LOCAL News :: Prisons : Protest Activity

Activists complete weekend of anti-prison actions

On Sunday December 11th activists from Harrisonburg finished up a weekend of action against prisoner abuse by driving to Red Onion State Prison to deliver a petition informing the warden that the people of Virginia will not stand for abusive practices. The week of protest had begun with an action at the Richmond City Jail.
Red Onion State Prison
A group of 10 activists from Harrisonburg, VA made the trip to Red Onion State Prison. We arrived at the prison around 3:30, drove up to the front gate, and talked to a guard who told us that the warden was not in and that if we wanted we could wait for the head guard to come out and accept the petition.

We parked our cars and stood outside the prison with our signs in the falling snow. After trying to stand on the side of the road across from the gravel parking lot in front of the prison gates we were told to move into an area that had been marked off by yellow caution tape.

It was at this point that some of the guards proceeded to surround us while other guards watched us and one took the license plate numbers of those who were there. While the guards were doing this attempts were made to get their identification numbers and names and were promptly ignored by the guards, as were questions about the status of the head guard.

Deputies from the local Sheriff’s Department appeared and joined in on watching those of us who were there waiting for the head guard. During this period of time the only words uttered by the guards were reminders to step behind the yellow tape every time we tried to step out so they could hear us more clearly.

The only guards who did answer our questions about meeting the head guard told us that the head guard--like the warden--was not there, a direct contradiction from what we were told at the front gate.

A group of four people went up to the gate in order to find out whether the head guard was in fact coming or whether we were just being jerked around by the guards. As the party going to the gate left our designated area the guards once again yelled at them to get back behind the yellow tape at which point the local Sheriff’s deputies got out of their car to help the guards keep us behind the yellow tape. While they were more willing than the guards to acknowledge our existence they too refused to answer or acknowledge the legitimacy of our questions as to the whereabouts of the warden and the head guard.

The situation in the air was really tense as we refused to leave until the petition was received by someone from the prison staff and the prison staff refused to accept our petition. Finally, a man stepped up and identified himself as the Assistant Warden and agreed to accept our petition at which point we left the prison escorted by the Wise County sheriff’s department. Sheriff’s Deputies waited in hiding twice while we stopped and tried to clarify directions, once in bushes beside the side of the road, and once in a loading area while we were parked in Downtown Pound.

In the end the action seemed to be a success since it obviously shook up some of the guards and let them know that there are those on the outside who will not stand for prisoner abuse. Chances are these guards will also tell the prisoners and they will also know that people on the outside care about them despite the best efforts of the state to hide them from the general public. Hopefully this will be the first of many actions against prison abuse in this state and throughout the world.