As I write this it’s California prisoner hunger strike, day 10. Tens of thousands of people in prison are attempting to change the intolerable unfairness and petty restrictions that constitute life in prison. They reject the way that receiving a birthday card can be counted as “gang activity” and the limit on the number of pairs of underpants you can have when in solitary confinement. These policies may fall under the pressure from striking prisoners, but one source of suffering that can’t be readily changed is the design of the buildings holding prisoners in solitary confinement.
Of course, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may well make halfway gestures towards addressing even this level of concern, as they have done in the past two years towards the prisoners’ other demands. When I visited Pelican Bay State Prison two weeks ago—home to the most notorious solitary confinement “Security Housing Unit” (or SHU) in California—some of the men told me that painters had begun preparing their cell “pods” for a new mural that would be opposite their cell doors.