By Lena Mercer, Perilous Chronicle
On July 13, more than 20 prisoners at the David Wade Correctional Center in Northern Louisiana started a hunger strike to protest their confinement under conditions they say are akin to torture. The strikers had all been relocated to David Wade from the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center near Baton Rouge, La under a controversial disciplinary collaboration program between the two facilities. Once at David Wade prisoners say they have been beaten, denied medical attention and left in long-term solitary confinement with no hope or path out of the program.
A warning of the strike’s imminent beginning started circulating in a social media graphic on July 11. “An entire tier of prisoners (20+) David Wade Correctional Center in Louisiana will be on Hunger Strike…” the graphic stated. The strike itself was going to be a response to a program that prisoners and their advocates have dubbed the “90-day turnaround”, but can be described as anything but.
In the program, prisoners from Elayn Hunt are transferred from that facility to David Wade for supposedly 90 days of intensive disciplinary segregation. For many, the conditions inside the program at DWCC amount to what they call torture that they have been surviving through for months and years longer than the prescribed 90 days.
Requests circulating primarily on social media have asked for concentrated phone calls to the facility’s warden, Jerry Goodwin, and ask that the more than 20 prisoners on hunger strike have their demands met. Goodwin has worked at the facility since 1984 and in 2017 was named one of the “top wardens” by the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents.
The program is supposed to be last 90 days, prisoners are held under more restrictive conditions than normal but have a pathway towards being moved back to their original facilities according to how it has been described to prisoners and their families. They are only given a single 10 minute phone calls per month, there is no access to the canteen, and no yard time according to Marsha Parker, whose husband is incarcerated at the facility. The men are locked in their cells nearly 24 hours a day with “only out 10 minutes to shower, they are shackled and handcuffed every time the cell door opens, and all medications are kept from them” Parker said in an email to Perilous. Parker’s husband, Kermit Parker, has been held in what is supposed to be a 90 day disciplinary program since 2019 according to letters sent to Perilous Chronicle.
In an open letter, the strikers, who refer to themselves as “Hunt’s Forgotten”, express multiple grievances with the conditions inside the facility, ranging from intolerable heat conditions to sexual assault. In a letter from January 2020 shared with Perilous Chronicle by Marsha Parker, her husband recounts his first moments at the facility. “Before any of the EHCC inmates stepped off the bus,” Parker wrote, “a DWCC supervisor stepped onto the bus with a mini-fire extinguisher sized canister of riot gas/mace.” Parker goes on to describe how the supervisor threatened and then beat prisoners as they spoke up against being threatened.
EHCC and DWCC are separated by a distance of nearly 250 miles, on opposite sides of the state. Several prisoners reflected on the difficulty of being pulled away from their families and support located closer to EHCC in the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana. Parker spoke of aging parents unable to make the grueling round trip, and lack of access to attorney’s that are located hundreds of miles away in Baton Rouge.
In letters forwarded to Perilous, other prisoners, who we are keeping anonymous out of concern for source safety, spoke of having their medications refused or being denied medical treatment for things like skin cancer leaving “scars and marks” on their bodies. These medical denials are exacerbated by the mental health effects of long-term isolation. Many of the prisoners reported feelings of depression and PTSD from their time in DWCC.
This story is evolving and we will continue to follow this hunger strike as the prisoners continue to participate.
Lena Mercer is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest and a member of the Perilous Editorial Collective.