Disrupting Business as Usual: The Pelican Bay California Prisoner Hunger Strikes and their Refusal to Live in Submission

Authors: Angelica Camacho*,
Topics: Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Prison, Carcéral Geographies, Prisoner Uprisings, Social Movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Edgewood AB, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1989, Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) was allegedly built to warehouse some of America’s most violent and serious criminal offenders in its innovatively designed Security Housing Units (SHU). The California Department of Corrections (CDC) promoted an elimination of security threats and targeted prison gang members- specifically those involved in organized crime and the Mexican Mafia. I argue Security Housing Units (SHU) are geographical sites that are always in the making. Designed as a space for total confinement and submission, I position people in solitary confinement as geographic subjects that continuously refuse the brutality of solitary confinement. In 2011 men in Pelican Bay and across California SHU’s rose up in a hunger strike to protest the conditions of confinement. “Disrupting business as usual,” they intervened in the hierarchical relations within this carceral space. Through the hunger strikes 5 core demands and subsequent organizing, prisoners presented competing ideas of how to hold people accountable for harmful trespassings thereby proposing alternatives spaces.

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