The Occupy movement has expanded to include San Quentin Prison.
On the President’s Day holiday, several hundred protestors arrived for an “Occupy4Prisoners” just outside the San Quentin East Gate. They demonstrated peacefully for prison reform, calling for:
• Abolishing the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole, three strikes, juvenile life without parole, and trying children as adults.
• Support for the Georgia prison strike and the Pelican Bay/California prisoners hunger strike.
• Support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Lynne Stewart, Bradley Manning and Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, a Black Panther Party member incarcerated since 1969.
• End targeting African-Americans who exercise their First Amendment rights, such as Khali in Occupy Oakland.
• End Secured Housing Units (SHU) and solitary confinement.
• Transfer tax dollars from the Prison Industrial Complex to education, housing, health care, mental health care and other human services.
“It’s been an amazing day. We’ve had hundreds of people out here reading messages from prisoners, and speaking out about issues that are important to us all,” said Crystal Bybee of Occupy4Prisoners.
Author, film producer and 2006 California gubernatorial candidate Barbara Becnel helped facilitate the event. “We should really be proud of ourselves today, because today, we are history-makers,” she said. “We have merged the prison rights movement with the Occupy movement.”
Shane Bauer, one of the hikers accused of being a spy and imprisoned in Iran in 2009, addressed the protesters. “The issue of prison conditions is important to all of us,” he said. Ron Greene, a former clinical psychologist who worked at San Quentin and Soledad prisons, said, “I support the general principles of Occupy and I care about the conditions at San Quentin. That’s not to say I want to release all the prisoners, but there are many who could do very well on the street.”
Tahtauerriak Sessoms is an organizer with All of Us or None of Us, a national organization working for the rights of prisoners and felons, which teaches youth about their rights when approached by the police or while in prison. She spoke about her experience in solitary confinement: “I came out, I felt like an animal. I was told I was nothing and I believed it.”
Veronica Hernandez is currently detained in juvenile hall, waiting to be tried as an adult. She was 16 at the time of her arrest. Her statement was read at the rally: “There are no law libraries or legal services at juvenile hall, so a juvenile, for better or for worse, is entirely dependent on his or her court-appointed attorney, and must trust that he or she will lead them in the right direction. Unfortunately, for me, that direction was to adult court. I now face a life sentence should I be convicted.”
Death Row prisoner Kevin Cooper’s statement read: “America has a deep-seeded philosophy in which it only allows for the execution of its poorest people. These seeds have taken root and have grown in such a way that no person who this system sees as a ‘have-not’ is safe from the death machine – whether they are within San Quentin or on a BART platform.”
Demonstrators held a moment of silence for Christian Alexander Gomez, 27, who died on Feb. 2 while on a hunger strike in Corcoran State Prison.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Terry Thornton commented: “Inmates held in segregated housing units are not isolated. Some inmates are single-celled, but they converse with other inmates. They can get visits and they interact with staff.”