In January, Edward Walton, Edward Combs, and Eric Woods wrote an open letter addressed to “the people of the state of Michigan,” and apparently sent a copy to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and MDOC Director Heidi Washington. As the Detroit Free Press’s Paul Egan reported, the letter outlined a series of complaints about conditions at Chippewa Correctional Facility, including overcrowding, black mold, forced labor, and abusive treatment by guards. On February 3, Walton was moved to solitary confinement in what appears to be retaliation for the letter. Prison officials claimed that Walton had threatened to stage a protest by prisoners inside the facility, and on this basis convicted Walton of “inciting a riot.” However, we have reviewed the letter by Walton, Combs, and Woods, and it says nothing about such a protest (see below for the text of the open letter).
In the letter, Walton, Combs, and Woods attempt to inform the public about the unhealthy and abusive conditions at the facility and demand an investigation into the issues they raise. They describe seven major issues in detail, and propose solutions for each. They also note that they have attempted to resolve these issues through the available channels, such as block representative meetings and grievance procedures, but their efforts have been stymied every step of the way. This is why they wrote the letter. But rather than allow the men to call for support, as they are entitled to do, Chippewa prison officials chose to punish them.
Furthermore, Gautz told Egan that Walton would be released from solitary confinement on February 15. However, prison officials confirmed to several of us by phone today, February 18, that Walton has not been released. When we pressed them about this inconsistency, they refused to provide an explanation and instead gave evasive answers, hung up the phone, or told us: “that’s just your opinion.” Solitary confinement is a form of torture, and the UN Committee Against Torture has criticized its use in the United States since the 1990s.
Gautz also claims that the MDOC took the “allegations” in the letter “very seriously,” and brought an investigator from a different prison facility—rather than an independent investigator without ties to the MDOC—to look into them. Unsurprisingly, this investigator found that all of the complaints were “without merit.” Without an independent investigation, however, we can have no faith in the MDOC’s response. On the contrary, we have been hearing testimonies about the conditions in Chippewa Correctional Facility from contacts on the inside for a long time now, and these stories resonate with what we know about the prison system throughout Michigan and the United States. As prison abolitionists on the outside, moreover, we know how vital it is to listen to the stories of prisoners on the inside. MDOC wants to silence those who speak out against the cruel conditions at Chippewa.
In an email to the Free Press, Woods wrote that the situation “has now turned into a witch hunt of myself and the other two prisoners in an attempt to either cover up the problems at hand or in some way make us villain(s) in order to stop us from pushing our claims.” We agree. There’s something not right at Chippewa, and we applaud these three men for speaking out about the conditions of the prison. In fact, they knew the risks. The letter concludes: “PS. We are subject to attack because we have now chosen to stand up to the powers that be. Please understand that we have not chosen a violent path, just one of understanding, so if anything happens to us it will be because of this letter…”
We write this statement in solidarity with Edward Walton, Edward Combs, and Eric Woods, as well as any other unnamed and unknown people resisting the conditions at Chippewa. We demand that Edward Walton be released from solitary confinement immediately. We echo the call coming from the inside for an investigation of Chippewa Correctional Facility, and for the MDOC to take the seven issues and resolutions in this letter seriously.
Open Letter from Edward Walton, Edward Combs, and Eric Woods
To the people of the State Of Michigan or Whom it may concern.
Hebrews: 13:3/“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also.”
The mistreatment of the prisoners at Chippewa Correctional Facility must be investigated. The issues vary from staff corruption, falsifying documents, misuses of funds provided by state and federal government. We’ve asked for audits to no avail and we’re not receiving any relief by way of block representative meetings and/or grievance procedures. With this being said the inmates of Chippewa Correctional Facility would like to address the Warden of Chippewa Correctional Facility, the Director of the M.D.O.C., our State Reps and the people of Michigan by way of the media.
We seek relief by way of non-violent address only to be heard and treated as fair as prisoners should be without additional punishment or mistreatment.
Thank you in advance.
Edward Walton #517281
Edward Combs #285318
Eric Woods #342158
ISSUES AND PROPOSED RESOLUTIONS
ISSUES #1. Both Correctional and Hearing Officers have conspired with one another to only issue out TOPLOCK (confined to cell) to inmates who plea and/or are found guilty of misconducts in order to limit prisoner movement and ultimately set the prisoner up for additional misconducts. However, when feeling generous they (Correctional & Hearing Officers) issue out double if not triple the amount of days of LOP (loss of privileges).
RESOLUTION #1. Remove unfair and unjust practices by Correctional/Hearings Officers, set in place a system preferably a O.P.(operating procedure) which gradually increases sanction days based on the amount of misconducts received within a one month period which restarts at the beginning of each month. This is to ensure the “buddy system” amongst officers does not affect the amount of days being given.
ISSUE #2. Abuse of authority runs rampant on both URF East and West sides. If and when inmates attempt to defend themselves by way of filing grievances those same inmates are met with swift retaliation from staff such as false misconducts, illegally placed in segregation, moved to different housing units, having their personal property destroyed etc.
RESOLUTION #2. Only major infractions which cause a safety issue to either inmates or staff should result in the movement of prisoners within the facility. NOTE: Inmates who engage in fights or assaults against other inmates ultimately are placed back on the same compound and in some cases the same housing unit, staff has no way of knowing (truthfully they don’t care) if further dangerous activity will resume. Officers should be stripped of their power (all critical moves should be made by Warden D.W., ADW, INSP…ONLY) of moving prisoners wherever they feel the need.
ISSUES #3. Reckless disregard and treatment of inmates and family while visiting. Overcrowding of visiting rooms to the point where inmates and their visitors are forced to sit in cramped areas and place food and beverages in their laps due to lack of tables. URF West has its own visiting room yet they refuse to utilize it and force both URF West and East inmates (totaling over 1,000 men) to all share one visiting room which usually ends in visits being cancelled.
RESOLUTION #3. Allow family members to make and file complaints to which a formal hearing is held preferably by a unbiased Hearings Officer based out of Lansing and not one from the facility at which the alleged infraction occurred. If found guilty staff should be subject to ” real consequences” such as time off without pay, termination etc. Give prisoners access to URF West (at least on weekends) visiting room to decrease overcrowding.
ISSUE #4. Unlivable housing conditions of inmates sleeping in cramped quarters (8 men and their personal belongings all in one cubicle). Lack of fire sprinkler system, staff intentionally diluting cleaning solutions,(even washing detergent) bleach is reserved only for the cleaning of staff bathrooms any other location where staff is said to be. Bathroom/shower areas are contaminated with mold. Several years ago housing unit G & H were closed temporarily due to mold however, mold housing units A-F was never removed.
RESOLUTION #4. Reduce the amount of inmates housed in cubicles. Close housing units fire sprinkler system is installed to ensure the safety of officers and inmates. Discontinue the ordering/issuing of ineffective cleaning solutions. Close housing units either permanently or until mold is removed.
ISSUE #5. Mistreatment of prisoners by way of discrimination, racial profiling, bullying and intimidation. Inmates of color are belittled and degraded for their hairstyles, skin color, religion (those who are not Christian or Catholics) etc.
RESOLUTION #5. Due to lack of diversity within the communities of the U.P. URF’s staff has little to no personal experience communicating/interacting with inmates (Blacks & Latino) who are not of Caucasian descent. Officers should be mandated to attend classes which teach educate, understanding of ethnic groups and due to fast growing Latino population all officers should be required to speak and read spanish. More importantly ALL MDOC STAFF should be required to wear body cameras (which also contain audio) AT ALL HOURS of WORK to ensure the safety of both officers and inmates alike. This modern day technology can be easily afforded by the PBF (prisoners benefit fund) to make sure Joe public isn’t footing the bill. The pilot program should and needs to be implemented here at URF.
ISSUE #6. Failing to transfer prisoners (whose custody level hasn’t decreased nor increased) within a reasonable timeframe making inmates serve excessive amounts of years here at URF. URF staff continues to spread propaganda in regards to “their criteria” ( a prisoner must serve at least 2 years URF with 1 year misconduct free) “which inmates must meet in order to obtain a transfer”. On the contrary a plethora of prisoners have been misconduct free for several years however, they have yet to be transferred.
RESOLUTION #6. We the prisoners are fully aware we’re not entitled to transfer but 3, 4, 5 years etc. at this facility is absurd. NOTE: At every facility in the state (except for URF) inmates are transferred rapidly to ensure inmates and officers don’t become “over familiar” with one another and so that inmates don’t become over familiar with the landscape of the facility itself. We level 2 prisoners who have served 2 years or better at this facility should be transferred immediately as a small token of relief.
ISSUE #7. Unfair working conditions and forced labor citing “Institutional Need” but not clearly defining institutional need.
RESOLUTION #7. Institutional Need was first used as away to keep certain jobs filled which are detrimental to the operations of a prison. Now Institutional Need has become a fancy way of saying and implementing “forced labor”. If a prisoner refuses to work he faces disciplinary action, some inmates are even forced to work 7 days a week (laundry porters, showers porters etc.). There are over 1,000 prisoners housed at URF (not including inmates housed in level 1 and level 4) more than enough to employ ( of their own free will) so that every working inmate is able to enjoy and utilize his off days as he sees fit. We would like to say there needs to be a change at this facility. Things here are out of control with the staff and either the warden doesn’t care or continues to turn a blind eye. Resolution by way of block rep. meetings are a joke to say the least and the staff members who attends these meetings interfere so much with what should happen that nothing ends up happening, so in short we are being bullied out of a better way of living. There needs to be an audit and we would like to see what’s happening with the money and if it is here why aren’t we being allowed to spend it for betterment of the prisoners at the facility. We are asking Lansing to step in and at least come to speak with the inmates at the facility privately and I’m sure you will find that the things we have written are not false or made up out of imagination or anger.
- We are subject to attack because we have now chosen to stand up to the powers that be. Please understand that we have not chosen a violent path, just one of understanding, so if anything happens to us it will be because of this letter…
Edward Walton #517281
Edward Combs #285318
Eric Woods # 342158
- Please find enclosed signatures of inmates housed at Chippewa Correctional Facility.