EAST LANSING, MI –(ENEWSPF)–June 12, 2017. A “solitary is torture” demonstration was held Sunday outside the East Lansing home of Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington amid police presence and curious neighbors. After marching from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, demonstrators from around the state demanded the immediate release of over 70 prisoners being held in solitary confinement, broadcast recordings from prisoners, and spoke with neighbors. One banner read, “Heidi Washington, Stop Torturing Our Friends.”
The demonstration follows the suicide (still under investigation) of a young man on May 2nd at Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, where most of the 70 have been incarcerated. Supporters cited psychological abuse, racist harassment by guards, and withholding of physical and mental health care as among the deplorable conditions endangering the health and lives of the prisoners who have been in isolation for 9 months. Thomas Mackie, the warden of the Oaks facility, and Director Washington were the target of a phone campaign two weeks ago.
Ahjamu Baruti, one of a handful recently transferred out of Oaks after over eight months in isolation, described solitary as “the soul breaker,” noting that “Federal guidelines for laboratory animals require more space be provided for them, along with sensory stimulation and environmental enrichment, than what is afforded prisoners in solitary confinement.”
The group Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS) has archived numerous accounts from people in solitary at Oaks, who complained that authorities have ignored or willfully neglected their pleas for medical attention. Freddy Hardrick wrote, “I had an allergic reaction, my throat had swollen up. I was having a hard time breathing. I pressed the emergency respond button repeatedly trying to get some help…I had fallen on the floor with no assistance or help.” Officers ignored his neighbors’ calls for help until Mr. Hardrick beat on the door. Another young man, suffering hallucinations and suicidal ideation without his usual medications, was told by Oaks medical staff that since he hadn’t hurt himself he wouldn’t receive medications. He wrote, “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.”
The United Nations deems solitary confinement torture, especially for those with mental illness. In FY 2007-2008, the daily average number of people held in solitary in Michigan was 1,294. Michigan ranks last out of all 50 states for rates of Black men held in solitary versus general population.
The prisoners came from Kinross Correctional Facility where 250 people were targeted for retaliation after a peaceful strike and protest last September and at least 200 placed in solitary. Months ago, the prisoners were approved by MDOC to be moved to general population because they are not considered a security threat and cannot be legally held in long-term segregation. MDOC claims the reason for the continuation of solitary confinement is a shortage of bed space in general population, yet housing people in solitary costs at least twice as much as in general population.
Pulitzer Prize-winning University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson said, “No human being should be placed in solitary confinement, and it is particularly brutal to keep people in isolation because they were crying out for officials to improve basic conditions in a prison. It is time to let the public hear what led prisoners in Kinross to engage in the protest they did last year and not to shut them away in solitary. Such a retaliation against them only renders what is happening in these public facilities even less transparent to the public than it already is.”
Demonstrator Marcina Cole of Oak Park said, “I called Director Washington and Warden Mackie asking them to release these prisoners from solitary, and nothing changed. So today I’m here to make sure the voice of the public is being heard.”