Urgent Call for Support: Red Onion State Prison Hunger Strikers in VA

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow morning, 45 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia will begin a hunger strike to protest inhumane and torturous treatment and the warden’s refusal to resolve their grievances. We’re working to build exposure and a list of endorsers as fast as possible.

We’re also asking people to send short, personally written letters to everyone possible within the VA prison system to inform them of what’s going on. We have contact information for dozens of men detained in both Red Onion State Prison and Wallens Ridge State Prison. We’ll prioritize ROSP and WRSP and then branch out across the state. The Virginia Department of Corrections will try hard and fast to silence this and keep it from spreading, so we will have to act quickly.

If you’re willing to write a letter, please email katherinecolespiper@gmail.com and we will send you the contact info you need. We will also provide you with suggestions for creative ways to talk about the strike that have a better chance of getting through the mail room censors.

In solidarity, Heyward and Supporters of VA Prison Hunger Strikers


We (Prisoners at Red Onion State Prison) demand the right to an adequate standard of living while in the custody of the state!

1. We demand fully cooked food, and access to a better quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, we demand increased portions on our trays, which allows us to meet our basic nurtritional needs as defined by VDOC regulations.

2. We demand that every prisoner at ROSP have unrestricted access to complaint and grievance forms and other paperwork we may request.

3. We demand better communication between prisoners and higher‐ ranking
guards. Presently, higher‐ranking guards invariably take the lower‐ranking
guards’ side in disputes between guards and prisoners, forcing the prisoner to
act out in order to be heard. We demand that higher‐ ranking guards take
prisoner complaints and grievances into consideration without prejudice.

4. We demand an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation through
the implementation of a fair and transparent process whereby prisoners can
earn the right to be released from segregation. We demand that prison
officials completely adhere to the security point system, insuring that
prisoners are transferred to institutions that correspond with their particular
security level.

5. We demand the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to
quality materials that we may use to clean our own cells.  Presently, we are
forced to clean our entire cell, including the inside of our toilets, with a single
sponge and our bare hands.  This is unsanitary and promotes the spread of
disease‐carrying bacteria.

6. We demand the right to have 3rd party neutral observers visit and
document the condition of the prisons to ensure an end to the corruption

Internal Affairs and Prison Administrator’s monitoring of prison conditions
have not alleviated the dangerous circumstances we are living under while in
custody of the state which include, but are not limited to: the threat of undue
physical aggression by guards, sexual abuse and retaliatory measures, which
violate prison policies and our human rights.

7. We demand to be informed of any and all changes to VDOC/IOP policies as
soon as these changes are made.

8.  We demand the right to adequate medical care. Our right to medical care is
guaranteed under the eight amendment of the constitution, and thus the
deliberate indifference of prison officials to our medical needs constitutes a
violation of our constitutional rights.  In particular, the toothpaste we are
forced to purchase in the prison is a danger to our dental health and causes
widespread gum disease and associated illnesses.

9.  We demand our right as enumerated through VDOC policy, to a monthly
haircut. Presently, we have been denied haircuts for nearly three months.  We
also demand to have our razors changed out on a weekly basis. The current
practice of changing out the razors every three weeks leaves prisoners
exposed to the risk of dangerous infections and injury.

10. We demand that there be no reprisals for any of the participants in the
Hunger Strike. We are simply organizing in the interest of more humane living

Red Onion Prisoners Unite in a Hunger Strike Protesting Abuse


Press Contacts:  Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers

John Tuzcu /216.533.9925 / vasolidarity@gmail.com
Adwoa Masozi / 973.494.4266 / vasolidarity@gmail.com

What: Press Conference
When: 11 AM
Where: VA Department of Corrections, 6900 Atmore Dr. Richmond VA (at the DOC sign on the corner of Atmore and Wyck St.)

– On Tuesday May 22 as many as 45 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, comprising at least 2 segregation pods, will enter the first day of a hunger strike protesting deplorable conditions in the prison and ongoing abuses by prison staff. For the men participating in the strike this is their only recourse to get Red Onion warden Randy Mathena to officially recognize their grievances and make immediate changes to food, sanitation and basic living conditions at the prison.

Supporters from DC and Virginia along with prisoner family members will hold a press conference at 11 AM in front of the VA Department of Corrections, in Richmond at 6900 Atmore Dr., to urge Warden Mathena, the Virginia Department of Corrections under Harold Clarke, Governor Bob McDonell, state Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb and other state and congressional legislators to act on behalf of justice and human rights. ­­

A statement released by one of the hunger strike representatives said, “We’re tired of being treated like animals. There are only two classes at this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together. We are rival gang members but now are united as revolutionaries.”

Some of the prisoner’s demands include the right to have fully cooked meals, the right to clean cells, the right to be notified of the purpose and duration of their detention in segregation, and a call for the end to indefinite segregation. Red Onion has been repeatedly criticized since it opened in 1998.  A 1999 Human Rights Watch report on Red Onion concluded that the “Virginia Department of Corrections has failed to embrace basic tenets of sound correctional practice and laws protecting inmates from abusive, degrading or cruel treatment.”

After exhausting legal and administrative channels, prisoners are holding this hunger strike to bring these abusive prison conditions to light. This action comes at a time when many are speaking out against the expanding prison system in the United States in an effort to uphold their human dignity and basic human rights.

Letters signed by residents in Congressional District 9 will be delivered to the Senators office later in the week and concerned citizens from across Virginia and the nation will be pressuring the Virginia DOC to meet the prisoner’s demands.


Read here for more info: http://virginiaprisonstrike.blogspot.com

8 thoughts on “Urgent Call for Support: Red Onion State Prison Hunger Strikers in VA

  1. As the men at Red Onion State Prison enter Day 7 of their hunger strike, they need to know how much support they have on the outside. One way to do this is to leave a message for WMMT’s Calls from Home radio show tonight, May 28, between 7-9 PM.

    WMMT Mountain Community Radio 88.7 in Whitesburg, Kentucky broadcasts inside the walls of Red Onion State Prison, as well as six other prisons located in the Mountains of Central Appalachia. Every Monday night between 7-9 PM, DJs record phone messages from friends and family members of those incarcerated in the region’s prison system, and then play them out over the radio between 9-10 PM that same night. As long as the strikers at ROSP are able to have their radios on, they will be listening to the show tonight. You can find out more info about the show here: http://appalshop.org/wmmtfm/archives/category/hot-88-7

    In order to preserve the longevity of the show–which is an important 
method by which men inside receive messages weekly from their loved ones back home–we are asking everyone calling in to be conscious of some restraints 
on what you can say:

    1) Don’t mention the ROSP hunger strike directly.

    2) No cursing! 

    3) Don’t mention any of the men by name 

    4) Don’t make your statement a call to action–this is against national radio regulations and could be considered inciting a riot by officials and would give them fuel to impose restrictions on access to the show in the future

    Suggestions on what to say:

    1.) Let the men know where you are calling from

    2.) Sing a song, read a poem, say an inspirational quote, recite a rap – any kind of transformational art you can share over the radio to uplift their spirits

    3.) You can express your support for their strength and vision and dignity… For example, it’s ok to say “We support you and stand in solidarity,” but not, “Now is the time to rise up and demand your rights.”

    4.) Keep it short (3 min max!) — we believe that many short messages will be a more powerful 
display of support than fewer long messages–we want the men to know that 
there are many people out here standing in solidarity.

    If you any questions about what is/isn’t okay to say before you record your message, just ask the DJ who answers your call.

    Calls are taken/recorded between 7pm–9pm and aired from 9pm-10pm.

    The number to call is: 
1-888-396-1208. If the lines are busy KEEP CALLING. We can only take 2 calls at a time and expect the lines to be tied up tomorrow!

    You can stream the show live at: 
http://appalshop.org/ or at http://www.wmmt.org

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