“The men participating in the strike believe this is their only recourse to get Red Onion warden Randy Mathena to officially recognize their grievances and make immediate changes to food, sanitation and basic living conditions at the prison,” John Tuzcu, from Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers, told the Militant.
“They’ve been saying they would do a better job,” Mac Gaskins, a former Red Onion inmate, told the Washington Post. “They’ve been saying that for years, and they never did.”
The representatives of the striking inmates released a public statement and list of 10 demands. “We’re tired of being treated like animals,” the statement said. “There are only two classes at this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together.”
Their demands range from the right to have fully cooked meals, to have materials to clean their cells, to be notified why and how long they are detained in segregation, and how they can petition for release.
Inmates in the segregation units, which house some 500 prisoners, are confined to their all-steel cell 23 hours a day and allowed to shower three times a week. When they go to shower, or for the five one-hour recreation periods each week, their hands and feet are shackled as two guards march them out, one holding an electronic stun gun against the inmate’s body.
“We’re not really sure how many prisoners have joined the hunger strike,” Tuzcu said. “Twenty-five in two segregation pods said they would start this morning, but we believe the number has grown.”
“In letters we have received, prisoners told us they have followed the hunger strike of thousands of inmates in the Segregated Housing Units in California last year,” he added. “Some also said they were following the recent actions of Palestinian inmates in Israel as well.”
The all-men facility holds some 800 inmates. Shortly after opening in 1999, it was the focus of a Human Rights Watch report that said conditions were “unnecessarily harsh and degrading” and that “staff use force unnecessarily, excessively, and dangerously.”
The Virginia Department of Corrections “is continually looking at ways to improve its operations and to enhance management of offenders by applying science as it evolves in the field of corrections,” department spokesman Larry Traylor told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The department did not return calls from the Militant for comment.
For more information visit the solidarity committee’s website at virginiaprisonstrike.blogspot.com.
Solidarity with prisoners’ struggles!
Palestinian political prisoners end hunger strike
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