Who Came First, the Chicken or the Prisoner?

Who Came First, the Chicken or the Prisoner?
Image by Olli Homann via Flickr Creative Commons

By Daniel Tregila

The hunger strikes launched here in the Pelican Bay Special Housing Unit (SHU/solitary confinement) in 2011 was based on decades of the use and abuse of solitary confinement against prisoners because of the use and abuse label (not actual violence or misconduct). To make our conditions bearable while the slow motion bureaucratic machine moved to consider our demands for humane treatment, there were supplemental demands including having a television with a built-in radio. Something always afforded to prisoners in general population.

Once receiving the television radio, I was able to, and always do, listen to Democracy Now and California Report. Well, the other day I was taken aback by a segment that praised a California law passed in 2008, which requires chicken farmers not to lock their chickens in cages but rather allow them to roam around with other chickens, known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. In the background, I could hear thousands of chickens running around having fun.

It just gave me this feeling of rage because the law, according to the segment, was passed by voters. It had me angry because all I see are Chicanos, Mexicanos, Blacks and some poor Whites who fill these cells of windowless solitary confinement. For what? Talking to another Chicano labeled a gang member; having drawings of Aztec artwork or Aztec tattoos, because according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Aztec art is used by Chicano prison gangs. For these things, and yes these things alone, people have been here in the SHU for the past 5, 10, 15, 20–40 years. Yet, chickens have more rights than us?

Now I know a critic can easily say, “Well chickens don’t commit crimes.” True, and that is why we are in prison. However, solitary confinement is a prison within a prison. We do not shake hands, we do not have access to socialize with other people besides the other seven prisoners here in each Pelican Bay pod (each unit has six pods—eight cells per pod).

So, when I heard those chickens in the background running around having fun, I thought to myself “what’s going on in the real world? There are chickens getting more humane treatment than humans?” There are commercials with dogs suffering while there are children right here in California, and across the country, doing worse than those animals. Professionals of the correctional enterprise designed cells in Pelican Bay. The main objective of this prison’s layout is to subject prisoners into a state of submission or a state of stagnation through sensory deprivation.

There has been talk about North Korea being prosecuted for crimes against humanity because it has more than 150,000 prisoners in labor camps. I could not believe what I was hearing because the state of California alone has more prisoners than North Korea. Now I am all for animal rights and they should be treated right, but all I am asking of my fellow human beings out there is, “Who comes first, the chicken or the prisoner?”


Daniel Treglia (T-66950) is currently in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay State Prison. Contact him at P.B.S.P. SHU D-10-209, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532. 


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    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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