Death row hunger strike gets outside support
Published Nov 12, 2006 10:51 PM
Protesters from Houston and Austin held a spirited demonstration
in front of the Polunsky Prison Unit here on Nov. 4. Families
arriving for or leaving from visits as well as cars traveling on
the highway honked their horns in support.
Placards supported a hunger strike against conditions on death
row that was in its fifth week.
Told by a prison official to move across the street, members of
the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement from Houston said they
would not move and that the warden couldn’t tell them where
to stand during a legal protest.
Activists with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Austin
also participated in the protest.
Four families visiting relatives in prison pulled off the highway
and joined the protest. One Latina who had driven all the way
from Brownsville on the U.S./Mexico border with her daughter told
demonstrators it was hard having her nephew on death row and
talked about the bad conditions.
She said the thought that Texas could kill her sister’s son
was sometimes too much for her to bear. Through tears she
explained that she couldn’t even take advantage of an extra
two hours of visiting time for those who travel such long
distances because she had to be at work very early the next
morning. She drives eight hours each way for a two-hour
The Polunksy Unit houses the 380 men on Texas’ death row.
They are held in solitary confinement 23 hours or more each day,
with no chance of ever upgrading their status. This super-max,
super segregation unit is responsible for many death row suicides
and attempted suicides, severe mental illnesses, and a number of
men giving up appeals.
The cells have solid steel doors and prisoners are taken to
shower or recreation alone. They eat alone in their single-person
cell. No radios, televisions or newspapers are provided. Radios
can be purchased only by those on the top disciplinary level.
Prisoners cannot even write letters and mail them to their
friends. There are no religious services and they are not allowed
to work at a prison job.
The isolation is torture and is causing serious mental
The hunger strike was begun by Steven Woods, Justen Hall, Richard
Cobb, Travis Runnels, Kevin Watts and Stephen Moody.
Woods wrote at the beginning of the strike about the abuses of
prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib: “You look overseas
and ask yourselves, ‘How can good, solid citizens behave
like that?’ You wonder, ‘Where did that monster come
from?’ The question isn’t very hard to answer. That
kind of abuse isn’t anything new. It’s been happening
here on Amerikkkan soil for decades. And while it’s true
that Amerikkkan prisoners don’t suffer the depth of those
held hostage by Bush and Co. here in Texas, on death row, we are
forced to endure some of the harshest and most inhumane treatment
Other death row prisoners who have joined the hunger strike
include Kenneth Foster and Gabriel Gonzales with the DRIVE
organization, Carlton Turner, Patrick Bryan Knight and John
When Turner joined the hunger strike on Oct. 23, he wrote to
friends that he was protesting the death penalty and “the
horrid conditions that Death Row prisoners endure daily...
I’m tired of the deprivation. I’m tired of accepting
spoiled and undercooked food. Change must come!”
Woods wrote, “It’s a shame that we have to starve
ourselves to be treated decently. We’re hoping we
don’t have to starve to death, but we cannot allow
ourselves to be denied our basic human rights. We cannot, we will
not live like this any longer.”
For more information, see www.anarchyinchains.com,
www.drivemovement.moonfruit.com, www.freerobwill.org and
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