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Chicagoans brave cold to rally in support of Menard hunger strikers

February 14, 2014

by Gregory Koger, Stop Mass Incarceration Network

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Scenes from the Feb. 13 rally in Chicago in support of the hunger strikers at Menard Prison – Photos: FJJ
Feb. 13, 2014 – About 25 people came out in Chicago to stand firmly with the Menard hunger strikers today. At least four formerly incarcerated were among the demonstrators in Chicago, and a couple of us had both long and bitter experience with being held in solitary confinement for many years and being on hunger strike ourselves.

I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement myself and spent two weeks on hunger strike in solidarity with the California prison hunger strike last summer while a political prisoner in Cook County Jail. We also had reports that folks from St. Louis were at Menard this afternoon to support the men on hunger strike.

Attorney Alan Mills from Uptown People’s Law Center was barred by the IDOC (Illinois Department of Corrections) from speaking by phone with one of the hunger strikers today. Brian Nelson – formerly incarcerated legal worker with UPLC who also spent many years in solitary confinement – was able to update us on further retaliatory moves by the IDOC to break the hunger strike.

Menard hunger striker support rally Chicago 021314-2“Mr. John Velez was one of the men that began hunger striking in Menard on Jan. 15,” he reported. “As of today he is still on hunger strike. He was moved from Menard temporarily to Stateville NRC [Prison]. His mother and wife attempted to visit him today and they were denied visits until Mr. John Velez comes off the hunger strike. None of his legal material or personal property was allowed to be transferred with him. He does not know why he was temporarily transferred to Stateville NRC.”

IDOC has issued a number of bald-faced lies in response to journalists’ inquiries into the prisoners’ demands. In regards to the prisoners having no notice of the reasons for their placement into administrative segregation, IDOC Director of “Communications” Tom Shaer recently told Solitary Watch (“Voices from Solitary: Hunger Strike in Menard Prison”) that because prisoners have allegedly been “interviewed about issues causing [their] placement” into ad-seg, they have “a very good idea of the reasons.”

However, in the next breath, Shaer actually revealed that – just as the hunger strikers have claimed – the IDOC has provided no actual formal legal notice of the reasons for their segregation: Shaer admitted that “the placement decisions and 90-day reviews contain confidential information, so issuing copies to prisoners could pose a security threat.”

Shaer then had the audacity to claim that “we don’t have solitary confinement in Illinois prisons” while running down a listing of conditions of confinement that, as Solitary Watch pointed out, exactly fit the definition of solitary confinement used by the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other human rights groups.

Menard hunger striker support rally Chicago 021314-1At this time we believe that there are still a few men on hunger strike – including the brother transferred from Menard to Stateville. Direct communication from the men is being blocked or delayed by the IDOC.

Much love to the brothers putting their lives on the line in Menard and to all of the brothers and sisters behind the walls. We must struggle together on both sides of the wall to build a mass movement against mass incarceration – and I firmly see that struggle as part of building a movement for revolution to sweep this capitalist-imperialist system from the pages of history and to bring forth a liberated world for all humanity.

Gregory Koger can be reached at eponymous@gregorykoger.com.

Listen Saturday to Upfront with Jesse Jackson, panel on mass incarceration

Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund volunteer Gregory Koger, who is also from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and is a revolutionary communist who was imprisoned as a youth and spent many years in solitary confinement, will be among the panelists on the cable and online TV program Upfront hosted by Jesse Jackson on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 10 p.m. Eastern Time (7 p.m. Pacific Time).

Menard hunger striker support rally Chicago 021314-4The topic of this show is pretrial detention and mass incarceration. Other panelists on the show are Barbara Arnwine, attorney, president and executive director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Jonathan Jackson, RainbowPUSH national spokesman; Dr. Donna Leak, former high school superintendent; Michael Seng, attorney, law professor, John Marshall Law School, Chicago; David Shapiro, attorney, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University Law School.

The show is an hour long. Gregory Koger is one of the panelists during the last half of the show. Consult your cable provider schedule for the channel available to you, or watch it live online at http://www.thewordnetwork.com/watch-twn.

The Upfront show is on a broadcast network called The Word Network which, according to its website, is “the largest African-American religious network in the world” and “is available in over 200 countries reaching millions of viewers in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and nearly 86 million homes in the U.S. alone through DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Cox, Cablevision, Charter, and a host of other cable operators” and also reaches troops in the U.S. armed forces around the world.

At this time, it is not clear if this show will be available for viewing after Feb. 15.

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