Inmate on hunger strike over living conditions HD: 13 others quit protest that began April 4

April 14, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

A Maryland Penitentiary inmate serving three life sentences is conducting a hunger strike to protest conditions that include human waste backing up into shower drains and thick deposits of pigeon dung on windowsills.

A spokesman at the East Baltimore prison said yesterday that 13 other inmates in the segregation unit have quit the strike that began April 4.

Cpl. J. Scott McCauley, spokesman for the Division of Correction, said that the leader is continuing the protest because he wants to force his return to the prison's general population to revive a profitable business selling a fermented wine called "jump."

Corporal McCauley said a private contractor is pumping out the waste -- at a cost to taxpayers of about $400 a day -- and a new septic system should be installed by Tuesday.

Corporal McCauley said the problem of the pigeon deposits could be resolved if inmates stop feeding the birds.

He said James Person, 40, of the Washington, D.C., area, has been refusing food since April 4 to underscore complaints about backed-up sewage, pigeon droppings, poor food and other issues.

Officials refused to allow Person to be interviewed for this article.

Corporal McCauley said Person was placed in a cell in the segregation section on March 27 for 30 days after guards found strips of blue denim, which the spokesman said could make a strong rope, in his cell.

Person also had been placed in the segregation unit from Jan. 17 to Feb. 17 after a bag of "jump" was found in his cell, Corporal McCauley said.

He said Person is "one of the main suppliers in the penitentiary for 'jump' and his time on segregation has made an impact into his contraband business."

"He got the other prisoners to join him so they could bring up these issues," Corporal McCauley said. "All he wants to do is get back into the general population to carry on his business."

"Jump" is a mix of fresh fruit, water and sugar that is placed in a large plastic trash bag and left to ferment over a period of time to produce an alcoholic beverage. If fresh fruit is not available, potatoes can be substituted, an ex-offender said yesterday.

The homemade wine is either sold to other inmates or bartered for cigarettes and other items.

Corporal McCauley said Person is serving three consecutive life sentences plus 45 years for first-degree murder, kidnapping and a handgun violation after a 1977 incident in Seat Pleasant, Prince George's County.

Corporal McCauley said septic pipes at the century-old penitentiary collapsed April 4 and backed-up waste continues to cause an "odor" in the segregation unit's bathroom and shower areas.

He said a contractor is pumping the sewage out with generators and new pipes are being installed.

Corporal McCauley said Person is being monitored by a physician's assistant. "His blood pressure is fine, there has been no weight loss. He has been weighed on a scale and his overall health appears fine," he said.

But Towanna Matthews, a lifelong friend of Person who visited him Monday, said he has lost considerable weight and appears emaciated.

"His eyes are bugging out and he's forgetting things," said Ms. Matthews, an audiovisual technician for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

"He showed me his rib cage and he certainly has lost lots of weight," she said.

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