New protest as hunger striking inmates 'starve for change'

About 80 supporters of hunger-striking prison inmates took their complaints directly to the Department of Corrections Monday, staging a protest outside the agency's Forysth headquarters and demanding a meeting with Commissioner Brian Owens.

The demonstration came as the hunger strike by as many as 14 inmates at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison entered what protesters said was its 36th day. The Department of Corrections, however, disputes that claim and told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that the strike ended on July 6.

"I personally spoke to [inmates] Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson on Wednesday, July 11, and they are still on the hunger strike, along with other inmates," said attorney Mario Williams, who represents Jackson, an inmate at the prison in Jackson.

Part of the confusion may have arisen because two of the original hunger strikers did stop on July 6, Williams said. But supporters insisted that the other inmates, led by Jackson, have been "starving for change" continuously since June 10.

John Eric Berry, an activist and friend of inmate Dexter Shaw, also said the hunger strike was ongoing as of July 12.

"I last spoke to Shaw on Thursday," Berry said. "He told me that he was still on the hunger strike, and that [the prison] had separated all the inmates so they couldn't easly communicate with each other."

Delma Jackson, Jackson's wife and the leader of a protest at the State Capitol last Monday, said she received a letter from inmate Kelvin Stevenson dated July 12 in which he wrote that the hunger strike was ongoing, and that four new inmates had joined the strike.

In an interview with the AJC, Jackson accused the prison system of attempting to conceal the hunger strike.

"I think they're being deceptive," she said. "I think they're trying to get people thrown off track. They know it's in full force."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has contacted the Department of Corrections, which said it would look into claims that the hunger strike is ongoing.

The inmates — at least 12 and as many as 14, according to the family and supporters — are refusing to eat until prison officials meet their demands.

"Adequate medical care, 30-day review [of their imprisonment in the Special Management Unit], access to the commissary and personal hygiene items, restored visitation, being able to call home more than once a month, exercise once per day," Jackson said, listing the demands.

She added, "All the things he's asking for are in their standard procedure. He's not asking for anything out of the unusual."

Protesters also say that Jackson, in particular, needs "medical treatment for ... numerous and severe injuries, many of which were inflicted 18 months ago."

Jackson's family alleges that he was wrongfully beaten by prison guards in December 2010 at Smith State Prison, his home before being transferred to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in 2011.

But the Department of Corrections denied that claim.

"[The Georgia Bureau of Investigation] investigated the claim filed by inmate Miguel Jackson regarding the 2010 Smith State Prison incident and found no validity to the inmate's complaint," said spokesman Dabney Weems.

Protesters at the DOC headquarters Monday called on Commissioner Owens to meet with inmate representatives.

"He needs to sit down and discuss this, and come to some sort of reasonable agreement," Jackson said. "If he has their best interests at heart, he needs to...call the warden, and tell him to follow its prison regualations by the book. All we're asking is that he make the warden enforce standard operating procedure and we want it in writing."