Michigan’s Kinross Prison Strike: Reflections from Inside is an exclusive archive of audio interviews with people currently incarcerated in Michigan who witnessed and lived through the historic September 2016 prison strike. It is a collaboration between our comrades inside, MAPS, and Rustbelt Abolition Radio.
The September 9 strike sparked by workers incarcerated at Kinross was part of a series of nationwide actions organized by both folks within and outside prison walls, including with groups such as the Free Alabama Movement, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the Industrial Workers of the World, various Anarchist Black Cross chapters, Critical Resistance, and the National Lawyers Guild, amongst others. According to estimates from IWOC in their zine The Fire Inside, as many as 46 facilities nationwide were locked down as a result of the strikes.
As we describe elsewhere, and as we hear in the following reflections from comrades inside, the spark that lit the match of the actions at Kinross were the wholly unlivable conditions. There had already been a series of peaceful collective actions earlier in the year, but prison officials refused to hear, much less address, pressing grievances. Their only response was to retaliate and, true to form, the retaliation for the events of September 2016 at Kinross has been violent, arbitrary, corrupt, and prolonged on the largest scale in recent memory.
A year after the Kinross strike and uprising, we invite you to listen to the reflections of those inside who, like correspondents in war, give us dispatches from the frontlines at substantial personal risk. As you will hear in these interviews not even the smallest changes have been made to the unlivable conditions at Kinross. What’s worse is that according to those imprisoned by the state, the overcrowding, racism, real wages, prices of necessities, health care, and food all continue to worsen. This reminds us that fascism is already here; it lives on in our prisons, and to resist also means to build a world without them.
Live ammunition on the grounds
Fred Williams is a poet, emancipatory educator and abolitionist correspondent imprisoned at Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility. His dispatch covers the poor systemic conditions that those inside face at the hands of the Michigan Department of Corrections, and particularly in the newly re-opened and renamed Kinross prison. Last September, increasing frustration led to a work stoppage and then a spontaneous march, when the facility declined to provide full meals in the face of the stoppage. Fred describes how the administrative staff told strikers that “some of your demands can only be granted by suits in Lansing,” before housing unit officers fled their posts for the control center and the emergency response team entered the grounds with live ammunition.
Click here to reveal the transcript of this segment.
“If I recollect what happened at that time, it was a time of frustration and intolerance due to living conditions at the facility. Our pay wages being incongruent with commissary prices and food services being utterly disrespectful with the way that they serve and portions being too small and quality being not so good and living spaces being over congested and crowded and ventilation, in our unprofessional views, being still not up to code. It wasn’t a coincidence that everyone was being diagnosed with pneumonia and upper respiratory issues and fluid on their lungs. People who’ve never had these issues before, including myself, had once arriving to this place. So what I understand, is some guys decided not to show up to work, to do a work strike. In order to try to come to the table to reach some sort of agreement with administration. So they decided that no one would go to work on a specific day and they followed through. So the facility was locked down due to no one reporting to work. So the facility was locked down, but no one reporting for work, the private entity of the food services had to work, because of course they had no prisoners to work for them. So their idea was to punish everyone by feeding us peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner. You know, if you consider feeding a grown man a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a handful of cookies for dinner, at six o’clock in the evening, I don’t know what grown man wouldn’t be a little upset with that.
And so that carried on for a day and a half and frustration amongst the prison population was increasing. You know guys were getting really frustrated, you know because first of all, the idea of not going to work, of the work strike, thinking it would induce some conversation, some discussion amongst the administration wasn’t working. The only thing that was coming up was that people were being fed even worse than before. So on the following morning, I can’t remember the date, but on the following morning, when guys were fed on the 10th, were fed two slices of bread, two slices of cheese, a banana, and I believe, two cookies. And that was the breaking point.
And so spontaneously, guys decided they weren’t going to go into their housing, leaving from breakfast, leaving from the chow hall that morning. They decided they were going to stand out and protest. Protest the food, protest health services, protest the ventilation, protest the living conditions overall. So these few guys stood outside, walking in circles protesting, chanting, equal work, equal pay chanting and they were also calling for other guys inside the housing units to come stand with them in solidarity.
And it worked. Slowly but surely, guys just start pouring out of their units going outside, walking into the circle. There’s a common area outside all the housing units and prisoners aren’t usually allowed to circulate this entire common area unless you have a detail to go to a health service or control center or school building or big yard.
But these guys took it upon themselves to disregard all rules and policies and they walked in circles in the common area chanting and the crowd kept growing larger and larger and larger. Until the point where when I looked out the window, it looked like maybe 5-600 guys out there. And at one point they basically stormed the control center. It seemed like it was like 250 guys in the control center and some administration staff had went outside to talk to the guys and the prisoners were really hostile at that point because they feel like their voices weren’t being heard no matter of how peaceful they made their requests for changes. For instance, some small changes, like the visiting room, prior to that date, you would have to sit across from your family member instead of next to your family member or loved one. So small things like that that could have been changed here within the administration, weren’t even being heard or considered. And so they were frustrated. They began yelling at administration and threats.
So ERT, emergency response team was called in. You’ll have a small ERT team that could come eradicate a small crowd, a small riot, a small fight, but the magnitude of this crowd, required much more, and so they called ERT. ERT members came from all over the state and so it took a while for them to get that team together. It took four or five hours and from what I understand, this is the first or second time the government allowed for live ammunition to enter onto the prison compound in Michigan.
So I would say, four or five hours, because they had blew the emergency count, the emergency count is a institutional horn that everyone knows, right, once you hear that emergency count, it means get to your room, lock down, get on your bunk so you can be counted. And this is a horn that everyone adheres to, kinda like a fire alarm, when you know to exit the building. When you hear this emergency count horn, it means enter the building. and everyone ignored it. I told you all rules and policies went out the door like all consequences for breaking any rules or policies were not adhered to. And I noticed that once the ERT was about to come through the door of the control center to enter the compound, you know, The prison population that was out there protesting, they strategically closed off the entrance so that the ERT couldn’t enter into the facility to disperse the crowd. And then I noticed that once the administration noticed what the prisoners were doing, they rerouted the ERT to the side, and once the prisoners noticed that, they blocked the side. So they had the front entrance and the side entrance. It’s like a game of chess, you know, you move, we move, you move, we move. And in that game of chess, the administration came out and talked, and they said “ we’re gonna try to make these changes, we’re gonna try to make these changes, we’re gonna listen to you, we’re gonna allow block reps from your housing units to come talk to us, and we’re gonna sit down and discuss some of these things, and we’re gonna fix this and we’re gonna fix that, and some of your demands can only be met by suits in Lansing, or can only be denied or granted by suits in Lansing.” So they were saying it was unpractical for those guys to expect the administration to make those changes. So you know, the language that they used was enough to quell the rebellious spirit for that moment. So they told those guys, if you go lock in, if you go lock down and be counted so we can make sure no one escaped or anything then, we’ll get you guys hot meals, we’ll get you good food, and we’ll start discussing these issues.
It was a trick. Those guys went in and locked down and was counted, and then something that never happened before happened. All of the officers who worked in each housing unit fled the building. Once every prisoner was on their bunk to be counted, all the officers of each housing unit left and ran to the control center. So at that point, all the prisoners were like, “ah, armageddon…” like what was going on.
At that point, no one knew what was gonna happen, so everyone just started running crazy. Some people were already intoxicated because you know they had been drinking and smoking that day, because, like I said, all rules and policies were out the door. Like guys were walking around brandishing weapons, you know, in preparation to defend themselves against ERT. Man..
Once there were no officers in the housing units, guys just ran rampant. With breaking into the counseling office, stealing files, setting things on fire, throwing washing machines and dryers out the window, snatching sinks and toilets from the wall and breaking cameras and breaking windows. Yah it was mayhem, it was mayhem for a moment. Until you heard, “They got guns, they got guns, they got guns”, you heard guys screaming looking out the windows. “They got guns, everybody get down, they got guns!” Then the texture of the atmosphere, it took a whole different texture. Like the intensity increased by the thousands, right, like because in your mind frame, all the regular officers are gone. No one, guys who’ve been down in prisons 20-30 years in Michigan have never seen before. So who knows what kind of response they’ll have. We knowin at this point, that prisoners have been murdered by COs and knowing that suicide like that prisoners is murdered and that’s labeled as suicide. Who knows what they have the capacity to do. So when you hear guys say they have AR-15s and they have shotguns, and they have 40 cals (?), you’re like, “this knife isn’t gonna do anything now.” It’s a different level.
So once they got into the units, well first of all, guys was jumping out of the windows, because of smoke. You know guys was trying to evade(?) smoking ventilation, they jumped out of windows. It was wild for a minute, if I could just go back and capture a moment. The moment in between the regular officers leaving and the ERT officers arriving. That moment in time, that frame of time, it was a wild time because you had prisoners going into the officers closets taking their coats and utility belts walking around pretending they’re officers, you know, just bein silly. Setting things on fire, and breaking everything, destroying everything within site.
Then the ERT came and they came in, “Get down, everyone get down, get on your bunks, get on your bunks” and you see red beams on the guy next to you’s forehead, and the guy next to you telling you there’s a red beam on your forehead.
Well they pepper sprayed and then they began handcuffing people and taking people outside and laying them down in the rain. It had started raining, it got really cold. So yeah they had just started handcuffing people and putting zip ties on people’s arms and taking them outside and laying down in the rain, freezing cold rain, without coats. And they began putting people on the bus by the hundreds and shipping them off to level 5 facility segregation and then charged them with incite to riot and failure to disperse and so on.
Like I had seen guys who had been taking away who actually did not participate in the protest or the rebellion or the uprising or the riot, however you choose to phrase it. You had seen guys who literally got on their bunks and stayed on their bunks and didn’t participate whatsoever and were shipped away. So you’re on edge, right? You don’t’ know if you’re going to be shipped away to level four or five and sent to segregation. And even when they were letting off shots, the pepper spray shots right, there was a red dot on your head. Once you hear those shots go off, you know guys are diving on the floor, guys are hiding behind lockers because they’re yelling with such frustration and intolerance in their voice, you peek out in the hallway and you see a guy hunched over a chair with a rifle, an AR-15 pointed at you, you really didn’t’ know what was going to happen, you know? You really didn’t know what was going to happen. How far it was going to go.
For some guys, i’d say most guys who were left behind were happy to be left behind. But a days after and weeks after, there were still guys being snatched away and sent off to level 5 and segregation, never to be heard from again. There are guys who still are in segregation and all those level 5 facilities as a result of that day. The one thing I can say that changed from it, was the visiting room seating arrangement. Now you are able to sit next to your loved ones when you going to visit. But I don’t see any other changes. I don’t see any other changes.
I don’t’ know sometimes I think about the fact that I heard that more facilities within the state were supposed to protest in the same way, at the same time, so I imagine, in theory, had that occurred, like I just imagine how, it’s hard to imagine how the state could have responded you know with having to employ so much manpower and resources to this one facility at that time. Can you imagine 10, 12, 15 facilities on fire, with prisoners jumpin out of windows and refusing to lock down and refusing to be counted and lootin, you know because there was a point where guys were looting the guard from what I understand they were really close breaking in and looting the chow hall and at a point at this facility during the protest, you can clearly see that the prisoners had taken control, that emergency count and the threats they were yelling over the bullhorn to go lock down, didn’t work. Guys did not go in and lock down. At one point, where they were denying ERT entrance — even entrance into the facility– the administration didn’t have control at that point. You know, I don’t’ know man, but it would be interesting, you know I think the federal government would have to come in or something.”
Impact of outside support
Abolitionist intellectual Harold Gonzales is currently imprisoned at Baraga Maximum Security Correctional Facility. Like several hundred others, he was hit with an “incite to riot or strike” ticket in the aftermath of events of September 2016 at Kinross Correctional Facility. We spoke with Harold after he spent nearly eight months in solitary confinement (which the Michigan Department of Corrections euphemistically calls “administrative segregation”). As you will hear, Harold was released from the hole thanks to a call-in campaign by outside supporters.
Click here to reveal the transcript of this segment.
“It’s basically protesting the treatment that we’re suffering in the hands of the MIchigan Department of Corrections: long term segregation, the STG program, long indeterminate sentences, sentencing guidelines.
Some kind of way, I was made the de-facto spokesperson for the inmate population. That came about by, you know, I don’t know how much people know about a riot in prison, but it’s probably one of the most scariest things you’ll ever be involved in.
There were a lot of people who didn’t want to be out there, but when a prison goes crazy, you pretty much go with the flow or you get rolled over basically. So a lot of people participated out of fear. You know, inmates were angry and upset and they wanted support and they were gonna get it. You were gonna support and you was either gonna be with ‘em or you weren’t. So a lot of people ended up out there who didn’t really want to be out there. They came to me and asked me, well, it really gotten out of control, even for the people who planned the riot, it had got out of control. They wanted it to be a protest, well not a riot, I’m gonna quit calling it a riot. They planned a protest, and they wanted it to be peaceful, and on an intellectual and open an intellectual dialogue with the administration to better the conditions and it worked. Because prior to that, the day before that, we had done a work stoppage where nobody went to work and that alerted the administration. But the administration, I guess I can say, they were compliant, because at that time, they hadn’t wrote anybody any tickets or nothing and they were willing to communicate but what as far as like the warden goes. But the officers and the staff there had a different opinion about it. They were upset about it and they started getting abusive. They started mistreating us and malnourishing us. Feeding us spoiled food and things like that, which incited the inmates to get angry, which incited a whole nother set of inmates, an aggressive set of inmates. Which really sparked off the 9/10/16 incident, where they just rebelled and came out on the yard and wanted to hold the protest out on the yard. And subsequently the aggressive inmates got a lot of them guys out there through fear.
The guys who were out there, the leaders, the guys who planned the protest and the guys who were scared, asked me, would I be the spokesperson for the inmate population with the administration? I told them I would do it, but first I have to talk to the aggressive inmates because I didn’t want this to turn ugly. So if the aggressive inmates agreed to tone it down or whatever or go with whatever we come up with through this dialogue with the administration, if they agreed to go with it, then I would do it. The aggressive inmates allowed me to speak their truth. I talked to the warden, who asked me if I could get everyone to go in and then he would call me up there along with the unit representatives to discuss the issues or whatever. I did that, I went and got everyone to go in. I went to the control center and I talked to the Warden. We actually had a good conversation. He was pliable, well at least on the surface he was pliable. And then after the meeting was over, they sent me back to the unit.
Everybody was in their cells, everybody was calm, everybody was on they bunks cause it was a count situation, so everybody was on their bunks. Nobody was loud or boisterous or whatever, everybody was complaint. I went around and I was walkin’ around the block to tell everybody what the discussion was. And next thing you know, they sent in the ERT team, the emergency response team, which precipitated a lot of guys who hadn’t been involved in this type of stuff before or ever seen this type of stuff before, took that as an aggressive move. They didn’t really understand what they were doing or whatever. They ran in with guns, helmets, pads, shields. Just on the compound not into the units initially, but they ran onto the compounds, running towards units. Guys panicked and that’s when they kinda like lost it.
But the emergency response teams did just as much damage as the inmates did, when they did come in the units. But they blamed that on the inmates, too. But finally, they gassed us repeatedly, over and over again, even when nobody wasn’t doing anything. But finally, when they got us to walk outside the unit, put us in cuffs, put us on busses and rode us to different facilities.
— Music —
I was among inmates who went to Marquette Maximum Security Facility. They opened up a condemned block, put 102 of us in a condemned block, in a block that had previously been condemned for four years. It was filthy. It was pretty much, I’ll just let you imagine, they tell you what the conditions were like. There, I stayed there, well at the onset of that, two days after we were there, they came and got me and separated me from the rest of the inmates. They put me in another block called E Block, and told me that I was, I guess, I was being dubbed the leader of the riot or whatever.
They didn’t bring me my property or give me a property receipt when I requested you know my property receipt. My property, they told me, didn’t have any property for me. So I didn’t have any hygiene or anything like that. When I asked and requested for hygiene and things like that, the sergeant actually came to my cell cause I had to write a grievance to try to get some hygiene, a sergeant actually came to my cell and told me, “You’re the leader of the riot, you don’t have anything coming.”
I stayed there 27 days without any of that stuff. They sent me and 88 more prisoners, they sent us to Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility, here, where I still reside now. They still separated me from the rest of the inmates. They shut down a whole block, a GP block, and made it a segregation block, but they didn’t allow me over there, they put me in another segregation block.
When I first got over there, the first thing the officer told the other officers and warden, cause he was there I guess to talk to me or whatever, was that I was the leader of the riot. He called me into his office, he heard I was the leader of the riot and I shouldn’t expect anything while I’m here. They put me in a cell, they gave me a sheet, one sheet. For twelve days I was in a room with one sheet. I had to write a grievance to get blankets, towels, washcloths, to be able to go to the store. They denied me store for 47 days, so I couldn’t buy cosmetics or anything like that. They didn’t give me any clothes except for one jumpsuit for like the whole 47 days. I didn’t have but one jumpsuit. I didn’t have any laundry bags, so I couldn’t turn in laundry.
Initially, I followed the process, I wrote grievances on everything, and that’s the process they have me do for anything I want while I’ve been here. Even if I’m supposed to have it, they make me have to write a grievance. I have to go all the way through the grievance process, which can take up to 30 days to find some kind of resolution. But they can play with me the whole 30 days. They can deny me whatever it was. Basically that’s what they do to me now.
I still haven’t gotten my property. My property is still missing. I followed the steps and I wrote to the Office of Legal Affairs and sent them my receipt – the receipts that I had. They’ve got a record of everything you’ve ordered anyway on the computer. I asked them to just look at everything I was supposed to have in my property on the computer and that was six months ago and I haven’t heard anything from them. I hear now that it probably going to take 2 years for them to be able to reimburse me for any of that.
Since being here at this facility, they didn’t want to let me out of the hole. I guess on May 1st Lansing had said they were going to let all the Kinross prisoners out of the hole, they didn’t want to let me out of the hole. I had to actually have people actually call up here and it worked. They basically came up here and told me that because people called up here they’re going to let me out with the rest of the inmates.
I was called down the counselor’s office, and I went to see what’s called the SCC board. The SCC board is basic security classification board and they decide the security classification here. I had went down at the previously to them on a monday and they told me I wasn’t getting out of the hole. They called me back on a Friday, which is unusual, but they called me back and told me, the Deputy Warden and the Lieutenant, told me that they were going to let me out. This is the exact words, they said, “I’m quite sure that we’re going to let all the people out from Kinross, and we’re quite sure you know that, because of the amount of calls we’ve been getting about you, we’re going to let you out” and he said if it was up to him, he wouldn’t be letting me out, but he’s gonna let me out.
And this was the thing, they said they were going to let me out, but it might take a couple days because they had to prepare for me. I didn’t know what that meant. I finally found out on May 1st, when they decided to let me out. They came to my cell and told me I was getting out, but the counselor, the ARUS, assistant regular unit supervisor, He brought me a piece of paper, and told me I had to sign this piece of paper to get out of the hole. So I told him, “Let me read this piece of paper.” I looked at the piece of paper and the paper was telling me, saying that I willingly give up my rights to regular movement to be placed in what they called an integration block. If you want to put me in an integration block, why do I have to sign and agree to be put on the integration block? What if I don’t want to be on an integration block? He told me it was the only way I was going to be out of the hole. It’s an unusual practice and it’s not supposed to happen. Integration block is for people who’s seeking protective custody.
You should never mix the general population prisoners with the protective custody prisoners. But you covering yourself, by have us sign this piece of paper like we signing for protective custody. But he told me I wouldn’t be able to get out of the hole unless I signed the paper. I attempted to sign the paper. I’m signing the paper under duress just to get out of the hole and he told me I couldn’t do that. But I had him write on the paper in shorthand or whatever that the prisoner is requesting to be put on a general population block as soon as possible. Then when they put me on the little protective custody block, I immediately wrote a grievance, I wrote a kite saying I want to get off and I immediately wrote a grievance saying that I wanted to get off. That they shouldn’t have put me on a protective custody block with protective custody prisoners against my will. It’s a dangerous practice for them to do, but these are the types of things they do.
They play with policies and procedures to the point where they can cover themselves when they do this kind of thing. They crafty monsters we’re living with. Really, basically, with the inmate population, the Kinross prisoners got more respect for standing up to the bad rights of the prisons. So really, it didn’t work. They scheme didn’t work. I was respected, I’m respected and I’m even looked up to. But these are the types of the games they play with me.
They bring you your meals, in level 5, they bring you all your meals. They bring them to you on a cart on a tray. They bust the slot and give you your meals through the slot. When I first got over here, one of the officers in this league told me, “Oh yah, they had to let you out, but let’s see how you like your meals from now on.”
What’s really like made me scared to eat. I mean to live up under a condition, where you’re at the mercy of those who have no mercy in you. I have no mercy in them, it’s like a terrifying thing. I mean like everyday, your anxiety is at an all time high, because you don’t know what they’re going to come with next. I mean just from the compilation of things I’ve went through since the incident: the retaliatory behavior and the discriminatory harassment that I’ve been subjected to is while physically, I mean, I’m not harmed, other than I’m scared to eat. I won’t eat.
Mental and emotional trauma that you go through in this type of situation, I mean, can become overwhelming. I’m pretty much a pragmatic and analytical guy and I try even with myself, I try to see the results of what they do to me. How it’s affected my mental health. I actually sit back and try, it’s crazy, kind of dichotomy because I’m actually trying to rationalize and self treat myself on the things that this thing is doin to me and I mean like it’s overwhelming. It’s like a little too much, you know what I’m saying. But come rough or smooth, surely I must bear it. I mean like what else can I do? But I know it’s having effects on me, like I know me, you know what I mean?
I’m sayin, I know how I used to think, I know how I used to correlate with people and things like that, and it’s causing me to become really anti-social, to be angry. And I’m talking about I got so much knowledge, I’m like it’s not even anger no more as rage because like you feel powerless, you can’t do anything and you’re a man, you know what I’m saying? And you’re a man and you know as a man, you know you want to be able to depend on yourself to be able to come through on whatever situation. And they hold goals to render you impotent to make you feel, to not just render you impotent but to make you feel less than a man, you know what I’m saying? That’s just on the regular inmates. That’s without all these other circumstances there. But when they really trying to put their foot down, when they’re really trying to imprint that on you, when they believe you’re rebellious or whatever they go through all kind of scurvy means to brake you and that’s basically the best word I can use. They trying to break me right now.
For an inmate who never really wanted to be involved in this in the first place, you know what I’m saying. I didn’t really have anything to do with the planning of any of it and I actually ended it, peacefully, to be dubbed as a malicious radical or whatever. I’m treated like a terrorist and with the current way our government propaganda is being put out there. I mean the fact that it’s acceptable, I mean you can see it in here, you can see the effect of trump propaganda. The nationalist, the autocracy mentality, you can see how it’s affecting, it’s literally affecting the minds of the staff here to where they feel like now they have every right to it. Now they covered.”
Segregation is the soul breaker
Ahjamu Baruti is a political prisoner currently incarcerated at St. Louis Correctional Facility. He values study, analysis, and writing. His article “Psychological warfare in prison: Segregation is the soul breaker” was published in The San Francisco Bay View while he spent nine months in solitary confinement–including two months in an observation cell–in the wake of the events at Kinross Correctional Facility in September 2016. He was transferred out of Kinross after being hit with an “incite to riot or strike” ticket.
Click here to reveal the transcript of this segment.
“What went down last year, it was called for a national prisoner work stoppage. All that went down was the brothers at the facility, they didn’t report to work to show solidarity and unity and paying attention to the problems that was up there: the food, they had bad ventilation, people was getting sick from the ventilation, racism over there. It was overcrowded because they put us in a facility that was supposed to only hold 800 people, but there was 1200 people there. So it was overcrowded there and that caused the conditions.
So we was trying to bring attention to the conditions. So after, it was a friendly protest, it was no violence or nothing, and then the administration retaliation, they came back and locked over 600 prisoners up in that administrative segregation for eight months. The prisoners was charged with rioting and incite to riot. And most everybody was found guilty of that and our security level was raised up to a level four. And I’m told now that we gotta stay in this level four closed custody until about six months and then we’ll be returned back to our original custody, level 2, medium after about six months here. All this is retaliation.
Normally, I’m a level four at St. Louis Correctional Facility now, and I don’t think it’s changed. Did anything come out of that protest? I don’t think so because it still hasn’t changed. The food is worse here, you really get less portions of food here. The whole thing is about control: control your movement, control of what you received in here. Because I just received a paper from the San Francisco black national paper and they were talking about the Million Prisoner March that just happened August 19th, in Washington D.C. about the human rights and they rejected it. And I asked the counselor about why did you reject it, is that advocating violence? And she just said because it’s speaking about human rights and the conditions of prisoners here. So any time you talk about prisoner conditions, they don’t want the prisons to hear that, they don’t want that kind of news to come in here. The conditions haven’t changed.
When the incident happened, they rounded all of us up and took us down. They had opened a prison, they had opened another prison that had been closed for several years. It was North Side Prison, it had been closed. They opened that prison just to hold over about 100 prisoners from Kinross. They put them in there, because they had nowhere to put them.
They had to cut the water on, and when the water came out, it came out dark orange cause they’d been off. And the conditions were real, it was beyond human living, because there was so much dirt and filth in those cells. They put us in there for about three or four days and after that, they moved us to door stack quarantine and we had to stay there for about three weeks.
Then everybody was transferred to Oaks Correctional Facility administration segregation. And once we was put there, I was placed in observation cell for about two months. I was there firstly. There was two cells that had a camera in there, and you can’t flush the toilet, you gotta flush when an officer announce that. They said I was only put in there, because they had no other cells to put me in. But that kinda sounds kind of strange though. They put me in there for two months.
The food condition was worse. We sometimes get less food. It was really about psychological control. I seen guys getting gassed in the hole in there because they was protesting about the food, about the condition of food and they was holding their trays, they was setting themselves up to be gassed as a response there was six guys that came to gas them and took their trays. It was really about psychological warfare in the hole. You know I was just blessed to last. When I was in the hole, I stayed in administrative segregation for eight months and then I was finally released with the help of MAPS and different organizations protesting about us being in the hole by cruel and unusual punishment. It was torture.
I was transferred from Coldwater Facility (Lakeland Facility) up to Kinross. I don’t know why I was transferred up there. They just said I was transferred because they needed me upstate. And then once I was transferred to kinross it was another facility. They closed the original Kinross and opened another prison, Hiawatha, and made that out of Kinross. They made Hiawatha out of Kinross, but it’s smaller than the original Kinross.
That facility [Hiawatha] was only originally meant to hold 600-800 prisoners, but once they transferred us back over there, there was 1200 prisoners and it was overcrowded. You see we was living in a condition a cube area where 8 men were living in a cube area, a size of a large bedroom. We had 8 men sleeping in there and we had poor ventilation. And there was no fire alarm system in there. It was overcrowded. And that’s what caused the condition. And we were getting less yard up there. Sometimes we only get a half hour yard because there were over 1200 prisoners and it takes all day to run chow. So we getting less chow and guys was getting sick from the ventilation because they had just opened that prison up to move us there.
And once they opened the ventilation up, the air that was coming through and getting in people’s lungs and it was getting people sick. I know because a guy in my unit, there had to be four or five guys, they had to rush them to the hospital and messed up their cardiovascular system, because it got in their lungs. But once he got back, I forgot the brothers name, but once he got back, they had to put him on medication. Because it got into his lungs so bad, and he’d cough short of breath. It messed with his system so bad. So he had to get out and walk, and he’d walk one lap and he would get so tired he had to sit down. And this was a young brother, he had to be about 29 years old. So he was supposedly getting into contact with a lawyer and trying to get a lawsuit behind that.
But I’m just saying, we shouldn’t have been able to be put in that condition. Because if the prison hasn’t already been open, we shouldn’t have to live in that condition. Because we were all put in a position to get sick. But they put us there anyway. I hope that all that awareness and consciousness to the fellow prisoners here. We let them know that the prison system is nothing but a big business, and we the commodity. I hope it brought political awareness to the prisoners, especially the young prisoners coming in.
Where I’m at now, St.Louis Facility, is nothing but young brothers here. The average age here of where I’m at now is between 18 and 32 years old. And they have no political consciousness at all. They don’t know how the prison system is the 13th amendment says slavery is not permissible unless you’ve been convicted of a crime. We’ve all been convicted of a crime, so it means slavery is permissible. Prison is the new slavery. Brothers got to understand the conditions that we in and they gotta get political awareness, that prison is nothing but a big business. That’s all it is. They don’t care about our welfare.
And we susceptible to racism because most prisons are built in rural areas. And most prisoners that [are] confined in these prisons are from the inner cities. So you have interacted with these prison guards are mostly white, so they don’t know how to deal with a black, so that’s where the racism comes in. We are in a psychological warfare. Because what they want to do is destroy our minds. In other words if you’ve got the mind, you’ve got the body. The bible says, “ as a man thinketh, the man becometh” If you control a man’s thoughts, you don’t have to worry about his actions. And we in a psychological warfare so brothers got to start getting a political consciousness they gotta read, they gotta read, and broaden our awareness. Solidarity and love out there to everyone.”
Lacking nutritious food behind bars
Jake Klemp is a vegan who went on hunger strike to bring public attention to the lack of nutritious food behind bars, particularly for those with spiritual and cultural practices outside the prerogatives of privatized food service providers. His dispatch comes from inside the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility, where he spent nearly eight months in solitary confinement. Along with several hundred others, he was swept up in the aftermath of the events at Kinross Correctional Facility in September 2016 and hit with an “incite to riot or strike” ticket. In this segment, he describes some of the retaliation he and others faced, such as denial of his required medication.
Click here to reveal the transcript of this segment.
“When I got transferred to this prison here, I’d been on some medication called Soriatane for the last six years. They didn’t give me my meds for almost two weeks, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal other than the fact that I was right in the middle of a severe breakout. The skin condition I have is similar to psoriasis, but it’s not the same thing. What I have directly affects my central nervous system, so when I have a breakout, I can’t really move without being in extreme pain. This happened to me while I was in Ad Seg. It was 10 days that they didn’t give me my medication that they’re supposed to give me everyday, and I had to make a lot of noise about it to get it back. And they’re telling me that I lied. But that’s just one, that’s my issue. I would rather talk about the stuff that’s going on now with all these other guys.
One thing you know, property issues man! They put five hundred guys, it might be closer to six or seven hundred guys, in administrative segregation from Kinross. And me personally, I lost over $300 dollars worth of property. And I don’t know what the other guys; I know that if I lost $300 dollars worth, at least the other guys that were caught up in it, if you do the math and average it out, I’d say 500 people on average losing a hundred dollars apiece. What’s the math on that, $50,000 dollars? And I filed a grievance on that, which well actually I filed a property loss claim over 6 months ago, and they still haven’t gotten back to me. I had my sister call the Lansing office trying to get some information, and the guy she talked to was telling her she was a liar, and was just being extremely disrespectful to the point where she got so frustrated that she had to hang up.
Another thing going on, we’ve been here for 9 months now, at Baraga, Level 5. Granted they turned it into general population a month ago, but so what? We’re still in a Level 5, you’re still locked down 23 hours a day. You still only get to the showers 5 days a week, you still don’t get contact visits with your family. Most of the guys up here are 11, 12 hours away from their people. So if their family wants to visit, they gotta spend all this money for traveling, lodging, and then it’s for a 2 hour visit behind glass. And they’re not giving us any specific timeframe of when we’re gonna be able to make it back to a Level 4. So you’ve got these guys here, it’s me and approximately 80 other guys, all kind of caught up in being in a state of limbo. Total uncertainty, and they’re not giving us any answers, and that’s where it’s at. I’m like, why can’t they tell us anything? Everything is getting swept under the rug.
There was this conception that what happened was just about the food. Yeah the food’s a major issue, but that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. You got guys working for slave wages, 17, 20 cents an hour. And then at Kinross, you had 8 guys piled into one cubicle that was approximately 15 by 9 feet. 8 guys. And then you have to put the beds in there, and the lockers too. And then at Kinross, they weren’t allowing us to sit next to our visitors in the visiting room. And by policy, we’re supposed to be able to do that. Every other prison was doing that, and it was just the warden AT Kinross that was making it so we couldn’t sit next to our visitors. And on top of that, they would turn the air conditioning on blast so our visitors would be uncomfortable and not want to stay.
And last week, the morning that this happened, where all the guys went out and were protesting, it was after the work cancellation and food service had been giving us bag lunches going on 3 days. And when I say bag lunches, I mean a couple slices of bread, a couple slices of cheese, and a milk. Or a little bit of peanut butter and jelly that wasn’t even enough to make a sandwich. That morning they did the same thing at breakfast, and then to add insult to injury, they didn’t open yard when they were supposed to. And that was when guys slowly started to trickle out, and march in formation. And they make it sound like it wasn’t what it really was. The officers left their posts. When I talked about my ticket, when I got hurt on my ticket, I told the hearing guy that I was in fear for my life. That the reason that I left the unit, was because guys from other units were coming into the unit and threatening the officers, and the officers weren’t doing anything about it. And the hearing guy said, “Well there’s nothing on video to substantiate your claim.” And that’s just a flat out lie! They escorted one prisoner out of the prison with a big head wound, cuz he refused to participate. So there’s a huge coverup going on. The officers abandoned their posts, and at the end they had SWAT, whatever ERT guys come, and they were blasting tear gas into the units so much that guys were puking and couldn’t breathe. I was lucky enough to be by a window where I had my face up against the screen, but I had to make a conscious effort not to have a panic attack. Because if I took too deep of a breath, I would go into a coughing spasm. And the public is not being made aware of what really happened.
Another thing that people should realize, that all the guys that were at Kinross, they had moved us from a prison that was across the street. Where, across the street, we had the same amount of room that we did at Kinross, with half the amount of people, and it was in a closed room behind a closed door where you had a key. That prison, the prison that we came from, you could fit the entire new Kinross, the entire compound on the backyard of the prison we just came from. So they’re taking, we had all this wide open space to move around, and they were telling us that things would be alright at the new Kinross. Cuz a lot of guys were gonna refuse to go. So they told us that, so we all agreed to go over there peacefully. And some of the units didn’t have hot water for the first couple of weeks. They weren’t giving us bleach to wash our clothes with. And there was a cave-in in one of the units too. The roof to one of the units at the new Kinross caved in. it’s just, the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.”
Interview interrupted by a guard
Baba X-Guy was formerly a leader of the Battle Creek Coalition Against Police Brutality, a liberatory community self-defense formation. A jail rebellion took place after he received conspicuous threats from the KKK in the 1980s, which marred his record within the Michigan Department of Corrections and contributed to harsher retaliation against him after last year’s uprising. Baba is currently imprisoned in St. Louis Correctional Facility, where he was transferred after being hit with an “incite to riot or strike” ticket in the wake of the events of September 2016 at Kinross. We spoke with Baba shortly after he was released from the harsh restriction of administrative segregation — that is, solitary confinement–for nearly one year. Our first interview with him was abruptly cut short by a prison guard, without explanation.
Click here to reveal the transcript of this segment.
“It’s a cheaper way for I guess what you call slavery. They packed us up and moved us across the street to a unit. The units over there, they were only built to hold 600 people, but they had 1200 of us over there. Birds nests and stuff like that was still over there. The feces and everything was still in the air ducts when they moved us over there and about 10 guys went to the hospital within about a week or so because the air was so bad. And of course, you know about the food and the history of the food with the maggots. Me myself, I started coughing up yellow, black substances out of my lungs and stuff. I had to go around with my nose covered up constantly and slept with my nose covered up, you understand.
This is one of the things, you understand, they said they changed so many of they rules, they broke their own rules for one thing. When you supposed to have a visit, you couldn’t’ sit next to your loved ones, you had to just sit across the table, and just look at your children and your wife and everything from across the table. You couldn’t touch them. It was like being punished from behind a glass window. I mean, imagine your children look at you, you understand, and they can’t go around the table and say anything to you, like your dad had some kind of disease or something or what? That was the kind of dehumanizing things that was happening up there.
Like packing on a ship, slave ships, that’s what they call it, “Tight-packing”, back then in the 1800s. It’s the same thing, they doubling, triple, quadruple themselves and we tumbling over each other just trying to get off the bunks. It’s very bad, just went off like a fuse. Just exploded, especially when the call came for september 9th. I can see why the spirit, the spirit back in Attica, we are there. Everything just exploded and went off.
We had protests, we had three or four peaceful protests before then. And they was in the local newspapers, but I guess they covered it up or something. But everyone was trying to protest and tell the administration these conditions suck, and are actually killing us, literally. I think the two protests before then when everyone just came out and said screw it. And then there was another protest about a month or so after we got over there, to the so called new prison. I mean people were literally going to the hospital, breathing the bad air, eating the bad food, and stacked up over each other and I don’t think much of the conditions has changed.
You go to the doctor, a lot of the doctors, my doctor, he’s tellin me, hey you can’t send these guys back because they’re sick, when the inmates came to the hospitals. It’s very bad – sending them back to the premises. They’re giving them false diagnoses and kept continuing on. So some of these guys can hardly walk, but they walked around and demonstrated about the conditions and situations that were going on.
It was so packed and everything was so bad, the air was so bad, the food was so bad, the inhumane attitudes of the COs and administration was uncompromising. They sent block reps up to talk to the people about the conditions. They talked to the people about the conditions and then, next thing you know they come in the middle of the night and chain the block reps up and send them up. They disappeared them, you see.
When you do something like this, and stand up for something like this, you get the harassment, you get all that that goes with it. They took 1,532 days of good time from me, that’s five years. And doing all the shuffling of us around, I lost so many belongings, you know, clothes, shoes, appliances. And the guards are always trying to provoke you or something, you know. I paid $175 to be heard for a rehearing in Lansing and they said I was two days late. So now, I was not allowed to defend myself for these charges.
They finally sent me to Oaks Facility. I lost 63 pounds in six or seven months and I know it had something to do with stressed living without heat. They wouldn’t turn on heat for months. You had to workout to stay warm down there. I had to wait 3 weeks to receive a coat, which I was supposed to have by law. Which kept me from going outside to the cage for my one hour, out of every two or three days a week to work out. And I didn’t get to get outside – because we locked up for the other 23 hours out of the day.
We’re not allowed enough to eat or time to eat or to finish your food. And if you take too long, you’re punished by losing your cage time outside. You allowed about 8-10 minutes a shower, twice a week. You’re allowed to only wear a towel around your body, while you’re being lead like a dog by a belly chain and the guard behind you holding the dog chain on a leash, going down the hallway like that. Then when you write a grievance or somehow, you get disappeared, you get to another place.
After many concerned letters from you all I think, they finally sent me to St.Louis Prison, where I was supposed to go to GP, general population. But upon arrival, some mysterious new lieutenant told them about an incident that happened 21 years ago, in Charlotte county jail where I received three letters from the Ku Klux Klan, saying they going be in my jury waiting to give me 30-50 years and threatening my life, and telling me I would spend my life behind bars. I sent a notarized letter to the attorney general, with no avail, I didn’t get a response from him.
I showed the racist letters to the other inmates in the jail, and after reading the letters, they decided not to lock up in protest. The guards could have used those as intent to see what I wanted to do about the racist letters. But that time, the letters had done their work, you understand, because one of the coalition members, the coalition of police brutality and racism, one of the members got so scared, they were receiving the same kind of threatening notes, three of them in fact, and they turned and pointed a line, testifying against us, the rest of the coalition members. I formed the coalition to end police brutality and racism, back in the early ‘80s after a seven year old boy named Walter McCraig’s eye was shot out by the racist, brutal cops there in Battle Creek.
These two cops, Jeffrey Sholdice and Bruce Harvey, they got caught tossing explosives at my house, and they actually admitted it on the stand that they did it for the morale of the police department. I sued the city for $40,000 and they settled. Anyway so much of that story. That gave the Roms a chance to instead of putting me in general population, they put me in this grad program, a semi-segregation program, which I had visits and limited phone calls. I’m now finally out of that, after 90 day program, which I did 100 days. And I can at least talk to you all, and I thank y’all for your support from all over the world. It means a lot to me.”