The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Media -- Dont Quote Me  |  News Features  |  Stark Ravings  |  Talking Politics  |  This Just In
Best of Boston 2009

Hunger strike at Maine's Supermax Prison

Suicide attempts reported
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  October 18, 2006

Inmates at the Maine State Prison’s solitary-confinement Supermax unit in Warren have been on a hunger strike since Saturday night. The protest is connected to an October 5 suicide in the unit, said corrections commissioner Martin Magnusson after reports on the strike began leaking out of the prison.

Magnusson also confirmed Wednesday that two Supermax inmates had recently been taken to the hospital after they had “cut up” themselves with razors.

Two prisoners had recently told friends, who then contacted the Phoenix, that these individuals had tried to commit suicide but had been saved by guards. The prisoners have since returned to the prison, Magnusson said. He would not name them, citing privacy concerns.

Because of what these inmates had done to themselves, and because “we had information that other people were going to” cut themselves, Magnusson said, razor blades for shaving have been taken from the prisoners — a ban that helped precipitate the hunger strike, he said, adding that some prisoners are now being permitted to shave, but only outside their cells and under supervision.

Magnusson said eight prisoners on Wednesday were participating in the strike, down from 14 at its outset.

The commissioner said three additional correctional officers had been sent into the Supermax (officially, the Special Management Unit) after the suicide and the disruptions associated with it. Instead of most Supermax prisoners being checked every 30 minutes, he said, about 50 of the roughly 100 prisoners in the unit were now checked every 15 minutes. Originally, three prisoners considered to be of particular suicide risk were under constant watch, with a guard outside each of their cells, he said, but now only one is under this watch.

“We are monitoring the people on hunger strike from a medical perspective,” he said, and psychiatric social workers are talking with them.

“We had a suicide,” Magnusson said, to explain the strike’s basic cause, adding that there were also “personal issues” for some prisoners. Ryan Rideout, 24, of Augusta, had hung himself from a showerhead.

Deane Brown, a former Supermax inmate and longtime protestor of prison conditions now in the prison's general population, had left a message Tuesday on the answering machine of Rockland radio producer Ron Huber, saying the hunger strikers were in their fifth day. Early Wednesday, Huber played over the phone for the Phoenix the tape of Brown’s message.

“Twelve people are protesting conditions,” Brown said, because authorities “have taken away a lot of things.”

On Tuesday night, a former Supermax inmate now out of prison read to the Phoenix on the telephone a letter he said was from Supermax prisoner Michael Brine, who said he was taking part in the hunger strike. The man who read the letter requested anonymity because he feared retribution from law-enforcement personnel. The letter mentioned that stringent conditions imposed on inmates — he wrote that 7 to 10 inmates were involved — included the new prohibition on razors for shaving.

The inmates also were protesting, he said, Supermax bans on toothbrushes, soap, radios, television sets, and a second sweatshirt. Some of these items have been banned for some time. In his letter, Brine called the prohibitions “non-touch torture tactics.”

Magnusson said prison authorities told him the only new prohibition was of razor blades. For some time, Supermax prisoners have been given a nub to fit over a finger with which to clean their teeth.

In Brine’s letter, as read to the Phoenix, he said several inmates, including himself, vowed to undertake a long strike: “We’re going IRA on this shit” — referring to the lengthy Irish Republican Army prisoner hunger strikes during Northern Ireland conflicts of decades past.

Brine is in prison for attempted murder and aggravated assault. Brown is serving 58 years for burglary.

The maximum-security Supermax keeps prisoners in their cells for 23 hours a day. Its incarceration of severely mentally ill prisoners, such as suicide victim Rideout, has come under strong criticism from civil-liberties and mental-health groups.

Rideout, who was buried in Belgrade Tuesday, was the third man to kill himself in the Supermax and its adjacent psychiatric unit in seven years. The state police are investigating his death.

  Topics: This Just In , Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Deane Brown, Health and Fitness,  More more >
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print

Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious

 See all articles by: LANCE TAPLEY

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group