By Claudette Vaughan, The Abolitionist Online
Wegman's crowds up to nine hens into tiny, barren cages and animal activist Adam Durand gets an outrageous six month jail sentence for filming the cruelty.
Will this set a precedent in the US ? Here the president of the organisation Compassionate Consumers talks to the Abolitionist-Online.
Abolitionist: Animal activists from around the world would give anything to receive 6 months in prison to make a political and damning statement on behalf of the battery hen and against factory farming. You were provided with this opportunity. Can you tell us what happened?
Adam Durand: A loosely organised group of friends and myself wanted to make a real impact in our local area with regards to the issues behind factory farming. We were interested in trying to draw people to a connection with what they are buying at the stores and make them realise what they are supporting. We were looking around for who should we make a statement about and what's the most effective way to talk to people so we came up with this idea to make a film about the nearest factory farm.
Most of the largest factory farms in the New York State are run by one of the most well-loved companies in our area called Wegman's Food Markets. We are in Rochester , New York and so are Wegman's. It is a store known as a supporter of local charities and it's considered a family owned business even though they are one of the largest companies in America . We thought it would be great to talk to them and try and get video footage of their facility. After contacting them we had a feeling that they wouldn't allow us to video tape in their facility so we decided to go in without their permission and get video footage then release it to the public in the form of a film.
Abolitionist: So you went in and what were you confronted with?
Adam Durand: We entered the facility and it was mind-burst time inside of a factory farm so large. It was incredibly over-whelming just to feel the animals – walls and walls of animals as far as the eye could see – and it was hard to comprehend the level of suffering that was going on in these places. The number of animals at Wegmans Egg Farm at that time was several hundred thousand and that's well over the number of people who live in the city I live in. The individual cases of suffering in front of us really set in because we couldn't imagine the number of creatures that were suffering so dreadfully.
It's hits you what we as animal activists are up against. How many animals are actually caught up in this system and how serious this situation is to them. How long is it going to take for us to end this kind of abuse?
Abolitionist: Did you rescue any battery hens before you were arrested? In Australia there's a general unspoken rule to get as many sick and injured out as physically possible then go back to the sheds then ring the police to come and investigate the cruelty. Sometimes they charge the activists and sometimes they don't. So far it's a very open, non-violent process in Australia . What is it like for activists in the US ?
Adam Durand: We rescued some hens after returning to the facility three times. At the time we were thinking of going public with it but then decided to go ahead with the film because we were really spooked with what we had witnessed in the sheds.
So we put the film together and released it to the public the following year. We didn't try to press charges against the company. It was much more just a statement and that's the time when the police started ringing us, turning up and visiting our houses to try and talk to us. We had our attorneys contact them as we refused to speak to them directly. They eventually put out a warrant for our arrest, we turned ourselves in and from there we went to pre-trial appearances just to try to avoid a trial. My two codefendants were both given deals where they would plead down to a lesser charge. I went to trial for these trumped up offenses. I was charged with 3 counts of burglary which is a serious felony crime in the US . The charge read, “entering a facility with the intent to commit a crime” and in this case it was rescuing hens. Each count carries 7 years in jail so the stakes were pretty high for me but luckily at the trial I was acquitted of all 3 burglary counts. I was also acquitted of the larceny charges but I was still convicted of the 3 trespassing charges.
Usually for a minor offence like trespass there's no jail time for that but in this case the judge wanted to set an example so he gave me a very strict punishment.
Abolitionist: Were the cops that visited you from any special branch or were they your regular local yokels?
Adam Durand: These police were State police from the area where the egg farm is located so they weren't special police or anything like that.
Abolitionist: In terms of what's going on in the US with reference to the ‘Green Scare' and the Feds setting activists up etc etc, were you surprised with the severity of the judge's order, Adam?
Adam Durand: I was very surprised. The District Attorney, even though he was the prosecutor, was telling us that I didn't have to worry about jail time or anything like that. In sentencing he completely turned around and recommended 6 months of jail. Wegman's themselves made that recommendation and the judge followed the recommendation and the District Attorney on the matter. It was a shock because I wasn't even thinking that such a severe sentence would be possible for a first time offender. The thing that we are taking to the Appeals Court right now is investigating if the judge was correct in giving me such a severe sentence.
Abolitionist: What was jail like?
Adam Durand: The County level prison that I was in wasn't a maximum-security prison, it was a medium security jail. First of all I was surprised even to be in there and completely unprepared to be put into a cell in solitary confinement for the first few days I was there. You're in an empty concrete cell and you have no idea what to do with yourself. Then I was put into an area where there was a bunk instead of in my own cell so I was in with 12-15 other men. That was a lot easier. It was definitely difficult but not impossible. I knew I was in there for reasons that I believed in so it could have been a lot more difficult for me if I didn't feel I had any support on the outside and if I didn't feel I was in there for a just cause.
Abolitionist: Were you treated as something of a novelty from other in-mates and how did you cope with non-vegan food?
Adam Durand: Some of the prisoners had actually been following my case in the newspaper so they were impressed to meet me. I obviously didn't quite fit in. I did feel that I was well respected by my fellow inmates and I did become friends with a few of them. We had similar interests and some of these fellows were in there for simple offenses like drunk driving or a drug charge like possessing an illegal substance etc. There weren't hardened criminals by any stretch of the imagination.
As far as vegan food went, at first it was difficult because I wasn't given any kind of special exemption so I got meat on my tray like everyone else with just a small serving of vegetables. We are talking only 4oz a meal here if that. Sometimes vegetables weren't offered so I'd have to make do with crackers instead. Luckily I was able to exchange my meat for vegetables with other inmates and eventually started working in the kitchen. From there I was able to basically make my own tray with as much vegetables as I wanted.
Abolitionist: Are you going back to Wegman's Egg Factory again for further inspections?
Adam Durand: I have no particular plans to go back to Wegman's. I don't think I could if I wanted to because they have put fencing up around the facility now. They have guards there, security cameras, motion detectors and all that sort of stuff. It's something I certainly have to take some time off doing.
Abolitionist: Well we are happy that you are out, that you are safe and well and thanks so much for taking our call.
For further info see: www.wegmanscruelty.com