An Account of the GEO Group’s Use of Pepper Spray to End a Hunger Strike at North Lake

“I told them I was gonna move and they still come and sprayed me.”

In a phone call from Wednesday, August 19th, a hunger striker in the Special or Restricted Housing Unit at the GEO Group’s North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin describes being assaulted with pepper spray as a result of his participation in the most recent strike which ended on Monday, August 17th. Strikers have continued to demand an explanation for their prolonged confinement to this unit, as well as the restoration of phone access which has been denied in violation of GEO’s own policies. The recording has been edited for length.

TRANSCRIPT:

“While we was on the hunger strike, they come and pepper-spray me, and also write me an incident report for not wanting to move, when I never refused to move. I told them that I was gonna move. Twelve o’clock, they come and tell me that we have to move to 224. Three o’clock, they come back and tell me, no, we ain’t gonna move to 224 no more, they gonna move us to the hallway. So I was like, ‘The hallway is not a part of the SHU! So why you want to move me there?’ So I was like, ‘If you want to move me, all right, move me to where I should be, at administration detention.’ While I was in there, we wasn’t moving, they come and pepper-spray us and pull us out.

They dragged me out, take me to the shower, and the nurse come and see me, wash up—they threw something in my eye, I don’t know what is it, to wash out the pepper spray, ’cause they pepper-sprayed my eye, I could not really see. My nose—I could not even really breathe with it.

I never really do nothing, I never really fight them or anything, ’cause with pepper spray I can’t really do nothing, so I just put my hands behind my back and they cuff me and take me out.

The incident report said that I ‘refused to work’—then, after, they scratched that and said I ‘refused to move.’ It was all—they’re just doing it because retaliation, because the shot doesn’t really match with what they said.

I’m simply telling them that we are not fighting for nothing that we’re not supposed to have. If you don’t want to give us the phone, give us the phone privilege, we are not going to eat, because you are not giving us what we should really get. Because in the GEO rulebook, it says inmates in administration detention should [be] entitled to the same privilege as inmates in general population. And what really happened—they haven’t do that. When every time you get locked up, and you come into prison, the first thing that they tell us—they say it’s your right to know the rules and regulations. To respect staff and expect staff will treat you with respect. But we know the rules, they try to treat us bad. My old place, I never get a shot. Since I’m here, within less than two weeks, they write me five different incident reports.

We not eating is a problem to them, and they tried to do everything to get us to eat. But I was like, I was not gonna eat until either I pass out—I was really trying to get to pass out. I think if I had gone like until Monday or Tuesday, I would have passed out.

Everyone is tired here because we are not supposed to be in the SHU this long. It’s over 90 days now and Obama did pass a law that we’re not supposed to be in the SHU this long. And I haven’t even done nothing to be back here. I keep begging them, ‘Send me back to the compound.’ They refuse to send me back to the compound. I haven’t do nobody nothing on the compound. I haven’t said nothing to no one on the compound. I keep telling them, ‘Send me back to general population if you’re not gonna give me what I’m supposed to get back here.’ Because—at least have some sympathy on us. We are here, we can’t talk to our families due to coronavirus, and you’re gonna take the phone from us?

Everything we do, they write us a shot—incident report. From all the incident reports that they write me, I ask them, ‘Give me—call the Jamaican consulate, let them translate for me, because me English is very very bad.’ They haven’t do it one time as yet. So that’s the thing they do up here, they’re always writing us shots. They write us all the shots back here. And I know it’s all retaliation, for the hunger strike.

I never refused no direct order. I told them I was gonna move and they still come and sprayed me, and the incident report, what they write also said something different.”

#ShutDownGEO #FreeThemAll

PRESS RELEASE: As New Warden Imposes Harsh Conditions at Baldwin’s Immigrant Prison, Hunger Strikes Grow Larger in Restricted Unit

For immediate release: 8/12/2020

On Wednesday, August 5th, more than two dozen people held in the Restricted Housing Unit (or RHU) at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan launched the largest hunger strike to have taken place in that unit since the prison’s reopening last October. The strike, which has continued into the current week, came in response to longstanding discriminatory treatment as well as strict rules imposed by the facility’s new acting warden, Angela Dunbar. Appointed this summer as a replacement for Warden Donald Emerson, Dunbar has implemented harsh limits on phone access at a time when those in the RHU face an urgent need to communicate with loved ones.

“Initially there was only three inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit that wasn’t participating,” one of the strikers said on Monday, August 10th. “Latinos as well as Black as well as white. Everybody’s on the hunger strike for the purpose of [addressing] human rights violations. We got kids, we got brothers, we got sisters, mothers, fathers that we need to touch base with, and friends. Instead of making some accommodations allowing us to communicate effectively with our families, they have taken those rights away from us.”

North Lake is a private facility owned and managed by the Florida-based GEO Group on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. A group of around a dozen Black men have been confined to the RHU since March, following a fight in which they were not involved. This is the fifth hunger strike in which they have taken part over the last six months in response to racist repression, unacceptable living conditions and religious discrimination, and the sixth hunger strike to occur at North Lake overall in that time. Two people from the unit have been placed on suicide watch within the last month.

Strikers strongly suspect that Warden Emerson’s departure from the facility is connected to public awareness of their mistreatment and Emerson’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, yet they say the new warden is trying to make conditions even worse. “The warden has made changes with the phone. But it is her rules and not GEO’s rules,” another participant stated last week, referring to a new policy limiting those in the RHU to one 15-minute non-legal call every 30 days. “In the inmate handbook it states that inmates in general population and inmates in Administrative Detention should have the same privileges. The warden took away those privileges, and I have not done anything to lose those privileges.” (The inmate handbook for North Lake affirms: “To the extent practical, inmates in Administrative Segregation shall be provided with the same general privileges as inmates in general population.”)

“We’re demanding to be transferred; if they can’t transfer us, then to accommodate us in a way where we could deal with this a little bit better under the circumstances,” one of the men in the RHU said on Monday. “I feel like I do deserve the same rights as any other human, the same rights as any other prisoner across the country. Under no circumstances will I eat, unless they can accommodate us or get us out of here.”

“Our Time is Past Due”: Fifth Hunger Strike in the RHU at North Lake

“I know none of the Black individuals back here are eating, and I believe more than half of the Hispanic are not eating. Approximately I would say about 25 people right now. Between 25 to 30.”

In a phone call from Monday, August 10th, a participant explains the reasons for the new larger hunger strike in the Restricted Housing Unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, which has seen over two dozen people refuse to eat since last Wednesday night in response to cruel conditions imposed by the new acting warden, Angela Dunbar. This is the fifth hunger strike in the RHU and the sixth at North Lake overall since March 2020.

#FreeThemAll #ShutDownGEO

TRANSCRIPT:

“Initially there was only three inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit that wasn’t participating. Latinos as well as Black as well as white. Everybody’s on the hunger strike for the purpose of human rights violations. I think as of today, a few people eat, but the majority still are not eating. There’s a substantial amount of inmates—I know none of the Black individuals back here are eating, and I believe more than half of the Hispanic are not eating. Approximately I would say about 25 people right now. Between 25 to 30.

We have been here for over five months. That’s over 156 days and counting, we have been back here.

We was instructed that there are movements being made within the BOP—the Federal Bureau of Prisons is moving individuals, inmates—however, the inmates here at North Lake Correctional Facility are immigrants and ‘they are not a priority.’ We demand to be moved, and they told us that we can’t be moved. So our human rights have been compromised. But at the same time, the institution, instead of making some accommodations allowing us to communicate effectively with our families, and still keep communication—understanding what’s going on out there with them, knowing that we have other family members, we got kids, we got brothers, we got sisters, mothers, fathers that we need to touch base with, and friends, as well as friends—they have taken those rights away from us. To where they put us in a position to make a decision—whom to call but with one phone call a month.

The 14th Amendment of the United States guarantees us the same protections as any of the citizens of the United States. Because we were sentenced in the United States court, by a sentencing judge, and under United States Constitution, for violating United States statutes. Proper rehabilitation, proper reentry preparation, and proper programming to get us ready to reenter society—all of that has been taken away from us, just simply because we was Black. And now, furthermore, the family time—that has been taken away from us. Because not only can we not receive any visitation at this time, due to the COVID-19, but you’re taking the conversation away from us and our families, being able to communicate with our kids. That’s wrong. All we’re asking for is to communicate effectively with our families, know that they’re OK, and for them to know that we’re OK, while we wait this thing out. That has been taken away from us.

So we’re demanding to be transferred; if they can’t transfer us, then to accommodate us in a way where we could deal with this a little bit better under the circumstances. Because we have—our time is past due, sir. It is not past due by three days, it is not past due by five days. It’s past due by almost three months. We’ve almost doubled the amount of time that the law says we’re supposed to be in the Restricted Housing Unit.

I feel like I do deserve the same rights as any other human, the same rights as any other prisoner across the country. For that purpose and that reason only, I will not eat until they accommodate and understand our situation and the position that we’re in.

I need to speak to my kids; I need to speak to my grandmother; I need to speak to my father; I need to speak to my grandfather; I need to speak to my brother effectively, and I need to fight my case effectively. All those have been taken away from us. They’re retaliating by giving us unnecessary write-ups and incident reports, they’re trying everything that they can to get us to eat. But I will be honest with you, that under no circumstances will I eat, unless they can accommodate us or get us out of here.”

New Warden at North Lake; Continuing Repression; Fifth Hunger Strike in the Restricted Housing Unit

There’s a new warden at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, and the group of mostly Black men who have been confined since March to the Special or Restricted Housing Unit started another hunger strike on Wednesday, August 5th. This is their fifth hunger strike and the sixth to our knowledge in the facility since March.

Donald Emerson, who had served as the warden at North Lake since its reopening in October, has been replaced. At first we welcomed this news since Emerson’s cruelty and his shameful mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis had been named specifically by people incarcerated at North Lake. But there are signs that his acting replacement, Angela Dunbar, is attempting to make conditions even worse. In 2016 Dunbar was sued by a federal prisoner in Indiana for prolonging his own confinement to a restricted unit for over six years without any procedural due process. Now, at North Lake, she has instituted harsh new regulations for phone use at a time when people desperately need regular contact with their families and loved ones.

While the conditions at North Lake are unacceptable for anyone, administrators had sought to appease people in the general population with increased phone access in the midst of the pandemic. The facility’s inmate handbook states: “To the extent practical, inmates in Administrative Segregation shall be provided with the same general privileges as inmates in general population.” The men in the RHU have been told that they are in Administrative Segregation, yet they continue to be treated as if they had violated prison policy. Dunbar first limited their phone time to 15 minutes every 30 days (as seen in this form). When they started their new hunger strike on Wednesday, August 5th, the limit was changed to 15 minutes every 10 days—a sign that their organizing makes a difference. But they are demanding a full reinstatement of phone access, as well as a transfer away from North Lake and access to another unit in the meantime.

CALL THE NORTH LAKE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY at 231-745-9711 to say you support the hunger strikers in the Restricted Housing Unit and their demands for fully restored phone privileges and access to a more spacious unit pending their transfers. We will continue to share updates as we get them.

New Hunger Strike at North Lake: 7/21/2020

On Tuesday, July 21st, one day after people around the country participated in a historic #StrikeForBlackLives, a group of nine predominantly Black men held in the Special Housing Unit (or SHU) at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin are entering the fifth day of a new hunger strike to protest intolerable conditions. One of them, Carlington Cruickshank, urgently needs medical attention. Carlington has been experiencing worsening chest pain, stomach pain, and blurred vision for over a month and a half, and he has been told that he won’t be able to see a doctor until the end of August. He is afraid for his life.

The men in the SHU are also demanding adequate food (after months of nothing but rice and beans every day), an end to vindictive incident reports from staff, more regular access to clean laundry and hygiene supplies, and a transfer out of this restricted unit. This is their fourth hunger strike since March, and the fifth strike to our knowledge in the facility. Please join us and take a few minutes on Tuesday to make sure prison staff know we’re watching and to demand that Carlington receive medical care immediately.

CALL:
North Lake Correctional Facility: 231-745-9711
Federal Bureau of Prisons, North Central Region Office: 913-621-3939

SCRIPT:
“I’m calling in support of the men who have been on hunger strike since Friday in the Special Housing Unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility, and to demand medical care for Carlington Cruickshank, inmate number 70473-004. By law prisoners must receive adequate nutrition and healthcare. This strike is sending a clear message that after months in the SHU, these men’s basic needs are still not being met and their basic rights are being violated. You have an obligation to cooperate with their demands, and Carlington needs medical attention right away.”

TIPS:
Try to get someone—anyone—on the other end. But even if you can’t, leaving a voicemail is helpful. Add your own thoughts to the script if you want. Try not to be flustered if the person on the other end attempts to derail your message by arguing small points. Remember the big point: People are putting their bodies on the line and we’re here to voice our support for their demands.

Please feel free to leave a comment letting us know how your call went or reach out with any questions.

“Hoping This Nightmare Will End Any Day”: The SHU at North Lake, June 2020

“We was never supposed to be back here to begin with. And they admitted it as well! We didn’t have no business for being back here, because we never did anything to violate institutional rules. We went on a hunger strike about it. And I also would add that they let us stay at least six days without no food, before implementing the rules that they should’ve been following from the get-go.”

Speaking on Monday, June 22nd, 2020, one member of a group of predominantly Black men held since March in the Special Housing Unit (or SHU) at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin describes the awful conditions they all have faced, including a period of several days when they had no access to soap or other hygiene products. In the time since this call, we’ve heard that the men in the SHU were finally given soap and toothpaste after five days. To our knowledge, the other conditions described in the call remain the same.

This recording has been edited for length.

#FreeThemAll #ShutDownGEO

TRANSCRIPT:

“It’s been an ongoing issue: the mail that we send out is not being received. They’re not letting the mail go out, for whatever reason. And they’re also having an issue letting us receive mail coming in, which is a violation of the mail procedure, because if they’re not going to send you the mail that I send to you, or not give me the mail that you send to me, they have to give me a reason why so we could try to fix the issue.

The hygiene is a problem. Since Thursday we been up here asking for soap, we can’t get soap. We been here asking for toothbrush, we can’t get no toothbrush. We been here asking for toothpaste, we can’t get no toothpaste. We been asking for toilet papers, we can’t get no toilet papers. We asking for deodorant, we can’t get no deodorant.

The food—we already talked to the guy from the BOP. It’s unhealthy, man. It’s the same meal every day. It’s rice and beans, every day, twice a day. I don’t know as far as, like, what can be done about it, but it’s unhealthy. I’m not eating it, personally. I stopped eating it because it’s causing me stomach issues. I’m not the only one with the stomach issue.

It’s hot, but we don’t have no AC in the facility. So there’s air coming in here. The air is filthy, man. It’s filthy. And they’re not letting—I don’t know if the institution don’t have air conditioning, or if they’re just electing not to let the air conditioning go.

There was an issue with the phone, because they’re not letting us use the phone as we should. Because there’s two forms of segregation. Administrative segregation is entitled to the same privileges, to the extent practical.
We was never supposed to be back here to begin with. And they admitted it as well! We didn’t have no business for being back here, because we never did anything to violate institutional rules. We went on a hunger strike about it. And I also would add that they let us stay at least six days without no food, before implementing the rules that they should’ve been following from the get-go, because it’s GEO policy.

Being that we back here in the SHU, we don’t have access to do anything on our own, and the case manager’s supposed to be here once a week. We haven’t seen the case manager in over a month and a half. None of us even know who our case manager is right now at this time.

It’s 23 and 1 right now. And that 23 and 1 is only five days a week—on the weekend, it’s 24. 24 hours in the cell. We are being held right now until we can get transferred to the next facility. We been designated since probably the beginning of April. As of right now, nothing has happened yet. We still back here, crossing our fingers, hoping this nightmare will end anyday, and it just hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened. And there’s really no sign right now that it’s going to happen in the next week or so, neither.”

PRESS RELEASE: North Lake Correctional Facility Withholds Hygiene Products, Continues Anti-Black Repression as Demands for Abolition Echo Beyond Prison Walls

For immediate release: 6/23/2020

On Sunday, June 21st and Monday the 22nd, as rebellions against anti-Black state violence and campaigns for police and prison abolition continued around the country, two members of a group of primarily Black men isolated within a restricted unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan reported that longstanding dangerous conditions in the unit had been getting worse, and that prison staff had withheld necessary hygiene products for over five days despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a month and a half now, they haven’t been switching out our blankets or giving us new sheets,” one person in the Special Housing Unit (or SHU) said on Sunday night. “Since Thursday, they haven’t been giving us any hygiene products. We’re just trying to get basic hygiene materials.”

North Lake is a private facility owned and managed by the GEO Group on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. The group of Black men confined to the SHU have been there since March, following a fight in which they were not involved. They have launched three separate hunger strikes over the last three months in response to racist repression and religious discrimination.

“Since Thursday, we been up here asking for soap, we can’t get soap,” one of them confirmed on Monday afternoon. “We been here asking for toothbrushes, we can’t get no toothbrushes. We been asking for toothpaste, we can’t get no toothpaste. We been asking for toilet paper, we can’t get no toilet paper. We been asking for deodorant, we can’t get no deodorant.”

This denial of essential sanitary supplies comes at a moment when the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of decline or effective containment at North Lake or elsewhere in the U.S. prison system. Even with its lack of comprehensive testing, North Lake has had one of the highest counts of coronavirus cases throughout the Bureau of Prisons, more than any other private facility appearing on the BOP’s COVID-19 resource page. Two incarcerated people are confirmed to have died after contracting the virus there, more than at any other private federal prison listed on the site.

Immigrants incarcerated in Baldwin over the last several months have described a climate of denial, cruelty and negligence which allowed the virus to spread unchecked throughout the prison. A new report from The Intercept details the BOP’s pattern of transferring incarcerated non-citizens across state lines well into the so-called lockdown period, with many ending up at North Lake and suddenly exposed to grave new health risks. But while many new people have been shipped into the prison, few appear to have gone out. The men in the SHU state that since April they have repeatedly been promised transfers to other facilities which have never materialized. “There was rumors that we were going to be shipped, but it never happened,” one of them said on Sunday. “We’re all still here.”

“We don’t have access to do anything on our own,” another added on Monday, “so we need the assistance of a case manager. And the case manager’s supposed to be here once a week. We haven’t seen the case manager in over a month and a half. None of us even know who our case manager is right now.”

“The anti-Black violence and neglect experienced by these men in the SHU is a reminder for us that struggles for the abolition of police, immigrant detention, and prisons are all connected,” said JR Martin, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “This facility is not a safe place for anyone. And the GEO Group’s specific anti-Black repression is part of the same machinery of state terror that killed Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless others, leading to the uprisings we’re witnessing right now. This fight will not be over until the whole system of policing, detention, and incarceration is abolished.”

“From day one, North Lake has been a nightmare and should be shut down,” said Kara, the wife of one of the men in the SHU, on Monday. “My husband has been incarcerated there for about six months, and the entire time he has been denied basic healthcare, nutrition and sanitation. At times they cut the water off on his room, and the staff attempted to interfere with his religious practices. The discrimination, outright racism, and mistreatment my husband has suffered at the hands of North Lake should not be tolerated and is another strand in the national dialogue about injustice.”

PRESS RELEASE: Fourth Hunger Strike Within Two Months Launched at North Lake Correctional Facility, as COVID-19 Prompts Continued Statewide Organizing Among Incarcerated and Detained People

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.”

“We’re Going Back Through the Whole System”: Fourth North Lake Hunger Strike

On the evening of Friday, May 15th, we got word that the group of around a dozen predominantly Black men who have been unjustly confined for over two months to the Special Housing Unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin would be launching another hunger strike. The strikers are demanding full access to legal mail which the GEO Group has denied them, an end to religious discrimination, and a response to their complaint forms which have continued to be ignored or thrown out.

To our knowledge, this is the fourth separate hunger strike to have taken place at the North Lake Correctional Facility within the last two months.

The strike in the general population from the last week, which saw at least a hundred people demanding COVID-19 testing and adequate medical care for everyone in the facility, may have ended after the warden retaliated by throwing four people allegedly involved in organizing it into the SHU. More details on this new hunger strike will be included in a press release coming soon.

#FreeThemAll

TRANSCRIPT:

“We’re about to get back on hunger strike. We’re not coming off. As far as the nine meals, ten, eleven—I don’t think we’re coming off.

Because, let me start with one. Legal mail—we are not getting our mails. Even just like when you’re sending your mails to me and all that, they’ve been taking our mails and they’re not giving our mails. We sent mail to the court, and I know the court’s been sending us back, because they have to send back certain stuff, right? These people, instead of giving his legal mail to him, they actually hid his mail inside the property room. And he found out, and now they’re trying not to do what is right by making a statement that, you know, they did wrong by him. Because the judge has wrote back to him that he has 30 days to send back another mail to them, to the court system, about certain stuff. And by them doing what they did, by having our mails in the property room down there … it’s a lot of stuff going on in here right now.

Our grievances—we’ve been sending our grievances back and forth. These people have been not answering the grievances, and they’ve been—they be throwing away our grievances. They come in and steal it, when we go outside for rec—’cause we have an hour rec—they come in the room and took their papers. That’s another thing.

Religious food. You know, it’s Ramadan, right? The kosher meals—they have actually said they’re limiting the kosher meals. They’re actually discriminating against them. So this has been an ongoing problem in here.

As far as us going and getting designated to the other prisons, they were saying that they’re in fear of their life, in fear of retaliation ’cause we’ve been taking action against GEO. And they just fear that, because of what’s going on—like, people are saying they’re going to go to another GEO—and they’re gonna be, you know what I’m saying? Targeted. So they are really trying not to go back to no GEO. They want to actually go back to the BOP, instead of this. ‘Cause it’s basically the same environment. The same people, the same thing, you know? It’s just going to a different state.

The chaplain is part of the religious food, and been lying, and all this. The Assistant Warden Gray—he came and been lying and do not want to come and deal with the situation that they have actually put us back into now again. So now we’re going back through the whole system, and it’s just crazy. Miss Kramer, who had the signature for the mailing of the legal mail that we’re supposed to get—when you get legal mail, you’re supposed to bring our mail, and they have not done that. She was the one that signed off, they ended up giving it to somebody else, and that’s how our mail has been—you know, just crazy. And as you can see yourself, when you even send us mail, we’re not getting it. And we sent you mail, and you’re not getting it. So it’s obvious they’re opening our mail, throwing it away, taking and doing whatever they’re doing, which is against rights, like you cannot do that. We’re entitled to our frickin’ mail.

So right now we have already refused two meals—tomorrow, to the next day, to the next day, to the next day, to the next day, until all this shit is resolved. I mean, it is ham. It is going crazy over here. The wrongdoing, everything that’s going on here—it’s gonna be a long hunger strike.”

PRESS RELEASE: As Number of Confirmed Cases Among Incarcerated People Doubles, Immigrants at North Lake Correctional Facility Launch Mass Hunger Strike Demanding COVID-19 Testing and Treatment

For immediate release: 5/9/2020

On Friday, May 8th, amid news of countless sick people going without treatment and multiple reports of deaths at the facility due to COVID-19, immigrants incarcerated in the general population at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan confirmed that everyone held in at least one unit would be launching a coordinated hunger strike. The strikers, potentially numbering in the hundreds, are demanding that all those incarcerated at the facility be tested immediately for the virus and receive adequate medical attention. Michigan’s only private prison, North Lake is owned and managed by the GEO Group and holds non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes.

Also on Friday, more than a month after the first knowledge of COVID-19 cases among GEO staff in Baldwin, the Federal Bureau of Prisons released limited data on coronavirus cases among incarcerated people in contract prisons such as North Lake. While private facilities still do not appear on the BOP’s online map of cases, a new subsection on their COVID-19 resource page documents 120 “lab-confirmed positive tests” in these facilities, including 54 people said to have recovered (their location unspecified), and 18 of the 66 remaining positives situated at the North Lake Correctional Facility. This puts North Lake second on the list of such infections among private federal prisons nationwide, following the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, also operated by the GEO Group.

Because only a portion of incarcerated people with symptoms have so far been tested, the true number of infections is likely much higher. “There’s a lot of people sick in here,” an immigrant imprisoned at North Lake stated on May 5th, adding that staff had been testing only those who exhibited a high fever (one of many possible symptoms of the virus), and that one person who needed emergency medical care on the previous day had been forced to wait five hours before passing out on the floor foaming at the mouth and being carried out by a cellmate. “So the guy went to the emergency room and we haven’t heard since then,” he said. “Things have been horrible here.”

“My husband let staff know that he had been feeling the chills a few days ago,” said Leasha, the wife of one person incarcerated at North Lake, “and then his eye got super red and now he’s lost his sense of smell and he has burning pain in his back near his lungs. A doctor screened him and said he was fine because he didn’t have a fever. He said a guy in the cell next to him had similar symptoms and they haven’t been quarantined, just given Tylenol and threatened that they’ll be moved if they keep claiming they’re sick.”

“I am so fearful for his life,” said the spouse of another incarcerated person on Friday. “The conditions in this facility are deplorable and not once since this global pandemic began has my husband ever seen anyone clean. I am very worried for these men. They were told ‘everyone is going to be locked back up.’ All of the men said no, and now they are all on a hunger strike. The inmates in this facility are human beings and they have people on the outside who love them. I wish the facility would value these men’s lives more because they are not just inmates, they are someone else’s whole world.”