Comrades and outside supporters of the prisoners at Bertie CI in Windsor, NC, recently received word that two prisoners on Solitary Confinement recently barricaded themselves in their cells as a protest of prison conditions and repression. This “lock-in” action lasted four days, and was timed to coincide with an outside demonstration by anarchists and supporters on March 12th. It also coincided with the second of two national call-in days to the prison and NC Department of Corrections.
Two days into the lock-in, which began March 10th, about twenty anarchists gathered outside the prison with drums, pots and pans, and large banners reading, “Against Prisons.” According to one prisoner,
“In regards to the demo on the 12th, the pigs tried to keep it under wraps from everyone. Usually, when a disturbance happens, they’ll lock the facility down. On this occasion, they figured if no one brought attention to it then they could go on as if everything was normal. One problem though. There are rooms facing the parking lot and prisoners were able to see what was happening! Word of mouth is effective. We started kicking on the door and flooding. A couple prisoners set fires.”
Another prisoner got written up for his behavior, his disciplinary report alleging, “creating a riotous type protest and causing other inmates to do the same thing.” Two days later, the prisoners conducting the lock-in were forcefully extracted from their cells, and later promised that many of their demands would be met.
The following is a description of the lock-in action by one of the prisoners involved, as well as the demands they submitted to prison authorities:
Description of Action
On March 10th, 2011, myself (James Graham) and my comrade Danny Washington barricaded ourselves in our rooms and refused to come out for anything. This was done in protest of the conditions here at Bertie Correctional Institution.
On March 14th, we both sent a list of demands to prison officials demanding that we not be treated like animals and slaves and that they institute programs that address our basic human rights. Once they received the list of demands, they sent the Unit Manager, Asst. Unit Manager, Captain, and the Intelligence Lieutenant (he deals with prisoners who are labeled as being part of a Security Threat Group) to our doors to speak to us and ask us if we had any food trays, but neither of us answered and they left. The captain summoned his lil’ “goon squad,” and he came to our cells again, this time accompanied by a guard holding a camera, giving us a direct order to come out of our cells. He received no reply. He stated on the camera that we “had weapons” and that his goons would come and extract us from our cells “to restore order.”
First off, we had no weapons and I didn’t know that refusing to come out of your cell was causing a disturbance. Once they saw we weren’t coming out, they left. When they returned, it was the Captain along with his goons who had an electric shield and a mace canister (the size of a fire extinguisher). They came to my cell first and told me to “submit to the cuffs” and come out of my cells. No reply. One of the guards opened my food trap and sprayed mace in my cell and closed my trap hoping that would force me to come out willingly. It didn’t work. Next, they did the same thing again and it was unsuccessful too. Then, the Captain called the guard in the control booth to open my door. My door wouldn’t open courtesy of my barricade. I sat back and waited patiently while listening to the guards cough and choke on the mace as they struggled trying to get my door open. After witnessing this for a good lil’ while, they finally got my door open and rushed in my cell, tackled me and held me down while I was handcuffed, chained, and shackled. I was then thrown in a shower – with the water on – for about five or six minutes, taken to see the nurse for a check-up and placed in a cage. They also ran my comrade’s cell, but I don’t know the details.
We had the chance to speak to the Superintendent, Asst. Superintendent, Captain, Intelligence Lieutenant, Unit Manager, and Asst. Unit Manager. In meeting with them, we went down the list of demands [attached below] and addressed every demand. This is what I was told in response to these demands:
- A new chaplain will be starting on 3/28/11 who will come around and visit the prisoners. Also, they will be making sure there are materials for all religions and no specific religion will be shown favoritism.
- Lack of nurses has been the reason for inadequate medical care and in timely responses to medical emergencies. More nurses are in the process of being hired.
- More dental staff are in the process of being hired as well. The dental floss issue wasn’t discussed.
- The Unit Manager and Asst. Unit Manager were told to make sure we had clothes daily and they promised to contact the warehouse about making sure our clothing was sanitized.
- The food will be served according to the dietary charts in Raleigh. Basically, no change.
- Maintenance would be contacted to make sure the temperatures are correct, and to clean the vents out.
- I was told to contact a woman in the Education Dep. about starting up some educational programs for prisoners in solitary.
- I was told to contact Raleigh about the publications ban list.
- I was told we would ne given toilet brushes during cell clean-up –and we have been.
We have made great strides in the right direction. We will definitely continue what we have started and will continue in the struggle. Whatever repressive tactics that may be used against us won’t be anything we haven’t experienced at one time or another. The only thing to fear is fear itself and the only thing to lose is these chains.
Prisoners’ Demands and Communique:
- Equal treatment of all religions. Here at Bertie CI certain religions are favored over others. The chaplain only provides religious materials for certain religions and the rest he tells prisoners to “write your leader.”
- Adequate Medical Care. Ibuprofen and aspirin are given out like a cure to all diseases – including vomiting up blood.
- Prompt responses to all medical emergencies. Often times it takes hours for medical personnel to respond to a medical emergency. Sometimes it’s ignored altogether.
- Adequate dental care. Prisoners have to wait months after filling out numerous dental requests before being seen by a dentist. Also, prisoners house in solitary are prohibited from having dental floss even though it’s vital to dental care. The excuse for the denial has been “because you’re on lock-up.”
- Clean clothing. Prisoners are given clothing that has not been washed properly or not at all. Prisoners have received clothing with urine, feces, and semen stains in them with foul odors. Prisoners have caught rashes from wearing these unsanitized clothes.
- Adequate portions and nutritional meals.
- Protection from extreme conditions. In the winter, the air conditioning is blasting, in the summer, the heat is blasting. The extreme temperatures are done for psychological purposes.
- Clean air. The ventilation (air flow) is so poor it undermines sanitation. There’s excessive dust and lint particles in the air in our cells which prisoners in solitary confinement breathe 23 hours a day.
- Educational and self-improvement opportunities. Prisoners on solitary realize that no guard can rehabilitate them. Only we can do that. Problem is, there are no resources for us to utilize.
- The publications ban list be revised. The ban list exemplifies racism, bigotry, and prejudice. It targets Black books, Black publications, and a specifically Black genre: urban fiction.
- A toilet brush to properly sanitize our toilets. Prisoners are in a cell for a minimum of 23 hours a day in a cell with a toilet they use daily.
We refuse to come out of our cells in protest of these conditions. We will continue to struggle by various means until these demands are addressed.
These actions followed an increase in tension and struggle inside of Bertie over the last 6 months, as the prison has experienced the appearance of Black and anarchist study groups, as well as several collective actions involving refusals to leave cells and the occupation of yards. Personal and political relationships between anarchist and prisoner support groups and prisoners have also increased. We stand in total solidarity with these prisoners, and remain committed to helping their struggle generalize whenever and wherever possible.
North Carolina, cmon raise up!
…some anarchists against prisons…