California prison inmates enter 11th day of hunger strike

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AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Demonstrators hold up signs during a rally in front of the State Building in San Francisco, Friday, July 1, 2011 to support prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Thousands of California prison inmates are still refusing meals to protest conditions in isolation units. Prisoner advocates say they believe those inmates are on their 11th day without food. About 400 inmates in Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay State Prison initiated the hunger strike on the first of the month.

Inmates in Security Housing Units – or SHUs - stay in their cells 23 hours a day. Prison officials let them out for an hour into a small cement exercise yard with high walls. They shower once every three days. They’re allowed no phone calls. During a few weekend hours, they can see visitors through a glass wall.

Patricia Aguilar's husband has been in the SHU at Pelican Bay for over a decade. He has nine years left to serve of a 25-year sentence for a “third strike” offense.

Aguilar last visited her husband on the first day of the hunger strike. She says he wasn’t eating any food.

”From what I know from the visit, it was water only and that was the only thing that he was able to tell me,” says Aguilar. She doesn’t want to use her husband’s name for fear of retaliation.

Aguilar hasn’t seen him since he began refusing food. She’s worried about his health. She says she’s heard that some guards are supplying bottled water to inmates and she guesses that others are drinking water from their metal sinks. Aguilar says the inmates in the SHU are determined to go without food until the Department of Corrections meets their demands, which include an end to indefinite confinement in the SHU.

Aguilar describes the conditions there as “intense.”

”The light is on all the time and it’s a very dim kind of glowing light," she says. "So as far as sleeping, you don’t get a good, good sleep because of the fact that there’s always something going on, some kind of noise.”

Calls to the Department of Corrections and the Federal Receiver in charge of prison medical care were not immediately returned. Last week, Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department does not plan to change its policies for confining inmates who commit serious crimes in prison or are involved in organized crime in the SHU. Thornton also said some inmates in the SHU at Pelican Bay were starting to show signs of weakness.

Nancy Kincaid with the receiver’s office reported late last week that medical staff had weighed and examined hundreds of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisons. Hundreds of others refused medical attention.

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