Last week, 30,000 inmates in California’s state prisons began a hunger strike to call for an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement. Here’s a written and visual piece from Michael D. Russell, an inmate in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Special Housing Unit (SHU):
There is a stark contrast between the majestic mountain scenery that surrounds Pelican Bay State Prison, and the utter desperation of life that exists behind its walls. Most of the men here wear the look of those crushed under years of carrying a heavy burden. Their faces tell a story all their own – one of unrealized potential, punishing consequences, and possibilities of future success that no longer exist.
Pelican Bay State Prison is a maximum-security prison, where many men spend years in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) – 23 ½ hours a day, locked in a windowless cell. I’ve spent a quarter of my life in this prison’s cages, in its mud, learning to deal with the loud rhythm, the madness and isolation, the absence from my family and friends that has turned me into a total stranger, with so much empty uncertainty. I don’t sit here and cry. Nobody does.
The full character of a man shows itself in the SHU, where there is nowhere to hide. And today, I stand proudly back-to-back with all those strong respectful men, whose choice it is to now venture into a hunger strike and work stoppage, in peaceful protest.