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Observe Prisoners' Justice Day

Traditionally, August 10th has been commemorated by prisoners in Canada as Prisoners' Justice Day (PJD). During the twenty-four hours of August 10th prisoners fast and refuse to work as a show of solidarity in memory of those who have died unnatural deaths in prisons; victims of murder, neglect and suicide. At the same time, community organizations have increasingly held demonstrations, services and vigils in support of prisoners' common resistance against oppressive prison conditions and systems. PJD is also a day when prisoners and their support organizations emphasize their attempts to raise awareness of the brutal and inhuman conditions inside prisons that are responsible for the many unnatural deaths. August 10th is also the day to remember that while many people are sentenced to serve time in prisons, they have not been sent there to die.

PJD was originally to be a one-time concentrated effort by prisoners at Millhaven Penitentiary to show their solidarity on the one-year anniversary of the death of Eddie Nalon. He had bled to death on August 10th, 1975, after the `panic' button in his segregation cell failed to alert custodial staff as it should have. His desperate bid to bring attention to the unwarranted extension to his stay in solitary confinement by slashing his wrists proved fatal. Howie Brown, his neighbor in Millhaven at the time, decided to initiate what has become a tremendous yearly show of solidarity, which has recently increased on an international scale.

Although not often publicized, prison deaths that occur show just how unnatural and unnecessary they are, whether at the hands of the state, or by other prisoners when they are not taking their own lives. Foremost among the modes of death is the death penalty, which is still being used by many states claiming to be developed and progressive. Then there are many prisoners who die as a result of excessive force used by police and prison staff, who have proven they are accountable to no one. It has also been determined that the majority of prisoners with HIV/AIDS live only half as long as if they were living in the community with the illness. Many deaths also occur as a result of negligence of health care personnel, who often fail to diagnose fatal illnesses, and are slow to respond to emergency situations. And then there are the many senseless and brutal murders by other prisoners, precipitated by often minor disputes that reflect their common feelings of powerlessness, fear, anger and rage. All of these deaths can and must be prevented with changes in current methods of criminal justice and prison systems that prisoners demand on August 10th of each year.

PJD is the day when prisoners and their support organizations emphasize Publicity of their long list of demands. A general overview of that list is:

Abolition of the death penalty and inhumane life sentences.
Abolition of arbitrary measures used by prison staff and administrators.
Recognition of prisoners' human rights and dignity.
Implementation of a means to hold all justice systems personnel accountable.
To create a more humane and positive environment in prisons while ultimately working towards prison abolition through restorative justice methods.

In 1992, for the third consecutive year, the Prisoners' Justice Day Committee of Toronto produced a radio program of prisoners' and ex-prisoners' writings in support of the PJD effort. The pre-taped program was aired by 22 radio stations across Canada to raise public awareness of PJD and to publicize prisoners' demands. The Committee had sent out notices to prisoners and their support groups calling for written submissions for the radio show. The Committee's efforts resulted in the building of a loose network of prisoners and support organizations. With some work in building a stronger network, PJD promises to become a much greater show of solidarity world-wide. And it will create the force necessary to smash down the prison walls of barbed-wire, steel, concrete and prejudice.

Although some people are aware of PJD and the brutal conditions that result in so many unnatural prison deaths, not enough are aware of the significance of this, neither do they recognize PJD efforts. A much broader show of solidarity through fasting and work strikes in prisons, and demonstrations, services and vigils in the communities would create the public awareness necessary to effect the positive changes to stop the needless dying. As an individual and/or organization, prisoners everywhere need for you to give support by showing your solidarity on August 10th in memory of those who have died unnatural deaths in prisons. Please do so not only in thought and work but through positive action as well.

For more information contact:
Zoltan Lugosi
Box 4510 Kingston
Ontario, Canada K7A 5E5.

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