For immediate release: 5/18/2020
On Friday, May 15th, a group of around a dozen predominantly Black men who have been confined since March to the Special Housing Unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin launched a new hunger strike. The strikers cited multiple instances of prison staff denying access to legal mail, continued religious discrimination, and a pattern of staff ignoring complaint forms or even throwing them away. North Lake is a federal prison privately owned and managed by the GEO Group to hold non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. This is the fourth such strike to have been confirmed at the facility since March, and the third in the Special Housing Unit (or SHU).
“It’s a lot of stuff going on in here right now,” a member of the group said on Friday in a statement to No Detention Centers in Michigan, describing a consistently chaotic and unsafe environment in which GEO staff had entered cells during recreation time to remove incarcerated people’s complaint forms, had withheld one person’s legal mail from a court outside Michigan which required a response within 30 days, and had chosen to restrict access to kosher meals for some of the men whose religious practice includes a strict diet. “These people have not been answering the grievances.”
This new strike reflects both the continuation of alarming conditions at the North Lake Correctional Facility and an ongoing commitment to organizing for justice among incarcerated and detained people across the state of Michigan and beyond in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, more than a hundred people from at least one unit in the general population at North Lake participated in a days-long hunger strike to demand COVID-19 testing and adequate medical care for everyone held in the facility, where more than 80 staff members and incarcerated people are now confirmed to have tested positive for the virus. This action at North Lake, which appears to have ended after four of its alleged organizers were thrown into the SHU, mirrors a reported hunger strike initiated last week among people detained by ICE at the St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron.
The men who have been in the SHU at North Lake since March had previously launched two separate hunger strikes of their own, demanding adequate food and healthcare, renewed access to phone time and showers, and an explanation for their continued confinement to the restricted unit. “Right now we have already refused two meals—tomorrow, to the next day, to the next day, to the next day,” one of them said on Friday. “The wrongdoing, everything that’s going on here—it’s gonna be a long hunger strike.”