In late June, prison officials at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan denied showers to those held in the same unit where people were engaged in a hunger strike, according to a document enclosed as part of a court filing on Thursday by the federal public defender.

Approximately 80 people — most of whom have been charged with crimes, but are legally innocent — and housed in the detention center’s “J2 Unit” were protesting conditions inside the facility’s detention center.

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According to the Bureau of Prisons, on June 23 some of the men in custody “did not accept their meals.”

The following day, prison warden DeWayne Hendrix issued a memo to those in the J2 Unit.

“The purpose of this memorandum is to inform each of you that showers are postponed due to continued threats of assault to staff,” Hendrix wrote. “Enhanced security procedures due to ongoing disruptive behavior will continue through the weekend and will be reevaluated on Monday. All issues brought to our attention are being reviewed.”

Oregon Public Defender Lisa Hay noted in the court filing that temperatures in Sheridan reached 90 degrees during the heat wave in late June that coincided with the withholding of showers.

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“People in custody reported that Sheridan turned the water off at the [detention center] in order to end the hunger strike,” Hay stated.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

The Bureau of Prisons didn’t answer questions regarding the memo or whether the water was cut off to end the hunger strike.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, who represent the federal prison, stated in a court filing of their own on Thursday “that no inmates are currently on a hunger strike.”

On Monday, June 27, “all inmates housed in the J2 Housing Unit accepted their food trays for the evening meal and showered by 8 p.m. that evening. BOP did not receive any reports of inmates becoming ill from the evening meal.”

Conditions inside Sheridan have been the subject of grave concern since the pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020. In numerous court filings, Oregon’s federal public defender, Lisa Hay, has detailed lockdowns that have lasted for days. In other filings, her office has documented poor medical and dental care that has left many suffering.

Since the pandemic began, seven people have died at Sheridan, including a 25-year-old man who was found dead early last Tuesday. The man’s father said the medical examiner told him the death would be ruled an accidental overdose. The medical examiner also told the family the 25-year-old had a leaky heart valve that burst and high blood pressure.

In its statement on the hunger strike, the Bureau of Prisons spokesperson noted that while some detainees refused meal trays, they did have the ability to purchase food at the commissary, a sort of convenience store inside the prison. The statement did not say whether the incarcerated people participating in the strike availed themselves of that option.

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