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May 8, 17

The Battle Continues: An Update on Michigan Prison Strike Repression

In a surprising move, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) released up to 100 prisoners from solitary confinement sooner than anticipated, while another 80 or more remain. Last fall, a strike and protest at Kinross Correctional Facility in northern Michigan led to a harsh and arbitrary crackdown. Nearly 200 prisoners were found guilty of incite to riot/strike charges in a kangaroo court, and sentenced to a minimum of one year in solitary (“administrative segregation”) and in some cases up to two years. Most were housed at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula or at Oaks Correctional Facility in the Lower Peninsula.

At Baraga Max, a handful of prisoners from the Kinross group were transferred to general population in other facilities and finally, on May 1, all of approximately 100 prisoners were technically transferred to general population—technically, because most remain at high security levels where conditions are not that different from solitary. Still, some have written that they are celebrating being able to walk around without shackles, see the sky and spring weather, call loved ones more frequently, and have contact visits again. Please read on for some messages of sincere gratitude for support of the Kinross prisoners at Baraga!

Support Still Needed

While celebrating this victory, it is important to remember that around 80 of the Kinross prisoners remain in solitary, mainly at the Oaks facility. The Kinross group at Oaks has been given conflicting messages about when they might be released from solitary. Please continue to send letters of support to those at Oaks and check It’s Going Down for potential future solidarity actions.

It is also essential to remember that even those released from solitary at Baraga are being returned to the same abhorrent conditions of overcrowding, inedible food, impossible wages, and more that drove them to strike and protest in the first place. In most cases, they are worse off because they have not yet returned to their former low security levels.

Further, they report that most or all of their property was “lost” when they were transferred out of Kinross—more likely stolen or destroyed by staff. They lost clothing, footwear, TVs (nearly 70 TVs were broken), typewriters, music players and the songs stored on them, art supplies, writing supplies, stamps, food, books, legal papers and expensive transcripts necessary for their appeals and grievances, and more. This represents many tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of property, but more importantly, property that was acquired patiently over many, many years and that will take as long to acquire again. Michigan prisons pay between $0.14 to $0.56 per hour and prisoners pay taxes on their income. Some lost irreplaceable family photos.

Prisoners are permitted to claim reimbursement (at a depreciated rate) for lost property, but to file that claim they have to know which property was lost. In solitary, some property is not permitted and instead placed in storage, and staff refused to tell them what property was in storage. To file a claim on property that is not lost is a penalty, and claims filed too late are rejected, so they are in a Kafka-esque situation. One person was told there was no record that he ever owned a footlocker. The footlocker and everything in it are lost.

Please consider helping these folks get back on their feet by holding fundraisers and sharing the funds generously with publicly-listed Michigan prisoners at all facilities, whether in or out of solitary. Please observe our recommendation to not include a message when sending funds and to not mention the funds openly if you write. If possible, coordinate locally so that different people send funds to different prisoners. Some funds were rejected when sent to multiple prisoners from the same individual, with an accompanying message.

H.H. Gonzales, an inmate at Baraga who was singled out for extra retaliation, was also moved to general population (see below for another moving letter of gratitude from H.H.). However, he continues to face threats from guards and restricted movement. Please watch for future actions and continue to send letters and other forms of support if you can.

Reach out to Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS) to connect and collaborate!

Why the Sudden Move?

Just weeks before prisoners were informed of the planned May 1 release from solitary, Baraga staff told prisoners not to expect to hear anything about release until September 2017. Yet they claimed the reason for the early release was “good behavior.” Later, staff told H.H. Gonzales that if it were up to them, he would remain in solitary for two years instead of eight months. Clearly, the decision came from higher up and was not due to “good behavior.”

We do not know with certainty what led to the about face. Some possible factors could be general support from the public across the country and the prisoners’ own self-advocacy, including the threat of potential lawsuits. In addition, there is an ongoing investigation by the Legislative Corrections Ombudsman’s office, and questions raised by family members and a few Michigan advocacy groups. Also, some prisoners who could afford the court fees have filed for judicial review of their misconduct tickets in circuit court. MDOC faces further scrutiny from state Republican legislators who just slashed MDOC’s budget by $66 million. At the same time, we hear from contacts inside that MDOC is struggling to bring itself back up to federal standards in order to rejoin the American Corrections Association and receive federal funds again.

Perhaps some combination of these factors led MDOC to realize the folly of continuing to keep prisoners in expensive solitary confinement on charges stemming from MDOC staff’s own costly and abusive decisions.

Messages of Gratitude

MAPS has been working in solidarity with people facing retaliation from Kinross since last Fall. We want to share with you just a few of the moving messages of gratitude they sent and asked us to share with you. We also want to thank everyone for your ongoing support of these courageous brothers and sisters.

Jake Klemp (#231258), now out of solitary, but still in Level V at Baraga Max, wrote: “I would like to give a warm message of gratitude and heart felt appreciation for all those who have written and have sent financial support. Thank you all very much. Those words of support brought me up on days when I was falling into a depression. Words really aren’t adequate to express my gratitude. Jake”

Another person, still in solitary at Oaks, wrote: “I wanted to write and thank you all for the LOVE and SUPPORT you have shown and provided to me during this difficult time! I’m so BLESSED and APPRECIATIVE for everything you all have done and continue to do for myself and all other prisoners who were part of the Kinross work strike. I also want to thank you for the money as well although I wasn’t able to keep one of the $JPay [online funds transfer] due to the sender name being on other prisoners–but I truly appreciate the support. Take care and continue to be safe!!”

Gilbert Morales (#186641), who gave one of the earliest accounts of the Kinross rebellion, composed this amazing tribute:

It’s Going Down

“It’s going down!” From Cali to New York. “It’s going down!”
As the sun rises above my crown.

One nation under One groove we’re all the brothers.  Marching back to back one foot in front of the others.

As the emergency siren rang throughout KCF compound, rebellious prisoners yelling, “No Justice!” “No Peace!” as we were control center bound.

We gave officers a chance to stop the senseless oppression, but now they awoke the Gillamonster that’s full of aggression.
Crooked ass cops created this mess,
God is on the side of the battered, bruised and blessed.

“It’s going down!” From East to West. “It’s going down!”
As the sun rises above my crown.

For a moment in time we were taking back our dignity,
petty officers punishing us, oppressing us, with whips of no pity,
Sure it’s a helluva price to pay, but on 9-9-16 every officer recalled how to pray,
As all the brothers were yelling, “We are on this yard to stay.”
The 5-0 kept yelling, “All prisoners return to your units and lock down,”
They misunderstood the smile that quickly turned into a frown.

“It’s going down!” From North to South. “It’s going down!”
As the sun rises above my crown.

“Punish us!” “Punish us!” is what they love to do, they think we’re goin to keep buying it but not today “F-ck You!”
Like an airplane of injustice that’s goin down to crash,
The whole prison population threw Trinity’s food in the trash.
Feeding us that bullshit has got to end,
You have mistaken us for the dogs or the pigs in the pen.
We’re on this yard pumpin’ our fist up to the sky,
Yellin’ “No Justice!” “No Peace!” These jailbirds got wings and we are ready to fly.
As the crowd gets bigger and bigger as we make our final rounds,
Carrying weapons of righteousness has a penalty on prison grounds.
“Punish us!” “Punish us!” we are on our way to level (5) five,
But what is that to us when were are born in the struggle built to survive.
All we did was follow our hearts to make life better,
Supported Obama and Hillary’s campaign called “Stronger Together.”
Seeing 100s of brothers on the yard during count was a helluva sight,
All of them willing to put up a fight.
But our fight ain’t to hurt no one,
We’re just trying to make a point what their neglect to our needs has done.

“It’s going down!” From the color of your skin to the content of your character. “It’s going down!”
As the sun rises above my crown.

We can’t compare ourselves to Ghandi and King and all the great men and women of glory
But us Michiganders now have written our story.
On September 9, 2016 the Big Show was on full display,
Many old heads have sat and talked about this day.
“Watch out!” Here comes that “M.D.O.C” with the Red Nose and Big Shoes and that attitude of Bozo the Clown.
You can still hear the brothers yellin’ “It’s going down!” “It’s going down!”

Brothers and Sisters sent their solidarity from across the nation.
Writing me, “Stand Strong,” with much love and admiration.
They put me in a cell with walls of depression made of stone,
Received tons of letters saying, “You’re not alone!”
Encouraging me to don’t give in we’re in it together.
We got your back times will get better.

“It’s going down!” Like an unarmed man who is a lighter shade of Brown to the Pipeline in Dakota that’s on Sacred Ground. “It’s going down.”
As the sun rises above my crown.

It was rumored that all us had to be in the hole one year,
From wardens, deputies to counselors always made it unclear.
That our stay in segregation is short is what they are saying,
Thanks to our brothers and sisters from all over the world for praying.
Because we are all on our way,
They just told all of us we are getting out in May.
Yes it’s true the day of beaconing has come sooner than expected,
You all showed us so much love, even though we were tired, bruised and rejected.
Because we had the moral courage to challenge their indignation,
Thanks to “It’s Going Down!” our message was heard throughout the nation.

And last, but not least, H.H. Gonzales (#194496) gave us permission to share this very personal letter of gratitude, written in February, in which he relates some of the experiences that brought him to this day:

I’m writing to you today to say thank you and all the others who have supported us. To understand the depth of my gratitude you have to understand me and my life. I can’t express in words the profound effect you guys selflessness has had on my life. So maybe hearing my story will convey the message of the degree of my gratitude.

I was born to a mother addicted to heroin and a father murdered before my birth, for having an affair with another man’s wife. I was actually in the same joint with the murderer of my father at one point and didn’t know it. But I digress. My mother, who I love dearly, was in and out of prison continually and since she was white and my father Black their families had long since cut each off, so I had no other family except two older siblings and two younger siblings by different fathers, so when she would go to prison, I would end up in the foster care system, and in the 70s it shouldn’t have been called foster care because there wasn’t any care fostered there. I was a free check to most, a slave to some, a sex toy to two crazy religious women, and a punching bag to all. I was a little boy who couldn’t understand why they kept taking me away from my mother and putting me with strange people who abused me, so I resented the system, the police, and trusted no one. After the first time telling my social worker of abuse I was given to a worse family, so I stopped telling them and became a runner, and for that reason I was branded (my first scarlet letter) unmanageable.

Being a runner I had to learn survival tactics the hard way, through trial and error, and believe me there were many trials for my errors. Suffice it to say I learned to trust no one, if someone did something nice it was a trap, that no matter what people say they were lying, and the innate instinct to survive no matter what. To do so I had to plant a firm set of principles of action and make sure I always lived according to them. So badly I wanted to believe that there was someone out there that really cared about me, but life always had a reminder that I was wrong. I guess the thing that confirmed it and made that notion permanent for me was when I was twelve and with my mother once again on one of her breaks from prison, she and one of my “aunts,” I had many aunts and uncles at the times I was in my mother’s care, they wouldn’t be there long. So that fact and the fact that I was separated from my siblings for the majority of my life, left me with a skewed concept of what family really is, I guess. Nevertheless, I was with my mother and “aunt” and they both were going through it because they had no drugs, so they put me in the back of a car, pulled up to a house, put a sawed off shotgun in my hands and told me if they weren’t out of that house in 5 minutes, the people in there were hurting them, so I sat in that car watching the minutes flip on the car clock crying as the 5 minute mark got closer. At the mark I got out, walked in the house, my mother and aunt were on their knees, you can guess what they were doing, but at twelve I thought they were hurting her, so I pulled the trigger. I didn’t hit anyone but I scared the hell out of everyone.

My mother and aunt told everyone not to move or they would get hurt. There was no way I’d let them hurt my mom. When I saw my mom and aunt were in the car I turned to leave, tripped on the door stop and fell, the second barrel went off and the guys jumped on me and started kicking and punching me. I looked for my mom and saw her pulling off, I remember thinking at the time, “At least my mom is safe.” And then everything went black. I woke up in an alley. My arm didn’t work right and my eyes were swollen shut, my side hurt and I was dizzy but I somehow made it to my “aunt’s” house, I walked through the door, my mom and “aunt” were sitting at the kitchen table high, I heard my aunt say “I told you they wouldn’t kill him, he’s too cute” and I passed out. I woke up in the hospital with a broken arm, three broken ribs, a fractured jaw, and a concussion. That night my mom snuck me out of the hospital. I thought it was because she wanted me home, but it was only because the hospital had called child protective services and my mom didn’t want them finding out what she had done. I learned then from my mom because I asked her why she left me? She told me then “no matter what happens, or who it is, the only person who you can count on in life is yourself, no matter how much someone loves you they will always choose themselves over you.” She told me she wasn’t a good mother, but she wanted to tell me how to stay safe!

She OD’ed and died shortly after that and I was once again placed back in foster care but because I was a runner, and didn’t want to be a slave, a check, a toy, or a punching bag for anyone anymore, they put me in a boys home with guys from 10 to 17 most for juvenile crimes, and this is where I learned the criminal aspects of my life, I learned that if you wanted to make it on the streets you had to adopt the mentality that people were a means to an end. That if you wanted anything you had to take it, and if you wanted to be safe, make everyone fear you.

So it’s how I lived my life from that moment on, and honestly until now, never really saw much to change my mind, albeit I’ve spent the majority of the last 28 years in prison, not the best place to get a different opinion. Sure I got my G.E.D., a trade, and some college credits while here, I had to do it on my own. No teachers, well they were there, but just for the check, the usual in my life. But I knew I needed to be better equipped to make it in life so I educated myself, I read everything I could, I study psychology, sociology, history and logic. Philosophy became a passion and therein I learned compassion and vowed to be the person that would help those like me, to not only fight at there side against those taking advantage of them but to get them to see there’s another way beside the course of action we had taken to this point.

Finding out I had a son is what really changed my life and purpose but honestly it didn’t change my mind about people. You guys did that, never in my entire life has anyone, much less people I don’t know, displayed the kind of selfless benevolence that you guys have shown to us. For the first time in my life I don’t sense selfish intent, just a genuine desire to help. So I thank you all, I thank you for the many gifts, not monetary or materialistic, although those too are appreciated and needed, but for the gift of love that restores faith, renews mind states, and is a living visual example of the goodness in people that for some of us was only captured in a movie or a good book.

I thank you for helping me see the world is not a place where base animalistic instincts for survival are what’s required. I thank you for giving me the gift of togetherness, for the first time in my life, I don’t feel alone, and even though it might only be to see us through this mess, the fact that people like you really exist makes the world somehow seem safer, and relieves the oh so tiring and heavy burden of fear. So I thank you guys for being you!!

I’m going to end here because mushiness is not a good look in here, but for all you’ve done for us I guess I can sacrifice a little of my male bravado in the interest of honesty, realness, and gratitude! So again and many times over “thank you.”

Harold Gonzales

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