Hunger Strike Begins at Wallens Ridge State Prison

From: Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers
April 16, 2013

On Monday, April the 15th it was brought to the attention of the Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers Coalition that a hunger strike has been initiated at Wallens Ridge State Prison located in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Based off inside information there are at least 16 individuals participating in this hunger strike. The status of the strikers is unknown at this time.

Last May a hunger strike was initiated at Red Onion State Prison, which is located 30 minutes north of Wallens Ridge State Prison and could be considered its sister site. Between the prior hunger strike and the current one, the VADOC has conducted a new effort to transport many of the prisoners formerly held at Red Onion to Wallens Ridge. 


Although Wallens Ridge is a lower-level security prison it is commonly said by prisoners and ex-prisoners that Wallens Ridge is a more brutal and corrupt prison than Red Onion. Even though the technical status of Wallens Ridge is security-level 4 there has now been a new security-level designation within Wallens Ridge, in correspondence with Red Onion transfers, known as security-level S. 

According to the VADOC January newsletter the reasoning behind this campaign is to “give…offenders more programmatic opportunities and more pathways to lower security prisons” and that it has resulted in “..a reduction in the number of Administrative Segregation offenders, a reduction in incidents, and a reduction in offender grievances.” 

The fact that these young men are compelled to risk their lives in order to gain a little more fairness, a little more decency, refutes whatever the official line of the VADOC may be in its efforts to keep the population under its thumb.

The VADOC and its agents are culpable for all torture and brutality that is inflicted upon generations of young black men who are living at the mercy of a justice system that specifically targets them based on their race and class. We support these hunger strikers and their demands against the oppression they face daily at the hands of correctional officers and the negligence of the VADOC itself.

Super Max Prisoner Represents Himself in Court while on Hunger Strike and Wins

This is a press release, published by Redbird Prison Abolition on Feb. 9th:

Contact: Ben Turk
Phone: 614-704-4699
Website: RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org

Friday, February 8th, Mahoning County, OH-

The jury largely sided with hunger striking super max prisoner Cornelius Harris in his criminal trial this week. Harris was facing nine felony charges stemming from fights with guards at The Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP). Harris has long maintained that these fights were actually initiated by guards who have targeted him for harassment and abuse. Earlier this week, a jury found largely in Mr Harris’ favor.

Mr Harris initiated his hunger strike on January fourth, and went to trial later in the month. He represented himself, and part way through the trial he was transferred to Franklin Medical Center (FMC) because of his deteriorating health due to the hunger strike. Mr Harris says he has lost about fifty pounds, and is experiencing sharp pains in his legs. Doctors report that he is close to suffering serious medical problems like organ failure because he has refused food for so long.

On Tuesday February 5th, the court Judge Maureen Sweeney ordered Mr Harris return to court to complete his trial, against the wishes of doctors at FMC. Harris was transferred back to OSP and appeared in court, ending the jury phase of trial on Friday, February 8th. Mr Harris was charged with two counts of attempted aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault, and three possession of a dangerous weapon while in detention charges. He was found not guilty of the attempted murder and felonious assault charges. Both attempted aggravated murder charges were reduced to felonious assault.

Mr Harris represented himself, with no assistance from lawyers, while his health was seriously compromised by the hunger strike. He says he is confident that under different circumstances, or with legal representation he would have also beaten the remaining charges.

As of Friday evening, Mr Harris is still on hunger strike. He was threatening to refuse water as well as food, a decision that would risk ending his life within 72 hours, but after the trial results and a meeting with the warden, he decided to drink water at least through the weekend. Mr Harris is making two main demands. First, an end to this harassment from guards and second, an improved procedure for security level review.

In June of 2012, Mr Harris released a statement, posted to RedBird Prison Abolition’s website detailing this abuse. In this statement he names correctional officers Timothy McVay, James Burns, Kieth Hawn and Waylon Wine as abusers. Mr Harris is concerned that these or other guards may escalate harassment and violence against him because of the results of the trial.

Mr Harris has been incarcerated at OSP since being transferred from Southern Ohio Correctional Institution (SOCF) in Lucasville five and a half years ago. The incidents producing these criminal charges occurred in 2009 and 2010. Mr Harris says he has not had any incident reports for the last three years, but has been kept on level 5 with severely restricted access to visitors, commissary and programming. Under these limitations, there is very little any level 5 prisoners can do to demonstrate good behaviour and reduce their security level.

In June of 2012, a death sentenced level 5 prisoner at OSP named Jason Robb went on a nine day hunger strike which ended with modifications to security review procedure and privileges for him and other death sentenced prisoners at OSP. These changes include limited congregate recreation, full contact visits, and increased frequency of security reviews. These changes allow the death sentenced prisoners at OSP to demonstrate ability to be housed on death row in Chillicothe. Mr Harris is demanding that these changes also apply to him. Mr Harris says Warden David Bobby is unwilling to meet these demands because he would have to apply the same changes to all level 5 prisoners.

Prisoner advocates say that these step-down procedures should be applied to all level 5 prisoners. Prisoners on level 5 at OSP spend 23 hours a day alone in their small cells, often for years on end. They have no human contact other than guards. These conditions are common in US super max prisons, but violate international human rights standards and are widely considered a form of torture.

Supporters are requesting that people call OSP Warden David Bobby on Monday, demanding that Mr Harris be kept safe from retaliation and have his hunger strike demands met. Warden Bobby can be reached at 330-743-0700 ext 2006. People are also encouraged to contact central office and demand oversight and changes to the security review system for level 5 prisoners. The number for Central Office is 614-752-1159.

Note from OHPW: Cornelius Harris’ ODRC registration nr is: #A525945

Media Release: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

Thursday, May 3. According to a level 5 prisoner participating in the hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) there are forty-eight (48) prisoners who have refused nine meals and should be officially recognized as on hunger strike. Warden Bobby refused to comment or return calls requesting information about the hunger strike.

The prisoner’s demands include the following:
1. Lower commissary prices. One striker writes:  “Commissary items are permitted to be marked up.to 35% above retail, while many of us receive only $8 a month.”
2. No more indefinite terms. Prisoners on the highest security level at OSP (level 5) currently have little prospects for reducing their security level and increasing privileges. “We are taken in front of a privilege review board every 90 days, yet can expect no [increase in] privilege for a year or longer” the hunger striker says of prisoners on Level 5B. Men on Level 5A have a privilege level review every six months, but there has been no increase in their privileges in recognition of good conduct for some time.
3. Healthy and nutritious food. According to the hunger striker, “austerity cuts have allowed our food portions to be shortened.”
4. Access to educational and enrichment materials. “There has recently been a major ban on books and music” the hunger striker said.
The hunger strike started on April 30th and was timed to coordinate in solidarity with May Day demonstrations and celebrations happening outside of prison. May Day is an international worker’s day, commemorating the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The hunger strikers are asking supporters to call Warden David Bobby (330 743-0700) and ODRC director Gary Mohr (614-752-1164). They say they intend to continue on their hunger strike until their demands are met.
This is the second hunger strike at OSP this year. The first occurred on Feb 20th-23rd in solidarity with the Occupy movement’s call for an “Occupy for Prisoners” day of action. That hunger strike ended with Warden Bobby, as well as officials from Central Office in Columbus, promising to increase recreation time to the court-mandated minimum as well as improve enrichment programming, food quality and commissary practices. Until recently Ohio State Penitentiary housed death row as well as the highest security level prisoners. When all but 6 death row prisoners were moved to Chillicothe, the number of Level 4 and 5 prisoners at OSP increased from 270 to over 400, and rec time was reduced to 3 or 4 hours per week. The court required minimum is 5 hours per week.

Yesterday, OSP officials confirmed that rec time has been increased. According to a unit manager and Warden Bobby’s secretary, after recent changes, Level 4A prisoners receive 5 hours a day congregating with up to 8 other prisoners at a time. Most level 4B prisoners are allowed to rec in pairs, for 5 one hour and forty-five minute periods a week. All level 5 prisoners rec alone, most receive 5 one hour and fifteen minute periods per week. The four exceptions to this rule are Level 5 prisoners sentenced to death for alleged involvement in the Lucasville Uprising. These men are allowed 7 hours a week due to an agreement following a twelve day hunger strike they staged in January 2011.  Recreation is the only time when any of the prisoners are allowed out of their 7′ x 11′ isolation cells. 

Updated information about the hunger strike can be found at RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org and LucasvilleAmnesty.org