Maine prisoner on monthlong hunger strike to protest living conditions

Posted July 18, 2014, at 5:22 p.m.
Last modified July 19, 2014, at 2:52 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — A Maine State Prison inmate has been on a hunger strike for one month while protesting his living conditions there, according to prisoner advocates.

Nadim Haque, in his mid-40s, was described Friday as a “model prisoner” by Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. But the Indian man, serving a 50-year sentence for the 1996 killing of his ex-girlfriend in Lewiston, decided to start the hunger strike after he was placed in solitary confinement when he refused to be “double-bunked,” or given another inmate as a cellmate, she said.

“MPAC members are very worried about Nadim’s health,” she said. “Nadim should be returned to a single cell, where he’s been living quietly and peacefully for 10 years.”

But Jody Breton, associate commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, said Friday that while she cannot comment on Haque, in general the prison has been moving for a year toward having almost all prisoners share cells with other inmates.

Some inmates in “close” — or higher-security cellblocks — view the move from single to shared cells in a medium security cellblock as a punishment, she said.

“It’s not for a punishment. It’s to put more incentive for people to move to a less-restrictive [block],” she said. “Basically, it looked like a rewards system in reverse before.”

Haque wrote Garvey on July 1 to tell her about the situation, saying then that he did not want to have a cellmate for a number of reasons, including the fact that he is a Muslim from a different country. He was worried that his prayers, rituals, diet, cultural differences and politics would cause dangerous conflicts with a cellmate.

Haque also told her in the letter that he felt singled-out by prison staff because he was vocal about asking for an investigation into the February murder of inmate Micah Boland, who died when he was stabbed multiple times, allegedly by inmate Richard Stahursky.

Haque and other prisoners have also told Garvey they fear their exposure to contagious diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV would increase if forced to share a cell with another inmate.

“I want to put a stop to people doing long time forced to double bunk without screening for mental/ physical health/ religion/ cultural/ political views,” Haque wrote Garvey.

Until being moved to solitary confinement, called the Special Management Unit, Haque had one of the coveted paying jobs in prison industries, Garvey said.

The advocacy group has heard from him over the years, as he has written to let them know about problems or to thank them for their work on behalf of prisoners. But recently, he wrote to say that he was deeply distressed about the change in his living situation.

“The noise level is maddening. Everyone is in each other’s way,” he wrote Garvey. “Everyone is forced or strong-armed to be double-bunked. If they refuse, their paying jobs are taken away from them and they are placed in the Supermax, the SMU.”

Garvey said that prisoners with long sentences, like Haque, need to have “some kind of quality of life.”

“They can become positive role models for other prisoners,” she said. “The thing that works is having a schedule, and a cell, and things in places where you can count on them. When all of that is taken away, you can despair.”

It is not the first time that Haque has reportedly resorted to a hunger strike. In 1996, before his conviction, he went without food for two months to protest conditions at the Androscoggin County Jail.

He said he stopped eating to protest being fed pork, which violates his Muslim dietary restrictions, according to the BDN archives. Jail officials asked the district attorney whether they could seek a court order to force-feed him.

Breton said that the Maine Department of Corrections has a protocol for hunger strikes. After prisoners claim to have missed three meals, she said, prison staff starts a hunger strike log and notifies medical officials.

Striking inmates have their weight, blood pressure and electrolyte levels monitored, and if they reach a point where they are unable to function in their unit, they will have a more in-depth medical assessment to determine if they need to go to the hospital or infirmary.

“We regularly talk to the inmates about what they are doing to their body,” she said. “If it got to the point of requiring force-feeding, we’d have to get legal permission to do so.”

 

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