It’s been a busy few weeks, from a prison riot in Arizona and hunger strikes at a private prison in Mississippi, to an announcement that a murderous pig in LA won’t face any charges. This week we’ve tried to focus on all the news from the bloc, covering what is happening in and around prisons to generalized state repression. If you see anything we missed or if you want to send us news items for future editions of Bloc Party, please submit them here along with your email address if you’d like us to get back to you.
We’d like to start by giving a shout out to the lovers in prison in New Zealand who have repeatedly set fire to their prison in their fight to be placed in a cell together. According to the prison they “made it clear they would create as much disruption as possible until they got their way.” Keep fighting for love and dignity you two, you’re an inspiration.
The Senate is currently considering granting Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners as a part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Pell Grants eligibility was taken away from prisoners in 1994 under the Clinton administration, essentially eliminating the possibility for most prisoners to pursue a college education. This would be an expansion of the Pell Pilot Program that was initiated by the Obama administration in 2016 and allow far more the initial 12,000 prisoners to access college educations.
The move to reinstate eligibility is getting bi-partisan support in Congress and appears to be part of the continued support by both government and popular opinion for prison reform at both the federal and state level. Nonetheless, as the federal prison population continues its steady decline and following moves in recent years by 31 states to roll back their mass incarceration strategy and in the midst of a crime rate that has fallen by fifty percent since 1991, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to incessantly push his right-wing, tough-on-crime agenda.
In an effort to crack down on human migration, Sessions has added 50 immigration judges since the beginning of the Trump administration and has announced his plans to hire 60 more in the next six months. He is currently considering taking away the right of immigration judges to “administratively close” cases, along with a host of other seemingly draconian moves. We recently listened to the “I Thought It Would Be Easier,” episode of This American Life where they covered what it actually looks like to add immigration judges to courtrooms along the border. Suffice it to say that it is essentially as horrifying and disorganized as you might imagine such an initiative from the Trump Administration to be.
“At least 600 prisoners at a prison located on the U.S./Mexico border participated in an uprising on Thursday night, March 1. Prisoners at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Yuma threw rocks and set fires, attacked guards and broke into the prison’s healthcare unit. They also caused significant damage to prison infrastructure…”
As usual, the most consistently inspiring and powerful acts of defiance to the imposition of these plans comes from prisoners themselves. At least 600 prisoners at a prison located on the U.S./Mexico border about 200 miles southeast of Phoenix participated in an uprising on Thursday night, March 1. Prisoners at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Yuma threw rocks and set fires, attacked guards and broke into the prison’s healthcare unit. They also caused significant damage to prison infrastructure, causing flooding and destroying sinks and toilets and smashing windows. One prisoner, Adam J. Coppa was killed during the riot and an autopsy report recently came back saying what prisoners on the scene already knew: that Coppa died of gun shot wounds because guards opened fire on the prisoners with shotguns killing him and wounding many more. A Phoenix lawyer who has sued the DOC on behalf of prison guards over chronic under-staffing at the prison is now alleging that the administration had been warned that prisoners were planning to rebel over plans to desegregate the prison. The uprising is reported to have lasted three hours.
As of now the only information we have is what the Arizona DOC and a lawyer for the prison guard union is saying about the events. We hope to find other information and share it in the coming weeks, so if you know someone at Yuma and would like to help us share their story, please send us a note here and be sure to include your contact information so that we can follow up with you.
As prisoners continue to steadily subvert the prison system through fire, collective defiance and bloodshed and while prisons across the country are severely understaffed and prison guard unions consistently hold protests over workplace conditions, its really hard to know what these powerful, seemingly contradictory forces are building toward. What we do know is that our continued efforts to support prisoners as they rebel, to work along the border and elsewhere to support those resisting deportation and to resist repressive policies are as important as ever.
Also in the Borderlands, on March 7th Alejandra Pablos was picked up by ICE and taken to detention in Eloy, Arizona. Ale was released on an immigration bond four years ago after having been in detention for two years. In the four years since then she has been an active member of the Tucson community and the national efforts for both reproductive justice and justice for undocumented people. Her detention by ICE came very shortly after she was arrested in Chesterfield, VA (a suburb of Richmond, VA) at an anti-ICE demonstration where people on the ground reported the arresting officer commented that she was targeted for arrest because she was “chanting the loudest.” You can support Ale in a variety of ways, but at the very least please sign this petition and throw some money towards her legal defense!
Some good news to share is that DeAndre Harris was found not guilty in a Charlottesville, VA court this morning. This is a huge win for DeAndre and the Cville community. There are upcoming trials for two others that have yet to happen, Corey Long and Donald Blakney.
— Solidarity Cville (@SolidCville) March 16, 2018
Recently information has come to light about ways that North Carolina Department of Corrections staff have falsified reports and records in an attempt to hide security issues including the severity of levels of under-staffing at their prisons. This information was revealed as a part of a spotlight on security issues in North Carolina prisons following a riot and attempted escape at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution that resulted in the deaths of four prison employees.
We could extrapolate from this example that it is possible that false reporting about security issues, under-staffing and overcrowding is happening in other states as well. If this is the case, the prison system may be even more vulnerable right now than it immediately appears.
Prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a private prison run by the Management & Training Corp., launched a hunger strike last week in the lead-up to a trial in U.S. District court of a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners over unbearably horrific conditions at the facility. If you know anything about what’s going on at the facility or are in touch with prisoners there who might want to share their story, please drop us a line with your contact information. According to the ACLU:
The lawsuit against EMCF describes horrific conditions at the facility: rampant violence, including by staff against prisoners; solitary confinement used to excess, with particular harm to prisoners with mental illnesses; and filthy cells and showers that lack functional toilets or lights. It also sheds light on a dysfunctional medical and mental healthcare delivery system that puts patients at risk of serious injury and has contributed to deaths in custody.
On August 22, 2017, St. Louis police responded to the scene of a fight between Kiwi Herring and her neighbor. According to a different neighbor, the fight was the result of a long history of homophobic harassment toward Kiwi, a transgender woman. When police arrived on the scene, they shot and killed Kiwi. Kiwi’s wife, Kris Thompson, is now facing charges of Assault in the First Degree and Armed Criminal Action – if convicted, Kris faces a minimum of 3 years in prison with no probation or parole, up to the maximum of 2 consecutive life sentences.
Kris Thompson is facing these charges while raising her and Kiwi’s three children alone. Please take a minute to contribute to Kris’ legal fund.
At the end of January a Canadian Federal Court threw out a lawsuit on the part of Canadian prisoners contesting a 2013 pay cut for prison labor. The 2013 pay cut resulted in a prison work strike that spread throughout the country that year. CFRC Prison Radio in Kingston, Ontario has released a powerful interview with former prisoner Jerrod Shook discussing prison labor and recent developments in the struggles for decent wages by Canadian prisoners.
Supporters of Happi American Horse, a Lakota Water Protector who was active during the demonstrations at Standing Rock, are asking for support as he faces detention at the Morton County Detention Center. You can donate via PayPal here.
DALE AMERICAN HORSE JR.
BURLEIGH-MORTON COUNTY DETENTION CENTER
PO BOX 2499
BISMARCK, ND 58502
Michael Foster, one of the Keystone Pipeline valve turners, was sentenced in January to 360 days in prison for his role in an 8-hour shutdown of the pipeline. He is currently serving that sentence in North Dakota and would appreciate letters of care and solidarity:
Michael Foster #51974
MRCC P.O. BOX 5521
BISMARCK, ND. 58506
We also encourage you to write other incarcerated water protectors. Both Red Fawn and Little Feather have sentencing coming up at the end of May after taking plea deals on their federal charges stemming from the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. Dion is still awaiting trial. You can write all of them here:
SANDOVAL CO. JAIL
1100 MONTOYA RD.
BERNALILLO, NM 87004
RED FAWN FALLIS
HEART OF AMERICA CORRECTIONS
110 INDUSTRIAL RD.
RUGBY, ND 58368
MICHAEL “LITTLE FEATHER” GIRON
HEART OF AMERICA CORRECTIONS
110 INDUSTRIAL RD.
RUGBY, ND. 58368
Where the River Frowns, a media project out of Evansville, Indiana, has begun publishing first-hand accounts of conditions at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center. The jail has been cited with six code violations, mostly related to under-staffing and overcrowding. Where the River Frowns writes, “although reporters throughout the state have interviewed sheriffs, lawmakers and other authorities, the views of inmates on their conditions of confinement have been ignored.”
The prisoner who contributed to the initial article, Jacqueline Neugebohrn, writes, “There is nothing here to help me. When I get out I’m going to be homeless so I’ll most likely use again. Out of 10, only 1 or 2 girls won’t be back in jail. It’s sad but true.” Check out the full article, and keep your eyes on Where the River Frowns for the next installments in the series.
In recent news on the J20 case against those arrested following an anti-capitalist march during Trump’s inauguration, prosecutors have recently filed documents stating their intention to use testimony from an undercover snitch in the trial block that was until this morning scheduled to begin March 26. Further, they have requested that the undercover be allowed to testify under her alias, “Julie McMahon” so as to avoid jeopardizing ongoing “covert operations.” According to BuzzFeed News:
In the next round of trials against people charged with rioting during President Donald Trump’s inauguration, federal prosecutors want to put a witness on the stand under an alias who spent two years undercover with “an anarchist extremist group” in New York.
Prosecutors said in court papers filed March 2 that the witness, referred to as “Julie McMahon,” is no longer working undercover, but they warned that revealing her identity could jeopardize ongoing “covert operations” and also put her security at risk. McMahon will testify about the use of the “black bloc” tactic during protests on Jan. 20, 2017, according to the government.
In addition to their fear that outing the undercover may threaten current undercover projects, prosecutors also stated that the snitch may be in danger if her real identity were exposed. According to BuzzFeed again:
The government said the precautions were needed not only to protect operations that McMahon had been part of, but also to protect her — prosecutors said the lead prosecutor, Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, and the lead detective had been harassed as personal information about them spread last year.
In related news, supporters and former J20 defendants in the case are currently on tour on the west coast. Check out the announcement and list of tour stops. With the upcoming J20 trial that was slated to begin on March 26th having been granted a continuance just this morning, we expect that support efforts will be ramping up in the meantime. The trial dates of the defendants were peppered amongst trial dates already set on the calendar ranging from April to October of this year. We’ll be back next Friday with more coverage of J20 and ways that people can continue to plug into the support efforts.
— BQIC #FreeTheBlackPride4 (@BQIColumbus) March 13, 2018
Also, some news on the #BlackPride4, three of those facing trial have been sentenced to probation, fines and court feeds, and community service. One person remains to be sentenced, however, so keep on eye on #BlackPride4 updates.
Central to the controversy surrounding the shooting was whether Jesse fired a revolver at police or whether the gun went off after the teenager tossed it over a fence. After examining and testing the revolver, prosecutors wrote, an investigator determined that the “most likely explanation of the evidence was that the revolver was fired, then dropped.”
Witnesses, however, told investigators they saw Jesse throw the gun and heard it fire when it hit the ground, the report said.
This decision provides even more evidence of the reality that the only justice we can count on is the justice we create for ourselves with one another. The only time those in power and their idle followers seem to listen is when things are set on fire, the police are attacked and normalcy is disrupted by countless bodies in the streets. May we one day live in a world where such extremes are not necessary. Our thoughts go out to Jesse’s family.
The family of prisoner Michael Jefferson who died at the Menard Correctional Institution in Illinois is now suing the prison alleging that his death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. According to the Belleville News-Democrat, “He had bipolar disorder and was on medicine that made him more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, according to the lawsuit. His cell had three cement walls and a steel door, and was often hotter than it was outside during the summer.”
The family has been clear that they believe Michael was murdered, but the IDOC alleges that Michael died of natural causes. Menard Correctional has a history of abusive carceral practices and was the site of a series of hunger strikes by prisoners in 2014 and 2015.
On Monday, February 19, three correctional officers were attacked by inmates at Menard causing a prison-wide lockdown.
Strawberry Hampton, a transgender woman prisoner being held in a men’s prison in Illinois, is suing the Illinois Department of Corrections demanding transfer to a women’s facility. According to the Associated Press:
A U.S. magistrate judge began a first-of-its-kind evidentiary hearing in Hampton’s case Friday in Benton, southeast of St. Louis, to help the court decide whether to order the transfer. The hearing, which will last several days, is focused on Hampton’s gender identity and on whether she could pose a risk to female inmates if moved.
While at the Pinckneyville prison, she alleges that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed. When she was transferred to the higher security Menard, she says guards there warned they would retaliate for complaints she made about Pinckneyville guards.
If you’d like to send Strawberry letters of support, you can write to her at the following address. Address the envelope to “Deon Hampton” and address her as “Strawberry” in the letter:
Deon Hampton #M15934
Lawrence Correctional Center
10930 Lawrence Road
Sumner, IL 62466
On Febraury 20, 2018 Vic Lancia was arrested in connection with a protest at Wells Fargo that occurred almost a year ago. The protest sought to draw attention to the bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure. At the protest Vic, who is 76, locked himself to concrete barrels blocking the front doors of the Middletown, Connecticut branch of Wells Fargo. Vic is charged with four misdemeanors: breach of peace, trespass of second degree and interfering with an officer. Vic is currently out on bond, but faces the possibility of a significant fine. Donate to Vic’s legal fund here.
Supporters of Mumia Abu Jamal have announced an “International Offensive” this month demanding the former Black Pather’s freedom in the lead-up to a hearing in his case on March 27. The call to action extends from March 23-27 and will focus on demanding “public release of all the District Attorney and police files relevant to Abu-Jamal’s case” and his freedom. To learn more about Mumia’s case, check out his support site.
Seven male prison guards have been charged with sexually abusing female prisoners in Pennsylvania. Some of the prisoners were abused over the course of a decade. According to the New York Times:
The seven men created a culture of fear and coerced sex inside the Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton, using their positions of power over the inmates to force them into sexual acts in cells and utility closets, officials said.
The sexual abuse was common and widely known within the prison, where guards alerted one another if supervisors were approaching while they were having sex [sic], Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, said.
The charges are a result of a yearlong investigation by the attorney general’s office and a statewide grand jury that followed after the attorney general’s office took over the investigation from the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office. They added that “prison officials had been aware of assault allegations but that there was no evidence they had been fully investigated.”
Anyone who has been to prison or has done prison support for years knows that sexual abuse by guards is not at all uncommon. What seems to be unique in this situation is the bravery of the prisoners who continued to file complaints and in December, 2016 filed a lawsuit seeking damages. One other prison guard pleaded guilty in the past to sexually abusing prisoners during the same period of time, but these eight guards are just a few of those named in the lawsuit who either raped and tortured female prisoners or ignored and supported those who did. These guards or former guards continue to go about their lives as do so many others across the country who have sexual abused prisoners.
In other prison legal news, a former prisoner at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is suing the Delaware Department of Corrections for medical neglect. Steven Sipple lost 100 pounds over the course of his two year incarceration due to his undiagnosed and untreated cancer.
The lawsuit comes after the Delaware DOC has come under fire following the February 1, 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. In January, the DOC announced that as part of it’s efforts to clean up their prison system, they have launched an independent review of inmate access to healthcare. As Thomas Gordon stated in a recent Bloc Party interview, “Sadly in an institution that is run solely off of fear and solely off of aggression and solely off of violence, the only way that they’ll listen is if you, in return, apply some sort of force or some sort of threat of force yourself. And that’s just the nature the beast within the present institution because they respect nothing else. They respect nothing else.” The Delaware DOC’s sudden concern about inmate access to healthcare, despite years of complaints by prisoners, is a demonstration of the way in which power respects nothing but force.
KiteLine Radio from in Bloomington, Indiana continues to put out amazing prison-and-repression-related content, such as an interview and essays by Illinois anarchist prisoner Timothy Smith, an update from Operation PUSH in Florida and more.
There has been a call to participate in demonstrations against police brutality in Canada on March 15th and Andrew Henry, who was arrested during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri and is currently in prison has a birthday coming up on March 21. Get together with friends and send him some birthday cards:
Andrew Henry #1099243
ERDCC, 2727 Highway K
Bonne Terre, MO 63628
For more political prisoner birthdays, check out the New York City Anarchist Black Cross prisoner birthday calendar.
We’ll be back next week with another installation of Bloc Party. For now keep your heads up y’all. It isn’t easy out there, but thank goodness we’ve got each other.