News about the ongoing hunger strike in Pelican Bay’s “supermax” prison is leaking out slowly and unreliably. (We’ve covered the hunger strike a few days ago, as well as the hunger strike as a tactic more generally.)
While there’s little in the mainstream media about the story, Bay View features an alert from Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus. She writes that circumstances are urgent, and some prisoners are on the edge of death. Citing an anonymous medical source, she notes:
“The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for three days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.”
A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has suggested that the strike is winding down, affecting far fewer than the 6600 inmates across 13 prisons that participated this past weekend. Because prisoners are refusing medical evaluation, a CDCR spokesperson suggested, they might be surreptitiously drinking water and/or eating items from the prison canteen.
Reporters have been unable to get into the prison, so the information that emerges is coming from relatives of the prisoners, activist groups, and the CDCR. Some stories report that prison officials have told hunger strikers that the demands have been met, so the strike can end, and that some prisoners are now on intravenous feeding.
The only leverage the prisoners have in getting response will come from those on the outside engaging the political process. Absent reliable reports about what’s going on inside the prison, this will be tougher to do.
Some of the prisoners have reaffirmed their commitment to fast to death for their demands. And, of course, fatalities will be much harder to conceal or explain away.
The lack of reliable information on the strike is a big problem for the hunger strikers, whose only influence will come from reaching a broader audience for their claims. It’s also a big problem for the rest of us, as citizens.