Hunger strike vs. torturous conditions in Washington state

Tacoma, Washington

Over 80 detainees went on a hunger strike Feb. 1 at the ICE Processing Center, formerly the Northwest Detention Center, in Tacoma. In an effort to crush the strike, they were quickly tear-gassed at the beginning of their heroic stance. The immigrant detainees struck against torturous conditions at the private prison, which is run by the multibillion dollar Geo Group corporation. Their immediate demands included nutritious meals, clean facilities and proper medical care.

About two dozen Geo guards in riot gear tear-gassed strikers, without provocation in several pods, as they were putting forth their demands. The tear gas spread to other pods. Guards also used pepper spray. They sprayed so much that the mirrors in the pods were coated with yellow chemicals. One prisoner passed out and had to be taken to the hospital to be revived. 

Not being intimidated by this retaliation, 35 more prisoners joined the hunger strike a day or two later, bringing the strikers’ numbers to well over 100. 

While external communications from the prison were cut off, the prisoners’ solidarity organization, La Resistencia, was able to get information from some contacts inside. Rallies in support of the prisoners were held on most days of the strike. The strike ended after about a week, when the prisoners started receiving better food, and other conditions improved. 

Promises for better conditions have been made by the prison administration, and a state house bill HB 1470 has even been submitted to the state legislature adhering to the prisoners’ demands. The strike received national radio coverage on “Democracy Now.” In retaliation, nine strikers were placed in segregation (isolation cell), along with another striker given 45 days there.

The prisoners’ demands are the same issues that the incarcerated have fought for through many strikes over the years. They reflect the lack of the most basic human services and the conditions of torture at the Geo prisons: 1. Nutritious food, minimum three meals a day at no cost; 2. New clean clothes and shoes upon entry and through their stay; 3. Provide hygiene products at no cost; 4. Medical care provided without delay, consistently; 5. Ban use of solitary confinement; 6. Phone calls at no cost; and 7. Allow unannounced inspections from government agencies to assure the prisons are upholding good conditions.

The prisoners’ level of struggle and consciousness and the level of support of their just demands continues to rise. Go to facebook.com/laresistencianw for more information. 

Jim McMahan

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Jim McMahan

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