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Michigan prisoners rise up!

Saturday, October 15, 2016 16:41
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(Before It's News)

Overcrowded and underfunded state prisons spawn resistance

by Rand W. Gould

“The everyday activity of slaves reproduces slavery. Through their daily activities, slaves do not merely reproduce themselves and their masters physically; they also reproduce the instruments with which the master represses them, and their own habits of submission to the master’s authority.” – Fredy Perlman, “The Reproduction of Daily Life” (1969)

kinross-correctional-facilityNot since the 1980s, when the state of Michigan simultaneously ratcheted up “tough on crime” laws and eliminated good time credits that had reduced the time served before prisoners became eligible for parole consideration, have Michigan’s prisons been so overcrowded and seething with so much discontent.

Overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is struggling to provide housing, food, medical care and programming for approximately 43,000 prisoners, within a $2.1 billion per year budget that has not changed significantly this century despite multiple prison closures and the privatization of medical care, food service and commissary.

Moreover, the MDOC’s budget is unlikely to increase in the future due to the massive tax cuts of over $2 billion made by Gov. Rick Snyder – a giveaway to the big corporations that continue to move their manufacturing operations out of the state, if not the country, eliminating decent paying jobs which, in turn, causes at least a dozen families a day to pack up and leave this “right-to-work-for-less” state, the only one in the country with a declining population.

Couple this with the looting of city and public school system budgets by “too-big-to-fail” transnational financial corporations and banks via the creation of massive debt under the aegis of Gov. Snyder’s “financial managers,” resulting in bankruptcies, as has occurred in Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor, et al., all, unsurprisingly, majority Black cities, with the attendant crumbling of statewide infrastructure, such as roads and water systems, and it becomes clear, Michigan is facing a disaster of epic proportions that reaches way beyond economics into the daily life of its people.

Overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is struggling to provide housing, food, medical care and programming for approximately 43,000 prisoners.

It has been estimated that the Flint water disaster alone will cost the state over $2 billion, courtesy of Gov. Snyder and his financial manager’s ill-conceived attempt to save a few million dollars by disconnecting from the Detroit water system in order to pump toxic water from the GM-polluted Flint River into people’s homes – a compelling act of genocide against Flint’s Black majority and overwhelmingly poor population.

That’s $2 billion that will not be available to the MDOC, for road repair, or anything else – and neither will the money Gov. Snyder is spending on his legal defense for engineering this disaster!

This year, after decades of passivity, Michigan prisoners are finally rising up and actively resisting their oppression – the inevitable “chickens coming home to roost” in a prison system that operates as a human warehouse, with few programming opportunities (none for lifers), whether teaching job skills or rehabilitation, and fewer jobs at the slave wages of $.84 to $1.14 per day – wages that not only have not increased in decades, but have decreased, as performance bonuses were taken from food service and Michigan State Industries (MSI) workers, while the quality and quantity of food served to prisoners has declined precipitously as commissary prices skyrocketed due to privatization.

Overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing, slave wages, high commissary prices, high phone rates, less food, with that which is served being nutritionally deficient – e.g., less than a cup of fresh vegetables a day, when USDA guidelines recommend 2 1/2 cups – lack of programming and poor medical care are all the ingredients necessary for a recipe for disaster.

This year, after decades of passivity, Michigan prisoners are finally rising up and actively resisting their oppression – the inevitable “chickens coming home to roost” in a prison system that operates as a human warehouse.

Consequently, it was no surprise when, on March 20 and 21, over 1,000 of 1,300 prisoners crammed into Kinross Correctional Facility’s four aging polebarns, refused meals and demonstrated on the yard or when, on March 26 through 28, over 1,000 out of 1,300 prisoners crammed into Chippewa Correctional Facility’s four aging polebarns also refused meals provided by Trinity, the private food service. These actions were followed on April 12 by 600 prisoners at Cotton Correctional Facility refusing meals and, on May 24, by 700 out of 1,100 Level I prisoners refusing meals at Marquette Branch Prison.

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 in the Upper Peninsulas (UP), Bethany Creek CF and Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. It’s likely there were other strikes which went unreported.

Striking Michigan prisoners were supported by a very militant demonstration at the state Capitol in Lansing, when anarchists and their accomplices shut down traffic with a borrowed U-Haul truck and unfurled banners that read, “Solidarity with the Sept. 9th Prison Strikers” and “Freedom Will Blossom from the Ashes of the Prisons.”

At Kinross CF, with kitchen workers refusing to work among others, the administration’s response was to serve the “sick lunches,” consisting of a couple of bologna sandwiches and a piece of fruit, at every meal. After a day of sack lunches, on the 10th, 400 prisoners went on the ward to voice their demand to be served the hot meals required by policy and marched peacefully.

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.

To suppress this peaceful demonstration, the MDOC mobilized over a hundred armed corrections and state police officers from across the state, at great cost in overtime and special pay, who confronted the prisoners and ordered them to return to their units. The prisoners peacefully complied, only to have their hands zipped and to be taken back outside, where they were separated into groups and forced to kneel on the ground in the rain for hours as officers picked out 250 so-called “agitators” for immediate pack-up and transfer to other prisons in retaliation for the strike.

That action is incredibly reminiscent of what occurred on the yard at Attica 45 years ago, save the overt brutality and slaughter. This left only officers in the units, ostensibly to pack up the 250 “agitators” properly but more likely tearing up the cubes and prisoners’ personal property, as usual in these situations.

At some point during all of this, and depending on who you believe – MDOC or corrections officer union spokespersons, prisoners or corrections officers – all hell seemingly 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 polebarns uninhabitable.

MDOC spokespersons had initially and repeatedly stated the Kinross CF prisoner labor strike and subsequent demonstration on the yard were peaceful, while corrections officer union spokespersons claimed it was a violent riot, as reported by CBS 9 and 10 News and other local media throughout the weekend. See “Riot or reined-in? Prison officials disagree on U.P. skirmish” by Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press.

Nevertheless, it strains the bonds of credulity to think this “riot” was not, at least, provoked by the officers, if not committed by them. Further straining these bonds is the claim that peacefully demonstrating prisoners somehow rioted when zipped and confronted by officers armed with automatic weapons.

MDOC spokespersons had initially and repeatedly stated the Kinross CF prisoner labor strike and subsequent demonstration on the yard were peaceful, while corrections officer union spokespersons claimed it was a violent riot.

Moreover, the officers had every incentive to create a “riot,” including extra pay and their vested interested in portraying prisoners as violent and dangerous in order to justify more prisons and prison jobs by inciting fear in the public. Fortunately, according to the reports, no one was hurt, because, if the video eye has shown us anything, it has shown police officers’ propensity for extreme violence and murder. As in the streets, so in prisons.

So 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.

The first step towards achieving these goals requires the MDOC to cease operating its prisons at or near 200 percent of capacity by ending double-bunking. Both Kinross and Chippewa CFs consist of the polebarns, each having 320 men, eight men to a four-man cube, with only 10 square feet of unencumbered floor space per man, when federal rules require a minimum of 25.1 square feet. With eight men in four-man cubes and two men in two-man cells, there are double the men using the yards, day rooms, chow halls, bathrooms, showers etc. than these facilities were designed for. Michigan’s women prisoners have it even worse.

So 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.

Crammed into overcrowded prisons, underfed, denied proper medical care and programming while forced to work for declining slave wages as commissary prices rise, no wonder Michigan prisoners are rising up! The only question is, Why did it take so long?

Send our brother some love and light: Rand W. Gould, C-187131, Chippewa Correctional Facility, 4269 W. M-80, Kincheloe, MI 49784.

Supporters’ report

Charlie Lee Anderson died at Kinross Oct. 10 following a long wait for medical attention, even after he became unresponsive. Greg Peterson, an investigative reporter with U.P. Breaking News, blames budget cuts that are putting lives in danger.

Charlie Lee Anderson died at Kinross Oct. 10 following a long wait for medical attention, even after he became unresponsive. Greg Peterson, an investigative reporter with U.P. Breaking News, blames budget cuts that are putting lives in danger.

Duncan Tarr, miprisonabolition@gmail.com, reports that Evelyn Williams, a family member of a prisoner at Kinross, said: “It’s a very racist facility, where they intimidate and harass prisoners on a daily basis. The men just wanted the broken policies to be fixed. They’re treated like animals, with no respect and no justice. They can’t even afford to buy soap on their wages.”

On Oct. 10 at Kinross, an inmate named Charlie Lee Anderson died. According to the family member of another inmate, Mr. Johnson asked for medical attention, but even after he became unresponsive medical staff did not arrive for approximately 15 minutes. Another report states that “sources familiar with the case say he should not have died.” Other prisoners at Kinross have added inadequate medical care to their grievances.

Mr. Johnson’s death marks at least the third death of an inmate within Michigan correctional facilities within a month. An inmate died of an alleged overdose at Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan, on the night of Sept. 10, according to other inmates. An inmate died at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia after being shot with a taser; the inmate’s family blames the use of excessive force.

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