Retaliation against hunger strikers at Menard – windows blocked, strikers beaten – Call-In Day Monday

The following consists of excerpts, lightly edited by Alice Lynd, from letters by eight men in Administrative Detention at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, dated April 12-14, 2014.

Windows covered

On the morning of Saturday, April 12, 2014, maintenance workers drilled big metal boxes on the outside of our windows. We can no longer see out the windows and barely any sunlight comes in.

All of the windows in the High Security Unit are being covered (blocked) with a steel covering in retaliation of our hollering out to the protestors that marched outside the facility during our last hunger strike.

We were told, “How you like your view now?”

Menard hunger striker supporters Southern Illinois University students, community drumming, shouting protest outside prison 021314 by Luke Nozicka, Daily Egyptian
These are the protesters whose drumming and shouts of encouragement outside the prison buoyed the Menard hunger strikers on Jan. 27 and again, here, on Feb. 13. They are community members and students from Southern Illinois University, attended by over 25,000 in Carbondale, Illinois. The next day, Angela Davis spoke at the school, calling the prison system a new form of slavery. – Photo: Luke Nozicka, Daily Egyptian student newspaper

With summer approaching, not only will our air flow circulation be affected, but we … have steel doors. We will now be forced to live in what will amount to an extremely hot tomb. I’m thinking there has to be a whole lot of information available dealing with … the effects of no natural sunlight in an area of indeterminate placement.

Orange Crush

C-wing. On Saturday, April 12, 2014, Orange Crush (Special Response Team who dress in orange) came running into the HSU to shake [us] down. We were strip searched and had handcuffs put on our wrists so tight it cut off the circulation to our hands. When we complained about this we were told to shut the fuck up and keep our heads down and eyes on the ground.

We were escorted to the shower and taunted with “Hunger Strike Bitches”; “When’s the next hunger strike–tough guys? HA, HA, HA.”

In the showers our heads were shoved into the walls and told, “Put you fucking heads on the wall!” … [T]hey would walk back and forth shoving our head against the wall, screaming, “I said put your fucking heads against the fucking wall!”

We heard screaming coming from the downstairs showers. Other AD prisoners were screaming, “Quit slamming his head!” “Warden, investigate this!” etc. …

[Assistant] Warden Lashbrook came to the upstairs shower asking us if we had any questions. One at a time prisoners were escorted to talk to her in a hallway and all of us prisoners could hear the conversations.

One prisoner asked if there were going to be any AD rules implemented and she said, “We aren’t working on any rules and you’re not getting any rules.” One prisoner asked her why we are in AD and she said, “You know why the fuck you’re here. You all know.” After speaking with three prisoners, she said, “Fuck this. That’s it.” While going back to our cells she sarcastically said, “Any mice? Find any mice?”

Once back in our cells we realized … our pens were missing in order to prevent us from writing grievances. Our property was slung all over and some of it was destroyed. Also they took small things out of spite. Out of a deck of cards, one prisoner was missing one card. Out of a chess set, one prisoner was missing one chess piece.

B-wing. On April 12, 2014, the special unit tack [tactical] team called Orange Crush came up to B-wing where we in AD is located and searched our cells. … We was strip searched [and] cuffed up. Our heads was forcefully pushed down [and we were] not allowed to look up. We was then taken to the showers and lined up against the shower walls. … The showers walls are not clean, which we requested during the hunger strike on our grievance, which they have went back to how things was before the hunger strike. But when I refused, the tack team pushed me against the shower wall with my face against the dirty wall and held me there. … Then they started to put us in rows of three starting from the back shower wall.

During the whole time we were being extracted from our cells, [Assistant] Warden Lashbrook, Internal Affairs Lt. Reichert, Major Ziggler, Internal Affairs Supervisor Ms. Hecht including others was present.

While in the shower, we was asked if we wanted to talk to Warden Lashbrook, which we all said yes. We was then escorted one by one by tack team to talk to Warden Lashbrook, which was right outside the showers. When I approached Warden Lashbrook, the tack team pushed my head down so that I couldn’t see who I was talking to, which I stated, “How the fuck am I supposed to know who I’m talking to if I can’t see them.” Which then I was allowed to look up. …

I asked Warden Lashbrook why was I back on Administrative Detention. She responded by saying, “You don’t know why you are on AD?” I said, “No!” “So you don’t have no idea?” I said, “No. Nobody informed me in no such way, neither in writing or verbal …” She then stated that, “Well I don’t have to tell you anything for the safety and security of the institution.”

I then asked her, “Why haven’t we gotten any AD Orientation Manuals or a hearing to challenge our placement on AD or get a copy of our 90-day reviews, at least be present. Because right now, we don’t have ANY due process or any way to challenge AD … If I was to get a disciplinary report, I get a hearing to defend myself against Seg placement. We don’t have any way to challenge A.D.

I filed a grievance, and I was told that AD is an administrative decision and it’s not grievable. And I exhausted my remedies all the way to the ARB and was denied. Stateville and Pontiac gives AD inmates orientation manuals that explain the program.” She then stated, “We are not going to give none of you guys no orientation manuals or hearings, no matter what anybody says. If you don’t know why you are here, then that’s your problem.” Then the tack team took me back to the shower.

Then others went to go talk to her. When Tillman, R40962, went to talk to Warden Lashbrook, there was a argument with Tillman and Warden Lashbrook over the illegal conditions of confinement. … I guess the tack team didn’t like how the conversation was going and I heard them say, “Come, bring your ass, you’re done.” So I turned around and saw the tack team pushing Tillman head down and bringing his arms up to the back of his head, which Tillman was cuffed behind his back. Tillman was yelling, saying, “My fucking head is down. You hurting me. Stop doing that shit.” The tack team was yelling, “Put your fucking head down.”

The tack team forcefully pushed Tillman against the dirty shower wall and when Tillman moved his face off the shower wall, the tack team rammed his head against the wall hard enough to make a empty coconut sound. All of us in the shower starting yelling to Warden Lashbrook, saying, “You see this, your tack team rammed Tillman head against the wall for no reason. Look, look, look, they doing it again!”

The tack team took Tillman down to his knees and had their stick in the back of Tillman head so it can push his head against the wall. We was all yelling to Warden Lashbrook to have her stop assaulting Tillman. She responded by not saying nothing and walking away. …

I do fear for my safety, security and wellbeing. This unlawful, unwarranted and excessive use of force was completely unnecessary. The fact that it was done in front of the warden and intel proves that they have NO moral standings, no standards and that all of our safety and security could be in jeopardy at any given time.

The tack team then took Tillman to the front of the shower where I can hear Tillman saying that his head hurt and that he needs to see medical attention. Somebody told Tillman, “You ain’t getting no medical attention, and if you don’t like it, go on a hunger strike and cry about it like you guys like to do, and file a grievance.” …

After about two hours or so, we was taken back to our cells. When me and my cellmate was brought back to our cell, it was destroyed. Me and my cellmate property and legal work was all mixed up and some was torn up and some was in the toilet. … Me and my cellmate was missing legal work. … Envelopes are missing. … They took most of our pens, and right now, there is 10 of us on B-wing and we have to share two pens between all of us. And some of our paper was taken. … It’s clear that the IDOC [is] still angry about the hunger strike.

After the hunger strike, everything went back to how it was prior to the hunger strike. They don’t clean or mop the showers or wing, no disinfectant to clean the cells, no orientation manuals or hearing. Basically, nothing! The struggle still continues and it looks like it gonna get harder.

I was physically assaulted by tactical unit member(s). During the shakedown they were trying to use intimidation methods, screaming and yelling etc. This one CO (correctional officer) kept telling me to put my head down, to which I kept telling him, “If I put my head down any lower my glasses are going to fall off.” One CO actually pushed my glasses back onto my face as they had almost fallen. … At this time I was placed a few feet away from other inmates. This CO punched me in my ribs and he then took my glasses saying, “You can’t have these anyway. These are wire-frame.” … I reported being punched and the warden only said, “I thought you wanted to ask about AD.”

I asked about my placement in AD, receiving something in writing on why I am in AD … and allow me to challenge such placement, a statement given to inmates in the form of a rule book that lets us know the rules, regulations and standards of AD and how we can not only challenge placement but know what we must do to get released.

She took a firm stance and said, “There will be NO rule book. You will not receive anything in writing. We make the rules and we don’t have to tell you why you are in AD. Also, that we know why we’re here.” … I also asked what about the effects of long term isolation especially for mentally ill inmates in AD and disciplinary segregation. She stated, “Stop catching tickets!” I responded, “What would you have a mentally ill person do?” She stated, “Follow our rules and do their time.” Which is clear to me where the administration stands on our issues!

We need help! … Grievances will not work.

After we talked, this CO led me back into the shower area where all the other inmates were being held. Upon pushing me into the shower he was lifting my arms into the air behind me by my cuffs. I told him he didn’t have to do all that and as he was lining me up against the wall he started repeatedly banging my head on the wall saying, “Put your head down.” …

At this point he began putting all of his weight down in between my hands onto the handcuffs, saying, “Get on your knees.” I wouldn’t. He then started saying, “Slip the cuffs. I want you to” etc. … He then led me towards the front of the shower. … He began banging my head on the wall. Everyone started yelling to the warden, intel and other officers saying, “Ya’ll see this? He’s banging his head on the wall.”

I don’t know if it was the same CO, but my feet were kicked from up under me. I didn’t fall because CO was still holding and pulling the handcuffs. My shower shoe went sailing across the shower floor. At this time I was placed on my knees between an old out-of-compliance toilet and the shower bars. I stayed there until shakedowns were complete. I asked for medical attention at least three times. I was ignored and laughed at one of those three times.

I asked the CO working our wing (unit) that day. … He stated he was about to go home; his shift was over. Grievance filed! I missed med-tech when she did her rounds. I was asleep. I felt groggy and my head was hurting and I was dizzy and disoriented when I first tried to get up. … My eyes were hurting, my back and neck. I threw up almost immediately (I had had no food by this point). … My nose was bleeding.

I filed emergency grievance for immediate medical attention along with turning in sick-call request. I explained my symptoms to the CO. He stated it’s maybe a concussion. I don’t know. I know my head is still hurting and sometimes swimming, especially when I stand up. My eyes also. My wrist from the cuffs, my back and neck also.

I do fear for my safety, security and wellbeing. This unlawful, unwarranted and excessive use of force was completely unnecessary. The fact that it was done in front of the warden and intel proves that they have NO moral standings, no standards and that all of our safety and security could be in jeopardy at any given time.

We must also realize that I am the third victim of an assault back here in administrative detention since the hunger strike! … The fact that … warden told them to take the pens and that every time they try to fix something we find something else to complain about, and we always writing grievances. These are no longer empty threats. They are assaulting inmates and stealing from us. … This is a dangerous time. …

We need help! … Grievances will not work. It’s beyond that. I had my head banged on the wall, punched and kicked! … Mental health professionals are telling me I have to find a way to just deal with it! I can’t anymore! What am I supposed to do? I’m begging for an answer because I honestly do not know anymore!

Double bunking

Another very dangerous policy [is] being enforced here in the High Security Unit. They have begun forcing individuals to accept double bunking. … Even more dangerous is that the facility is reviewing each individual’s past or present affiliations to intentionally place individuals with opposite past or present affiliations. …

The facility is intentionally placing known enemies in cells together. They are doing this with the threat of disciplinary action and forcibly moving individuals into cells they do not want to go in. An already stressful, volatile, dangerous situation is being intentionally increased by the forcing of double bunking. …

Should something happen in one of these cells because of the administration’s forcibly placing individuals together, I’m sure they would sell it as completely and totally the fault of those in the cell. … It’s clear they’d prefer our focus to be on each other and not them. But this is clearly a recipe for disaster.

Concluding remarks

There has now been a total of three inmates assaulted since the date of Jan. 15, 2014. Armando Velasquez was assaulted Jan. 15, 2014, moved to the hospital unit and hasn’t been seen since. Rodolfo Rosas was assaulted in the early part of March 2014 and remains in AD. Joseph Tillman was assaulted April 12, 2014, during shakedown. All assaults were made by correctional officers of Menard.

We are not safe, and there is no oversight, as even the warden has turned a blind eye to an assault.

The roads ahead will be long and hard, but through the process we shall endure, not because we want to but because we don’t have any other choice! We stand to fight the powers that be, armed with intelligence, dedication, determination, discipline, patience, persistence as means to persevere. …

[From a letter to the warden:] Warden Butler … You censor our mail unnecessarily so that we cannot hear. You instruct your SORT to take our ink-pens so that we cannot speak. You shutter our windows so that we cannot see And I’m sure this is your ideal convict, one who cannot hear, speak or see. … You can shutter our windows, but you can NOT shutter our minds!

You censor our mail unnecessarily so that we cannot hear. You instruct your SORT to take our ink-pens so that we cannot speak. You shutter our windows so that we cannot see And I’m sure this is your ideal convict, one who cannot hear, speak or see. … You can shutter our windows, but you can NOT shutter our minds!

This story first appeared on Anti-State STL, a clearinghouse for anti-capitalist news and analyses in metro St. Louis.

Call-in Day Monday, April 28, in support of Menard Hunger Strikers

by Anti-State STL

Call-In Day phone graphicOn this upcoming Monday, April 28, we are asking and encouraging people to participate in a Call-In Day in support of the prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois who are facing retaliation for engaging in a hunger strike in January. Prisoners there have been beaten by guards and metal boxes have been placed over their windows – preventing future engagement with noise demonstrations outside the prison, but also preventing sunlight from coming into their cells and increasing the sensory deprivation they experience in solitary confinement.

We hope that any pressure on the administration can draw attention to the inhumane treatment prisoners are forced to endure and help prisoners get their demands met.

We are trying to focus our calls between 10 a.m. and noon on Monday, April 28, but calling at other times is also useful:

  • Warden Kim Butler (new as of April 2014 and the first woman warden at Menard – a 20-year veteran of the Illinois Department of Corrections): 618-826-5071, ext. 2225
  • Illinois Department of Corrections Director Lisa Weitekamp: 217-558-2200, ext. 4166

Context for the Call-In Day

In Jan. 15, 2014, prisoners at Menard went on a hunger strike due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. The strike ended about a month later.

On Saturday, April 12, maintenance workers drilled big metal boxes on the outside of the windows in the High Security Unit (HSU). Prisoners in the HSU can no longer see out the windows and barely any sunlight comes in. Prisoners were told by the guards, “How do you like your view now?” Prisoners think it is in retaliation for their hollering out to the protestors that marched outside the facility during the hunger strike.

On the same day, the Special Response Team was called into the HSU to do a cell shakedown and in the process beat and mistreated several prisoners, including Joseph Tillman, R40962, whose head was repeatedly slammed against a block wall.

Some points to stress on the phone when you call in:

  1. The recent installation of metal boxes covering prisoners windows in the High Security Unit is appalling. Remove the metal boxes on the windows immediately!
  2. The conditions at Menard are deplorable and inhumane.
  3. Let prisoners know why and for how long they are being held in isolation.
  4. Immediately end retaliation against hunger striking prisoners.
  5. Provide an update about the condition of Joseph Tillman, R40962, who was beaten during the cell shakedown on April 12.

Here is the original list of demands. 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 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.

Please call! Please tell your friends!

This alert first appeared on Anti-State STL.