Tag Archives: Alex Hundert

Alex hundert’s new article, Racism and the War on Books!!!!

12 Feb

Racism and the War on Books
The last piece that I posted on this subject was written in this prison a couple of months ago, before I’d been thrown into “the hole” on administrative segregation. I wrote about the prison’s banning of reading material, which they have classified as “anarchist.” Security here has been removing such items from my mail. Prior to that posting I had written about a newly enforced policy at the CNCC that functionally prevents books from being sent in from the outside.

In the days immediately after that policy became effective – a policy that we are still trying to fight – the prison was in the position of having a backlog of books to still deliver to people in prison here, books that had arrived at the facility before the date chosen to enact the policy. In delivering those books, the same kind of discrimination was employed as that which I wrote about in regard to my mail. Books identified as “anarchist” were denied, including a book of poetry by Kelly Pflug-Back and one authored by the Curious George Collective titled Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs.

Discrimination against “anarchists” is not the only kind displayed by this prison’s administration in their censorship and banning of books, as the title of this piece suggests.

A couple of us were going to file applications to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as one of the very few possible grievance mechanisms available to those of us imprisoned here. However, the multiple copies of the application that have been sent to me here seem to have been intercepted by the staff and not one has made it into my hands.

* * * * * *

In my last piece, titled Anarchist Material Removed, I noted that one of the articles that the CNCC wanted to prevent people imprisoned here from reading was an interview with Shane Bauer in which he spoke about solitary confinement practices in the United States being in some respects more severe than those in Iran, where he was imprisoned. We know very well that the Ontario Super Jails are styled after American prisons, this one having been run by an American corrections corporation for a time, with most practices left untouched or in some cases made even harsher.

In that article Bauer talks about the Secure Housing Units (SHUs) at the Pelican Bay Prison in California. He mentions that one of the things which results in people being thrown in the SHU there is the identification of so called “gang-related material” in their possession or in their mail.

Bauer explains that in at least one instance, Black liberationist political material – an essay by W.E.B. DuBois – was labelled by Pelican Bay Security as “gang-related material” and resulted in the person to whom the essay had been sent getting transferred to the SHU, where they will be held in indefinite solitary confinement.

* * * * * * *

Adrian Nolan, 31, is another person imprisoned at the CNCC who has had books denied to him because management here have alleged that some of the content sent to him violates their security protocols. The reason he was given was that the books constituted “gang-related material.”

Unfortunately, the notes from my interview with Nolan, like all of my notes, letters and papers, were confiscated when I was placed in solitary confinement on January 21 for unspecified “security reasons.” Fortunately, I do remember much of the content of that conversation.

Nolan said to me that it is wrong to consider the books “gang related”; rather, he described them as “urban books.” He used that term to draw attention to the fact that a sergeant here had employed it when explaining what Security defined as “gang related”: “You know: urban books,” said the sergeant.

Nolan and others were quick to name this as the obvious racism that it is.

Abdi Mohammed, 23, told me that the only difference between these so called urban books and many of the books currently read by people imprisoned here is that these are written by Black authors with Black characters and set in Black neighbourhoods.

Adrian Nolan agreed with this assessment. He talks about one of the book series which he was trying to bring in, which he told me were nearly indistinguishable in genre from many John Grisham or James Patterson books (which are very popular here) – they are thriller mysteries, they’re about crime, like many novels are.

There is also another type of book that is in wide circulation here at the CNCC which Nolan compared to those which were rejected by security: the evangelizing Christian books provided by the Chaplaincy. Ironically, these are for the most part the only books available to people stuck in “the hole” (other than Bibles and Christian self-help books). It seems that this rule may have been quietly and partially – for those of us on “administrative” rather than punitive segregation – repealed since I first wrote about it several weeks ago.

The general outline of these Christian books is that the story is told by formerly imprisoned people who have found religion and become devoutly faithful. The first half (or more) is always full of drug use and violence and then late in the novel the author-narrator finds Jesus and starts to live a religious life.

Nolan pointed out that this is very similar to some of the books he tried to have sent in (and to share with other people), the primary difference being that they are not pushing Christianity, they are about Black people.

Abdi Mohammed told me that it is unfortunate that the CNCC administration is blinded by racism because unlike most of the books available here, ones Nolan wanted to share are “books we can relate to.” I remember Mohammed saying this with reference to himself and other young imprisoned people of colour.

Sadly though, this discrimination does not surprise Mohammed. He says that racism is pervasive at the CNCC. He has felt it himself and witnessed it many times.

I wish that I had access to my notes and Mohammed’s own words available. One thing I do remember him saying is that as a Somali Muslim he has experienced racism because of his colour, his country and also his religion.

Mohammed said that racism is a serious problem at non-urban jails like this one in Penetanguishene.

The staff here are almost excusively White, in stark contrast with prisons located in the GTA. The difference is palpable and Mohammed says this results in both systemic and day- to-day racism.

* * * * * * *

There is a tragic irony in the comparison of books allegedly containing “gang-related material” with evangelical Christian books that are numerous in this and other prisons.

The practice of having only Christian books available to people imprisoned in segregation here is itself a notable colonizing act in a country with a history of violent Christianization.

Indeed, racism is a pervasive factor in the CNCC’s war on books. But as Abdi Mohammed pointed out, the racism in the so called justice system is much deeper than just this front. A deeply ingrained systemic racism – from the over-policing of neighbourhoods of colour to the normalized hegemony of Whiteness – is but reflected in this prison’s policies that deny imprisoned people access to books.

* * * * * * *

A couple of things need to be said about trying to file an application with the Ontario Human Rights Commission – a couple of things in addition to the fact that our efforts have thus far been thwarted by the CNCC, which has prevented me from receiving the application.

Resorting to this kind of application is a tremendous compromise. It is a soft reformist measure at best. “Human rights” discourse is an inherently liberal doctrine that appeals to the authority of the state to define and grant people’s so called “rights” and reflects privilege in terms of who gets access to those rights.

That said, I still find it alarming that when I called “Offender Issues”—also known as the Client Conflict Resolution Unit and which is supposed to be our first recourse for human rights issues in the provincial prison system—they said that access to books is not a serious enough issue for them to care about. More alarmingly, they also said that discrimination against political ideology is not a human rights issue. They refused to talk to me about racism and that complaint stemmed from an incident involving another person.

The application, as a tactic, was not an attempt to portray discrimination against White anarchists like myself on the same plane as racism against people of colour. Rather, it was part of a strategy that is attempting to put the issue of systemic abuse of people’s “rights” onto the table for discussion.

Racism, denial of rights based on political ideology, contesting freedom of thought through the censorship and banning of books and other reading material; these are all happening in the Ontario prison system.

That racism and political identity might be similarly targeted by state institutions merely reaffirms the notion that there is a real necessity for organized resistance against this colonial system that employs prison justice as one of its primary weapons.

Racism is an endemic feature of Euro-American capitalist colonial culture and statehood. It is inevitable that this manifests in the way prisons are run; prisons playing a central role in maintaining and enforcing that system. The CNCC is not only no exception but, as Abdi Mohammed explained, it is actually one of the more racist prisons in the provincial system.

Note: The policy of making non-religious books unavailable to people imprisoned on the segregation unit—for which there now seems to be an exemption for people here on “administrative segregation”—is not a policy that either the chaplaincy or the guards are responsible for. Like most problems, this one is a problem with those in charge.

Alex Hundert is back in the hole

23 Jan

From Alex’s Blog

Update, Jan. 22: Alex is back in the hole (in administrative segregation). The provincial adjudication from a few days ago was overruled and Alex has been declared a ‘security threat’. It is unclear if and when he will be out of solitary confinement, it could be up to 9 weeks (the remaining time left on his sentence). He is doing okay though and says hi to all.

Political Prisoner Alex Hundert, Live from the Hole:Resistance to the colonialist dungeon!!!!

21 Jan

Live from the Hole: Resistance to the Colonial Dungeon
January 20, 2013
Update: Alex has been moved back to general population.

January 18

Yesterday I was found guilty of inciting a disturbance likely to endanger the security of the institution, for my role in the protest and direct action that occurred on January 12th on Unit 5 at the CNCC. Once again I have been labelled as a ringleader. Since the incident I have been on the segregation unit here, in solitary confinement, more commonly known as ‘the hole.’ The protest was against the ongoing degradation of our living conditions here, which was a culmination of dissent after a week where we had been locked down for all or part of every single day. The direct action was to take back half an hour of our day; several months ago our nightly lockup was moved from 8:30 to 6:30 PM. That extra half hour is valuable to imprisoned people, as after 6 PM is the only time that many people can call their families—phone rates can be prohibitively expensive during the day, which is also when many of our family members are at work or at school. The existing policy is one that discriminates against poor people, who are already disproportionately targeted for imprisonment. The action consisted of all of the people on most of the cell blocks on Unit 5 refusing to lock up in their cells at 6:30 PM as per the regular routine. The confrontation occurred on cell block 9A, when the guards were met with defiance from all of the people imprisoned there who refused to move when ordered. The sergeant arrived and the spokesperson informed the white shirt that there were units in lockup in protest of all that has been taken away from us lately–from access to our cells during the day, to the two hours every evening–we were finally taking something back. Even having been informed that our intention was to voluntarily return to our cells at 7 PM, at ten to 7, fifty to sixty guards were brought onto the range to force us into our cells. Despite our spokesperson explicitly saying that we were not interested in escalation, ours was to be a peaceful protest, the sergeant decided that it was worth risking the safety of imprisoned people as well as corrections officers in order to ensure that the guards finished their shifts on time. Management had told me that despite appearances, the reason we lost the 2 hours, though having to do with “shift alignment,” was not as a result of the funding cuts causing cutbacks on staffing. While claiming it has nothing to do with austerity, no other explanation has been provided. When the guards stormed the cell block, one imprisoned person was assaulted and taken down to the floor, where he was kneed repeatedly before being handcuffed and taken off the unit. He too is now in the hole, just a few cells down from mine, waiting to be taken to the hospital for x-rays.

Down the hall from me in the other direction is another imprisoned person who is fighting back against the injustice of this institution. David Cedeño, 29, is on day 12 of a hunger strike. While my contact with him has been very limited by the circumstances of the segregation unit, I can say that his demands include proper medical treatment, the opportunity to continue with highschool coursework, resolution regarding a complaint he filed against a guard, and consideration for all the time he has spent in segregation as a result of incidents related to those complaints. Cedeño has underlined concerns about the way the jail is run, and emphasises that his related demands are more important than those concerning himself. He recognises that the combination of this facility’s size and systematic [inaudible] results in a pervasive pattern of unaccountability and indifference while coming from a minority of the staff, running unchecked with no available effective grievance process. He has been disregarded by management, by the folks at Offender Issues, also known as the “Client Conflict Resolution Unit” who told him his hunger strike is an internal issue with this facility, and by the always useless provincial Ombudsman’s Office, who said that it isn’t their problem. I heard a sergeant tell him that his concerns can only be addressed by the Deputy Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Why the Superintendent did not address them–I would think that she would at least meet with him–I don’t know. If the way this facility is run is any indication, perhaps it is due to incompetence, or maybe it’s just another instance of institutional indifference. Cedeño’s demands for the broader facility include better quality food, better air filtration, the ability for imprisoned people to purchase and use phone calling cards which might make calls affordable, access to existing facilities such as the gym and library, and improvements to the conditions in segregation. He has not eaten a thing in 10 days. The institution’s negligence in this case, I would think, is verging on criminal. Cedeño lives with sleep apnea and requires a machine to breathe at night. The jail’s unwillingness to responsibly accommodate his life-threatening condition is what led to conflict with the guards in the first place, and in turn the circumstances he now finds himself in. Given that, perhaps he’s being naive in thinking that even a hunger strike is capable of breaking through such systemic injustice. I would prefer to think of him as courageous and principled. To the extent that I have been able to speak with him, he wanted to make it clear that the stand he is taking is not just for himself but for all imprisoned people in here. Rarely have I witnessed such a spirit of resistance here in the state’s darkest of dungeons.

While I do want people to know that I have been unscathed by my time in segregation, my mind, heart, and spirit remain strong, this place—the hole—is truly quite horrendous. The hallway is filled with cries of rage, anguish, and pain, and the near-constant sound of people tapping on the doors of their cells. To even talk to the person directly across the hall, we have to yell through the cracks between the iron door and its frame, people’s faces visible only through a window about 4 inches wide and often partially or totally covered with a metal screen on the exterior; by yelling to each other, the words barely audible, it merely contributes to the noise. I try not to be troubled by the overwhelming racket, remembering always that I am in solidarity with those imprisoned people whose last recourse is to scream and bang on the door. If I were not aware of how unpleasant it is for other people in this very frightening place, I would join them in their protest. It is clear that this segregation unit largely imprisons people living with severe mental health issues, suffering from having to live with them in prison. My heart wrenches from some of the things I have seen and heard in the week I have been here. While in truth many of the guards on this unit treat most people with a reasonable degree of care and decency, no amount of care could make up for these intrinsically utterly indecent conditions. My cell is covered with graffiti, some of violent and nasty, some of it pained and laden with hopelessness, and stains also cover the walls.

One of the things about this segregation unit that troubles me most is the policy that I understand to have been very recently implemented. Even on LOAP, which stands for Loss of All Privileges, people imprisoned here have traditionally been entitled to a bible or Qur’an—scripture, as the Chaplain calls it—now, however, the policy is that even for people not on LOAP, no books other than scripture are allowed. On the cart which we’ll pass on the way back to our cells from the showers, which we are supposed to get every other day, there are books we are able to select from and have one in our cells. However, there are no books on the cart other than bibles and evangelical Christian books of various sorts. What atheist, non-Christian Indigenous people, or any people of non-Abrahamic faiths are supposed to read is unclear. Perhaps they are just supposed to suffer. As a person registered in the system as Jewish, I’m obviously entitled to a bible. As a person with a religious studies degree I can actually find interest in any religious text. I have been fine. But my concern regarding access to books for imprisoned people has never been about me. And in the hole, I can not imagine a place where a good book could do more good for a person than here. The implication of this policy in practice, that the only books available to people are evangelising Christian books, is the perfect, almost cliched example of the way that the prison functions as a colonising institution. This tactic normalises the hegemony of Christianity while hegemonising its normalization. The other person from my range who was thrown in the hole for the protest on Unit 5, is a non-Christian, Oji-Cree Indigenous person from Fort Hope First Nation. He is stuck either reading a book that is designed to convert people to Christianity, or the bible, or nothing. This, given the circumstances, is a direct and explicit violent act of colonialism. Needless to say this should not be permitted. A few months ago before this new policy was in place, another person I know who has recently discovered Indigenous heritage, was put in the hole on LOAP. When he asked for a bible, he was told that he was not entitled to one because he had been attending the daily smudge ceremonies provided through the Native Institutional Liaison Office. That denial was a racist form of punitive discrimination, and also a gross colonial, settler ignorance that fails to recognise that government institutions, from schools to prisons, have for more than 200 years been institutions of violence to Christianise Indigenous people and that many Indigenous people are of both Indigenous and Christian faith and yet to force a person to choose between them is itself yet another act of colonial violence. What happened to that person as far as I know could be an isolated incident, but it is not the only incident of racism against Indigenous people that I am aware of in the prison, and also part of a broader societal pattern of settler ignorance manifesting as colonial violence. The situation my friend from Fort Hope currently finds himself facing is itself systemic and institutional. This needs to be stopped, and the policy needs to change. In this place, in the hole, we should be allowed to read to preserve our sanity. Here, like in all parts of this institution, imprisoned people should have access to reading material, because books have the power to repair people’s spirits, expand their minds, and to change their lives.

Colonialism is not something that is experienced only by Indigenous people. This Western culture and its institutions colonise many minds and bodies in many ways. For example, the prison system violently enforces the binary gender paradigm, one of this culture’s primary components, an act of colonial violence against trans people. Disablism is a dis-abling of people with de-normalised bodily or mental health needs, is another face of colonialism, one that hegemonises a particular mode of productive functionalism that peripheralises anyone who does not conform, and it is seen viciously in the prison system, particularly in segregation units like this one. The disproportionate presence in this place by people disabled by inadequate cultural and structural support for their mental health needs, and the horrible state of existence for them here in the hole, literally screams out, signalling a dire need to build better grassroots mental health support in our communities, as well as build a total and holistic resistance against all the many faces of colonialism. As I have said, don’t worry about me, I have remained well in here. Remarkably, as I have written, I have rarely felt such a spirit of resistance as here in this dungeon. I am inspired and honoured to be imprisoned alongside people like David Cedeño, my friend from Fort Hope, and many others who are constantly smashing their cages with unrelenting rage against this unjust institution in solidarity against the colonial system

Alex Hundert “Ramadan 2010 Riot”

21 Aug

Ramadan Riot 2010, Maplehurst CC
August 11, 2012
alex hundert
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“No Justice, No Peace”

This piece was originally intended to be released by August 1st. It was first drafted in late July. However, in accordance with the wishes of the interviewee, who, despite having used an alias to conceal his identity, fears recriminations for telling this story. It seems rather fitting to delay publication though, for this way, the release can be timed in conjunction with Prison Justice Day 2012.

***

When I write the words “Riot 2010″, the last thing I expect comes to people’s minds is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But shortly after I received my first bail, for the charges on which I am now incarcerated, in the same complex that first held myself and more than 16 others accused in the G20 main conspiracy group, there was a riot in Maplehurst. This too was a politically motivated riot, but of a very different kind than the one that reclaimed the streets of Toronto in June of 2010.

Almost 2 years ago, just days after Prison Justice Day 2010, what is now known as the Ramadan Riot went off on Unit 8 of the Maplehurst Correctional Centre in Milton, Ontario. The aftermath of that riot saw both Maplehurst and the Vanier Correctional Centre for Women on total lockdown for four and three days respectively and thirteen prisoners from Maplehurst sent to the hole for forty days before all being shipped out to various prisons across the province.

Fasting—from dawn ’til dusk during the month of Ramadan—is one of the five pillars of Islam. The federal and provincial prison systems are supposed to accommodate the religious faith of those people they have incarcerated. In order to accommodate Ramadan, Muslim inmates who wish to observe are supposed to be delivered their meals not during the day but just after sunset and again before sunrise. Given that one of the lessons of Ramadan’s fast is to help adherents develop self-control and to overcome selfishness, laziness, and greed (amongst other temptations), one would think that the so-called corrections systems would whole-heartedly support the practices of the faith. However, the Ramadan Riot of 2010 and some subsequent experiences of adherents trying to observe behind bars have suggested that the prisons’ efforts to accommodate the fast are often tokenistic at best.

***

NM, 23—whose name has been concealed to protect him from potential fallouts from this piece—was very reluctant to sit down with me to talk about what happened at Maplehurst in the summer of 2010. This, despite knowing that I too had been briefly held there that summer, though on a different unit. The unit that I and my co-accused were on had actually been cleared out of other inmates to make room for the G20 rioters who had drastically escalated their street protests against the austerity agenda, which has since led to similar protests around the world. NM, like me, was labeled as one of the “ring-leaders” of a riot in the summer of 2010.

When I asked NM about observing Ramadan in jail, he tells me that “there is no difference where you are or your surroundings.” he continues, “The one thing that I can say about fasting in jail is that you get more of a reward because it is a harder environment to starve in.”

When I reflect on what NM has told me, I understand that it is harder because in here we are already starved for so many essential things—responsibility, affection, nature, freedom. His story of the riot and this sentiment that he has imparted to me will both be in my heart and mind among the things I will contemplate during my own fast on August 10 for this year’s Prison Justice Day 24-hour hunger strike.

***

In August of 2010, Ramadan started immediately after Prison Justice Day, and from the start, at Maplehurst it was obvious that the jail had no intention of taking seriously people’s right to observe their religious faith. The evening meals (which were supposed to be served hot) were arriving cold. On the second day, Muslim inmates spoke to the Imam who comes to the prison to lead prayers. According to NM, the Imam told them that unfortunately, in jail, “they don’t accommodate.”

On the third day of Ramadan, the Islamic inmates on Unit 8—all 20 of them—requested “blue letter” complaint forms that are the formal procedural means for filing grievances with the provincial ombudsman responsible for ensuring prisoners’ rights in all Ontario jails. However, in all my conversations with other inmates, I have never once heard a story of the ombudsman doing anything to rectify a complaint at the provincial level, not once. In this instance, the letters would have told the ombudsman about meal portions that were way too small and delivered all at once in the evening (instead of twice a day—once after sunset, and then again before dawn).

On the fourth day, the letters went out in NM’s words saying, “The food was cold, no one is helping us, we’re starving.” He tells me that each day they had tried talking to a different captain, but “no one cares [because] you’re Muslim,” he says. That night, when one inmate became irate, he was taken to the hole. The next day, NM tells me, “we rioted.”

The initial plan had not been for a riot. Those who had instigated the protest initially called for it to be “peaceful,” whereby they would sit down on the range and refuse to go back to their cells until the captains agreed to bring them the appropriate food at appropriate times. Evidently, though, on one range—E block—people were too upset for that degree of restraint, and their response to the plan was, “we’re rioting.” On A block, the inmates refused to participate, saying that it would all be futile because “they” would merely “smash you up and ship you out,” “they” meaning the guards.

On the fifth day of Ramadan, August 15 2010, when lockdown was called for, “E block went off.” As NM describes it, the guys were all “masked up” as they massed at the wall-sized windows that separated prisoners from the guards in the panopticon formation that is the boiler-plate design for both the Maplehurst and Penetang superjails. When the guys on other ranges saw this, “then everybody went off.”

On three separate blocks of Unit 8, inmates refused to go into their cells, and started to cover the cameras and windows in their ranges. When the captains came to try to talk down the prisoners, NM tells me that they were told that they’d been warned. When the first captain stepped onto E block, he got knocked out cold, as did one of the guards who trailed him.

The response from the guards was swift and violent on E block, as nearly 100 corrections officers poured onto the range. When the other ranges saw their fellow inmates getting brutalised by the guards, most stopped rioting and tried to return to their cells.

One of the things that stands out for me, from NM’s telling, is while on the one hand it was not just Muslims who were rioting, on the other, guards were beating people who weren’t themselves actually participating, as well as those who were. When I ask him about this further, he tells me that “people were rioting because jail is bullshit; people understood that Muslims were getting mistreated.” One of the lessons here is that whether it’s within the confines of an institution or out on the streets, solidarity will always be a major factor in any riot. That’s part of why the state and its institutions will always attempt to systemically break down solidarity between individuals and between communities.

In the end, NM and 12 others were taken to the hole. He tells me that while they were dragging him there, the guards banged his head off nearly every pillar along the way, one of them taunting him with racist slurs each time. He spent the fifth night of Ramadan naked in a cell with two other battered prisoners. It was only in the following days that they were gradually given back some clothes and mattresses to sleep on, and moved into their own solitary confinement cells. They spent 40 days in the hole—a month of punishment instead of a month of prayer—before being shipped out to other prisons. I imagine though, that without prayer and faith, that time in the hole would have been even more punishing. But it was bad. While in the hole, their food came drenched in urine, says NM. It was so bad that as they were leaving Maplehurst, some of the guards actually apologised.

At Maplehurst the next year, apparently Ramadan was handled with more care. There was more food, and it was served hot and at the right times, according to the Imam, NM tells me. Unfortunately, he also tells me that here at Penetang, “it’s garbage.” They don’t get enough food, and he has to rely on food items ordered from the canteen to get by. He told the Imam, who NM says, “is looking into it.” But people are angry, he tells me.

I ask him if he thinks this is a problem of systemic racism, and I’m actually surprised at his response. He says that it is “laziness” more than racism, and also a genuine “lack of understanding.” In my analysis, ignorance can be a kind of racism. But for NM it is simpler than that. “They don’t care,” he tells me. “At super jails, there are so many inmates, they don’t care.”

***

When I ask why he’s been so reluctant to sit down and do this interview, he gestures out the window and tells me, “they’ll do your time.” By this he means that there is, according to him and others, a pattern of behaviour here whereby guards target prisoners for excessive punishment if they are viewed as troublemakers or making too much noise.

At this point, I need to state that so far I haven’t personally witnessed much malicious behaviour from any of the guards here, especially when compared to the Metro West Detention Centre where particular guards are notorious for brutal violence and even for killing several inmates there. Here, though, so far, the guards have treated me decently (other than the whole keeping me locked up situation), and with professionalism. I hope they don’t now decide, as NM puts it, to “do my time.”

The last question I asked NM is, “what would it take for things to get better?” His response—“a riot.”

***

Post-script: As I wrote a preliminary draft of this piece, well after dark one night, food for Muslim inmates was delivered nearly an hour after the day’s fast was supposed to have been broken. At that point, there were still 3 weeks left of Ramadan, and Prison Justice Day was still 2 weeks away. When we got off lockdown the next day, NM told me that the morning meal never came at all. Things need to change around here.

Prisoners Justice Day Statement from Alex Hundert, Mandy Hiscocks and others

10 Aug

prisoners’ statement on Prisoners’ Justice Day
Published by mandyon Wed, 2012-08-08 07:22mandy’s blog
On Prisoners’ Justice Day in every jail in Canada and in prisons around the world inmates will go on a 24-hour hunger strike. We do this to remember Eddy Nolan who died in Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario on August 10th 1974 as a victim of the inhumane conditions in that prison at that time. We do this to remember all of the inmates who fought and the two who died in a four day riot in April of 1971 at Kingston Penitentiary. Both of those incidents led to major reforms in the Canadian prison system. We fast so that we ourselves remember. We strike to remind the institutions and the world that even behind bars we are still entitled to human rights and human dignity, and we can still fight for both.

This statement for Prisoners’ Justice Day 2012 was written by Alex Hundert, with input from more than a dozen inmates inside the Central North Correctional Complex in Penetanguishene Ontario, and Mandy Hiscocks at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton Ontario. Both are provincial jails in Ontario, Canada. This statement has been signed so far by 56 inmates in Penetang and Vanier, which is 100% of all of those who had the opportunity to read it. Most of those at Penetang who provided input into the very first draft of the statement were unable to sign onto this final version as they were, for reasons unrelated to the drafting of this statement, either moved or are now in the hole (administrative segregation).

It is an outrage that the federal government is enacting the first measures of its Omnibus Crime Bill C-10, the so-called ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act’ on August 9th, just one day before the annual Prisoners’ Justice Day. This bill will only serve to make prisons more crowded and will make our prison system even less about justice than it currently is. We want people to know how bad things already are before they get worse.

In provincial jails in Ontario we have no functional protections for our human rights the way that federal penitentiaries have had since the 1970’s when inmates fought and died for them. In provincial jails we are subject to arbitrary authority with no effective grievance process. Provincial prisons are significantly more overcrowded than federal penitentiaries. Close to 70% of inmates in Ontario provincial institutions have not actually been convicted, and are instead awaiting bail or trial or in many cases are awaiting deportation. With the loss of conditional sentences and instead new harsher measures (especially for youth) and mandatory minimums, there will be an even greater reliance on the prison system. We are concerned and angry that the federal laws are going to do nothing but aggravate an already unacceptable situation.

Rehabilitation programs have been decimated and jails have become little more than warehouses. For example, this year we will see a massive cut to the Drug Treatment Program by $42 million dollars and under Bill C-10 this money will now be directly transferred to investigations and prosecutions. Bill C-10 will cost Ontario an estimated $1billion dollars on new prison infrastructure, while social programs and jobs are gutted, further driving people in to poverty. The Ontario government says that the average cost to keep someone in a provincial prison is $183/day in comparison to social housing which is $5-25/day – yet jails are being built in the place of housing.

If you want to genuinely make communities safer, the solution cannot be locking away more people for longer in jails where we only become more angry and disillusioned. We need to change the conditions under which people are locked away and we need strategies to make sure fewer people from our communities are locked up at all. We need to focus on rehabilitation and not warehouses. We need to focus on the root causes of why people end up here in the first place so that when people get out there is something better to go back to. We need to uphold human dignity, not deprive people of it. We can do this by safeguarding people’s human rights, not by stripping them of all responsibility and opportunity. We need to foster community and interpersonal ties that are based on something deeper than the ‘us against them’ mentality that this system instills in us.

By moving towards a system that protects the rights of all people including prisoners we can move towards real justice for all.

Signed (*),

Alex Hundert
Ana Maria
Ana M. Charry
Bryan Sousa
Candis Beckford
Chad Mauthe
Chen ZL
Christine N
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Alex Hundert writing from inside jail

6 Aug

Prison makes me sick
alex hundert

July 23, 2012

After spending six years behind bars, 29-year-old Frank gets out of jail this August 1st, less than two weeks before the annual Prison Justice Day on August 10. Since his initial arrest in mid-2006 he has been hospitalized several times and has needed two emergency surgeries. Frank has Crohn’s disease and when he gets out of jail this summer he will be much sicker than when he came in six years ago.

His first trip to the hospital was immediately after his arrest in June of 2006, when a beating from the arresting officers caused a flare up of his illness and left him vomiting blood in the holding cells at the police station. To an extent, that experience set the tone for Frank’s experiences with the so-called corrections system, which has seen him get sicker and sicker the longer he has been incarcerated.

In theory, Crohn’s disease should not be that hard to manage in jail, requiring little more than a special diet and a little bit of attention and care from the medical staff. “The wrong diet could kill me,” he tells me. Unfortunately, good care and a proper diet have not been as easy to obtain here as one would hope.

When Frank first arrived at Joyceville Penitentiary in 2007 after a year at the Metro-West Detention Centre, he was straight out of the hospital with orders for a “low reside” [residue?] diet- no corn, beans or peas, no red meat, gluten, no flour or fibre. Crohn’s disease causes his body to produce the enzymes that break down many foods, which means he cannot absorb nutrients from them. Frank was diagnosed at fourteen and since then he has been living off of a diet mostly comprised of chicken, fish, rice and supplements.

Well at Joyceville, Frank started to experience a great deal of pain due to complications that began to arise from an earlier sugery. There, when he complained about the pain, he was put on pain medication. In time he was transferred to Millhaven Penitentiary, near Kingston, where he stayed until 2009.

At Millhaven complications continue to flare up and the doctors there set up an appointment for him to see a specialist. However, while he waited, Frank was taken off his pain meds because guards falsely believed he had been selling his pills to other inmates.

One day at healthcare Frank was arguing with a nurse, insisting he needed to continue taking his medication when a guard, trying to end the argument, grabbed Frank from behind with a chokehold. Frank resisted and was subsequently thrown in the hole after a beating from the guards. During his stay in solitary confinement Frank wasn’t getting his meds and as a result was in too much pain to eat anything. When he finally got to make a phone call after several days in the hole, Frank called his lawyer, who, along with his family, started making calls to the jail as well as to local media, which eventually created enough pressure to prompt a visit from the jail’s doctor. The doctor’s visit led to a trip to the hospital where Frank received an emergency surgery.

Frank says that the whole ordeal could have been avoided had jail staff only taken the initial complaints seriously. He tells me that since leaving Joyceville, despite having been in three different institutions (Millhaven, the Don jail and now Penetang), in his opinion he has not seen a good caring doctor.

His emergency surgery took place at Kingston general hospital in March, 2009 and less than three months later he was forced to return for another.

In late 2009 Frank was paroled to a half-way house, but after only 30 days a police raid put him back in jail, this time in the Don. While he continued to experience lots of pain, he tells me that the Don respected his Diet and he got reasonable care there. Nonetheless, his destabilized condition necessitated two more trips to the hospital while he was there. One was for a scheduled appointment and one was to the emergency room. The scheduled appointment was with a specialist at Saint Joseph’s and occurred only two weeks before his transfer to Penetang after he was sentenced at the beginning of 2012.

When Frank arrived at Penetang (formally known as Central North Correctional Complex) in February 2012, despite his condition and history of complications, it took almost three weeks for him to see a doctor here. Up to that point he’d been getting the proper diet, but was forced to make some additional restrictions necessary because of difference in the menus between jails: whereas the Don has a real kitchen, at Penetang food is shipped up from Maplehurst where it is mass produced then steam heated when it gets here and to the other Super-Jails. The diet here has a lot of heavily processed foods that Frank cannot eat.

When Frank saw the Saint Joseph specialist at the beginning of this year, a return visit was ordered. However since getting to Penetang that visit still hasn’t happened

At Penetang Frank believes he has been picked on by the guards who he says are not interested in dealing with special diets that require trips to and from the kitchen when mistakes are made and the wrong food is delivered. One day the guard’s told his entire unit that they were all going to miss yard because of Frank. Frank’s response; “abuse your power while you can, this is your world, but when I get out in ninety days that’s my world,” he told the guards.

Accused of making threats Frank was sent to the hole. When he got out he found his diet had been changed. But, not wanting to argue with the same guards who had just sent him to the hole, he chose instead to subsist on minimal selections from his meals, protein bars from the canteen and appropriate food that other inmates are willing to share with him.

“Every range I’ve been on” he tells me, “people come together for me…because there is a unity here knowing the guards don’t care.” Despite that solidarity Frank quickly lost weight and was becoming weaker and weaker.

Frank tried to get the nurses (who come around daily to deliver medications) to change his diet back and he also wrote a slew of requests for a change and see the doctor but to no avail. The nurses told him that if he keeps complaining they’ll him thrown back in the hole.

Eventually Frank decides to eat the meals they are bringing him; “it was either eat or starve,” he tells me. “That fucked me right up” he says. Totally unable to eat he tells a nurse that he needs to go to the hospital. But when he is taken to health care one of the nurses insinuates that he is merely trying to get them to give him drugs and again he is threatened with another trip to the hole. This time though Frank calls his lawyer who starts to put pressure on the jail and the next morning they bring him from medications for his pain.

Unfortunately having not eaten solid food since getting violently ill the last time he tried to eat one of his meals he tells the nurse that he can’t take his meds without good food in his stomach. According to Frank her response was to alert the guards that he was on a hunger strike and trying to incite other inmates. For this- what he describes as “being sick and making too much noise (about it)” – Frank was thrown back into the hole for two weeks.

Again Frank’s lawyer and family made numerous calls to the jail as well as to local media. Finally a doctor came to see him and agreed to send him to the hospital.

One week later, back from the hospital, Frank finds that his diet has been switched again. This time he is on a vegan diet, which is not at all what he is supposed to be eating. Eventually one of the nurses switched him back to a diet that is close to what he is supposed to be getting.

In June, Frank was involved in a fight—a pretty normal occurrence in jail—and this earned him yet another trip back to the hole. Ironically in solitary confinement, Frank finally gets the proper diet but that only lasts for as long as he is there and as soon as he is back in general population his diet has changed again.

“That’s how I knew the guards were going out of the way to fuck with me,” Frank tells me. He said that it is the unit guards who don’t like him, which is why in solitary, which is worked by different guards, he was given the appropriate food. He claims the guards have been switching his diet, for punitive reasons.

Now out of the hole Frank is still sick. In fact he is getting sicker and sicker but when he goes to healthcare this time he is merely prescribed extra strength Tylenol and put on an all liquid diet. This wasn’t helping him feel any better and he continues to get worse.

The other night at around 10pm while we were all locked in our cells I see Frank taken out by a guard who brings him to see the nurse on duty. He tells her that he needs to go to the hospital but neither she nor the on duty captain want to send him.

“Just cover your ass” he tells them, “if I get out and need emergency surgery it will be your heads.” Frank and the two prison staff all knowing that two weeks from then he is scheduled to be released, they agree to send him.

At the hospital he is prescribed a thrice daily dose of morphine and a very high daily dose prednisone.

Back at the jail, he is only getting the morphine twice a day and he is told they are going to take him off it all together after five days.

“Why are you going to take me off my meds if I’m still in pain?” he asks. “I am going home in ten days, why are you going to make me suffer?”

You’re in here for selling drugs; the doctor tells him, “you have a history of doing drugs.” But he doesn’t. Frank admits to selling but has never been a drug user. However because he has sold drugs, it is assumed he must also be an addict and therefore seeking to abuse his medication. But Frank is not looking to get high, he is merely trying to manage a potentially life-threatening disease that he says this jail has never taken seriously.

“Someone with a real life-threatening condition, can’t get proper medial attention (in here)” says Frank. “Because I made too much noise complaining…I’m getting punished for making them work,” He tells me. “This place is a warehouse and they don’t want to have to think or care about you.”

So far I have had pretty decent treatment from the staff here; I have been getting my medication and have had my own life-threatening food allergies respected. But this is Frank’s story, I hope they don’t punish me for telling it.

thoughts on Alex Hundert

26 Jun

Most activists who are amazing organizers are really caught up in theory and arguing about pointless things and use big words that no one understands. By doing this they are very un approachable and you kinda are too scared to talk to them. This is NOT Alex Hundert!!!!!!

Alex Hundert is one of the most approachable down to earth people I know who always puts the movement and others before his own personal interests. One need only read the callout he put out below which was his parting words to a community that he played a big role in supporting and sustaining to see this.

I did not always agree with Alex and we have had a few arguments in the past, nor am i the closet person to Alex, but whenever I had an issue or problem etc he would take the time to listen to me, talk to me and generally make me feel better no matter how scared I was DESPITE the fact that he was going to go to jail and had his own things to worry about.

Alex is one of the few people who would take the time to get to know people, and give his imput and accept you as you are warts and all.

By the cops and courts throwing Alex in jail, they have removed an amazing organizer from our community, but wherever he is I know he will educate and organize remain unbroken.

Until he is free let us support him by supporting Six Nations and continue the political struggles that he played a vital role in.