In July 2011, 43 prisoners inside California Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit (or SHU, a fancy name to get those of us not in prison to think it is something other than solitary confinement and all that entails) began a hunger strike against torture and for self-determination and liberation. Solidarity with prisoners who are organizing themselves for justice is just a click away. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a San Francisco Bay Area coalition of grassroots organizations “committed to amplyifing the voices of and supporting the prisoners,” has a blog and I suggest you check out like I did by clicking here.
It’s day two and at the same time as these 43 prisoners refuse food in participate in this hunger strike at Pelican Bay, 2.3 million people are in similar conditions, marginalized in solitary confinement and isolating conditions within an already hidden and dehumanizing system. For those of you who have not thought about the prison industrial complex as a justice issue for people of faith specifically, just that number of people hidden in our society seems like something to pray on. Here’s a couple other reflections that convinced me to learn about mass incarceration as a social justice issue and now to write about and pray for the Pelican Bay prisoners:
- To get through prison and to survive as a formerly incarcerated person, is resistance in and of itself to the policies and practices carried out throughout the U.S. Resistance is an expression of faith.
- To become organized for justice is an act of faith in community, the communities we see daily and those communities hidden from us for one reason or another, structurally or socially, emotionally or culturally.
- Equal access to health care is a human right. The demands listed by the Pelican Bay prisoners include necessary reforms to the currently inadequate health care and nutrition available. The conditions under which the 43 prisoners begin this hunger strike are dangerous. People of faith everywhere call for health care justice — prisoners are no exception to those who deserve equal access to quality care and food.
- People of faith have the power to link communities to justice issues in our congregations and to build religious leadership for change. We have the chance to strike up a dialogue about the intersections between mass incarceration and issues of police brutality, housing, employment, education, and yes, unearned privileges.
If you’re with your faith community tomorrow, will you tell them it’s day three?
For ways to take action, visit the Prisoners Hunger Strike Solidarity blog.