When celebrities like Jay Leno sign a letter supporting the California’s prisoners hunger strike, it calls into question the general public’s lack of sympathy for people behind bars. Although some are wrongly convicted, they are all considered criminals, many of them sentenced for killing someone. The families of the victims, and the victims of non-lethal crimes, have a legitimate disdain. So why is that celebrities, intellectuals, religious and community leaders signed the letter sent to Governor Brown, and some of them will fast on Wednesday in solidarity with the strikers?
The strike, which enters on its 4th week, is basically demanding an end to the long-term and indefinite solitary confinement, which they consider a form of torture. This is the letter:
Another prisoner’ hunger strike claiming that we are violating human rights is at the Guantanamo Bay prison. According to Amnesty International: “The United States’ detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Government in the name of fighting terrorism.”
The treatment of prisoners shows interest insights of a society. Political prisoners linked to terrorists related actions, are subject to controversial interrogation techniques, and held indefinitely. Common prisoners may not be subject to physical abusive interrogation practices, but they end up in an environment that will probably dehumanize them. There are pros and cons arguments of the current system prison. One is that the” California’s justice system appears blind–blind to the inhumanity of its prison system….The U.S. has more inmates in prisons and jails than any other country. Prisons have become big business through privatization, and they have real economic and social consequences.” These are the words of a Latino, Luis J Rodriguez, who has experienced some of the causes bringing people in contact with the judicial system. He does not only describe negative situations, but he is engaged in changing them. He proposes that restorative justice is needed, “why it is important to the individuals behind bars and those getting out…learn what others are doing to prevent incarceration, especially among young men living in urban communities of color”
His outlook on justice reminds me a famous case in Chile, a peasant murdered his family while he was drunk. In prison he learnt to read, got educated and became a different man. He would not have committed the crime he did. He was executed anyway. A movie was made based on this event, and it is one of the most well-known movies from Chile. The purpose of restorative justice in prisons is to assist with the prisoner’s rehabilitation, and eventual reintegration into society.
This approach could help to get so many people out of the overcrowded jails, especially young people. One of these young people is Jesus Aguirre, the Buena Park teenager serving life in Pelican Bay prison. When I met Jesus’ father last week, at one of the demonstrations, I felt his anguish and pain for the situation of his son. His anger was also directed to this description of his son:
“If there is a living poster face for the extraordinarily steep cost of California gang life, it’s Orange County’s Jesus Aguirre Jr. At the age of 16, Aguirre—a deceptively baby-faced but low-level member of the Eastside Buena Park gang—participated in the hunting down of a man and an incredibly stupid, non-fatal, shotgun shooting. Following a 2012 jury trial that found him guilty of street terrorism, assault with a firearm and attempted murder, plus five felony enhancements, the young man more concerned with achieving gangster status than focusing on 10th grade learned too late there are consequences to bad life choices.”
I share Jesus’ father scorn at this biased, sensationalist description. I do not condone gang activities, they are unacceptable and we should make every effort to eradicate them. Gangs and crime are legitimate concerns no matter where we live. Applying sensible solutions to this problem, require understanding its root causes.
Let’s hope that Governor Brown read the letter of the hunger strikers, and stop this inhumane practice.