Georgia Prison Hunger Strikers Speak Out
This article consists of writings by five men who participated in the Georgia Prison Hunger Strike. The strike began in June 2012 with 10 prisoners striking to protest mistreatment and poor conditions. It was part of a continuation of a December 2010 prisoner strike in which prisoners refused to work or leave their cells. According to Bruce Dixon, "They were demanding simple things like transparency in inmate accounts, like wages for work, like educational programs behind the walls and such. Georgia prison officials retaliated, first by cutting off heat and hot water to some of the buildings, locking them down, and eventually with a wave of savage retaliatory beatings across multiple prisons." For more about the Georgia Prison Hunger strike, see the Black Agenda Report.
One of the five prisoners who speaks out here is still on hunger strike.
I have typed their statements up as they were sent to me and have not made any changes (I did add photos and the writer's name before each piece). The entire article is free for anyone to reuse and publish, as long as you do not add anything to the prisoners' pieces. I will print and mail each of them a copy of comments left at the bottom of this article.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Yahya Jihad Ali (AKA Johnnie Grant)
"A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain" -- Mildred witte Stouven
"What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" -- Friedrich Nietzche
My decision to partake in the Hunger Strike movement was based solely on the purpose of having a voice. Being locked down 24 hours a day with little-to-no human contact is akin to being invisible. It is almost synonomous with non-existence. No one but Allah hears the cries of the oppressed. Depriving oneself of food and nutrients for a lengthy period of time seemed, at the time, to be the only type of non-violent demonstration - i.e. non-resistant resistance - capable of garnering enough attention to our plight to empower change.
The travesties of injustice being perpetrated against the defenseless here at Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison/Special Management Unit are a prime example of malice inhumanity in it's purest form. Everyday inmates are transfered here to serve an indefinite amount of time locked in isolation, most of whom are never afforded the right to due process.
I, myself, have been locked down for the past 27 months without ever having been found guilty of a disciplinary infraction. Before even arriving here in December 2010, I had been a medium security inmate (albeit housed at a maximum security facility) whose last prior disciplinary report dated all the way back to February 2008. Not to mention I'd only had, at that time, a little less than three years left on my sentence.
How I ended up on solitary confinement continues to baffle my loved ones. It doesn't surprise me at all though, due to the fact that I've been enduring these types of injustices since the age of 16, when I caught this case that I am now paying my debt to society for. The "guilty until proven innocent" or better yet "guilty, even if proven innocent" mentality within the criminal justice system is just a fact of life for myself and others trapped behind the razor wire. To call it an impasse would be an understatement.
It never ceases to amaze me how politicians and social leaders abhor the oppression being inflicted upon the many citizens of countries around the world by dictators - e.g. North Korea, Libya, Syria, etc. - but they don't seem to find the oppression of the citizens in their own backyard to be reprehensible. These types of double-standards must be exposed and abolished in order for America to truly be the land of the free. Whatever happened to "with liberty and justice for all"? As of right now that portion of the pledge of allegience excludes prisoners.
So when asked the question of why I would starve myself to get my point across, my answer remains: I'd rather die standing up for what I believe is right, then to live my life compromising my integrity out of fear of wrongdoing. Would I do it again? Absolutely, if the situation warranted it. And as for those who think that going on a hunger strike is for weak people who fear a physical altercation, I leave you with this quote from Thomas A. Kempis: No conflict is so severe as his who labours to subdue himself."
Yahya Jihad Ali
Bahgeena Ali Mutras (BKA Preston Whiting)
"We can no longer lend our cooperation to an evil system. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with evil." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
The aforementioned quote must be overstood before you can understand my hunger strike reasoning and/or mentality. I wholly believe that those whom society has condemned as unjust have not forfeited their unalienable rights and still deserve equality and justice. Is the American way to "repeatedly" punish a man for a crime in which he has already been punished and is repaying his debt to society? Abusing him physically, psychologically, and emotionally to the point where this abnormal treatment becomes normal in his everyday existence. It is this very form of Stockholm Syndrome that makes inmates unfit for the civilized world and want to return to the confined conformity of incarceration. And it is this very thing that must be stopped. Correction Officials will not stop willingly for we are the product that kept the Prison Industrial Complex the leading stock for investors during the recession and it's recovery. And even more ironic is, the fact, the same people who inmates must ask for help are the same ones who allow the cruel and unusual punishment's perpetual occurrence. Fighting such abusive oppression with physical force only makes matters worse individually and collectively for inmates. From the individual being sprayed with chemical agents, beaten up while handcuffs, stripped naked, and thrown into an empty cell full of metal and concrete with the cold air blasting. To the collective being locked down in cells for 24 hours a day, fed two sandwiches and an orange for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and herded around under the threat of rubber bullets and compressed air pepper ball guns. For an indefinite period of time. The cover for such peonage and assaultive treatment is rehabilitation and behavior modification. Aahhh! What sophisticated words for such vile immoral acts.
Even though the things above were were a probable consequence I felt an urgent need to do something about my situation. To describe in short: I was and still am on a 23 hour lockdown in what is referred to as Special Management Units. I fit no criteria, had no due process or classification hearing, and for two years haven't been told what justifies my liberty being deprivated in this manner. I have not justly been found guilty of a disciplinary write up since arriving. I only have one on my disciplinary case history out of five years in prison, yet all the privileges and rights I'm supposed to have have been taken away. For no penalogical or justifiable reason. Not to mention the psychological side effects of being locked in a cell the size of a mop closet with limited human contact, sensory deprivation, and inhumane treatment have on the psyche it's self. These do not sound like the methods of rehabilitation to me, do they to you? As noted through out history a violent protest against a more powerful faction than your own is doomed to failure without the appropriate resources and man power. To go on a hunger strike was the most passive form of illicting not just a reaction, but a response on our deplorable conditions of confinement. It was the only way to speak out that was within our rights per the G.D.O.C.'s S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) and the United States Constitution. Also, and most importantly, it was the best form of resisting without resistance.
This is the time when the strength of self and will either flourish or languish. When comraderie and the human spirit build upon solidarity and determination. Where the realization of the famous Malcolm X quote "By any means necessary" becomes your only reality because the resonance of inhumane treatment is echoing in your mind and the only thing you're thinking is… if I can't live as a man, then I will die as one. Giving teh oppressor the quintessential proof that I need not lower and degrade myself to gain temporary material sustenance, when God Almighty can sustain us physically, mentally, and spiritually. After 39 days with no food I hold these truths to be self-evident. For I am starving for a change because I know one day change will come!!!
Bahgeena Ali Mutras
Preston Whiting 1249426
INSIDE THE MIND OF A HUNGER STRIKER
I was placed in E-Wing at Jackson State Classification & Diagnostics Prisons SMU for not shaving my beard, I grow my beard due to my religious beliefs we are reuired to grow our beards & trim our mustaches. I am not saying that I am the most righteous individual in the world but I am trying to become a better person, however it is very hard trying to do what is right when the same people who are entrusted to uphold the laws & respect your rights as an American & a human being are violating you & breaking the law at the same time.
The United States Constitution guarantees you a right to freedom of religion & it does not that once you are convicted of a crime that those rights are automatically forfieted but for some reason in Georgia they feel that they are. Is it because Georgia is one of the slave states? I think so. The so-called Law Abiding Prison officials feel as if they do not have to respect your rights & somehow feel that you are no longer a human being but a criminal. They hate anybody who says they are not Christian & try to make life in prison extremely difficult for you.
I always wanted to know how could a person or persons who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ be so corrupt & evil hearted? They do not display the characteristics of the King & his followers who were trying to persecute Jesus & for that very reason alone is why I chose to deny myself food & water, at first I thought it was going to be hard, I had never gone long without either before. Once I started it was not as hard as I had imagined, maybe it was because I had so much dislike in my heart towards the oppressors who call themselves Correctional Officials, I knew in my heart what I was doing was right & I really believed that GOD would help me & I was right because he sent us some outside help & I am very grateful for those individuals who understood & supported our cause! The Georgia Prison System is so corrupt & used to people bowing down to them, they are used to beating people into submission or taking everything that you have and cutting off your outside communication with your family & friends until they eventually give up trying & leave you alone to do your time alone.
They thought that we were going to bend or fold in a couple of days & we did not have a family or outside support & society would not believe us because no one cares about a bunch of criminals anyway. Now this is what was said by the Head Warden but it did not surprise me one bit that he would say something like that, this is Georgia & racism is still alive & well even though it is 2013. It was plenty of nights that I could not sleep either I was too hungry or had slept too much, I was too weak to get out of bed most of the time but I was not about to give up until I got some results & the others felt the same, we supported each other & always gave each other encouraging words when they were needed. We all had one thing on our mind & that was to stop these people from violating our rights as human beings because we are humans no matter what anyone may think or believe & just because we have made mistakes when we were younger or in a state of ignorance does not give anyone the right to assume that one cannot change or assume that we are not human & should be treated how they see fit who gave them that right? Society needs to open up their eyes & their minds & see the that the same people they are employing to do a service to them are not doing what they took an oath to do, they are slowly trying to make criminals & animals out of anyone who is not a part of their system. It is alright with me if you do not like people who have committed crimes but do not let your dislike for people who make mistakes or think what they are doing is right because it is all that they know blind you to the point where you will allow to mistreat us & do wrong & hide behind the law & even be congradulated when they harm or murder one of us. You never know it could be you or your family & friends one day & I hope you are not one of those people who feel well they should not have broken the law when you have probably broken all kinds of biblical laws, laws of God & laws of nature & if you are then you are part of the problem.
Kelvin J. Stevenson
A Member of Georgia's S.M.U. Hungerstrikers Finally Speaks Out
At first thought, fighting (physically) for a change is always the first option of any man that is being oppressed. Notice I say a man! For only a man will fight for freedom in all aspects! So instead of feeding into the negative image Prison Administrators try to paint of prisoners being housed at S.M.U. we thought deeply about what would bring serious attention to the cruel and inhumane treatment that prisoners at S.M.U. were being subjected to. All agreed that a hungerstrike would be the best means in which to challenge our living conditions and the deliberate violation of our due process rights. We all came to the conclusion that fighting with the prison administrators will always deter them from their desire to inflict oppression upon any man that's willing to stand up and fight that oppression. History shows that when a rebellion comes into being the oppressor will try to thrawt that rebellion by any means. Yet when the rebellion poses a significant threat, prison administrators, will seek a compromise, especially if it will benefit them. A physical riot would only justify the prisoners being treated like animals. Plus it exposes prisoners to the threat of more time, physical injury, or even death. So to avoid being labeled in the negative, hungerstrike would expose the cruel nature of the prison administration and bring to the public's attention the treatment of its citizens.
Once formulated and put into action it became the tool in which to empower the individual's spirit and awaken many who were asleep. Before this hungerstrike manifested, prisoners were suspended in the Twilight Zone. No due process and no justification for being housed at S.M.U. Another prison could transfer you here for filing grievances or to cover up a "Excessive Use of Force".
SMU was and is GA.'s D.O.C. Dirty Little Secret. The hungerstrike and media attention it garnered got the prison department's attention as we predicted. Demands were made, some met most not, yet it was shown that a determined spirit can and will bring about change.
As of to date, a new S.M.U. S.O.P. has been put in place which puts prisoners in a step-down program. Further but most important, a way to challenge one's placement in S.M.U. now exists. Now prison administrators are required to afford prisoners an opportunity contest what was done to him, not only as a Constitutional Principle, but they are now forced to adhere and conform to established departmental rules and regulations that S.M.U. administrators were deliberately ignoring. Now they can and will be held liable in the Federal Courts. Am I satisfied with the outcome? NO!! The Commissioner and all his subordinates participated in corruption and should have been fired! In order for Georgia to receive prison construction subsidies it must operate a S.M.U., that is one of the standards the Federal Government sets. So the Commissioner and all his subordinates filled S.M.U. with mentally unstabled, writ writers, victims of excessive force, and political prisoners to justify S.M.U.'s operation. Truth be told, its just the workings of the modern day slave trade! So as for the hungerstrike and its outcome, all I will say is that it had its use. The Fight Must Go On!
Kelvin J. Stevenson #570391
G.D.C.P./S.M.U. P/O Box 3877
Jackson, GA 30233
A Few of Georiga's Hunger Strikers at S.M.U. Finally Speaks Out.
At first thought, fighting (physically) for a change was a highly undisputed alternative, instead, we came up with another remedy, Hunger Strike. We all came to the conclusion that fighting with Prison administrations will always deter them from their desire to inflict oppression upon us prisoners, history shows it, when you rebell and pose a significant threat in a prison disturbance (riot), settlements are "begged" for by prison administrators! But there are various problems in making a stand with rioting. First, your likely to face more time, second, administrators will be given the OK to regulate even harsher or rediculous regulations, such as, items weighing one pound or more is prohibited for inmates! They would reason, such weight could be harmful to staff if a riot happens! Its not happening now, but it can, and please believe they are waiting for the opportunity. And thirdly, people can get hurt or killed, which sacrifice we prisoners are always willing to take. So with the idea of hunger strike formulated and took place, it became a wait-out. It got the department's attention as we predicted, we also predicted our demands would be met, some were and some were not! We were not mad though. We did realize something else was benefited. Before the strike, inmates were just sitting on S.M.U. lockdown, you could basically say it was permanent placement! You could not challenge or contest the placement period, you just sat there. Due to there were no established functions for S.M.U., prison officials were basically like, there's nothing wrong about it. But what was not known by about 95% of inmates at S.M.U. , and being sent to S.M.U., was they had due process rights and prison administrators are required to afford them with an opportunity to, at the minimal, contest what was done to him, not only as a constitutional principle, but they have duties and responsibilities to by the established department's rules and regulations, prison officials of the S.M.U. and the main-prison's staff disregarded because they know the inmates that were at S.M.U. (majority of them), and the ones to come had no clue of what was going on or that what the administrators were doing was wrong. But due to the Hunger Strike, now, there's no just sitting on S.M.U. lockdown! Also, when you are assigned you are due various processes, even before you are sent to S.M.U., there are complications of inmates not getting these due processes probably, but thats because of inmates are still in the blind and dont really care, and prison administrators know this so they dont worry about affording them with the processes. The thing is though, they can be found liable in the federal courts for violating our due process right when they dont provide necessary processes that has been established. I feel more should have came out of it all but im not going to complain, in my opinion though all the officials operating S.M.U. and various other staff of the Georgia Department of Corrections should have been fired! Their all scandals, all helping in the government's scandals.
Bobby Minor #1191993