We just received word that earlier this week prisoners at Central in Raleigh voted to end their hunger strike, started on July 16th in protest of conditions on Unit 1. We have not heard from prisoners at Bertie or Scotland. Small groups of prisoners at Foothills CI and Tabor CI have also said they have joined the protest.
The strike was organized to take aim at the fundamental conditions of sensory deprivation, psychological and physical torture, and abuse that characterize solitary confinement, and for that matter, prisons in general. It was also catalyzed by the need for law libraries for prisoners to be able to be better organize and defend themselves in the legal realm.
Some of the short term demands of prisoners, such as tools with which to clean cells, clearing the windows to the outside, and other demands have already been granted, but more significant demands have been put to the unit manager and have yet to be addressed. For the strikers involved, it seems like this strike was a way to garner much needed attention towards their conditions, as well as demonstrate to other prisoners that it is indeed possible to organize across lines of race or gang status, and to do so with meaningful support and solidarity from the outside.
At least one of the strikers, Jamey Wilkins, who has also been active in a successful lawsuit against guards, is facing reprisals for his involvement in organizing activity. Despite not having write-ups or infractions, he is being recommended for Supermax. Outside supporters are strongly encouraged to continue to call in or demonstrate on his and others’ behalf; prison officials are trying to send a warning to others who would organize or rebel, and they must be opposed resolutely.
In related news, several of the “Strong 8” prisoners, eight men who refused to continue to work in the face of unaddressed labor grievances in Central’s kitchens, have been taken off I-Con status and allowed back to general population, despite their involvement in the hunger strike. Others have remained on solitary due to (the admin. claims) infractions.
This hunger strike has garnered a good deal of attention, and the support and solidarity of a number diverse groups. At least four solidarity demonstrations have occurred, as well as a growing swell of support from alternative and social media sources and call-in days from all over the country. So it seems appropriate to end this update with some words of thanks from the strikers with regards to outside support and protest:
“I had assumed that the strike was over until Friday when I heard it on NPR! I’m going to practice solidarity with my fellow activists abroad and push out 2 or 3 days…I really appreciate you guys on your activism and bringing things together. Stay solid!” -Foothills CI, Morganton, NC
“I’ve been housed on Unit 1 since may 15th 2009 for assault on police back in 2007. So I know all the bullshit that goes on here at central or unit 1. I heard y’all by my cell window good around 1pm or 130 pm on Sunday, but i couldn’t understand the words that was said because everybody on unit one was kicking their cell doors.” – Central Prison, Raleigh, NC
“Keep up the good work all the up and tell everybody we do really, really appreciate all the help of stepping up for prisoners period.” – Central Prison, Raleigh, NC
“I told a couple guys about the hunger strike and we began a little something of our own. It’s only like four of us, but four is plenty!” – Tabor CI, Tabor City, NC
“Thank your for the demo! I heard it from outside. The solidarity is felt.” – Central Prison, Raleigh, NC
“We heard y’all! I was ready to go all out!” – Central Prison, Raleigh, NC
Hopefully this strike can be seen and felt as a beginning. Not to editorialize, but we would urge fellow supporters on the outside not to see this sort of flare-up as a simple quest for certain demands, like toilet brushes or cleaner windows or even law libraries. This kind of moment, even on the small scale in which it has occurred here, can only be fully understood as a struggle for dignity and freedom in the face of the largest and arguably the most brutal system of policing and human warehousing in the history of the world. The forms of these moments will grow and change: it may be a hunger strike today and a riot tomorrow, or a quiet study group the next day. But the content of these struggles, at least for some, remains a burning desire for liberty set against an institutional matrix of petty tyrannies and genocidal abuses that characterize all prisons everywhere.