Last Menard hunger striker calls for a new generation of warriors

From the SF Bay View:
Last Menard hunger striker calls for a new generation of warriors

By Joseph Tillman, June 25, 2014

I participated in the Menard hunger strike and I actually was the last to come off. The hardest part was not not eating but having to notify my loved ones that I may die while trying to make them understand this is worth my life.

Menard hunger strikers still fighting to be treated like human beings

Reblogged from: SF Bay View, April 12, 2014

Written By Jesus Vega

I am currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois and housed in the high security unit in administrative detention. I was one of the inmates who was on hunger strike over harsh living conditions and denial of our due process, which is still going on.

No! Things haven’t changed after the hunger strike was over. I spent 29 days on hunger strike and three days on a water strike. I couldn’t go any longer.
I tried my best with the other brothers to get these harsh conditions fixed or changed. But nothing has been done.

There was a lot of reasons why we went on hunger strike, but some of the main reasons were the denial of our due process where they place us in administrative detention in the high security unit and refuse to tell us why, don’t let us know how long we will be in here and how to get out without becoming a snitch, plus having to endure the harsh conditions, meaning living without hot water in the cell and no heat during the cold weather months plus some other things.

But we’ve only gotten hot water, and we still are in a fight to be treated like a human being. Just know we haven’t quit our fight.

Send our brother some love and light: Jesus Vega, R21806, Menard CC, P.O. Box 1000, Menard, IL 62259.

Update from Menard hunger strikers: We need outside support, force feeding threatened

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
Jan. 21, 2014

The following information is drawn from letters received from prisoners in Administrative Detention at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois, and compiled by attorney Alice Lynd.

Jan. 21, 2014 – On Jan. 15, 2014, approximately 25 prisoners in Administrative Detention at Menard Correctional Center went on hunger strike. 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.

On the way back from seeing medical staff, one prisoner (said to be Armando Valazquez) was pushed onto the stairs while in handcuffs by two officers. Those officers then kicked and stomped on his back, picked him up and then slammed his face into the plexiglass window on a door. One officer was sent home early that day. Prisoner Velazquez was moved to the Health Care Unit and the prisoners have not seen him since.

The hunger strikers have been told the prison administration is working on obtaining a preliminary injunction to force feed them. They expect to continue the hunger strike even if they are force fed.

“We need as much outside support as possible,” the prisoners say.

Please call or email:

Attorney Alice Lynd can be reached at salynd @ aol.com.

Menard prisoners’ demands

In a letter to Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador A. Godinez, Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago writes that prisoners formerly housed at Tamms and now in Administrative Detention at Menard in the High Security Unit, or HSU, “have contacted our office regarding both the process by which they were placed in this unit and the conditions of their confinement in the unit.

“They have advised us that due to the lack of response from anyone within the Department regarding their informal complaints and formal grievances they will begin an indefinite hunger strike today, Jan. 15.

“The men have forwarded the following demands to us in the hopes that we can facilitate resolution of the issues:

  1. A hearing upon arrival and rationale for placement, as well as the written rules and regulations regarding their classification;
  2. Quarterly meaningful reviews of continued placement;
  3. Timely written responses to grievances in compliance with the departmental directives;
  4. The ability to have reasonable access to cleaning supplies for their personal cells;
  5. The common areas to be cleaned and sanitized (i.e., showers) and the vermin and rodent infestation eliminated;
  6. Adequate heat and hot water in cells and common areas;
  7. The ability to purchase basic commissary items (i.e., thermal clothing, shoes etc.), pursuant to departmental regulations;
  8. Access to individual razors and nail clippers held by departmental staff;
  9. Timely addressed medical treatment (i.e., physical, mental and dental ailments); and
  10. Adequate access to legal property boxes and the law library.”

Alan Mills can be reached at Uptown People’s Law Center, 4415 North Sheridan, Chicago IL 60640, (775) 769-1411, www.uplcchicago.org.

Illinois prisoners in Menard High Security Unit plan to begin hunger strike Jan. 15

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
by Staughton Lynd 
Jan. 14, 2014

The following information is based on numerous letters from prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois written in December 2013. These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.
Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

The IDOC website says, “Menard Correctional Center was established on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1878. … Menard is the state’s largest maximum security adult male facility.”

After the Tamms Correctional Center was closed in January 2013, several High Security Units have been opened in other prisons throughout Illinois. The High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center is one of several such units housing prisoners in administrative detention who were in Tamms or who have filed grievances or complaints and others who would not have met the criteria for transfer to Tamms.


The men were transferred to Menard and continue to be kept in the High Security Unit without any notice, reasons or hearing. Prisoners who were transferred without so much as a ticket are being forced to complete a nine month three phase program – originally Tamms’ stepdown program – to earn back privileges they did nothing to lose.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has been unable to locate any records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request for any administrative directives that deal with the “phase program.” The Menard rule book says that administrative detention is a non-disciplinary form of segregation from the general population that is reviewed every 90 days by the warden. However, the phase program is nine months. Therefore, no one is being considered for release until at least nine months after entering the system.
The 90-day review is supposed to be a review where release is considered. Instead, it is only a hearing where the prisoner is not present, and its only purpose is to determine if he should move from one phase to the next. To date, nobody has been released after the nine months. No notices are being given after any of these alleged hearings, and no basis for decision of continued placement is given either.

These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.

Prisoners have been filing grievances asking for uniform written policies that provide for constitutionally adequate notice of why an inmate is being placed in administrative detention and periodic review in the form of informal hearings that allow the prisoner to refute the alleged reasons for placement and retention in administrative detention.
Prisoners say that their conditions of confinement are deplorable. According to prisoners, conditions in the High Security Unit include
  • severe isolation without any mental health evaluation or treatment;
  • uncleanliness, rodent infestation and lack of any cleaning supplies to clean cells – no disinfectants, no toilet brushes;
  • no written policies requiring the daily sweeping and mopping of the wings;
  • lack of heat in the cells and only one small, thin blanket;
  • showers are moldy and often cold;
  • no hot water in the cells to wash up or clean eating utensils;
  • unauthorized deviation from the statewide menu, low calorie intake has prisoners losing weight;
  • not issued individual coats, have to share smelly coats with numerous men;
  • access to their legal materials limited to approximately once a month, delays in receiving legal mail;
  • no educational opportunities even though non-disciplinary prisoners should have the same access to education as the general population.
Many prisoners in the Menard High Security Unit are planning to turn in emergency grievances as well as begin a hunger strike on the morning of Jan. 15, 2014. They expect retaliation, possibly including beatings of inmates who are regarded as troublemakers.

Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

How you can help

Prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center ask you to make phone calls to the warden, the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the governor on Jan. 15, 16 and 17, 2014, to check on their conditions, demands, and welfare. Please call:
Staughton Lynd, attorney, professor, historian, author, playwright, and civil rights and peace activist, can be reached at salynd@aol.com.

Illinois prisoners in Menard High Security Unit plan to begin hunger strike Jan. 15

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
by Staughton Lynd 
Jan. 14, 2014

The following information is based on numerous letters from prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois written in December 2013. These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.
Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

The IDOC website says, “Menard Correctional Center was established on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1878. … Menard is the state’s largest maximum security adult male facility.”

After the Tamms Correctional Center was closed in January 2013, several High Security Units have been opened in other prisons throughout Illinois.

The High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center is one of several such units housing prisoners in administrative detention who were in Tamms or who have filed grievances or complaints and others who would not have met the criteria for transfer to Tamms.

The men were transferred to Menard and continue to be kept in the High Security Unit without any notice, reasons or hearing. Prisoners who were transferred without so much as a ticket are being forced to complete a nine month three phase program – originally Tamms’ stepdown program – to earn back privileges they did nothing to lose.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has been unable to locate any records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request for any administrative directives that deal with the “phase program.” The Menard rule book says that administrative detention is a non-disciplinary form of segregation from the general population that is reviewed every 90 days by the warden. However, the phase program is nine months. Therefore, no one is being considered for release until at least nine months after entering the system.
The 90-day review is supposed to be a review where release is considered. Instead, it is only a hearing where the prisoner is not present, and its only purpose is to determine if he should move from one phase to the next. To date, nobody has been released after the nine months. No notices are being given after any of these alleged hearings, and no basis for decision of continued placement is given either.

These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.

Prisoners have been filing grievances asking for uniform written policies that provide for constitutionally adequate notice of why an inmate is being placed in administrative detention and periodic review in the form of informal hearings that allow the prisoner to refute the alleged reasons for placement and retention in administrative detention.
Prisoners say that their conditions of confinement are deplorable. According to prisoners, conditions in the High Security Unit include
  • severe isolation without any mental health evaluation or treatment;
  • uncleanliness, rodent infestation and lack of any cleaning supplies to clean cells – no disinfectants, no toilet brushes;
  • no written policies requiring the daily sweeping and mopping of the wings;
  • lack of heat in the cells and only one small, thin blanket;
  • showers are moldy and often cold;
  • no hot water in the cells to wash up or clean eating utensils;
  • unauthorized deviation from the statewide menu, low calorie intake has prisoners losing weight;
  • not issued individual coats, have to share smelly coats with numerous men;
  • access to their legal materials limited to approximately once a month, delays in receiving legal mail;
  • no educational opportunities even though non-disciplinary prisoners should have the same access to education as the general population.
Many prisoners in the Menard High Security Unit are planning to turn in emergency grievances as well as begin a hunger strike on the morning of Jan. 15, 2014. They expect retaliation, possibly including beatings of inmates who are regarded as troublemakers.

Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

How you can help

Prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center ask you to make phone calls to the warden, the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the governor on Jan. 15, 16 and 17, 2014, to check on their conditions, demands, and welfare. Please call:
Staughton Lynd, attorney, professor, historian, author, playwright, and civil rights and peace activist, can be reached at salynd@aol.com.

Tamms Prison Project Makes Prisoners’ Dreams Come True (PHOTOS)

From: The Daily Beast, May 6, 2013:

“Photo Requests From Solitary” was one of many projects launched by Tamms Year Ten to build publicity for the campaign to close Tamms supermax. The men in Tamms were invited to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined. 

See the slide show of photos, impressions, here

Former Tamms inmates on hunger strike

From the Southern Illinoisan:

THE SOUTHERN SPRINGFIELD BUREAU

SPRINGFIELD — A small group of inmates at Pontiac Correctional Center launched a hunger strike Monday, saying conditions are worse than when they resided at the now-closed super-maximum-security facility in Tamms.

The Chicago-based Uptown People’s Law Center said an estimated 10 prisoners are participating in the strike, which comes about a month after the inmates were transferred out of Tamms and into the older facility in Livingston County.

Key among their grievances is a lack of heat because of some of the retrofitting that was done in order to prepare Pontiac for the prisoners from Tamms. The prisoners are complaining that plexiglass panels installed on their cell doors block heat from entering their living areas, said Brian Nelson prison rights coordinator for the law center.

Gov. Pat Quinn closed Tamms in early January as part of a budget-cutting move. The prison had been built to house the state’s most dangerous prisoners in near-solitary confinement.

Nelson said the prisoners are upset that they don’t have televisions, radios, cleaning supplies, legal-sized envelopes and razors. In addition, he said they also are being forced to share nail clippers even though some men have illnesses.

read further here: http://thesouthern.com/news/local/former-tamms-inmates-on-hunger-strike/article_2e1ed102-6f5a-11e2-af16-001a4bcf887a.html

Last inmates leave Tamms ‘supermax’ prison

One of the more contentious episodes in the history of Illinois penitentiaries ended Friday as the last inmates held at the “supermax” prison in Tamms moved out and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration prepares to shut it down.

The final five inmates at the high-security home for the “worst of the worst” were shipped to the Pontiac Correctional Center, a prison spokeswoman said. Among the last to leave was a convict who helped lead a prison riot in 1979 and stabbed serial killer John Wayne Gacy while on death row.

Also bused out of the southern Illinois city were four dozen residents of the adjoining minimum-security work camp, packed off to Sheridan Correctional Center in north-central Illinois.

The departures mark the end of a nearly 15-year experiment with the super maximum-security prison, which supporters say the state still needs for troublemaking convicts — particularly during a time of record inmate population. But opponents contend the prison’s practice of near-total isolation was inhumane and contributed to some inmates’ deteriorating mental health.

More than 130 inmates were moved out of the prison in just nine days, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that legal action by a state workers’ union could no longer hold up the governor’s closure plans. The state has offered to sell the $70 million facility the federal government, but there are no solid plans for the future of the prison, often simply called Tamms.

“It’s sad for our area, but we’re never going to give up,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg whose district includes Tamms. “We still have an overcrowding problem. That’s the deal with this. The governor has made it worse. Eventually, some of these facilities are going to have to reopen.”

But activists opposed to the prison’s isolation practices cheered Friday’s landmark moment. One organizer, Laurie Jo Reynolds, called the course to closure “a democratic process” that involved not high-priced lobbyists or powerful strategists but, “the people — truly, the people.”

Shuttering Tamms is part of Quinn’s plan to save money. The Democrat said housing an inmate at the prison cost three times what it does at general-population prisons. He has also closed three halfway houses for inmates nearing sentence completion, relocating their 159 inmates, and plans to shutter the women’s prison in Dwight. 

Read the rest here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-last-inmates-leave-tamms-supermax-prison-20121228,0,1550702.story

Chicago Police Torture Victim Grayland Johnson found dead inside his Stateville prison cell this morning in Joliet, Illinois

From Facebook Notes, written by Mark Clements, Dec 5th 2012:

This morning Tuesday, December 4, 20112 at approximately eight o’clock Grayland Johnson, a Chicago Police Torture Victim was found dead inside his prison cell. The Campaign to End Torture (“CET”)  was immediately notified and made attempts to confirm the death through the Illinois Department Corrections, however Prison officials would not either confirm nor deny the death. Johnson family was notified through the (“CET”) and at this hour the family is yet to be notified by IDOC officials. Johnson served over sixteen years in prison for a murder which evidence seem to suggest that he was innocent of the crime. What was more clear is that Johnson was taken to area three violent crime unit, beat and tortured by detectives working under the command of Jon Burge.

Johnson has claimed that while in police custody his head was stuck inside a toilet bowl, he was hung outside the window by police and physically beaten throughout his body. Because Johnson was a big ranking gang leader in south Chicago he has been viewed as guilty. Johnson often called me at the offices of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to complain of never being notified about court status and court proceedings by his attorney. With the death of Johnson it takes with him a great mobilization that he and other inmates started, the “DEATH ROW TEN” inmates that had been tortured under the command of Burge. Cards to the Family can be sent to: Mark Clements, Att: Grayland Johnson, Suite #105, 1325 S. Wabash Ave., in Chicago, Illinois 60605.

At this 9:40PM hour the family of Johnson still are yet to be notified of the death by Stateville Correctional Center prison officials. When inmates die for whatever reason, it appears to be unethical how prison officials can delay notification of a death to immediate family. Please think of Mr. Johnson and his family in your prayers.

State sued over prison conditions

From: Illinois Times, June 28 2012
By Bruce Rushton

Conditions at Vienna Correctional Center are something out of a Dickens novel, judging by a stomach-churning lawsuit filed earlier this month by inmates who say they live with filth, vermin and a paucity of bathrooms.

A lawyer for inmates says that prisoners at Vienna and Vandalia Correctional Center, which could be the next legal target, are living in poorer conditions than inmates in California, which has been ordered to reduce overcrowding by a federal judge.

“We are worse than California,” says Alan Mills, legal director for the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, which sued the state in federal court on June 13. “California is putting people in gymnasiums. But, to my knowledge, they are not putting people into basements or storage rooms.”

In addition to suing the state over conditions at Vienna Correctional Center, the Uptown People’s Law Center is considering a lawsuit over conditions at Vandalia Correctional Center, where minimum security inmates are held, Mills said. If the state doesn’t settle, lawsuits could take years to resolve, he said.

It is, Mills said, a matter of math. The inmate population has increased by 10 percent during the past two years while the state prison budget has decreased by 15 percent, he said. There is some hope in recently passed legislation that reinstitutes an early-release program for inmates who behave themselves, Mills said.

The legislature also appropriated $26 million to keep the Tamms supermax prison open. Gov. Pat Quinn says that he will close it nonetheless, and if the money is spent to expand a minimum security work camp next to the supermax, intolerable conditions might improve, Mills said.

Stacey Solano, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said the department doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits, but health, safety and security of inmates and staff is the department’s top priority. She confirmed that Tamms will be closed, but declined to say how the department might spend money appropriated to keep the supermax open.
In the meantime, inmates are living in squalor, according to the class-action lawsuit filed on June 13 in federal court.

Nearly 1,900 prisoners are living in Vienna Correctional Center, which was built to hold 925 inmates, according to the lawsuit. While state law requires each inmate to have at least 50 square feet in cells or dormitories, inmates at Vienna have 33 square feet or less, the plaintiffs say. Inmates get three hours or less of exercise time each week, and much of their time is spent on bunks crammed 18 inches apart, so close that a prisoner can reach out and touch the person sleeping next to them.

Rather than fix broken windows, the state has boarded them up, depriving inmates of natural light and fresh air. Mice, rats, millipedes, cockroaches and other vermin run free, and food contains rodent feces and mold, according to the plaintiffs.

“Prisoners find cockroaches in their coffee cups, drinking glasses and toothbrushes and feel cockroaches crawl across them while they lie in their bunks,” the plaintiffs say. “The men often have to physically sweep cockroaches off of their mattresses and remove cockroach feces from their pillows and clothing.”

A converted administration building that is home to 600 inmates has seven toilets, two urinals, seven sinks and seven showers.

“To make matters worse, some of these toilets and sinks often do not function or drain properly due to leaking or clogged pipes,” the plaintiffs say. “Rust-colored water comes out of these few sinks, which the prisoners use to brush their teeth, wash their faces and ‘clean’ their dishes. Broken toilets are left filled with feces, sometimes for weeks.”

Mold is rampant.

“It grows along the walls and ceilings, in the light fixtures, around the sinks and drinking fountains, in the showers and behind the toilets,” the plaintiffs say. “The mold on the ceiling and in the showers sometimes grows so thick that it breaks off and falls on the prisoners while they are sleeping in their bunks or showering.”

Just five guards watch over the 600 inmates who live in the converted administration building.

“Because there are so many prisoners and so few officers, the officers are frequently unaware of the fights that occur in the dormitories and when the officers are aware, they often let the inmates fight it out, intervening only after the fight is finished in order to issue disciplinary citations,” plaintiffs say.

The conditions described in the lawsuit are confirmed in a report by the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison reform group that visited the prison last fall. The visitors smelled sewage and found inmates dodging rust-colored water that dripped from bathroom ceilings. Prisoners said they were given just five minutes to eat meals. Hundreds of inmates with nothing to do simply paced or huddled around a small television.

“A Vienna staff member seemed to recognize the stunned look on our faces,” the report’s author wrote. “‘This is a nightmare,’ he said quietly to one of JHA’s staff. ‘This should not be.’”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

Read the Monitoring Visit by John Howard Association of Illinois below:

http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-123-.pdf

Read the Vienna Complaint Court Document below:

http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-124-.pdf