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“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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Menard Prison Hunger Strike: Lives on the Line – We Stand With You!

Menard hunger strike

 

Thursday, February 13, 2014 – 4:30 – 5:30pm
Outside the Thompson Center – 
Randolph & Clark – Chicago, IL

 

UPDATE 2-13-14: We have just received word from Brian Nelson at Uptown People’s Law Center that Menard today has barred them from speaking on the phone with one of the men on hunger strike. Additionally, one of the hunger strikers has been transferred to Stateville in an attempt to break his hunger strike: “Mr. John Velez was one of the men that began hunger striking in Menard on Jan. 15. As of today he is still on hunger strike. He was moved from Menard temporally to Stateville NRC. His Mother and Wife attempted to visit him today and they were denied visits until Mr. John Velez comes off the hunger strike. None of his legal material or personal property was allowed to be transferred with him. He does not no why he was temporally transferred to Stateville NRC.”

*****

A group of men in a high security unit at Menard (a prison in southwestern Illinois) began a courageous hunger strike on January 15. On Friday, February 9, several prisoners escalated the strike and began refusing liquids.

These men have put their lives on the line to protest inhumane conditions and placement in severe isolation, without reason or ability to challenge that placement. One prisoner was beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike, others have been issued bogus “disciplinary tickets.” Attorneys for the prisoners were prevented by the IDOC from communicating with the men in the first weeks of the strike.

The conditions at Menard are intolerable: there is a lack of adequate heat and hot water, filthy, vermin-infested cells, a lack of access to basic cleaning and sanitation supplies, insufficient food and clothing, and a lack of access to legal resources and educational programming. Solitary confinement is considered torture under international law (over 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are held in solitary).

One prisoner wrote, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”

No society should be permitted to treat human beings this way. We must stand with the hunger strikers and call for their demands to be met immediately.

The men on hunger strike have asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”

Contact information:

Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx

Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259

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Struggle Intensifies – Illinois Prisoners on Hunger Strike Refuse Liquids

Prisoners in Menard, IL have refused liquids as they entered the fourth week of a courageous hunger strike opposing their placement into administrative segregation without notice in filthy conditions of severe isolation. Attorney Alice Lynd reported,  “The Menard hunger strikers have apparently decided to go without liquid as well as food, and their physical condition could deteriorate rapidly.”1 These men’s lives are on the line and we must support them.

At least one prisoner has been beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike and others have reported receiving retaliatory “disciplinary reports.” A Chicago attorney for some of the hunger strikers has also reported that in the first weeks of the hunger strike the Illinois Department of “Corrections” (IDOC) had been barring the prisoners from using the telephone and holding up their legal mail, preventing information about the conditions of the hunger strikers from getting out in a timely manner.

IDOC has issued a number of bald faced lies in response to journalists’ inquiries into the prisoners demands. In regards to the prisoners having no notice of the reasons for their placement into administrative segregation, IDOC Director of “Communications” Tom Shaer told Solitary Watch that because prisoners have allegedly been “interviewed about issues causing [their] placement” into ad seg, they have “a very good idea of the reasons.”2 However, in the next breath Shaer actually revealed that – just as the hunger strikers have claimed – the IDOC has provided no actual formal legal notice of the reasons for their segregation: Shaer admitted that “the placement decisions and 90-day reviews contain confidential information, so issuing copies to prisoners could pose a security threat.”3 Shaer then had the audacity to claim that “we don’t have Solitary Confinement in Illinois prisons” while running down a listing of conditions of confinement that, as Solitary Watch pointed out, exactly fit the definition of solitary confinement used by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other human rights groups.4

One of the hunger strikers wrote and asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”5 He added, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”6

Contact information:

Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx

Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259

1. Menard hunger strikers refusing water until face-to-face hearings begin, Alice Lynd, San Francisco BayView, February 9, 2014

2. Voices from Solitary: Hunger Strike in Menard Prison, Solitary Watch, February 6, 2014

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

* Also published in Revolution newspaper online, News Flash: Illinois Prisoners on Hunger Strike Refuse Liquids, February 11, 2014

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Rising From The Pit: Illinois Prisoners Join National Upsurge of Resistance to Torture and Dehumanizing Conditions in U.S. Prisons

In 1878 convicts began backbreaking labor carving into the limestone bluffs along the bank of the Mississippi River outside Chester, Illinois. Over a decade of sweat and sorrow at gunpoint produced two cell houses enclosed by a massive wall built from the limestone quarried by the prisoners. The prison – formerly Southern Illinois Penitentiary and now Menard “Correctional Center” – is known as “The Pit.”

On January 15, 2014, prisoners in The Pit’s “High Security Unit” began a hunger strike to oppose their placement into inhumane conditions in isolation under Administrative Detention. Solitary confinement exceeding 15 days is considered torture and prohibited under international law. We must support the prisoners stepping forward and putting their lives on the line to demand an end to these crimes being systematically perpetrated by the rulers of the United States.

The courageous hunger strike by prisoners at Menard is the latest uprising in a wave of prisoner-lead struggle against torture and the dehumanizing conditions within the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration. Last year’s 30,000-strong resumption of the California prison hunger strike (which I joined for two weeks in solidarity while a political prisoner in Cook County Jail) was the biggest and most publicized, but a number of other organized struggles by prisoners have taken place in the last several years – from work stoppages in Georgia to hunger strikes in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington. Also last year prisoners in Guantanamo participated in a long hunger strike and faced brutal forced feeding, bringing resistance and exposure on a more international level. Recently, prisoners in Indiana’s Westville “Correctional Facility” began a hunger strike on January 13, 2014 to protest nutritionally deficient food.

*****

Many of the prisoners on hunger strike in Menard were formerly held in Tamms – Illinois’ official “supermax” prison modeled after Pelican Bay SHU. Tamms was closed down in January 2013 after a fifteen year long political and legal battle by prisoners, family members and activists. Several of the prisoners placed in the HSU at Menard are “jailhouse lawyers” – prisoners self-educated in the law who help other prisoners with legal work and challenge prison conditions.

“They won’t tell anybody why they are in Administrative Detention, let alone give them an informal hearing to contest the undisclosed allegations,”1 one Menard prisoner wrote. He said, “There are mice just running wild. They have 20 guys using one pair of fingernail clippers with no cleaning in between uses, there is absolutely no mental health screening or evaluation, nor do any mental health staff even make rounds.” Another prisoner said, “I’m a jailhouse lawyer. And [I] file/help other prisoners with their grievances and lawsuits. Because of that I was retaliated against and transferred to Menard and placed in the High Security Unit under Administrative Detention.”2

Since beginning the hunger strike, prisoners reported to attorney Alice Lynd (and published in the San Francisco BayView) that “officers shook down their cells and took any food they found. The hunger strikers were sent to see medical staff and charged $5 for medical treatment.”3 In 2000 the IDOC began charging prisoners $5 per incident to receive medical care – a direct violation of international law, including the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which states that prisoners’ medical “care and treatment shall be provided free of charge.”

Additionally, Lynd reported one prisoner was pushed down the stairs by two officers while handcuffed and then beaten.4 Officers pushing handcuffed and/or shackled prisoners down the stairs is a common form of retaliation in segregation units in Illinois prisons, as prisoners are never allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and/or shackles.

*****

With the closing of Tamms – the most visible face of torture in Illinois’ prison system – prisoners were sent to other prisons where the practice of solitary confinement has been hiding behind older and less-scrutinized walls. Within weeks of Tamms prisoners being transferred to Illinois’ long-term disciplinary segregation prison in Pontiac, IL, nearly 50 prisoners began a hunger strike opposing the conditions there. A number of smaller and not well-publicized hunger strikes against the conditions at Pontiac have taken place since it was converted from a regular maximum security prison to long-term disciplinary segregation in the late-1990s.

Debate and struggle roil every day behind the prison walls about the repressive and degrading conditions and what to do about it – especially in solitary confinement. Far too often prisoners have little or no connection on the other side of the walls to expose the horrors of what they are facing – and to support them when they do organize to oppose those conditions.

Solitary confinement is specifically implemented to destroy people psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. It is a severely damaging and demobilizing form of torture that survivors never escape. Over 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Mass incarceration, rooted in the foundational white supremacy of this country, is a response of the ruling class to the driving dynamics of capitalism-imperialism. The drive for ever greater profits has decimated inner city communities as factories uprooted and set up sweatshops abroad where they can even more brutally exploit workers than they can here – leaving generations of principally Black and Brown youth locked out of society who will never be meaningfully employed. It is also a conscious response to the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s – implemented to contain and repress millions who this system has no future for and who could become the backbone of the struggle for a radically different and more liberated world for all humanity.

*****

The conditions and retaliation described by the men in Menard sound all too real and familiar to me. I spent over 6 years straight in indeterminate segregation in Pontiac – and most of my time there in the North Cellhouse.  It was under those same conditions that I became part of a new generation of prison-educated revolutionaries beginning to emerge within those concrete tombs. I firmly believe it will take revolution – nothing less – to end the crimes of this system, and that we can bring into being a society that values and meets the material, cultural and intellectual needs of all humanity – a communist world.

Last year Carl Dix, Clyde Young and I issued a call – An Appeal to the Brothers and Sisters Locked Down in this Society’s Prisons: Bear Witness to Torture in U.S. Prisons and to All Law Enforcement Abuse. I’d like to reiterate that call, which read in part:

“The world needs to know of the sadistic, systemic horror of long-term solitary confinement, which is enforced on more than 80,000 people in the U.S. prison system. We know that revisiting this can be difficult for those who are facing or have faced these conditions, but the truth must be laid bare for all. All of society needs to know of the racial profiling that sucked you into the pipeline to prison, of the horrific conditions everyone in prison endures and of the open discrimination formerly incarcerated people face after release. You are in a unique position to expose the lying justifications given by the authorities for what they are.”

“Send these stories to the Bear Witness Project of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Through this you will be opening the eyes of those who are shielded from the real situation in the inner cities and the actual conditions enforced in prison. And letting those caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison know that what they’re up against are social problems, not individual ones, and that by standing up and resisting them together, we can change the way mass incarceration is looked at in society and contribute to bringing forward a movement that can end it.”

And I call on all people of conscience to support the prisoners and to step forward and follow the courageous example they are setting. Much love, respect and support to the brothers and sisters rising up from deep within the depths of this criminal system of injustice.

*****

Mail Bear Witness correspondence to:

PRLF 1321 N Milwaukee, #407 Chicago, IL 60622
or Stop Mass Incarceration Network P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York City, NY  10002-0900

For those outside the walls:
contact@PRLF.org

stopmassincarceration@gmail.com

Web: www.stopmassincarceration.org

Footnotes:

1.  “Locked-Up in ‘High Security Unit’ and Not Told Why, Prisoners Hunger Strike for Answer,” Ray Downs; Riverfront Times Blogs, January 21, 2014

2. Id.

3. “Update from Menard hunger strikers: We need outside support, force feeding threatened” Alice Lynd; San Francisco BayView, January 21, 2014

4. Id.

* Also published in Revolution newspaper online: Rising From the Pit: Illinois Prisoners Join National Upsurge of Resistance to Torture and Dehumanizing Conditions in U.S. Prisons,  January 27, 2014

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