On Monday, May 19th, 7 prisoners at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, NC began a hunger strike in protest of a range of indignities and grievances. According to prisoners in the facility, additional men started joining the strike after the first day. The strike was initiated in part by prisoners who were transferred out of Central Prison, following a class action lawsuit against the facility for abuse by guards in various “blind spots” around Unit One. That lawsuit has already forced the administration’s hand in videotaping any cell extractions by guards.
A demands and grievances list was sent by the prisoners to comrades on the outside. It included complaints around filthy food and ventilation units, no way to clean the cells, a law library, functional emergency call buttons, the use of “nutra-loaf” as punishment, inadequate mental health care for mentally ill prisoners, the censorship of political and religious texts, and keeping prisoners with no new infractions on solitary for years on end.
According to one strike participant, after 17 days of fasting, along with pressure from a lawyer and outside support, the administration agreed to some of the prisoners demands, including no longer taking prisoners’ mattresses as punishment, rewriting the suicide and self-injury policy, providing more clothes to prisoners, and investigating grievances on time. The participant wrote in, “We’ll see…I didn’t even expect to get that much, but if you guys didn’t press in from without we’d still be getting mistreated so thanks a bunch….Next time the need arises I will expect us to be on the front line ready, willing and determined.”
The following is a poem written by one prisoner during his fast:
My stomach growls but I’m strong and proud
So even though in summer clouds
I see marshmallows or mashed potatoes bathed by a buttery sun
In the midst of chaotic bliss I remain utterly calm
If looks could kill I’d be dead
But instead, by them, I am fed
They motivate me, energize me, harden my resolve
To stand firm in my strike because I fight for a cause
Bringing attention to our condition or else it’ll never change
So my hunger means nothing because freedom is everything