Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hidden hunger strikes possible in Wisconsin DOC.

Damien Huff, GBCI hunger striker
On Tuesday March 26, Cesar DeLeon and nine others started a hungerstrike at Racine and Columbia Correctional Institutions. This is not the first group hunger strike against solitary confinement in Wisconsin this year.


On January 3, Damien Huff contacted Forum for Understanding Prisons (FFUP) about a hunger strike he and 5 others were engaged in at Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI). Since the summer of 2016 when the Dying to Live hunger strike at Waupun Correctional was met with brutal retaliation, punitive transfers and months of force feeding, FFUP has been unable to assist prisoners engaged in the tactic.
 
“The DOC stopped monitoring hunger strikes or following any protocol except abuse,” says Peg Swan, founder of FFUP, “so no one could keep track or help and we started to discourage people from engaging in the practice. Now, with the new administration, we hope prisoner’s voices will be heard and hunger strike protocol followed.”

When Damien wrote back nearly a month later, reporting that he was still on hunger strike, FFUP grew concerned and tried to raise the alarm. The letter was dated January 24, but not received by FFUP until February 5, possibly due to intervention by GBCI staff. FFUP mail is to and from prisoners often seems interfered with, and it’s possible Huff or other hunger strikers wrote letters that were illegally intercepted by prison staff.


Upon receiving the letter on February 5, FFUP contacted DOC officials and the office of State Representative Evan Goyke. A week later, they received assurances that the hunger strike was over and everyone was eating.

Then Ben Turk, a member of FFUP filed a public records request, to follow up and try and understand what had happened. The DOC did not release records until March 25, over a month after the request was submitted. Despite being heavily redacted, those records suggest that another hunger strike or hunger strikes were occurring at the same time at Waupun Correctional (WCI).

Staff at WCI and GBCI were sending emails with “hunger strike report” in the subject line from January 2, until February 23, the day before the request was filed. It’s possible that the Waupun hunger strike continued past February 23.

Before force-feeding prisoners in 2016 DOC secured court orders from judges authorizing the practice. There’s no record on CCAP of DOC requesting or receiving such court orders in 2019. Emails obtained through the records request mention that a prisoner at GBCI (presumably Damien Huff) was “taking ensure daily and eating sporadically” near the end of his strike. Its unclear whether “taking ensure” means voluntarily, or through nasal tube, as with the 2016 hunger strikes.
Ben Turk intends to do a follow up request seeking evidence of hunger strikes across the state for a longer time period to determine how widespread this mode of protest is, and why the outside world is not aware of these hunger strikes. 

Write to the hunger strikers at:
Damien Huff #551050
Fredrick Morris #579941
Michael Johnson #265812

Green Bay Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 19033
Green Bay, WI 54307-9033

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