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“Hunger Strike”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 30, 2013

A significant number of inmates in California prisons have recently begun hunger strikes to protest being kept in solitary confinement.  From what I understand, this is not just a few guys who’ve proven that they are Hannibal Lecter-level psychopaths locked up for the safety of staff and other inmates.  Solitary confinement is being used by many prisons as a way to “control” gang violence among the inmates.  I will admit to being a little ambivalent about this issue.  I’m of the opinion that if you do something really bad, you deserve your punishment (I’ve got very strong, but somewhat complicated views on punishment and incarceration, but it would take too long to fully explain).  And I think a judicious use of solitary confinement as a way to curb immediate threats is acceptable; it’s not ideal, but short periods of isolation might be the lesser of evils here.  But if there are hundreds of men claiming that they’re being indefinitely confined to solitary units without just cause, then I think there might be a bit of a problem.

Being in prison doesn’t mean you aren’t a person.  Yeah, maybe you did something stupid or bad, or even evil.  But you still have the right to humane treatment.  The inmates and the activists supporting them believe that this situation amounts to torture, and I’m not so sure they’re wrong.  I’m not so sure they’re right, either.  I still need to learn more about what’s happening.  It’s an emotional issue that plays into a lot of irrational fears and prejudices.  I’d like a clear point of view.

This song isn’t about a prisoner’s hunger strike.  It’s about the grief Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and the other members of Mother Love Bone felt when their lead singer and friend Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose.  They got together, along with a then-unknown Eddie Vedder, and recorded an album as Temple of the Dog.  It was a tribute that became something more, as the band evolved into Pearl Jam.  “Hunger Strike” is a visceral experience, a gaping, open wound of a song.  Cornell’s primal scream, “I’m going hungry,” says more about his pain than anything else.  It’s impossible to hear this and not be moved.

And that’s where I’ll leave it.  There’s no easy way to connect the issue with the song, no simple declaration of right or wrong.  I know I’ve already sided with the prisoners.  I can’t stand cruelty.  There might be some valid reasons for solitary confinement.  And some of these guys probably deserve to be isolated.  But I think our system of so-called rehabilitation in this country is profoundly flawed.  It’s time to make some changes.

 

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