June 7, 2016 – January 26, 2017
A group of prisoners at Waupun Correctional Institution announce the “Dying to Live” hunger strike against long term solitary confinement. The protest spreads as prisoners in Columbia and Green Bay join or organize rolling hunger strikes under different demands. After ten days, WI DOC begins force feeding prisoners, breaking many. Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley continue to refuse food and endure force feeding, DeLeon holding out for more than seven months. Outside supporters stage a series of demonstrations in solidarity with the hunger strikers, including one on August 14, with approximately 35 marching around the facility in downtown Waupun (a prison town with 3 facilities in it).
Waupun Correctional was built in 1851. The combination of starvation and contaminated water from the old pipes caused Cesar DeLeon severe diarrhea and dehydration, but the authorities would not allow him access to bottled water or electrolyte drinks while on strike.
Joseph Beahm, a correctional officer with more than 40 complaints against him participated in the force feeding, sometimes exacerbating the harm and danger. Prisoners reported having their noses bloodied and broken, and when video of one force feeding was released by court order, it appeared to be tampered with to conceal Beahm’s harmful action.
Another hunger striker named Joshua Scolman had a deviated septum, and could not be force fed through the nose, so the DOC set out to compel him to surgery so they could inject liquid nutrition directly into his stomach. He gave up the protest to prevent them from doing so.
Outside supporters staged rallies in downtown Milwaukee and Madison, as well as repeated demos at the WI DOC Central Office before the August 14 march in Waupun, where they attempted to donate cases of uncontaminated water to the prisoners inside. They also leafleted Joseph Beahm and Secretary Litscher’s neighborhoods.
The Dying to Live hunger strike and initial coverage inspired multiple other strikes in Wisconsin seg units, often with different demands. As the hunger strike wore on in a force-feeding stalemate, media attention and public support declined. After seven months WI DOC finally negotiated with Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley who were still on hunger strike and being force fed intermittently.
DeLeon was transferred out of Administrative Confinement (AC), but McKinley, who had been in AC for more than 25 years, was not released until after he was granted an interstate transfer to Colorado.