Outrage sparks hunger strike
reports on efforts by North Carolina activists to support prisoners on hunger strike at at least three prisons in the state.
INMATES AT at least three North Carolina prisons are on a hunger strike to protest deplorable prison conditions. According to the Chapel Hill, N.C., anti-prison group Prison Books Collective:
On Monday July 16, prisoners began hunger strikes at Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor, Scotland [Correctional Institution] in Laurinburg, and Central Prison in Raleigh. Targeting a wide range of conditions related but not exclusive to solitary confinement, the prisoners have vowed not to eat until their demands are met.
It's not clear how many prisoners are currently on hunger strike.
On July 29, some 50 people protested outside of Central Prison in Raleigh, the state capital, in support of the hunger strikers. Protesters marched around the prison walls with drums and whistles, sending a message to inmates beyond the wall: you are not alone!
Prisoners have stated that they can hear protesters' chants and drums inside the prison, which strengthens their resolve.
The protest was organized by the Chapel Hill Prison Books Collective. Alex Burkman of the Collective spoke to the crowd about the importance of protest at the prison that can be heard by the inmates, saying, "It has a impact, not just on morale, not just on prisoners getting strength so they can continue their fight: it has a material impact on how the guards treat them, on how the administration treats them, on their prestige with other prisoners, and solidarity between prisoners."
Supporters can keep pressure on prison officials by calling the following numbers and demanding that the hunger strikers' 16 demands be met: Director of Prisons Robert C. Lewis, (919) 838-4000; Central Prison Warden Ken Lassiter, (919) 733-0800; Bertie Correctional Institution Warden Renoice Stancil (the receptionist says Stancil has been replaced by a man named Anderson), (252) 794-8600; Scotland Correctional Institution Warden Sorrell Saunders, (910) 844-3078.
A group of prisoners calling themselves the "Freedom Riders Movement" also is organizing the boycott of companies that charge exorbitant prices for goods sold to prisoners. A list of these companies can be found online at the Prison Books Collective website.
As the group notes:
It goes without saying that the companies who sell their products in prison canteens make millions of dollars off the most perverse kind of monopoly capitalism imaginable. Much of the money for their products, which due to budget cuts and the resultant decrease in calories rationed to prisoners over the last few years, comes from already poor families on the outside trying to help subsidize their loved one's meager diets on the inside. This kind of exploitation goes beyond "unjust"--it is disgusting and obscene at the most basic human level.
The striking prisoners have released a list of demands that includes the following:
-- 1. Law Libraries. We are tired of being railroaded by the courts, and having our rights violated by prison staff and officers. N.C. Prison Legal Services are inadequate and oftentimes do not help us at all. A law library is needed to enable us to legally defend ourselves.
-- 2. An immediate end to the physical and mental abuse inflicted by officers.
--3. Improve food, in terms of quality and quantity.
-- 4. A better way to communicate emergencies from cells; many emergency call buttons are broken and never replaced, and guards often do not show up for over an hour. At least one prisoner has died this way.
-- 5. The canteens that serve lock up units need to make available vitamins and personal hygiene items.
-- 6. An immediate stop to officers' tampering with or throwing away prisoners' mail.
-- 7. Education programs for prisoners on lockup.
-- 8. The immediate release of prisoners from solitary who have been held unjustly or for years without infractions; this includes the Strong 8, sent to solitary for the purpose of political intimidation.
-- 9. The immediate end to the use of restraints as a form of torture.
-- 10. The end of cell restriction. Sometimes prisoners are locked in their cell for weeks or more than a month, unable to come out for showers and recreation.
-- 11. The theft of prisoners' property, including mattresses and clothes. When on property restriction, we are forced to sleep on the ground or steel bed frames naked, with no bedding.
-- 12. Medical privacy and confidentiality. Guards should not be able to listen in on our medical problems when on sick call.
-- 13. Change our cell windows to ones which we can see through. The current windows are covered with feces and grime. Not being able to see out is sensory deprivation, and makes us feel dissociated from everything that exists outside of prison.
-- 14. An immediate repair of cell lights, sinks, toilets and plumbing.
-- 15. Toilet brushes should be handed out with cell cleaning items.
-- 16. The levels of I-Con, M-Con and H-Con need to be done away with altogether. When one is placed on Intensive Control Status (I-Con), one is placed in the hole for six months and told to stay out of trouble. But even when we stay out of trouble, we are called back to the FCC and DCC only to be told to do another six months in the hold, infraction free.
In the coming days, solidarity with the hunger strikers will be important to make sure they can win better conditions without facing retaliation from prison authorities.