Prison Strike: What’s Really Going On at Green Hill?

On Monday I authored a blog post for Seattle Weekly on the West Coast prison hunger strike that was set to kick off that day - including, I wrote citing a press release and the Seattle-based prison newsletter The Rock, at the Green Hill juvenile facility in Chehalis. The protests are described as coming in solidarity with a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and closer to home striking inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California. (According to the LA Times, 30,000 California inmates refused meals Monday as part of the strike.)

However, according to Thomas Shapley, the senior director of public affairs for the state Department of Social and Health Services, the state agency that runs Green Hill, my post was inaccurate. Shapley didn’t mince words. In an email that arrived at 10:04 p.m. Monday night, Shapley stated unequivocally that there was no strike at Green Hill and that the list of 10 demands I referenced in my initial post - which was published by The Rock this month - was not penned by juveniles at the detention facility.

Shapley’s take mirrors the information he provided the Seattle Times for the story the paper ran Tuesday on the prison strikes. As the Times noted, “Thomas Shapley, a spokesman for DSHS, said Green Hill staff said they knew of no youths who were fasting and had received no demands.”

That’s where things get confusing. According Ed Mead, the 70-some-year-old ex con who publishes The Rock, Shapley is wrong. Mead, who has a long resume as a prisoners’ rights advocate, says the list of demands most definitely came from Green Hill juveniles, and that whether or not prisoners are actually striking at the facility might not be known for days. Mead says juveniles at Green Hill, without question, expressed their intent to strike on July 8.

“The list of demands by Green Hill prisoners is not only legitimate but was presented to the administration at that facility weeks ago,” says Mead in response to the contention that the list originated elsewhere.

“When prisoners at Pelican Bay initiated their first hunger strike back in July of 2011 the prison administration said there were only about a half dozen people striking in a single prison. Within days they had to admit there were 6,600 in 13 prisons,” Mead also notes. “We may have a similar situation here.”

Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, Shapley remains adamant there’s no strike at Green Hill and no list of demands.

“The superintendent at Green Hill has received no list of demands from the youth in her care and has seen no evidence of a hunger or work strike,” he says.

So what’s really going on at Green Hill? At this point, the answer to that question seems to come down to who you believe.

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