Michigan prisoners rise up!

From the March-April issue of News & Letters

 Overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing, slave wages, high commissary prices, high phone rates, less food with what is served being nutritionally deficient (e.g., less than a cup of vegetables a day, when USDA Guidelines recommend 2 ½ cups), lack of programming and poor medical care, are all the ingredients necessary for a recipe for disaster in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

It was not a surprise when, on March 20 and 21, 2016, over 1,000 out of 1,300 prisoners, crammed into Kinross Correctional Facility’s four aging pole barns, refused meals and demonstrated in the yard. On March 26-28, over 1,100 prisoners also refused meals. On April 12, 600 prisoners at Cotton Correctional Facility refused meals and, on May 24, 700 of 1,100 Level I prisoners refused meals at Marquette Branch Prison.

BendanMurdock-Tower

Art by prisoner Bendan Murdoch

On Sept. 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica State Prison rebellion, prisoners across the country answered the Free Alabama Movement’s call for a nationwide prisoner labor strike by refusing to work in at least 23 states. Michigan prisoners struck at Kinross CF in the Upper Peninsula, Bellamy Creek CF and Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. Striking Michigan prisoners were supported by a very militant demonstration at the state capitol in Lansing, when anarchists and their accomplices shut down traffic and unfurled banners.

At Kinross CF, prisoner kitchen workers struck. The administration’s response was to serve “sack lunches” consisting of a couple of pieces of bread or bologna sandwiches and a piece of fruit at every meal. On Sept. 10, 400 prisoners went on the yard and marched peacefully to voice their demand to be served the hot meals required.

In response, the MDOC mobilized over 100 armed corrections and state police officers who confronted the prisoners and ordered them to return to their units. The prisoners complied peacefully, only to have their hands ziptied, taken back outside and forced to kneel on the ground in groups for hours in the rain, as the officers picked out 250 so-called “agitators” for immediate transfer to other prisons.

Sometime during this all hell broke loose, with sinks and other fixtures smashed, windows broken and at least one fire set, rendering two of the eight units in the four pole barns uninhabitable. MDOC spokespersons had repeatedly stated the prisoner labor strike and demonstration at Kinross CF were peaceful, while corrections officer union spokespersons claimed it was a violent riot.

It strains the bonds of credibility to think that this “riot” was not provoked by the officers. How they managed to get peaceful prisoners to riot when ziptied and confronted by officers with automatic weapons is beyond the knowledge of this writer. Fortunately, according to reports, no one was hurt.

What’s next for Michigan’s prisoners? No doubt, more of the same until the MDOC alleviates the extreme overcrowding and provides decent housing, food, medical care, programming and wages to prisoners. With eight men in four-man cubes and two men in one-man cells, there are double the men using the yards, dayrooms, chow halls, bathrooms, showers, etc. than these facilities were designed for.

Michigan’s women prisoners have it even worse. Crammed into overcrowded prisons, underfed, denied proper medical care and programming, while forced to work for declining slave wages and subject to losing commissary privileges, no wonder Michigan prisoners are rising up! The only question is, why did it take so long?

—Rand W. Gould C-187131
Chippewa Correctional Facility,
4269 W. M-80, Kincheloe, MI 49784
Edited by News & Letters

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