PELICAN BAY STATE PRISON, Calif. — Inside the concrete labyrinth of California’s highest-security prison, an inmate covered in neo-Nazi tattoos and locked in solitary confinement has spearheaded the largest prison protest in California history.
Convicted killer Todd Ashker and three other inmates — representing the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia and the Black Guerrilla Family — called for a mass hunger strike July 8, largely to protest indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement.
More than 30,000 prisoners answered.
Though segregated from others, the leaders, who dub themselves the Short Corridor Collective, have kept the protest going, with more than 600 inmates still refusing food.
Among the four, Ashker is the most outspoken of the collective and the legal brains behind the strike.
Some prisoner rights advocates describe the intense and sometimes volatile man as a brilliant champion for California’s 130,000 prisoners.
Armed with a prison law library and a paralegal degree earned behind bars, Ashker, 50, has filed or been party to 55 federal lawsuits against the California prison system since 1987, winning the right for inmates to order books and collect interest on prison savings accounts.
“There’s an element within (the Department of Corrections) who would celebrate some of our deaths with a party,” Ashker wrote to the Los Angeles Times in March after prison officials denied access to him.
But others say Ashker is a danger, accusing him of being an Aryan Brotherhood member bent on freeing gang leaders from solitary confinement so they can regain their grip on the prison system.