Hamilton: Hunger Strike in the Barton Jail

Two Posts from the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project

At about 4:30pm on June 19th, 2020, all prisoners of the 4B range, in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Center (aka Barton Jail), sent back their trays and announced a hunger strike. Since COVID-19 measures hit jails some months back, the quality of food has greatly declined. Prisoners have been getting the same meals back-to-back, are being served meals still frozen, and have recieved sandwiches with soaking wet bread. Healthy food is a necessity for those inside at any time, let alone during a pandemic. Today they decided that until they are given a diverse range of healthy food, they will collectively refuse to eat.

They also demand their right to prompt and fair delivery of mail. Unbelievably, a recent batch of letters received by prisoners were dated from two months ago! They are sick of the rotating lockdowns and of the refusal to grant them visits with their loved ones. There have been no visits granted since the COVID-19 measures began and the lockdowns are a daily stressor.

The prisoners of 4B in the Barton Jail demand the following:

1) We want a diverse range of healthy, cooked food.
2) We want an end to the rotating lockdowns.
3) We want visits reinstated.
4) We want our mail delivered quickly and in full.

As well, they stand in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners in Central East Correctional Centre, whose demands also include access to books, which are impossible to get in most Ontario provincial prisons.

The 4B prisoners have committed to continue sending back trays until their demands are met and their lives are respected! We keep in mind the struggles against police currently going on and want to emphasize the link between the brutal physical violence of the cops and the more gradual crushing violence of prison, as well as the role of the courts in concealing both.

Solidarity with the Barton hunger strikers and with all those in cages! Keep checking back for updates.

Originally posted at: https://www.facebook.com/bartonsolidarityproject/photos/a.207739873903309/272293434114619/?type=3&theater

Just got in from standing outside the Barton Jail with this banner to communicate about 4B’s action to other ranges. Yes, the banner is hasty and ugly, but it’s legible, and held alongside a banner with our phone number on it, we got a bunch of calls from different ranges and could fill them in on what other prisoners are thinking. Finding ways to communicate with prisoners is hard, but rewarding when we can find even small shared moments of struggle.

Originally posted at https://www.facebook.com/bartonsolidarityproject/photos/a.207739873903309/272595270751102/?type=3&theater


3 thoughts on “Hamilton: Hunger Strike in the Barton Jail”

  1. 2b the fact that we don’t have online spectator in jail and there is no Sunday paper for the spec we were unaware of F4B’s intentions to be on a hunger strike we’re writing to let you know so that you can inform the proper people that we are also getting up our right to food in protest against our treatment in here are living conditions the system in general as well as the procedures in place in prison systems we are in court we are in contact with Toronto prisoners rights project as well as the students who are organizing financial help to Ryerson university and you can ask them as well they are aware of our situation and our intention to protest peacefully so please do your part and get our story out there got that

  2. Frequently Asked Questions About the Barton Prisoner Solidarity Project

    1) Why are you against prison?
    2) Why do you call for all prisoners to be released? Why not just the innocent/non-violent/elderly/low-risk/etc ones?
    3) Why aren’t you expressing solidarity with guards?
    4) Why aren’t you fighting for other at-risk people, like those in assisted living facilities, who haven’t committed any crimes?
    5) But we need prisons! What about all the murderers and rapists?
    6) How can I support prisoners in my town?

    1) Why are you against prison?

    We are calling for all prisoners to be released because we see that prisons don’t solve any problems and in fact create new ones. They produce a class of people with reduced rights who can be blamed for large social problems, reducing issues like poverty or addiction or intimate partner violence to questions of individual behaviour. This shields those with political and economic power by blaming those who typically have none. We don’t consider the justice system to be a useful tool for addressing social issues. Prison makes systemic oppressions like racism and sexism worse and reproduces the trauma and poverty that are the groundwork for harmful acts that might be considered illegal. If prisons disapeared overnight and nothing took their place, it would still be an improvement — people have the ability to deal with conflict on their own terms, without allowing it to be stolen by cops and courts.

    About Barton speciically, like all remand prisons, is almost entirely people who are waiting for trial, meaning they are only locked up because they couldn’t get bail. Access to bail in Ontario is frequently singled out by higher courts as being needlessly restrictive, and the surety system on which it depends is arbitrary and strongly favours the wealthy and those considered “respectable” by old, white judges. We think everyone should have bail. If the legal system is going to exist, people shouldn’t be exposed to the prison system’s worst conditions because they have chosen to maintain their innocence. The second you plead guilty, your prison conditions improve, and so Barton, as one of the dirtiest, most violent, most overcrowded provincial prisons, exists to coerce people into pleading out. Then all the lawyers and judges can congratulate each other for saving precious judicial resources…

    2) Why do you call for all prisoners to be released? Why not just the innocent/non-violent/elderly/low-risk/etc ones?

    We aren’t really interested in making distinctions between prisoners. This is the game the system itself plays, dividing first the good citizens from the criminals, then those who can be redeemed from those who can’t, then the good prisoners from the bad, those deserving of compassion from those not. This is the logic of prison itself, a logic of control through separation, and it has its mirror in other oppressions that rely on categoriziging people, like gender and race. It’s not a logic we intend to reproduce. People are transformed through empowerment and collective struggle, so supporting the struggles off prisoners and encouraging solidarity with and among them can begin to undo the alienation that contributes to both systemic oppressions and individual harmful behaviours.

    3) Why aren’t you expressing solidarity with guards?

    Prison is a more intense form of the kinds of violence that society already uses to keep oppressed people in line. Whether its exclusion on the basis of race, sexual violence on the basis of gender, being left to die because of substance use, or deprivation and marginalization because of poverty — most people affected by incarceration were already dealing with a lot of shit before the courts came to make it worse. In the same way that we are in solidarity with workers and not bosses, we are in solidarity with those facing oppression, not those putting themselves in a position to manage or profit off the suffering of others.

    It’s disgraceful that unions like OPSEU help guards organize to defend their privileged position. We’d rather work towards building a world where we aren’t expected to fuck each other over to survive, and we call on all guards to quit their jobs and find ways to live decently that don’t involve getting paid for acts of violence and humilation against marginalized people.

    4) Why aren’t you fighting for other at-risk people during COVID-19, like those in assisted living facilities, who haven’t committed any crimes?

    We are!
    Most of the people involved in this project are, in more or less formal ways, trying their best to make sure that we all get looked out for during this crisis. We are inspired by all the mutual aid efforts springing up all thatremind us that we are all we need to look after each other.
    But who has never committed a crime?
    The main difference between those who end up in places like Barton and those on the outside is that they’re generally poorer, have darker skin, and are from communities and neighbourhoods that are much more heavily surveilled and policed.
    Many richer, whiter people commit crimes all the time – often with far greater consequences for society – and don’t end up in prison.
    And what even is “crime” to begin with?
    It’s legal for millionaires to force their minimum-wage employees back to work shelving groceries without protective gear, but if you try organizing a work stoppage with your coworkers you might just land yourself in front of a judge. Same goes for if you try pocketing a little bit of that millionaire’s food to feed your family.
    It’s legal for landlords to kick people out of their homes, or to keep units empty until real estate prices go up, but if you house someone in a vacant building you’ll probably end up in handcuffs.
    What is and isn’t a crime in this country significantly hinges on what enables capitalism to function.

    If *you* think there are people who are falling through the cracks, then get your friends and neighbours together and address it. That’s what we did.

    5) But we need prisons! What about all the murderers and rapists?

    Dealing with harmful behaviours a community decides is unacceptable is precisely why we need to get rid of prisons.
    The existence of prison has been sold to the public as a way to deter acts like murder and rape, but these acts continue unabated. Prison doesn’t do much to dissuade. Further, many who enter the prison system for smaller crimes end up getting hardened and traumatized inside and come out more violent and less able to connect with those around them than before, as well as having fewer options due to the stigma of having a record. Almost everyone gets out of prison and no one comes out more able to live well.

    We need to find ways of actually addressing harmful behaviours – for people to be held accountable for their actions in a way that doesn’t just create more problems. We also need to set out own standard for what is or isn’t acceptable, which probably won’t be the same as the set of so-called “crimes” written up by the Canadian upper classes.

    And while the “murderers and rapists” line is usually the first thing to get thrown out whenever anyone makes the slightest criticism of prison, murder and rape defined broadly make up less than 2% of crime stats in Canada. Obviously sexual violence is underreported (historically it hasn’t been in the interest of those enforcing the law to be too hard on rapists) but this number makes it clear how disingenuous it is to invoke some of the most heinous acts imaginable to legitimize the thousands of people held in cages in this country.

    6) How can I support prisoners in my town?

    A big thing for us was actually getting in touch with prisoners. So we rented a P.O. Box, painted the address on a banner, and held it up outside the prison so people could see it.
    When the pandemic started, we got a phone line with Trappline and held that number up on a new banner and started talking with prisoners directly. We then also share their stories, publicize their resistance and demands, and connect prisoners in different wings and different facilities.
    We’ve organized or supported demonstrations happening outside of the jail to let prison administrators know that people are watching them and to let those inside know they are not alone with what they are dealing with. Breaking the silence prison creates and showing prisoners they are not forgotten are powerful steps to begin building a social force that can actually imagine doing away with prisons and the systems that need them.

    There are a lot of ways that outside support can make prisoners lives a bit better — getting books and programming inside, fundraising or sharing other resources, the list could go on. However, we chose to focus on political solidarity — our goal wasn’t to help people get three-way calls to their sweethearts, it has been to get accurate info about changing conditions in the jail, amplify the voices and demands of prisoners, put pressure on the institution when prisoners struggle or make demands, and to contribute to a movement that seeks a world without prison. Maybe your priorities will be different, but just communicating with prisoners with an open mind is the best place to start.

  3. Happy to see the good work this group is doing to support people at Barton. Very cool to see that the prisoners there are aware of and explicitly in solidarity with the folks on strike at Central East in Lindsay, too.

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