Support the Georgia prisoners’ hunger strike

July 12, 2012

Tom Gagné reports on a struggle for justice by a group of Georgia prisoners.

"TEN COURAGEOUS men stood up and went on hunger strike to say, 'I am human.' They would rather die than be treated like animals."

Delma Jackson spoke those words July 9 to a crowd of dozens of demonstrators braving Atlanta's blistering summer heat on the steps of the state Capitol. Jackson is the wife of Miguel Jackson, one of the prisoners on hunger strike at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GDCP) in Jackson, Ga.

A few moments later, the crowd entered the Capitol with signed letters to be delivered to the Gov. Nathan Deal's office, demanding a written resolution satisfying the strikers' demands.

On June 10, Miguel along with nine other organizers went on hunger strike. Their demands include restoration of visitation rights, access to better health care, an end to solitary confinement, decent food, educational opportunities, and more transparency in status reviews and standard operating procedures.

Most of those on hunger strike are within the walls of GDCP. However, there are reports of prisoners in Macon State and Augusta State taking inspiration and beginning a strike of their own.

Inside a maximum security section of Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Inside a maximum security section of Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison

These are the same demands put forward from the Georgia prisoners' work strike in 2010, where inmates effectively shut down several of prisons for weeks, coordinating with each other through the use of contraband cell phones. After the strike, many of the organizers of the action were beaten severely, moved to separate prisons and placed in solitary confinement or extreme isolation--making information about the strike almost very difficult to gather.

Delma learned what little information there is when Miguel's visitation rights were briefly granted through her persistence, backed by a legal team.

In total, 37 prisoners were identified as organizers and are now in solitary confinement. They include Bobby Miners, who spent 13 months in isolation; Demetrius White, 19 months; and Miguel Jackson, 19 months. Other prisoner organizers who were in solitary confinement before the 2010 strike include Quinton Cook, 29 months; and Dexter Shaw, who has spent the past five years in isolation at Jackson after being moved from Smith, where he spent give years in solitary confinement.

What you can do

You can sign a petition to Gov. Nathan Deal calling for justice for the hunger strikers.

Protest the treatment of the prisoners by calling the warden of GDCP at 770-504-2000 or faxing 770-504-2006. Call the ombudsman of the Georgia Department of Corrections at 478-992-5367 or e-mail [email protected] (copy the e-mail to [email protected]. Call Gov. Nathan Deal at 404-656-1776 or fax 404-657-7332.

Supporters of the prisoners say they have reliable information that GDCP Warden Carl Humphrey is intercepting incoming and outgoing mail, and guards are regularly beating prisoners still in handcuffs.

MIGUEL HAS not been properly treated for injuries sustained in the beatings he got from prison guards in 2010 at Smith State Prison--and the prison illegally barred Miguel from seeing his attorney. In January 2011, Miguel was moved to GDCP. He still suffers from chronic migraines, a broken nose and hammer indentations on his skull. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the assault, which leaves him with sleepless nights.

Miguel was incarcerated under the sentencing guidelines of Georgia's backwards so-called "Seven Deadly Sins" law, known as SB 440. Under the law, any youth aged 13 to 17 convicted of the crime of murder, rape, armed robbery (with a firearm), aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery or voluntary manslaughter is automatically transferred to superior/adult court and isn't eligible for parole, even the conviction is their first offense, as was the case for Miguel.

In fact, the presiding judge in the case was unfamiliar with the law and believed he would be eligible for parole after 10 years. The judge died two years after Miguel was sentenced, and Miguel's family has been unable to reverse his sentencing.

It is common knowledge among prisoners that the abuse they receive from guards and prison personnel is aimed at intimidating them and crushing their spirits--but those at GDCP are taking a courageous and defiant stand against medieval forms of punishment and neglect.

The hunger strike is moving into its second months, and the lives of those taking part are at risk. They are becoming weak and subject to regular fainting spells.

There is a growing concern in the activist and radical community in Atlanta about the prisoners' health and safety. A coalition of individuals and organizations are coming together outside prison walls to provide support. A defense campaign is organizing with what little time is left to put pressure on the governor, Department of Corrections, Board of Pardons and Paroles and GDCP to end their inhumane practices.

Further Reading

From the archives