Dec 5, 2013
Truthdiggers of the Week: Lawyers Representing California Hunger Strikers
Posted on Sep 8, 2013
But while some Americans get jobs, others are put away for decades. Some prisoners have been living virtually without human contact for up to 40 years. The doctors involved in their defense say such solitude has a deadening effect, Weills notes. “They become more and more isolated and detached from themselves,” she said. “They can’t fight or resist because of the domination of the guards. They lose touch with reality.” According to the Los Angeles Times, one United Nations expert said the maximum time anyone should spend in isolation is 15 days.
If the lawyers are successful, they could force significant changes nationwide, including a rejection of the policy of force-feeding prisoners, a horrifying practice that was recently depicted for all to see by The Guardian and actor and rapper Mos Def (also known as Yasiin Bey). A federal judge recently ruled prison doctors could force-feed some inmates whose health was threatened by the strike.
Audiences got another close-up look at the treatment of U.S. prisoners from Shane Bauer, one of three Americans who were imprisoned in Iran after being apprehended at the Iraqi border in 2009. Bauer spent 26 months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, four of them in solitary confinement. An article he wrote for Mother Jones last year was titled: “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons.”
In July Bauer told “Democracy Now!” that the California strike was not just about solitary confinement. Prisoners were also demanding the return of educational classes and a host of services that have been cut as public budgets have dried up in recent years in an example of how the United States’ incarceration problem intersects with the nation’s deliberate—on the part of lawmakers—slide into economic austerity.
Like artists, journalists and other members of the public, the prisoners who ended their hunger strike this week (or suspended, as some have said) are empowered to fight for their rights with only their voices. Lawyers like Anne Weills have the power to challenge and potentially change the policy of the state. Without professionals like her, Americans being abused by their government and the people it employs—people who may enjoy practicing institutionally sanctioned sadism on their captive fellow citizens—would have no real effective power. Representing the underprivileged is not as glamorous as protecting the interests of Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. It is difficult, often unsuccessful legal work undertaken against institutions that are intrinsically resistant to change. For entering that uncertain battlefield on behalf of America’s second-class citizens, we honor Weills and her colleagues as our Truthdiggers of the Week.
1 2 Go to Truthdigger of the Week
Previous item: Brazil Faces Drops in Crops
Next item: Polarization Is Distorting the Syria Debate
New and Improved Comments