Food Strike!

What happens when there is a food strike at a prison?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 |

The guys started a food strike this morning to protest the punitive inspections, shakedowns and the recent disconnection of the TVs. The guys recognize an unfair punishment when they see it. The camp administration has been punishing 340 guys for the actions of a handful.  I only saw four guys eating in the dining room this morning so the guys were hanging together on this one. The food strike was not organized by anyone.  The word spread organically about the food strike. This morning, guys with food were sharing with guys who don’t have any.

I already told you the inmates who met with the camp administrator had no positive outcome. The food strike had nothing to do with that meeting but I think it had an impact on how the AW reacted to the food strike. Unfortunately, the camp administrator had refused to sign an agreement stating that there would be no retaliation for raising these issues. They came down hard on the inmate committee guys today.  I saw that happening.

I finished writing the above just as they were shutting down the compound at 10 am. The assistant warden decided to use a show of force after the food strike this morning.

Lockdown Following Food Strike

I’ll start this narrative with the lockdown. Everyone was recalled to their units, even Unicor and guys that work off compound, which is unusual. After the lockdown, we saw a lot of staff and CO’s outside talking and waiting. The guy (James) who had previously met with the camp administrator was called to talk to the AW.

One of the guys saw a big bus pull into the perimeter drive. So, we started putting everything together that they were going to take action against us. We waited anxiously for about an hour until they announced a count. They must have had six staff people taking the count, and they counted twice. I’m not sure how it would have changed two minutes after the first count.

The staff left us for about an hour alone.  I got hungry so I prepared a PBJ sandwich.  Just as I was getting ready to eat it, the AW came into the unit making a venomous speech about how dare we act as a group, our action amounted to an insurrection, etc. All we did was not eat one meal, for God’s sake. This was blowing into something huge. I didn’t know how bad it was about to get.

Forcing us to the Cafeteria

The AW told us that we MUST go the dining hall, or we would go to the hole. I know they locked up James when he refused to go eat.  COs rushed into the unit to make sure that all inmates left the unit for the cafeteria.  Some inmates refused so the COs cuffed those guys and escorted them out.

The cafeteria was serving fried fish sandwiches, which I won’t eat, so I took the PBJ sandwich to the dining hall. I sat without a tray but with my sandwich on a paper towel. I would have gotten in line but the line was very long. There must have been 30 or 40 COs and staff around the dining hall and the courtyard.  They even had cameras in the food line recording the inmates as they were getting their food.

A bunch of guys were taking their tray with food, and then immediately taking the tray to the tray return/dish room window to throw it all away. Upon seeing all the food going into the trash, the AW announced that anyone not eating their food would go to the hole.

I Get Called Out

So, I was sitting there without a tray and all these COs were staring at me. I decided to get in line to see if I could at least eat some sides and a banana. The food CO told me to get out of line and refused to give me any food. I returned to my table, and now even more COs were staring at me. I went back to the serving line to ask the food CO why she wouldn’t give me a tray. She refused to talk to me and I went back to the table.

The food CO was substituting for the regular food CO, who I get along very well with.  This woman CO is a real bitch, and she and I have never got along.  I’m guessing that she thought I had already gone through the line once because she saw me with my sandwich.

I finally left the table to go back to the unit. The AW started calling, “Hey you, the jokester, come here!”, as well as other words that I won’t mention. I looked around because I didn’t know who she was talking to. She specifically identified me and a few COs surrounded me. I put my hands behind my back and say, “I’m cool, I’m not resisting!” The CO said, “no, put your hands on the wall”, and then he cuffed me against the glass cafeteria windows.  They had no clue why they were cuffing me.

My friends later told me that they thought it was funny to see my face held against the glass windows.  They were all thinking, “what did Foster do to deserve this?”  I thought for sure that I was going to the hole.

In Custody for Eating a PBJ

They took me to the front and made me sit for about 60 minutes in cuffs. The COs brought three other campers into the room in cuffs. On three separate occasions, COs came to me and started yelling, “this is your last chance, this is your last chance.”  I say, last chance for what?”  I didn’t know what they were getting at.  None of them knew why I was picked up.  They asked me what I had did wrong.  All I could say was that I ate a PBJ in the cafeteria.

Finally, I’m told to stand up and a CO took me to health services. Another CO that I had not seen previously came in and asked what I did. I told him that I thought it was because I ate a PBJ rather than a fish sandwich. He said that he heard something about me mouthing off.

It clicked that they must have thought that I was hassling the food CO. So, I knew immediately that I was going to the hole over a misunderstanding.  Thankfully, the CO comes back and releases me to the unit.

I later found out that one of the other guys was cuffed when he wanted to heat his own meal in the microwave. He was eventually released. The other two guys went to the hole, one of which was James.

Town Hall Meeting

After lunch, we were informed that all the phones and internet were shut down, and would remain so through the weekend. We were locked down all afternoon and had another count.  In addition, they told us to stay in our cells.  Again, this was very unusual to be confined to our cells.

The AW held a town hall meeting for each unit later in the afternoon. The room was packed with COs and staff. She spews venom, threatening all sorts of retribution both personal and on the group.  She even called me out again by saying, “I see you jokester!”

The AW told us that we must go straight to the dining hall tonight and that we needed to “act like campers”. She talked more about the cell phones and the earlier meeting between the camp administrator and the inmates.

Two guys with diabetes state that they need to get their insulin shots before dinner. The AW won’t hear of any of that. She states that if we don’t like it that they would take us away on the bus. One guy jumps up and says, “take me, that is one crazy bitch!” The guy totally lost it. He was handcuffed in a struggle and taken to the bus. Some guys brought up that they don’t eat the enchilada casserole. What then? She essentially says tough.

When we were released to our units, the diabetic guy who brought up the insulin question stands up and puts his hands behind his back and says, “take me too”. He is told by a CO to sit down but the AW says, “No, take him out of here”.

Afternoon Lockdown

We went back to the unit and were locked down again until 4 pm count. We were told once again that we had to go to the dining hall for dinner. The evening food CO announces on the PA that they are serving chicken wings and chicken patties. I’m sure they changed the menu to diffuse the situation. Chicken wings are a rarity and loved by the inmates.

There were some thunderstorms so we were locked down again after dinner until after the storms pass. They eventually opened the rec yard and we were finally able to talk to our friends from other units. I think our unit had the most guys locked up at nine. The other units had three or four each.

Compound Finally Opens

Visitation was normal in the evening after an apparent discussion between the camp administrators whether to have visitation at all. I’m sure they decided to proceed with the visitation because of the adverse impact and fallout if it was unexpectedly cancelled. One of the visitors must have contacted a local news channel because one of their vans was sighted in the front parking lot later in the evening.

The complex warden and her assistant walked through the units in the evening. I stopped her and introduced myself to explain the situation earlier in the day about being cuffed. I told her that I thought it was a misunderstanding and that I was expecting a shot. The warden told me she didn’t think anything would come of it but if something did that we would talk directly. She was reasonable and engaging.  How can such two different personalities work together? The remainder of the night settled in normally.

I later learned that food strikes are considered riots by the BOP.  They are reported immediately to Washington, DC and are taken very seriously.  It is extremely rare to have a food strike at a camp.  I’m sure this day was very embarrassing to the Butner administration.  The AW made a total fool of herself in front of the inmates and the staff that was present.  It took the complex warden to step in and calm things down.

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