“…Well the past few days have been hard. Apart from the pain, humiliation, and sick process I have to go through 3 times per day in this force-feeding, I am okay. The weather though make it hard. It makes you dizzy and sick. Plus it makes you hungry as well. I try not to think of food or else you break,”
– Cesar DeLeon’s most recent letter to Milwaukee IWOC.
Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley-Bey began refusing food on June 7. They called their protest Dying to Live, and demanded an end to indefinite solitary confinement, what the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC) calls Administrative Confinement (AC). On June 17 the DOC requested and got approval to force feed the hunger striking prisoners.
Milwaukee IWOC (The Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the IWW) has been supporting this protest, in coalition with other groups for 60 days now. We have marched on the DOC twice, held rallies in Milwaukee and Madison, shamed DOC Secretary Jon Litscher at a public meeting he chaired, passed out hundreds of flyers and held banners over freeways many times. The DOC has conceded nothing, and conditions for the prisoners have remained abysmal.
Now Milwaukee IWOC is calling for national solidarity and mobilization to back up our next action. On Aug 13, we will mobilize against the WI DOC and we need others to amplify the signal and make the Dying to Live protest a national issue.
Why get involved?
Cesar DeLeon is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) a militant labor union whose slogan is “An Injury to One is an Injury to All”. Cesar and LaRon have had tubes shoved down their noses to force bottles of ensure into their stomachs well over 100 times at this point. For a while, the staff doctor had advised that feeding three times a day was excessive, and changed the practice to once every couple of days, so we’re not clear on the actual number of
Admitting that tube feeding three times a day is excessive is the closest DOC staff has come to approaching the ethical position of the global medical community on force feeding, which is: force feeding should never be done, it is dangerous and unethical. See this article for more information and the force feeding positions of the American Medical Association, The Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations. From the sound of Cesar’s latest letter, the DOC has overruled the doctor’s admission and resumed tube feeding three times a day. This is absolutely not medically necessary, and it never was, the only possible motivation for the tube feeding is to inflict pain on the prisoners to coerce them into giving up their protest. That is the dictionary definition of torture.
Cesar’s letter goes on: “Guards and nurses want to see this end. They claim to be short on staff and we are jamming them up even though is only two of us. They’re so desperate that they offered to let us drink the fluids on our own rather than tube-feeding it to us because if we take it voluntarily they don’t have to record it, have supervisors present, do vitals, and so forth. But we decline their offer.”
The DOC got approval from Dodge County Circuit Court Judges Brian Pfitzinger, and Steven Bauer to torture their captives like this for another six months. Nurse Ann Slinger and Dr Jeffery Manlodt testified on behalf of the DOC in Cesar’s hearing. Their practices are a clear violation of medical ethics, including the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm” but as employees of the DOC, medical ethics must not concern them.
The DOC is also allowing notorious sadist guard Joseph Beahm to assist in the medical procedures. In the video of Cesar’s tube feeding from June 20 Beahm attempts to assault Cesar. What you see in the video is a nurse inserting a tube in Cesar’s right nostril while Beahm holds a
plastic cup and straw to his mouth. By drinking water while the tube is being inserted, Cesar reduces the chance that the tube will tear his esophagus, or enter his trachea and fill his lungs with liquid nutrition, rather than his stomach.
What you don’t see in the video is Joseph Beahm pulling the cup of water away at the vital moment. You see Cesar react, asking “why did you do that?” and then insist that another medical
professional replace Beahm, but you don’t really see why, because according to Cesar, the video was altered. There is a momentary skip in the video at that 5:05, evidence of tampering to conceal Beahm’s movement (if you look at the movement of the guard behind Cesar’s chair, the cut
is easier to see). State’s attorney Gloria Thomas for the DOC requested that the court not release the video to the public, but in a rare example of not doing whatever the DOC asked of him, Judge Steven Bauer ordered the video be released. We are trying to get it investigated for tampering.
Other prisoners have participated in the Dying to Live hunger strike, and also gone on parallel
hunger strikes with less ambitious demands, but repression and force feedings have often been effective at shutting down protests. Cesar and LaRon report that their noses have been broken or bloodied repeatedly during the procedure. Uhuru Mutawakkil, another hunger strike leader resumed eating after the first force feeding, and has focused on suing the DOC over the practice helping draft policy recommendations to end Administrative Confinement. Joshua Scolman, who has a deviated septum, was hospitalized after the DOC broke a blood vessel in his face trying to force the tube down his nose.
When Ronald Lang received the court order authorizing force feeding he refused. He said he would fight them, that they would have to beat him unconscious before he would let them put the tube down his nose. The DOC offered to let him take ensure by mouth instead, which he accepted. Now he is moved from his solitary cell to a cage for 30 minutes once a day to drink three cans of ensure and an equal amount of water. When the DOC offered Cesar and LaRon a similar deal their response was: “We are on a food refusal strike. We ain’t taking anything voluntarily until we accomplish our objective, which is to put a one year cap on the use ofadministration confinement (long term solitary confinement).”
The DOC has been silent on the issue. Call in campaigns, questions from journalists, family members, angry crowds, and even elected officials have all been referred to DOC public relations officer Tristan Cook, who only says “we are aware and monitoring the situation.” The two times we’ve confronted him in person, he repeats that or other dodges for about three questions, then turns around and walks away in response to a fourth.
Meanwhile, mainstream media coverage still repeats the misleading public statements from the DOC that they have limited solitary confinement to 90 days. This is blatantly false information. In actuality, solitary confinement in the DOC is indefinite. LaRon McKinley has been in solitary for over two decades. What the DOC calls “Restrictive Confinement” was recently limited to ninety days, but “Administrative Confinement” currently has no cap. Any other differences between the two seem to be mostly semantic.
Milwaukee IWOC’s support efforts have included robust collaboration and coalition building with
other statewide groups, the Forum For Understanding Prisoners (FFUP), ExPrisoners Organizing, The WISDOM Network, and Prison Action Milwaukee (PAM) have all endorsed and supported the protest. We’ve gotten liberal lawmakers to call in and do wellness checks, to visit Cesar DeLeon, and to begin the process of introducing legislation. None of these moves have produced substantive results, and we cannot endure the thought that Cesar and LaRon will continue to suffer force feedings and assaults by staff for the months or years that it would take to reform the system by litigation or legislation.
“ Hunger strikes are not easy. They hurt like hell and they can even damage your organs. And that is what everyone is scared of…I don’t blamethem. No one wants to be the sacrificial lamb, but sometimes you have to think of others as well. Che Guevara live his life based upon three principles, “Social Awareness,” “Personal Example,” and “Self-Sacrifice,” and I too now have chosen to live mine with those principles. I hope others will follow.” – Cesar DeLeon
How to get involved?
If you are in Milwaukee, meet us at the Upark lot on Humbolt just north of Capitol at one PM. We will provide transport to Waupun from there and be back in town by 6PM. If you are elsewhere in Wisconsin or have questions contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are outside of Wisconsin, or can’t take action with your body on Aug 13 here are some
Call DOC officials.
Begin calling today, but make sure you call on the weekend of August 13. Do not let people refer you to Tristan Cook, insist on leaving a message for the person in question. We want their voicemail boxes to be overflowing Monday morning, and Tristan Cook’s entire job appears to consist of turning his back on public inquiries.
-call WCI, ask to speak to Warden Brian Foster. Demand that Foster cease the force feedings, that he encourage the DOC to meet the prisoner’s demands, and that he fire sadist guard Joseph Beahm. Contact Brian Foster here: (920) 324-5571
-call DOC Secretary Jon Litscher and demand that he end the practices of force feeding protesting prisoners, that he cap administrative confinement at one year, and that he fire sadist guard Joseph Beahm. Contact Litscher here: 608-240-5000 and email@example.com
-call Green Bay CI Warden Scott Ekstein and demand that he meet and negotiate with hunger strikers Howard Brown and Devon Armor and that he fire sadist guard Captain Schultz. Contact Ekstein here: (920) 432-4877 and read more about the heartbreaking situation in Green Bay here.
Spread the word
Share this article, or the articles linked within it. Tell journalists, friends, family, anyone about what is going on in Wisconsin. Get off the internet and hold solidarity rallies, flyer outings, banner drops or other actions wherever you are. Make 50 days of force feeding, endless solitary torture and the absence of accountability in the WI DOC a nation-wide conversation.
If you are in Wisconsin, call lawmakers on the oversight committees and ask them to do more to pressure the DOC into resolving the situation. Let them know where you live in Wisconsin, also feel free to contact your own representatives.
-Senate Justice and Public Safety Committee Chair Van Wangaard (R -Racine) 608-266-1832. Sympathetic committee member: Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee) 608-266-5810.
– Assembly Committee on Corrections Chair Rob Hutton (R – Brookfield) 608-267-9836 Sympathetic committee members: Mandela Barnes (D – Milwaukee) (608) 266-3756 David
Bowen (D – Milwaukee) 608-266-7671
Write to the prisoners
Here is a list of everyone we know of who has participated in or told us about the recent hunger strike activities in Wisconsin. Milwaukee IWOC stands in solidarity with all prisoners resisting the torture of solitary confinement, regardless of what form their protest takes, or how many days it lasts. The more mail these prisoners get, the more encouragement they and others will have to stand up to the guards.
Also, staff who sort and read the mail will see your letter as sign that these prisoners are supported. The mailroom staff are also censors, and in Wisconsin, the censors are very aggressive. If you mention a protest, use the words hunger strike, or otherwise acknowledge the reality of resistance against the DOC’s torture program, the mail will likely be (illegally) blocked by the DOC, because this institution is like a petulant child who shoves their fingers in their ears to block out truths they don’t want to admit. We need to raise the volume of that truth telling until they can block it out no longer.