Solidarity with Red Onion State Prison Hunger Strikers

We who work for environmental justice in Appalachia stand in solidarity with the hunger-striking prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, their families, friends and allies and all those who are held captive by the classist, racist, profit-driven prison system. Though the focus of our day-to-day activism is in confronting the many crimes of the coal industry, we recognize the striking prisoners at Red Onion and their supporters as our brothers and sisters in a broad and diverse struggle for justice. We recognize their liberation as being bound up in our own and we will hold solidarity with these brave individuals until justice is served.

We stand in solidarity with the striking prisoners at Red Onion because their cause is just. Their demands are simple: adequate nutrition, sanitation and medical care, the ability to seek recourse for grievances, an end to torture and brutality at the hands of corrupt prison officials and the presence of third party observers to evaluate the status of inmates’ human rights.

We refuse to accept the dehumanising of those whom the government has deemed to be criminals. We recognize that the vast majority of the United States prison population are serving sentences for non-violent offenses, that black men are seven times more likely to be imprisoned than white men [1], and that the costly and cumbersome process of navigating the judicial system prevents working class people from ever experiencing true due process. Meanwhile white collar criminals such as Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and former Massey Coal chief executive Don Blankenship wallow in their riches, never being held accountable for the pain and suffering that their greed has caused for so many. To put it simply, we challenge the legitimacy of the law enforcement and judicial processes that have pronounced these men to be undeserving of basic human rights and dignity.

We stand in solidarity with the striking prisoners at Red Onion because all people deserve human rights. No one should be forced to endure routine threats to their health and wellbeing. Nor should the inherent value of any individual be disregarded beceause they are identified as expendable and marginal by faceless power-brokers. Just as no resident of the Appalachian coalfields should be forced to drink from a poisoned well or breath coal dust day in and day out or live in fear of fly-rock, flash floods and faulty sludge dams, likewise no resident at Red Onion State Prison – or any prison – should be subjected to the brutality of a totally unaccountable prison system. Injustice is injustice. Human rights are human rights.

Each day, the coal industry advances its planned liquidation of every resource – including men, women and children – that Appalachia has to offer. In addition to devastating the natural beauty, biodiversity and ecological integrity of the mountains, massive mountaintop removal coal-mining operations subject Appalachian people to countless offenses against personal, community, environmental and cultural health and well-being. One of the coal industry’s primary arguments in defense of such egregious mining operations is the claim that more flat land is needed for development. Besides the fact that human communities have lived in the narrow hollows and steep slopes of this region since long before European colonization of the continent, and the reality that the percentage of surface mined lands currently being used for any sort of development is statistically insignificant, we must ask ourselves: what kind of development do we want? Do we want to replace the greed and destruction of big coal with the sub-human conditions found in big prisons?

Where the greed of the coal industry ravages the land and leaves Appalachia for dead, the greed of the prison industry finds ripe opportunity. Super-max prisons are built atop devastated strip-mined lands in part because in so doing, the prison industry is able to isolate prisoners from their families and networks of support. The placement of super-max prisons deep within Appalachia is designed to exploit not only the vast geographic space but also the cultural chasm between those communities from which the prisoners are taken, and the communities in which these prisons are located. We are committed to helping bridge these divides.
We, who fight for the health and integrity of the Appalachian land and people, finding ourselves embattled daily with large corporations, unaccountable politicians and regulators who are bought and paid for by the very industry they’re supposed to regulate, do not see our struggle as existing in isolation. We do not see the struggle of the striking prisoners at Red Onion as existing in isolation. We recognize that all who hunger and thirst for justice – and who take up what tools they find within reach to resist that which is destroying us and to build that which gives us life – are comrades. Ours are not different struggles, but merely different fronts in one struggle for justice.

[1] Kirby, Sohpia. 1 in 2 Black Men go to Prison? The 10 most disturbing facts about racial inequality in the US Prison System. The American Prospect. Accessed on, posted on March 17th 2012


About marleymiles

Marley is a community organizer, landscaper, writer, photographer, hiker, drummer and many other -ers from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
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