I’ve read in the LA Times op-ed, what they’re calling “solitary confinement” is not what I would consider “solitary confinement.” I think the American taxpayer provides plenty for these prisoners. When I read about all the drugs available in
    prisons across the country and the likes of Tavon White, head of the Black Guerilla gang in the Maryland prison who impregnated not one, not two, not three but four prison guards, and now the “hunger strike” in California, this is all about power.

    • Bob – Prison Employee

      I think you, Ma. Salazar, are biased beyond the “average”
      ignorant person with so-called knowledge of the prison system.
      Inmates don’t have “Free Radios and Cable Television as you state. They or their families have to BUY them, usually at substantially higher prices than what you or I would pay for them here on the outside, from businesses who exist for that purpose.
      AND, WHEN might I ask was the last time you ate any of that wonderful food you claim they get for free, or went to their doctors for that great medical care you seem to think they get.
      If you really don’t care if they live or die, just say so. However, when the time comes (and one day it will) that one of your family members is charged with a crime, I have no doubt that you will be the very one to run out and get the best attorney your money can buy, instead of a Public Defender like most of the people incarcerated in our prisons were defended by. Your opinion really isn’t worth arguing with, because all you know is what SOMEBODY TOLD YOU!! GO FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF!!
      And while you are at it, why don’t you check out the whole Prison Industries System, where in addition to all the taxpayer dollars the prisons get, they also get money from outside companies for the work the inmates do for them too.

      Oh, about those four pregnant prison guards, ask them HOW did that happen???? I doubt that they were all raped by that one inmate.

  • Ron F

    I do not know what qualifies as a hunger strike, but one meal a day would qualify. It is consistent with the Catholic Church’s rules on fasting during lent, one full meal a day and small amounts in the morning and evening. Despite all of the free items given to prisoners, I still believe it is a deterrent. Most people would prefer to be paying for the items on the outside of prison rather than receiving the items in the prison. They are incarcerated so it is probably difficult for them to buy their own food and according to Julie below, they are not eating three meals a day. As for the law library, I believe the Los Angeles County Law Library, and the law libraries at courthouses are free to anyone. In addition, to maintain order, I imagine prison officials do not want prisoners doing their own laundry. As for taking college courses, it is probably better than alternative things they would be doing. I think the Supreme Court has ruled that to deny prisoners medical care is cruel and unusual punishment. I do not know if it has decided what type of medical care has to be provided. I think one of the reasons for the hunger strike was keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. According to news reports one prisoner was kept in solitary confinement for 27 years and another has been in solitary confinement for 12 years, although one of the leaders, who is in the isolation unit, has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in federal indictments aiming to disrupt the Mexican Mafia prison gang and a Mexican drug cartel. I don’t know how someone in an isolation unit can be a co-conspirator with people outside of the unit.

  • Wheels55

    Bring back Alcatraz.

  • David

    very poorly written, are you seriously comparing your life to a prisoners life?

  • Darren Perkins

    Seems to me that you are a little biased and if the dissenting commenter is right you may be wrong in the facts you cite. Believe it or not people are convicted in error. Believe it or not prisoners are still people and can be wronged and treated unfairly. You make prison sound like winning the lottery. I doubt the prisoners are counting their lucky stars for all the free stuff they are going to receive. It’s so easy to discount and dehumanize people because our justice system has deemed them guilty. Our justice system is the best but is far from perfect.

  • chief98110

    This “Hunger Strike”, is clearly about who controls the prison. The participants are told by prison gang leaders to strike or else. I know there are some people who believe that prisons are for rehabilitation, maybe. The key to rehabilitation is the person’s commitment to change. The next
    is a support system to help them deal with the dark times. I have seen a
    few (very few) clients turn their lives around. I have asked them,
    “what made you change your life?” The answer was someone touched them
    with their humanity.
    Sadly, the vast majority of people in prison
    deserve to be there because for them it is a lifestyle. Some prisoners
    are comfortable with prison. In other cases, it is also generational
    with families. Lastly, some people are just evil. While you may not
    believe in evil, I do. I have seen evil up close and personal and you
    can’t ask evil to be nice.

  • moonflyr23