Green Bay Correctional Institution, Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 3 – February 13, 2019 (exact end date uncertain)
Three to six prisoners went on hunger strike demanding improved conditions in the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) at Green Bay Correctional complaining of harassment, excessive cell searches, and inadequate food. Letters from one hunger striker describe retaliation for the hunger strike from staff. A public records request revealed that the hunger strike lasted in some form for nearly 6 weeks.
On January 3, 2019, Prisoner Damien Huff reported to the prison advocacy group Forum for Understanding Prisons (FFUP) that he and five other prisoners were on hunger strike. Huff stated:
“I’m writing to inform you that me and also 5 others are engaged in a hunger strike. Due to the unlawful treatment they are inflicting on certain individuals in the hole here at GBCI. I am asking that if you can start a movement and also let the media know what’s going on here at GBCI . They are harassing us, searching our cells every time we come out of our cells for HSU, law library or any other activities. They do not serv the food on time it is extremely cold or luke warm when we get it which by law we are supposed to get at least one hot meal a day. I ask that you stand by this movement with us please.”
A public records request filed by FFUP revealed GBCI staff emails discussing three prisoners on hunger strike starting January 6, reduced to two by January 17, and one by January 24. According to the emails, the last prisoner refusing meals as part of the hunger strike was taking liquid nutrition and eating sporadically on February 13. It is unclear how long the prisoner remained on strike.
In his letter dated January 26, 2019, Huff described retaliation for the hunger strike from staff:
“Captain Jay Verlanan… has isolated me from the others so that I can’t communicate with them. And has stripped me naked and put me in a cell with no mattress, toilet paper of smock. It should also be noted that this is winter time and the cell is freezing cold and filthy”.
FFUP stated that they believe letters from prisoners to the organization were being illegally delayed by staff:
“The letter was dated January 24, but not received by FFUP until February 5, possibly due to intervention by GBCI staff. FFUP mail is to and from prisoners often seems interfered with, and it’s possible Huff or other hunger strikers wrote letters that were illegally intercepted by prison staff.”
According to FFUP, their organization discourages prisoners from engaging in hunger strikes in Wisconsin because “the DOC stopped monitoring hunger strikes or following any protocol except abuse” following a long hunger strike in 2016.
The open records request also revealed emails with “WCI hunger strike” in the subject line, suggesting that an additional hunger strike or hunger strikes occurred at Waupun Correctional Institution during this time, but the entire body of the emails was redacted.
Green Bay and Waupun Correctional are the two oldest prison facilities in Wisconsin. Both are maximum security facilities with large restrictive housing units and high rates of mental illness among the populations.
“Hidden hunger strikes possible in Wisconsin DOC“, Dying to Live, March 28, 2019.
“Resources for GBCI and WCI hunger strikes January and February of 2019″, Dying to Live, March 28, 2019.
“FFUP- PRRT Hunger Strike“, Forum for Understanding Prisons, March 28, 2019.
“Inside the Waupun and Green Bay Correctional Institutions“, 7 Investigates, August 3, 2017.