Menard Correctional Center, Chester, Illinois
January 15-27, 2014

After the shutdown of Tamms, Illinois supermax facility, long term solitary confinement prisoners are transferred to Menard Correctional, one of the state’s oldest and least maintained facilities. About 15 of these prisoners launch a hunger strike to protest continued solitary isolation in even worse conditions.

On January 27, supporters hold a solidarity noise demonstration outside the prison. Then another group rallies in downtown Chicago on February 13.

Strikers release a list of demands through their networks on the outside, including adequate heat and water, cleaning supplies, and the elimination of a rodent-vermin infestation. A prisoner letter published in Solitary Watch describes conditions and reasons for the hunger strike, including filthy cells, absence of programming, and prisoners forced to share coats. Tom Shaer of the IDOC responded, denying all of the prisoner’s claims and also claiming that there is no solitary confinement in Illinois prisons.

From the Menard hunger strikers’ letter:

The conditions here are inhumane & repressive. So much that we are forced to make a stand as men in righteous indignation.  We in HSU have planned a hunger strike on the 15th of January. We have put together a list of demands in individual grievances with the hope that it would shield us from administrative revenge. Our complaints are all pursuant to our constitutional rights & human dignity. Such as “implement uniform written policies that provide for constitutionally adequate ‘notice’ of why an inmate is being placed in Administrative Detention at the HSU, & reasonable, periodic review in the form of annual informal hearings that allow me to refute the alleged reasons why my placement in AD is being continued.”… No one here has been given ‘notice’ to why we’re here.

Other issues concern the conditions we’re forced to live in:

-It is absolutely filthy here, we are provided no cleaning supplies to clean our own cells, no disinfectants, no toilet brushes, as of now all we’re provided with is a small 2”x3” sponge once a month, there are no written policies for the HSU that requires the daily sweeping & mopping of the wings, the showers are filthy & infested with mold, as of now the wing is never swept or mopped.

-There is no mental health screening & evaluation of inmates prior to being placed in the HSU, there’s no specially trained mental health staff assigned to identity the deterioration of an inmate’s mental health due to long term isolation.

-The mail, including legal mail, is not processed in a timely manner, as of right now, mail takes sometimes 3 weeks from the post mark to be delivered

-There’s no reasonable access to our legal boxes, as of now, access is limited ot approximately once a month, this is unacceptable

-There’s no educational programming

-The cells are cold more often than not, & we’re not allowed to purchase cotton blankets off commissary (the state issued blanket is thin & inadequate)

-The food is not only awful & an unauthorized deviation from the statewide menu, but low calorie intake have us losing weight

-We’re not issued our own individual coats, we have to share coats with numerous men that leaves a stink behind, some of us here are not even given coats at all.

In April, following a series of noise demonstrations outside the prison, construction crews place metal boxes over the windows in the administrative segregation wing, preventing the prisoners from seeing out of them. In a letter, one prisoner describes the experience:

On April 12, 2014 at approx. 8 a.m. a construction crew showed up outside of our windows w/ large, metal square boxes with slots in the front. By 11 a.m. they were attached to our windows. We can not see outside anymore, nor do we get any sunlight, or air circulation. These taken in conjunction with our solid steel cell doors are going to make it unbearable this coming summer.

These shutters were placed on our windows specifically for our communication with you brothers and sisters during our “peaceful protest.” DO NOT let this retaliatory act prevent you from future protest, though we can’t see you, we will still be able to hear you and “that type” of support motivates the brothers in here like nothing else!

Lawyers Alice and Staughton Lynd report that shortly after the noise demonstrations, strikers won many of their demands and credit the solidarity demonstration and pressure from outside supporters as aiding in that success. Nonetheless, in September, 2015, prisoners at Menard again decide to launch a hunger strike, writing,

“Here in A.D., everything is still the same. No one is being released and we are still not getting meaningful hearings. We are still not getting any written reasons or any new info relied on for the basis of the Committee’s decision for our continued placement in A.D. We are still getting the same vague memos.”

 

Citations:

Report back on Solidarity Action with the Menard Correctional Center Hunger Strike“, Maosoleum, reposted by Anti-State STL, January 31, 2014.

“Menard Hunger Strike w Staughton Lynd”, The Final Straw, February 2, 2014

“Voices from Solitary: Menard Hunger Strike”, SolitaryWatch.com, February 6, 2014.

“Hunger Strike at Menard Correctional Draws Solidarity and Support”, Truth-Out, February 7, 2014

Menard hunger strikers refusing water until face-to-face hearings begin“, San Francisco Bay View, February 10, 2014.

“Menard Hunger Strikers’ Response to Noise Demonstration Outside the Prison“, Uptown People’s Law Center (@UptownPeoplesLawCenter), Facebook, reposted by Anti-State STL, February 10, 2014.

‘Feedback from Menard Hunger Strikers on Noise Demonstration“, Anti-State STL, March 12, 2014.

“Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers at Menard–Windows Blocked, Strikers Beaten“, Anti-State STL, April 22, 2014.

“Despite Retaliation, Menard Inmate Urges Further Solidarity“, Anti-State STL, April 28, 2014.

Menard hunger strikers endure beating, threats by nurses but vow, ‘We will not let them break us’“, San Francisco Bay View, January 27, 2014.

Update from Menard hunger strikers: We need outside support, force feeding threatened,San Francisco Bay View, January 21, 2014.

“Illinois prisoners in Menard High Security Unit plan to begin hunger strike Jan. 15“, San Francisco Bay View, January 21, 2014

 

Background/Update:

“Noise Demonstration in Solidarity with Hunger Strike at Menard Correctional in Illinois“, Anti-State STL, September 28, 2015.

“Update from Menard Hunger Strikers“, Anti-State STL, October 7, 2015.