A hunger strike by prisoners in Pennsylvania came to an official end on Sunday, July 4 after 10 days on strike. 12 people housed in SCI Phoenix, a state correctional institution in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania initiated the hunger strike.
The strikers were all held in a long term isolation unit, commonly known as an intensive management unit (IMU), despite the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) having no official policy regulating the use of IMUs at the time. The strikers’ demands centered around the segregation and programming policies in the IMU and the conditions associated with long term isolation.
“We currently only shower 3 times a week,” wrote striker John Bramble in a public statement. “We have no mental health treatment whatsoever, and only 5 hours of recreation a week.”
“We look at the 10 day strike as a success,” said striker Alejandro “Capo” Rodriguez-Ortiz in a statement, announcing the end of the hunger strike. “Now the world sees what the PADOC was doing.” According to the statement, several of the demands around conditions inside the IMU were addressed by the administration, including greater access to showers and phones, and that some prisoners were being moved off segregation status.
Those held inside the IMU were protesting not only the conditions but what they say is the lack of ability to be able to advocate for themselves. Prisoners say that the lack of a clear policy regarding the use of the IMU makes that goal both misleading and impossible.
“We were told by PRC (Program Review Committee) that upon our arrival at Phoenix, we were here to be flown off of the Restricted Release list and that the IMU was meant for that, which was a lie” Bramble said in a June 25 public statement.
“Everything is up in the air. They make up rules on the fly because there is no policy,” Bramble said in regards to the policies inside the unit.
Ortiz, along with several other strikers participated in the uprising the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware in 2017 were later transferred to Pennsylvania through interstate compact. These prisoners, known collectively as the Vaughn 17 were charged following the uprising and were able to successfully organize a joint defense. Many of them now being held in the IMU at SCI Phoenix, including Ortiz, feel they ended up there because of their past activism and commitment to collective defense.
In the statement from the Vaughn 17 concerning the end of the strike they are clear to acknowledge that this strike was a continuation of their collective efforts inside various facilities. “Our sole purpose is to tear down every last brick until every last prisoner is free” they said.