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Letter from Burnside prison in support of the OCDC hunger strikers

Burnside jail. Photo Haligonia.ca

People imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) are conducting a hunger strike after the jail failed to honour the agreement that brought a previous hunger strike to an end on June 4. This is a letter in support of their efforts by the people engaged in the 2018 Burnside Prison Strike. More on the OCDC strike here.

The Burnside Prison Strikers send greetings, strength and solidarity to our comrades in OCDC.

Only a few days after Mandela Day, prisoners in Canada are yet again having to risk their lives and safety to fight for basic rights. We remind everyone of Mandela’s statement: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” The same countries that honour the freedom struggle of Nelson Mandela subject people in their prisons and jails to inhumane conditions, and retaliate upon and threaten them when they organize against life-threatening conditions.

We are horrified to hear of the statements of our fellow prisoners inside OCDC, but we are not surprised. We are not surprised by the lack of healthy, sufficient, nutritious food. We are not surprised by the dangerously unhygienic conditions. We are not surprised by the racist insults from guards, the lack of mental health care, and the repeated degradation of strip searches. We are not surprised that the institution has promised to change conditions and then failed to do anything at all. We are not surprised at the threats and intimidation. We are not surprised that these conditions exist in one of the richest nations in the world.

We are not surprised because these are all conditions we ourselves experienced and protested during the Burnside Prison Strike of 2018. We simply asked for healthy food options, showers, winter clothing, and mental health programs. We asked for shoes of the same size that fit our feet. We asked for more frequent visits with our loved ones. None of these things are luxuries. Many of them are things we too were promised by officials. But conditions did not change in Burnside, and in fact they got worse. Many of us who organized the strike were transferred to other institutions, placed into segregation, or otherwise punished. The entire jail faced months of lockdowns following our strike, conditions which have now become the new normal.

Still, we do not regret standing up together for our rights. We hope our struggle is a beacon to other prisoners suffering and living under injustice. We stand with every prisoner who speaks up about the brutal, unjust conditions human beings are subjected to behind walls. We continue to call for an end to racist policing! An end to colonial prisons! An end to building new prisons instead of new housing! An end to punishment instead of healing! We continue to believe that it is not a crime for a person to move from one place to another to be safe. We call for an end to borders, and for status for all. 

In the spirit of the recently passed John Lewis, with the words of Mandela, in the footsteps of all prison strikers and freedom fighters before us we call upon OCDC to meet the demands of this protest. We call upon our comrades to stand firm and to resist the attempts of the authorities to divide and rule. We call upon the legal community to advocate for the rights of prisoners. We call upon our governments to stop funding prisons and to fund communities instead where people can actually get help, and heal, and make reparation. We call upon everybody to reject the idea that human beings deserve to be violated, harmed, and even killed just because they are incarcerated. 

Until all prison doors are opened, and all prison walls are bulldozed!

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