Starved for Attention

How do you break a high-security hunger strike? Put a lid on it.

Officials may have underestimated how quickly word of the strike spread through lockdown, but they moved swiftly to squelch the protest. One internal memo obtained by Westword indicates that inmate mail to reporters was intercepted by prison staff, on the grounds that "such correspondence may present a threat to the safety and security of the public, staff, offenders and agency/facility." Yet one justification for the DOC's ban on media interviews with high-security inmates is that the prisoners are free to write letters to communicate their views.

Prisoners were also told that their refusal to eat could result in charges of "supporting and inciting a facility disturbance" -- and that their punishment would probably include even more time spent in CSP. Under DOC rules, Morgan says, any "organization of a combined effort" by prisoners, even a non-violent hunger strike, is prohibited.

Four days after the strike began, the Pueblo Chieftain quoted Morgan as saying that only eight prisoners were still fasting. That figure is disputed by strike leaders and food-service workers, who claim that at least forty inmates were still participating. Morgan acknowledges that dozens of other prisoners were still refusing "some" meals at that point, but she also suggests that an unknown number were squirreling away canteen items and sneaking meals. "They were still eating their snacks," she says.

Mark Andresen

But cell shakedowns failed to produce a hoard of chips and candy bars. Anderson, who claims to have survived on water and vitamins, has a receipt for one shakedown four days into the strike that shows no snacks were found in his cell. "They lied to the newspapers," he insists. "They videotaped all meal refusals, so it's all documented."

Anderson also challenges officials' assertions that the strikers, with the exception of those who declined treatment, were seen daily by medical staff. He was visited regularly only toward the end of the strike, he says; one nurse told him that "there were just too many people to see. That's a hell of a reason to refuse treatment."

As the strike entered its second week, the number of protesters dropped sharply. One prisoner became dizzy and collapsed in his cell, suffering a head injury. Feeling shaky and light-headed himself, vomiting water and suffering nosebleeds, Anderson finally decided to pack it in.

To date, no prisoner has been charged with a disciplinary infraction for the strike, but it produced no changes in policy, either.

"Real change has to come from out there," Anderson says. "There are thirty to forty of us in here who will never be allowed to leave. They give us no hope. It gets harder and harder to find excuses not to act up. What's worse are all the people who will parole from here. They have a huge backlog of people who should have left years ago -- or shouldn't be here at all."

for related stories visit our "Crime and Punishment" archive.

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