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What if prisoners refused to fight across racial lines?

Unity Hands
Photo: Frerieke

CA prisoners urge end to hostilities across racial lines in all state prisons starting Oct. 10

PHILADELPHIA (September 25, 2012) – Prisoners held in isolation in Pelican Bay, Ca. state prison have called for the cessation of all hostilities between racial groups in all California prisons and county jails, starting on Oct. 10, 2012. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace and social justice organization, and other prisoner advocacy groups are sharing their handwritten statement with the public.

The statement, signed by 16 prisoners in the prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit, urges prisoners to use diplomacy to settle disputes. “If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.”

The complete statement is here

AFSC and its partners urge California corrections officials to share it widely, in the exact form it was issued, so that prisoners statewide can choose to participate. 

Thousands of California prisoners have taken part in waves of hunger strikes since last July, when inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison began protesting against isolation units. Those strikes rippled throughout the rest of the state prisons system, which at one point included nearly 12,000 prisoners. Laura Magnani of AFSC’s San Francisco office is one of the inmate-chosen mediators for the original Pelican Bay hunger strikers.

“Based on its experience of nine decades working on prison issues, AFSC finds this call by prisoners for a sweeping end to hostilities unprecedented. This is an opportunity that cannot be ignored,” Laura says. “By their call, the prisoners are addressing the tensions between racial groups that have been used by the Department to justify long term isolation.”

Laura Magnani has spent many years working to improve prison conditions.  She has flagged the conditions in isolation units as “so dehumanizing, it’s almost unimaginable,” describing near-constant noise and cell extractions by guards who barge into cells and put prisoners in hog-ties. Her research shows that over 14,500 are being held in long term isolation in California alone. For more, read Buried Alive.

AFSC has a long history of addressing solitary confinement. After receiving inmate letters in the 1980s, AFSC began a national effort, the Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons. Through the years AFSC operated the Prison Watch program and, most recently, the Stopmax campaign. Our programs have described conditions of isolation, shared inmates’ experiences, and helped inmates cope with solitary confinement.

Pelican Bay Prisoners Peace Statement
California prisoners urge an end to racial fighting throughout state prison system.

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