Revolution #260, February 19, 2012

Urgent Situation at Corcoran: Reports of the Death of a Prisoner Hunger Striker

Once again, heroic prisoners are putting their lives on the line to change the torturous conditions they’re forced to endure. In late December 2011, prisoners in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at Corcoran State Prison in California went on a hunger strike. And now there are reports that one prisoner, who may have been participating in the hunger strike, has died.

The Prisoners Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) website reported on February 10:

“A prisoner at Corcoran, who remains unnamed due to fear of reprisal, stated in a letter received on February 5, ‘On or about February 2 or 3, 2012, an inmate has passed away due to not eating that has been going on over here in Corcoran ASU. Inmates are passing out and having other medical problems and it seems that this is not being taken seriously. There will be more casualties if this isn’t addressed or brought to light.’…While this death is unconfirmed, it raises concerns that the CDCR [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] is failing [to] take this hunger strike or the prisoners’ demands seriously.”

Solitary Watch has also reported about the death of this prisoner, saying: “While the cause of death and its possible relationship to the hunger strike remains unconfirmed, [CDCR spokesperson Terry] Thornton responded to questions from Solitary Watch with an apparent affirmation that an inmate death had taken place and the statement: ‘I do not know the results of the autopsy.’ In response to a phone call, Tom Edmonds, chief deputy coroner in Kings County, confirmed that inmate Christian Gomez died on February 2 at Corcoran but also did not share the cause of death.”

This is completely OUTRAGEOUS, INTOLERABLE and UNACCEPTABLE! Prison officials maintain complete control (and censorship and distortion) of what information gets outside prison walls. And now they have admitted that a prisoner has died but refuse to reveal the cause of his death to family, friends, and supporters of the hunger strike.

This is an URGENT situation and the people must demand answers—that the CDCR disclose the truth concerning the situation of prisoners participating in the hunger strike and the circumstances and causes of the reported death of Christian Gomez; and that they immediately open the prisons to journalists.

Just Demands

Earlier in 2011 more than 12,000 prisoners across the state, including at Corcoran (with support in other states) participated in two major hunger strikes initiated by prisoners in the Pelican Bay Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU).

After starting their strike in December, the prisoners at Corcoran suspended it in early January after the prison’s warden promised to meet their demands. But when the warden failed to keep his promises, prisoners resumed their strike in late January—with prisoners going on strike for different periods of time. The CDCR said 30 men were still striking as of February 9. But more prisoners may actually be participating in the strike, since, as PHSS points out, the CDCR has consistently misreported numbers of prisoners on strike.

The Corcoran strikers are rallying around 11 demands. In December, three Corcoran ASU prisoners (one white, one Black, one Asian) sent a list of 11 demands to the head of the CDCR and the warden at Corcoran documenting conditions in the ASU and demanding “redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violate our constitutional rights.” The demands included TVs and/or radios; an adequate law library; not being placed in the ASU upon completion of their SHU terms; adequate and timely medical care; adequate laundry; due process at hearings; phone access; uncontaminated canteen food; educational and rehabilitative programs and/or opportunities; the same privileges as SHU inmates; and no reprisals for exercising their right to petition. (The full petition is available at “New hunger strike: Petition for improved conditions in Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison,” December 30, 2011.)

In the California prison system, all prisoners in Administrative Segregation (ASU or Ad-Seg) are kept in solitary confinement similar to the SHU. Ad-Seg is labeled “temporary” yet many prisoners have been kept there for years, often awaiting transfers to SHUs. Conditions in Ad-Seg are often even worse than those in the SHU. Many prisoners in the various ASUs in California have been validated as gang members by CDCR and languish, sometimes for years, awaiting transfer to facilities such as Pelican Bay, where some prisoners have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement.

Occupy Oakland has called for a National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners for Monday, February 20. Rallies are being planned around the country. And people everywhere need to find ways to act to demand the CDCR immediately meet the just demands of the heroic prisoners at Corcoran.

Check for ongoing coverage of this struggle.

Revolution has had extensive coverage of the California prisoners’ hunger strikes last year, available at

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