Prisons were not institutionalized on such a massive scale by the people. Most people realize that crime is simply the result of a grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth and privilege, a reflection of the present state of property relations. There are no wealthy men on death row, and so few in the general prison population that we can discount them altogether. Imprisonment is an aspect of class struggle from the outset. It is the creation of a closed society which attempts to isolate those individuals who disregard the structures of a hypocritical establishment as well as those who attempt to challenge it on a mass basis. –George Jackson
Over the course of the past few decades the Rustbelt region has witnessed severe changes to its economy. Put simply, an industrial system that provided employment for some, however tenuous or dangerous, to a large extent has disappeared in recognizable form.
Detroit has evolved from the “Arsenal of Democracy” to one of the most poverty-stricken cities in America. This trend has merely continued and taken new forms in recent years. The capitalist imperative towards exploitation ensured that cost cutting measures also cut into livelihoods. Mechanization means unemployment. Free trade agreements like NAFTA helped to facilitate the global migration of factories and other sites of production away from the Rustbelt. Labor unions have faced severe onslaughts and have been unable to mount any far-reaching offensive. The deepening crisis has produced huge numbers of new tenuously or unemployed subjects, people that the capitalist system has deemed disposable.
In the United States prisons have always functioned as the sites where “disposable” populations are dumped. Unemployed, poor, and usually angry, these populations are not only useless to the capitalists: their generalized discontent with the American system poses an existential threat to the maintenance of that system. Therefore, prisons are offered as a “solution” to the violence of capitalism.
They serve as warehouses for these populations of mostly poor, disproportionally black and brown, people. Instead of dealing with the contradictions in capitalism that create these populations, that create “crime”, the state solves these contradictions with prison bars and razor wire.
Today in Michigan the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) warehouses about 41,000 prisoners in 31 prison facilities. It also keeps tabs on about 71,000 probationers and parolees. The MDOC, as managers of this crisis, are inept at best and murderous at worst. According to one inmate, the “prison system… operates as a human warehouse, offering few programming opportunities (none for lifers), whether teaching job skills or rehabilitation, and slave wages of $.84 to $1.14 per day for the limited jobs available.” Considering these conditions, it was inevitable that “the chickens would come home to roost” and prisoners would rise up against the system oppressing them.
In early 2016 prisoners at several facilities across the state staged coordinated boycotts against the horrible food and abusive treatment served out by Trinity Services Group, a private food-services contractor. These protests were massive displays of solidarity: at some facilities upwards of 1,000 prisoners acted together in unity and resistance. The first of these kicked off at Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula where prisoners protested not only the abysmal food situation, but the overcrowded, unhealthy, and inhumane conditions they had endured since the old facility was reopened in the fall of 2015. Kinross prisoners held several more massive unity actions over the course of the year, but administrators at all levels ignored their grievances and conditions only worsened.
Meanwhile, a call to arms circulated from the incarcerated freedom fighters of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). The proposal was a coordinated national prisoner strike, the first of its kind. The national strike was set for September 9th, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising. Prisoners across the mitten state worked diligently to answer the call. On the morning of September 9th, prisoners did not show up to work at four different facilities.
At Kinross, administrators were aware of the planned three-day strike well in advance. They met with block representatives, promised that no prisoners would be penalized for participating, and even instructed prisoners to stay away from work to minimize conflict. However, the non-retaliation did not last. On the morning of the 10th, the scheduled hot breakfast was not served and the yard was kept closed. This unfair, unexpected treatment ignited a fire in prison rebels who gathered another massive protest in the yard to reiterate their demands directly to the warden and deputy warden. The demands addressed low wages, the commutation process, high phone rates, poor and insufficient food, overcrowding, visitor room restrictions, and more. After over four hours of standoff and negotiations, administrators promised to meet some of the demands and to not retaliate against any prisoner for the action. Prisoners agreed to return to their units.
The warden did not keep his promises. After hours of peaceful compliance on the part of the prisoners, suddenly an emergency response team stormed the prison. Over 100 armed police and correctional officers, imported from around the state, proceeded from unit to unit tear gassing compliant prisoners. This set off a riot in other units where equipment and structures were destroyed and prisoners attempted to barricade entrances in self-defense; no one was injured in the riot. That first night, prisoners were handcuffed and thrown in the yard for hours in a rainstorm. Over the next few days, at least 250 prisoners were rounded up, accused of “incite to strike or riot,” and transferred to facilities across the state. Most of their property, including legal documents, clothing, televisions, and other personal belongings acquired with great difficulty over many years, was destroyed or stolen.
After a kangaroo court found over 150 of these prisoners guilty, whether they had anything to do with the events or not, they were sentenced to one to two years of solitary confinement and eventually transferred to Oaks Correctional Facility and Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility where the mistreatment continues. With due process rights violated, their grievances have been routinely rejected and they have had no meaningful appeal process. Even after serving their time in isolation, their security classifications will be raised by several levels which would make many of them ineligible for early parole.
In the weeks following September 9th, three Michigan prisoners died under extremely questionable circumstances. One man died at Kinross in a case of medical neglect, according to fellow inmates. Another man was murdered by prison guards who tased him in the neck three times. This project seeks to amplify the voices of the brave prisoners who continue to fight together in this life or death struggle. As long as prison conditions continue to worsen, the riots will continue.
Letters from Inside:
Image shows a handwritten letter stating the following: “Thing about it was the property receipts were missing numerous items. But if you wanted to get anything you had to sign the slip even though it wasn’t all there. So I kite the property room and they don’t respond. I write a grievance and the response is we don’t have what you claimed is missing, file a complaint form for lost property. In the meantime, after all but a few guys out of 103 get found guilty of the ticket, we start going in to see S.C.C. – Security Classification Committee. We are all being classified to administrative segregation. I’m told I’ll be seen weekly and progress reports will be written. I never saw S.C.C. again and documents were falsified stating that I refused the interviews. That is a blatant lie. There was also paperwork along the lines of mental health stating that I was interviewed and had answered no to a lot of questions. This was also a falsified document.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “…all your encouraging word. I been seeing things and people who no one else sees sense about 7 or 8 years of age. And I been hearing voices around the same time. The voices became violent when I was 10 years old, I became suicidal shortly after. I tried to end my life a few times. I suffer from depression, I’m emotional something I can’t remember what it was. I have trouble sleeping. I told the doctor I been seeing about my condition and this doctor telling me sense I don’t (catch tickets) we can’t go further with my treatment. I told this man about all my personal situation that been going on now and for the last 17 years and all he can say is well Mr. [redacted] since you haven’t hurt yourself or got in trouble your treatment stop at us having a conversation about your problems. Now that sound crazy!! So in so many words I have to hurt myself and cause trouble for the correctional officers for me to get proper treatment. That’s the point I want proper treatment before the worst happen. It’s clear as day they neglecting me proper treatment, so please do me a favor and call my family and let them know when something happens to me that I tried my best to get help be they paid no attention to my cry for help. And thank you for reaching out to (AFSC) on my behalf…”
Image shows a diagram with the title “This is our cell” and depicts a [diagram of rectangular cell, 5 steps by 6 steps, with window, bed, table, sink, toilet, locker, and door drawn]
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “I leave you with the fact in time (if I haven’t already) did you know that on Sept. 9th 1739, after slave master caught a runaway slave and cut his head off in put it on a fence post to scare other slaves from running away, that 20 slaves/freedom fighters led by a African named Jenne broke into the hardware store in S. Carolina and took hundreds of guns and powder and slayed 20 or so of their “masters” gave weapons to the rest of the slaves who killed many of the slave masters? Just a little history about that historic date. I’m quite sure they knew they were going to die but they knew they weren’t living anyway.”
Image shows a letter stating, “Yes, I was involved in the protest at Kinross. I had only been there a short time when everything happened, but I will say that it was long overdue for something like that to occur. The conditions and treatment taking place in the prison system is so outrageous, between the portions of food being served, to the wages paid for long hours of labor, to the long term sentences handed down, to the joke that is the trial system, and to the long term segregation that is handed out for every infraction. The average time spent in segregation for an infraction is 6 months or more for something as small as an infraction as a fight or a D.D.O. (Disobeying a Direct Order). We have read all the studies as to the adverse effects of long term segregation, but we as inmates are living them. The idea of rehabilitation has been completely lost, it’s all about money and continued punishment. You’re punished by being taken from society and your family, then you’re punished by officers who feel it’s their job to punish you. I mean, there is no protection for inmates from officers who truly feel it’s their job to pass down extra sentences on us. The grievance process is a joke, we write grievances about officers and then they are reviewed by other officers who work with the same officers. What sense does that make? The ticket process is also crazy, we have no chance to win. It’s always our word against theirs, and no matter how many of us say one thing the officer’s word is always reliable.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “Once inmates took a stand on that they called in the riot squad. Things were still peaceful at this point, when inmates finally locked down in their housing units understanding that there was going to be no resolution. There riot squad came in harassing inmates shooting us with Pepper Balls, and spraying us with mace. And leaving us hand cuffed on the basketball’s concrete floor for hours on end. A hostile environment was created, and things took a turn for the worse, which I understand was not supposed to take place. They shipped about 300-400 inmates from Kinross to other facility’s placing us all in the hole (segregation). I was among those who were transferred, which 80 of us was sent to (RGC) Jackson’s facility. They entered a guilty plea on my behalf of the incite to riot/protest ticket, which is one of the worst tickets you can catch in prison it runs neck to neck with a homicide ticket. And I clearly stated on record that I was pleading not guilty. But in the retaliation they’ve done to us what they’ve wanted to do. The warden at the prison that I’m being held at (Oaks Correctional Facility) stated to us upon our arrival that he was going to make “a great example out of us boys from Kinross.””
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “I see we are for the struggle. However, my struggle may be much deeper, not only to end just prison and police system… My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system. This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system. Before I say any thing else let me say this, yes I’m one of the protests of Kinross work stoppage that was transferred. The movement you are starting I have been doing for years. I have some of the best solutions to stop more incarceration because I have seen it from the outside and inside. And if you all stand on some of the things you said within your scroll we can support each other struggle.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “The fight inside the belly of this beast is a very strenuous and exhausting process. We continue to fight for the greater good of the whole. We need all the support we can get. And everyone and everything done we appreciate very much. Our fight and justice now has to come through civil suits, for the blatant and disrespect of our rights through the United States Constitution. We are exhausting our administrative remedies, and understand you cannot give us legal support. We are reading and studying ourselves to bring suits in the federal courts. The conspiracy within Oaks administration is just a drop in the bucket compared to the monster roaring across the nation we as a whole are striving to bring down. Everyone knows I’m a freedom fighter you can publicly publish my name. I would like to have my name placed on the list with the others facing retaliation across the country. I fear God, I don’t fear them, fear is there tool of control. Until next time keep us in prayer and vice versa, signing off with no justice, no peace.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “…where I could be for the next 2 or 3 years. Since I’ve been here I have not been allowed to watch TV listen to the radio or so much as read a newspaper to keep up with current events. They just recently started to send my mail out of the facility and most of my family still don’t know where I am. As a result of everything that’s been going I’ve become very depressed and I’ve been placed on mental health and am now being given drugs for depression & anxiety. I’m still not understanding why all of this is being done to me as well as other for what the news said was “a peaceful protest. Now I’m in segregation for rioting and being treated as if I killed someone. Nobody was ever at any risk of being harmed and there were even officers tell me as well as some of the other prisoners to go outside and join the group. But when call on as witnesses denied giving any such orders.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “At the time I was on yard restriction, and today was the first time I was able to talk to or see other inmates in the hole! For the record, “I am completely shut out from the prison population and this warden is not allowing us to use the phone, TV or radio. Nobody in the hole is receiving newspapers so we are also cut off from the media (which is totally against the law and the MDOC policy, but I am trapped in the hole. I have been waiting for a visit.) So there is only so much I can…”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “I’m getting on in my years, I was going to sit this one (sentence) out. In 21 years I only received 3 tickets accumulating good time. Then this riot happened, more out of desperation than anger, to be treated as human beings not like animals in a cage. The Bay Mirror News ? speaks of 2 peaceful demonstrations, and the third (1400 inmates) started out the same way, until the C/O’s overreacted on purpose pressed the despair button into desperate acts of defense frustration or racist dehumanizing practices, overcrowding (8 men in a cube made for 4) not allowing inmates to sit next to love ones, only across the table from each other. Imagine a child looking, coming to hug and a voice over intercom forbidding child to do so? Child looks at Dad wondering if he’s diseased or what? And can’t touch their father? (I’ve heard MDOC changed visits back to normal after riot) and hearing racist statements like don’t let me get the whip back out from you?”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “Hi, I received your letter and thanks for your concern. The problem at Kinross started about 3 or 4 months earlier when we had our first protest. It was only a show of solidarity in which showed the administration that we are together as one. All we did was come outside the housing units stood in front of them for an hour or so, and then before they closed the yard 5 minutes before we all went in together all 8 units at once. Then two months later we did the same as before to show solidarity but this time we boycotted the chow hall for two days and that spread across the state to other facilities. URF-Earth, ARF-Adrian, and a couple others. Kinross’s administration rode out several block reps hoping to break the unity but it didn’t, it only got stronger. And then came the work stoppage. The protest about the Attica killing years ago work stoppage was all over the internet and social media, so all of the department of corrections all over the country knew about it. The warden at Kinross went so far as to give everyone at Kinross 3 days of no week Sept 9, 10, & 11 2016. Sept 9, 2016 was alright the …”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “The 9-9-16 work stoppage was for a good cause. That’s why I took part in it. But on 9-10-16, KCF administration took action and created (CHAOS) utter confusion. Around 4:30 p.m. control center announced 10-19 and every correctional officer took off running form the unit they was working along with the unit log book. Leaving prisoners to fend for themselves. At around 4:40 p.m., the ERT came running from Control Center with extra c/o’s with their guns and sticks towards every unit.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “This was not an out of the blue occurrence. It had been building ever since they moved us from the old KCF. Which was 4Xs as big. The rooms at the old KCF which were 4 man rooms were the same size as the 8 man cubes we were put into. Not to mention the lack of phones. It was just one thing after another. And the new KCF wasn’t even ready to be moved into. Some units went more than a week without hot water. The lockers had no shelves. The bunks had no TV stands. They left the lights on all night. And there were absolutely no advantages to being there. To put it bluntly it was the perfect recipe for disaster. We had even staged a show of unity less than 2 months before this. Everyone stood in front of their perspective units for the last 30 minutes of afternoon yard. It was to let KCF administration know that we were fed up and things had to change. Needless to say this was a long time coming. What they did serving PbNjelly and then cheese…”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “As you may know all the inmates at the, what is now known as Kinross, were transferred as a whole to that facility in the fall of 2015. The “new” facility was abhorrently under the health and safety standards required to open it. When we arrived there was no heat, the plumbing didn’t work, the room and cell furnishings that are required by CFA policies could not be met, i.e. blankets, sheets, wash cloths, towels, etc. The ventilation system when turned on caused 3 people to have to be rushed immediately to the hospital, 26 people total ended up going in time, the chow hall was woefully inadequate to facilitate 1150 inmates, the cable didn’t work and there were not enough outlets for the 8 men required to live in cramped cubes built for 4 men, in fact there were only 2 outlets. There were no shelves for the inmates’ bunks, no curtains, no fans, no sprinkler system for fire safety, we were fed well beneath caloric and nutritional standards! There is more but I will stop here so that this…”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “They shorten me on my food one day. I usually don’t complain but on this day I just thought I’d gamble and ask. I was hungry. He said, “Yeah, I’ll be back.” And he never did. When I confronted him he said, “I forgot.” It’s not that I can’t do without one meal but it is undignified. The audacity of this superior mindset to think I don’t need the food. I’m not important. These are the days I have to humble myself. Because when you challenge them they like to retaliate but because the retaliatory behavior is so petty they don’t bother to investigate. Who’s got the money to sue them? You feel me. So the majority of people overlook it.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “…about. And we were trying to hold someone accountable. When we do it correctly they become vindictive and malicious with their tactics. If I lost everything for the price of the struggle then so be it. A small price. Because only when you lose everything are you free to do anything. Somebody said it best, “without sacrifice it is impossible to progress.” So if I believe in God and know that in my weakness His strength is sufficient for me then I know that I am where I’m supposed to be. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “You are going to get beat up sometimes. You are going to get lied on. You might even get stabbed up. But better to go to heaven with a scarred up body than a scarred up soul.””
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “…the prison system is doing. I am so mad, angry, and frustrated with the prison system, for blaming us for something that they provoked. The administration went to the media and lied to the public about the demonstration, and tried to make it seem like we was the problem. They never told the truth about anything, and for some reason they tried to put the blame on Trinity. A lot of innocent prisoners was caught up in the aftermath, that didn’t have anything to do with the demonstration.”
Image shows a handwritten letter stating, “I’ve come across some people that are clearly mentally ill that are in prison when they should be getting help, I’ve heard some of the best poetry in my life, behind prison walls, I’ve seen fantastic and beautiful art and paintings. I’ve been in the “hole,” dungeons of Maximum Security level 5 prison and have heard beautiful acapella songs sung from the soul, and it seems to me that what is most criminal about prisons is the fact that all of these talents and expressions are caged.”