The legacy of Irish Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands has inspired a prison protest over 6,000 miles from his birthplace.
According to the Irish Times convicted killer Todd Ashker was so inspired by Sands’ 1981 hunger strike that it became the springboard for the largest prison protest in California’s history, a hunger strike in protest over the indefinite solitary confinement of thousands of inmates which today enters its 28th day.
Ashker, 50, a convicted killer covered in neo-Nazi tattoos, and three other inmates representing three prison gangs called the mass strike from the Short Corridor, a series of cells in California’s most notorious prison Pelican Bay, in the north of the state.
Ashker is behind bars for a series of burglaries, but he claims prison made him a murderer. Ashker was convicted of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of an Aryan Brotherhood gang member which he claims was in self-defense.
Now Sands’ brand of activism has reportedly inspired Ashker and through him more than 30,000 inmates in two dozen Californian prisons who began refusing food on July 8 because the department of corrections has incarcerated prisoners in tiny windowless cells - for 23 hours a day and in some cases for more than a quarter of a century with only occasional reviews of their status.
There are 4,527 inmates, out of an overcrowded Californian prisoner population of 132,800, reportedly living in one-man isolation cells in four prisons across the state. Although the numbers on hunger have dwindled as the strike progressed there are still almost 500 refusing food this week.
Prisoners are reportedly moved to solitary confinement if they commit a crime in prison or if they are believed to be linked to one of the many prison gangs.
For criminal offenses they can be held for five years, for associating with a gang they can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely.
To escape solitary confinement, prisoners must snitch on other inmates to the authorities, which effectively amounts to a death sentence among violent prisoners.
Ashker, who obtained a law degree in prison, is among more than 400 inmates who have been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay. 78 have lived in these conditions for more than two decades.