CA Prison Hunger Strike: A Story Of Gang Alliances, Drain Networks


Last year, four alleged leaders of rival California prison gangs worked together to coordinate a hunger strike. They were protesting long-term, indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement. All of the men were in solitary when they launched the strike. One, Todd Ashker, has been in solitary for more than 20 years. On the first day of the strike, 30,000 state prisoners refused their meals. The story of how the four prisoners coordinated the hunger strike, and the larger issue of how solitary confinement has become a more long-term and widely used punishment in the past three decades, is told by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine.

Wallace-Wells tells NPR the strike was five years in the making: It “was a long process. [The leaders] were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other. … Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go.”

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