Hunger striking Cornelius Harris in USP Florence, Colo., near death

by Cornelius Harris with introduction by his supporters

Cornelius Harris
Cornelius Harris

On Feb. 17, 2016, Ohio state prisoner Cornelius Harris, held in the high security U.S. Penitentiary at Florence, Colo., after being transferred against his will from the state to federal prison system, began refusing meals, vowing not to eat until he is transferred back to Ohio. Recently, he has refused not only food but fluids.

Cornelius is now experiencing sharp pains in his kidneys and chest. His breathing is getting weak and his heart is slowing down. He has had no medical attention. They took all his belongings including his legal material, which he needs for his cases. He doesn’t know how much longer he has, but the clock is ticking.

Cornelius is sacrificing his health and possibly his life because hunger striking is the only peaceful way he can try to be heard. These are his grievances:

  • Cornelius cannot fight his legal case while he is out-of-state in the federal system. His due process rights are being violated.
  • Cornelius has been locked in solitary confinement for years on end, and now the federal prison administrators are threating to move him next door to the Florence Admax or ADX, called the Alcatraz of the Rockies, worse than Guantanamo and, in the Boston Globe, “a high tech version of hell.” It’s the highest security prison in the country.

About Cornelius

Cornelius Harris is a 33-year-old prisoner from Ohio who was transferred last year from the Ohio state prison system to the federal prison system as punishment for struggling strongly against oppression. He has been on several longer hunger strikes. Initially, he was also transferred against his will to Maryland, where he was treated very badly, tortured for days on end in restraining chairs.

Cornelius needs justice, support, education, programs with content, a future! Cornelius’ life matters to us!

Cornelius is sacrificing his health and possibly his life because hunger striking is the only peaceful way he can try to be heard.

What can you do to help?

Please call the North Central Regional Director of the Bureau of Prisons, and politely tell them you are calling out of concern for Cornelius Harris, inmate 99779-555, who has been refusing food since Feb. 17 and fluids recently as well. Ask them to return Cornelius to Ohio State prison system as soon as possible.

Contact:

Please write to Cornelius and show him your support: Cornelius Harris, 99779-555, USP Florence – High, P.O. Box 7000, Florence, CO 81226. And visit the website maintained by his friends and supporters: CorneliusHarris.blogspot.com.

Message from Cornelius

First and foremost I want to thank all of you who have sent positive vibes my way throughout my ordeal. Your support gives me strength to continue on with my fight disregarding the petty tactics used by these cowards in their attempt to break me.

On Feb. 25, I was finally assessed by medical for my hunger and fluid strike. My weight was 211pounds. My urine was dark orange, and my blood appeared thick inside the tube. Today is Feb. 27, and I have not been medically assessed for my hunger strike when, according to the BOP hunger strike policy, I am supposed to be medically assessed daily.

I have not had the energy to maintain a journal. I have only had the energy to lie down and attempt to block out the pain I am experiencing. It is taking me everything to sit here and write this, but it is important for me to report my physical condition so that in case my health fails, these people can be held accountable.

Before you can understand my reasons for engaging in such extreme measures, you must first understand the history leading up to this point.

Back in November 2007, after being seriously assaulted by several correctional officers at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, receiving a fractured jaw, two cracked ribs and swelling to my face and skull, I was immediately transferred to Ohio State Penitentiary in an attempt to cover up the assault. The assault by Lucasville officers was definitely racially motivated and, while there is camera footage proving the assault, none of the officers involved was punished for their actions.

When I got to OSP, I was met in the receiving area by Officer Waylon Wine, who stated to me, “If you think that time here will be any easier than Luc, you have another think coming.” Not wanting to create any new problems inside a new prison, I just held my tongue and went through the orientation process.

Before you can understand my reasons for engaging in such extreme measures, you must first understand the history leading up to this point.

It only took days after I was assigned to a unit that the harassment started, and the officers who harassed me made it clear that their actions were due to the Lucasville incident. At that point the harassment was minor – refusing me recreation or showers, pulling me out of my cell just to toss my property around on the floor, and small threats.

Each week my patients’ group and I began to verbalize and disapprove of the vile treatment, and I submitted several complaints to the administration. After a few months, the harassment became out of control with no relief from administration, so after Correctional Officer Siddens cut my recreation short by 30 minutes, I refused to lock down and demanded to speak with a supervisor.

When the known racist Lt. Galloway came to the pod door and refused to hear my complaint, I began to destroy the pod by slamming the pod TV into the front window and using pieces to break out the rec windows and break the sprinkler head, causing major flooding in the unit. After several hours of protesting, I eventually cooled off and submitted to restraint. I was then escorted to the hole.

The harassment by these officers continued throughout my stay in the hole. My security status was increased to supermax shortly after.

“Only God Can Judge Me”: The artist, Troy Hendrix, writes: “I have been unjustly and unnecessarily confined in solitary confinement for the last 10 years. Even though I am stronger than most, this extreme isolation has stolen a big part of me. I do all I can to not let it steal all of me. My mind has taken a beating from this isolation, but it remains unshackled. They can trap my body but can never lock my mind. Your newspaper is one of the few things that keep me motivated. So continue to publish the things many media outlets attempt to keep hidden.” – Art: Troy Hendrix, 06A2056, Elmira CRC, P.O. Box 500, Elmira NY 14902
“Only God Can Judge Me”: The artist, Troy Hendrix, writes: “I have been unjustly and unnecessarily confined in solitary confinement for the last 10 years. Even though I am stronger than most, this extreme isolation has stolen a big part of me. I do all I can to not let it steal all of me. My mind has taken a beating from this isolation, but it remains unshackled. They can trap my body but can never lock my mind. Your newspaper is one of the few things that keep me motivated. So continue to publish the things many media outlets attempt to keep hidden.” – Art: Troy Hendrix, 06A2056, Elmira CRC, P.O. Box 500, Elmira NY 14902

When I landed on the supermax unit, the harassment was turned up times 10. I tried to overlook what was being done to me in an effort to work my way through the level system at OSP Supermax, for patience has its limits and mine was pushed to that point.

On Oct. 18, 2008, having my recreation and shower taken from me for the fifth time in a row was the last straw for me. My only option at that point was to fight the extraction team. This would not only bring attention to what’s going on but it would allow me the opportunity to relieve some built up frustration.

After I yanked the handcuffs into my cell and I could not be talked into giving the handcuffs back by the negotiator, mace was sprayed into my cell and a team rushed into my cell bending and contorting my limbs while the other officers rained down kicks and punches on my head and torso. Once I’d received my injuries, I was taken to the hole without medical attention.

On Oct. 19, 2008, a day after the cell extraction, Correctional Officer Timothy McVay worked my pod and when he came to do recreation we began to go back and forth at each other with verbal assaults. There has always been bad blood between me and this officer, so the situation that followed was not a surprise.

Officer McVay began to slam his closed fist into my window while telling me he was going to put the handcuffs on me loose and show everyone in the pod how much of a bitch I was. While away from my cell he would grab his crotch and thrust himself at me telling me to suck his cock. When he came to cuff me up, I informed him that if you put them cuffs on me, I will take that as a threat and do what I need to do to defend myself.

Before cuffing me up, he demanded that I be strip searched so he could make sure that I didn’t have any weapons on me. After strip searching me, he clicked both of my handcuffs and told me to wait until I came out of the cell before removing the cuffs.

At that moment, my door came open and the situation became very real, and while I would have loved to slap the cuffs and get back at this coward for all his harassment, I began to think about my freedom. I knew if I slipped the cuffs and I startled this officer, I could forget about having a chance at coming home one day, so I thought better of it and prepared myself for recreation.

When I turned to walk to recreation, McVay began to scream in my face, “Come on, motherfucker, swing, motherfucker, swing!” I began to yell back at him, telling him to swing first, and out of nowhere he’s throwing a closed fist at me, striking me in the face. That’s when I removed the cuffs from my wrist and defended myself by striking him twice in the face with my left and right fist. In an attempt to retreat, he ran and fell down a flight of steps.

This incident led to attempted aggravated murder charges and later went to trial, where I was acquitted. The jury found that I defended myself and came back with not guilty verdicts.

You can only imagine how much harassment I received following this incident; it was harsh and inhumane. My entire cell was destroyed, my family pictures were ripped up, my hygiene was flushed down the toilet, my incoming and outgoing mail was destroyed, my life was threatened and my food was tampered with regularly.

The threats I received were the worst because they played on my mind. When one is tortured mentally in this way, it causes you to be paranoid and on guard at all times, losing sleep and thinking about nothing but being attacked and trying to figure out ways to defend yourself in case of an attack.

Officers would rattle my door on the late shift while screaming, causing me to jump from my bed in defense stance, thinking someone was charging into my cell causing me harm. I went from not thinking about weapons to now obsessing over them spending days and nights thinking about ways to make them just in case I had to use one to defend myself if I was attacked, because in my mind it was only a matter of time before I am attacked again.

On Dec. 30, 2008, I woke up to a loud bang on my door at approximately 7:15 a.m. by Correctional Officer Turpack. I jumped out of bed, struggling to see enough to identify the officer staring into my cell with a big grin on his face. As I moved closer to the door, he whispered through the door, “Today is the day you get yours.” Dec. 30, 2008, was a non-movement day, so I half dismissed this threat, but I didn’t go back to sleep because I was no doubt paranoid.

Throughout the entire day while conducting routine security checks, officers would walk past me making threats at me. Some would say, “Today is the day.” Others would say, “What goes around comes around,” and others would just grin and smirk.

When I looked into the control booth, I noticed maybe 15 or more officers huddled up around the lieutenant. The tension was so evident that fellow prisoners in my pod begin to warn me that something was up and not to come up under no circumstances and to be ready just in case something was to happen.

Thinking that I wasn’t alone in my observation of the potential threat, I begin to prepare myself for a cell extraction, being that there was no other way they could justify running into my cell.

After I was prepared for an attack, I hit my emergency button to request to speak with a supervisor. Shortly after my request, Lt. Bright came into the pod. When he came into my cell, I informed him of the threats I was receiving and he simply told me that if I denied the assault by staff, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

I informed him that if any one of his officers tried to cause me harm, I will do everything in my power to defend myself. He told me to do what I had to do because they will do what they have to do. He then spread his arms in a challenging manner before walking out of the pod.

Shortly after Lt. Bright walked out of the pod, Correctional Officers Burns and Hawn came into the pod. When they got to my cell, Officer Hawn went to my neighbor’s cell, which was maybe a foot away from my cell, and demanded that my neighbor come up. When he asked where he was going, they told him to shut up and come up.

After my neighbor was in restraints, Officer Burns pulled his stick out and called on the radio for my cell door to be opened. I thought I heard him wrong, but with my cell door cracked, I know I wasn’t mistaken. Not wanting to be trapped in the cell when two officers and a team were waiting to rush the pod, I stepped out of the cell.

Cornelius Harris
Cornelius Harris

When I stepped out, Officer Burns waved his stick at me, striking me in the head. This officer, who outsized me by 2 feet and more than 30 pounds, trampled me to the floor. While I was on the ground with this officer on top of me, he began to press his stick into my neck cutting off my breathing.

I grabbed the stick and used all of my power to turn him over. When I was able to turn his stick to take pressure off of my neck and slide him off of me a little, he began to retreat from the struggle and back away as we both got to our feet. When I seen him struggling, I thought maybe he was out of breath, so when the threat was no more, I locked back down in my cell.

Due to the fact that I had challenged these corrupt prison officials physically and was successful in court, the Ohio Department of Corrections, instead of investigating these offices for targeting me and attempting to cause me physical harm, went against my wishes and transferred me out of state to Maryland, where I was treated inhumanely throughout my five month stay there.

Ultimately, I was transferred back to Ohio, where the harassment of me and my property resumed, and that led to the next situation.

On Dec. 16, 2014, after our school program was over, the entire group refused to go back until we had the opportunity to speak with a supervisor to protest the conditions in the unit. The escorting officer told us that he was not calling anyone; he was going to escort us back to our cells and that was it.

The situation got verbally heated as me and the officer got into a heated dispute, and he spit in my face. My kneejerk reaction was to reach through the bars and smack him. As he moved his head to dodge my smack, my thumb nail clipped his jaw line.

Two officers then left the program area. Understanding that we would all be strip searched for contraband, the prisoners in the program began to unload their contraband in the general area. When the officers returned to deal with the situation, they noticed two homemade knives on the ground.

In an attempt to inflate the scratch that the officer received, he charged up the incident report by saying I stabbed him in his neck. If no weapons would have been found in the program area, these charges would have never been so egregiously exaggerated.

When I went to my ADX control unit hearing, the hearing administrator informed me that the Ohio Department of Corrections attempted to ship me to several other states but none would accept me. He went on further to state that it appears that Ohio is determined to get rid of me, not because I pose a threat to prison officials in Ohio but for my personal safety.

If this is the case, then why is the Bureau of Prisons pushing for me to be placed in the most heartless prison in the United States? This is clearly an attempt by the Ohio Department of Corrections to use the BOP as its executioner, and I refuse to accept this as my fate.

The aforementioned reasons are the justification being used to place me in the ADX, incidents where I was acquitted in state court, incidents that were alleged out of the state of Maryland, incidents that are not only third party information but flat out untrue. Incidents that were egregiously exaggerated are the best the Ohio Department of Corrections can come up with to send me off into a situation that is sure to cost me my life.

Why is the Bureau of Prisons pushing for me to be placed in the most heartless prison in the United States?

I have been on a hunger strike since Feb. 17, but the prison officials here refuse to acknowledge my meal refusals. It wasn’t until Feb. 25 that my hunger strike was recorded, and since then no one has come to address my issues.

I know this is a lot to take in at once, but I hope that enough support could be rallied in my favor to stop the injustice that is being done to me. I am guilty of nothing but protecting and defending myself against the documented bullies and abusers. If the administration would have taken the steps to defend and protect me, I wouldn’t be put in the position to protect myself.

My mind is empty. I don’t think I have much longer before my organs start to fail. Six days and counting without fluids must be a record. Thank you for the love and support.

Cornelius Harris

Please call the officials listed above and send our brother some love and light: Cornelius Harris, 99779-555, United States Penitentiary, P.O. Box 7000, Florence, CO 81226.