Thursday, May 31, 2012

Virginia Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike

By Monica Moorehead

Published May 29, 2012 7:59 PM
On May 22, close to 50 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, in Wise County, Va., in at least two segregation pods, began a hunger strike protesting inhumane conditions and ongoing abuses by prison staff. For the men participating in the strike, 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. ROSP, built on a mountain 400 miles from Richmond, is considered the most isolated prison within the Virginia Department of Corrections.
A statement from one of the strikers reads, “We’re tired of being treated like animals. 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. We are rival gang members but now are united as revolutionaries.”
Go to the Virginia prison strike blog at to send letters of solidarity for the prisoners and to sign a petition to support their demands. Listed below are the prisoners’ ten demands.
1. We demand fully cooked food, and access to a better quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, we demand increased portions on our trays, which allow us to meet our basic nutritional needs as defined by VDOC regulations.
2. We demand that every prisoner at ROSP have unrestricted access to complaint and grievance forms and other paperwork we may request.
3. We demand better communication between prisoners and higher?ranking guards. Presently, higher?ranking guards invariably take the lower?ranking guards’ side in disputes between guards and prisoners, forcing the prisoner to act out in order to be heard. We demand that higher?ranking guards take prisoner complaints and grievances into consideration without prejudice.
4. We demand an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation through the implementation of a fair and transparent process whereby prisoners can earn the right to be released from segregation. We demand that prison officials completely adhere to the security point system, ensuring that prisoners are transferred to institutions that correspond with their particular security level.
5. We demand the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to quality materials that we may use to clean our own cells. Presently, we are forced to clean our entire cell, including the inside of our toilets, with a single sponge and our bare hands. This is unsanitary and promotes the spread of disease?carrying bacteria.
6. We demand the right to have third party neutral observers visit and document the condition of the prisons to ensure an end to the corruption amongst prison officials and widespread human rights abuses of prisoners. Internal Affairs and Prison Administrator's monitoring of prison conditions have not alleviated the dangerous circumstances we are living under while in custody of the state, which include, but are not limited to: the threat of undue physical aggression by guards, sexual abuse and retaliatory measures, which violate prison policies and our human rights.
7. We demand to be informed of any and all changes to VDOC/IOP [Internal Operating Procedure] policies as soon as these changes are made.
8. We demand the right to adequate medical care. Our right to medical care is guaranteed under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, and thus the deliberate indifference of prison officials to our medical needs constitutes a violation of our constitutional rights. In particular, the toothpaste we are forced to purchase in the prison is a danger to our dental health and causes widespread gum disease and associated illnesses.
9. We demand our right as enumerated through VDOC policy, to a monthly haircut. Presently, we have been denied haircuts for nearly three months. We also demand to have our razors changed out on a weekly basis. The current practice of changing out the razors every three weeks leaves prisoners exposed to the risk of dangerous infections and injury.
10. We demand that there be no reprisals for any of the participants in the Hunger Strike. We are simply organizing in the interest of more humane living conditions.

No comments: