Hunger strike ends at prison

Sep 07, 2010
SUNBURY — The inmate hunger strike inside the Northumberland County Prison has ended after a few days.

It’s not certain exactly how long state inmate James Freeman, 29, refused to eat to protest unsanitary conditions inside the Sunbury jail, including an outbreak of the medically resistant staph infection, MRSA.

There are four confirmed cases of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, prison board Chairman Frank Sawicki said Tuesday, though it’s not known if any of the inmates were infected while being held in the jail.

“It happens in prisons all over,” Sawicki said.

While it’s the responsibility of the county to provide safe and secure housing for inmates, he added that some problems could be caused by the inmates themselves.

Warden Roy Johnson said he was told on Thursday that Freeman and another state inmate were holding a hunger strike.

Freeman’s girlfriend, Denise Stefanyszyn, of Beaver County, said he informed her on Aug. 28 that he and a fellow prisoner were refusing to eat. She hadn’t been in touch with him since last week and didn’t know the status.

The second inmate dropped out of the protest early on, and Freeman began accepting meals in his cell by the weekend, Sawicki said. He couldn’t be more specific since Johnson was out of the office.

Sawicki said prison officials believe the protesters initially were eating food they’d purchased at the commissary, so that was cut off to them.

“I’m running a prison here, not a resort,” he quipped.

Asked whether he was looking into the inmates’ concerns about conditions inside the 135-year-old facility on North Second Street, Sawicki said he was not aware of cockroaches or broken windows.

“If you end up sprinkling potato chips all over your cell, you may get visitors,” Sawicki said.

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