Report on ongoing efforts by community members to stand in solidarity with prisoners in Indiana fighting for better conditions.
On August 25th, around 80 people held a rally outside Indiana State Prison (ISP) in Michigan City, Indiana. Following the rally, the group of protesters marched through neighborhoods and the tourist district of Michigan City, to expose the ongoing abuse and neglect inside the prison to the people of the city.
The demands of the protest were:
1) Immediate removal of the bedbug and cockroach infestations,
2) Improvement of food quality – current food packaging is marked as not fit for “normal human consumption”, and
3) Improvement to access and quality of medical care.
This was the second of two protests that were called for by Leslie Hernandez, who’s son Aaron is incarcerated at ISP, and supported by The Other Victims’ Advocacy and IDOC Watch. The first protest, which took place on June 23rd, focused on demanding that the ban on contact visitation be lifted, and that demand was met the week immediately following the protest. The protest on August 25th was also supported by Black Lives Matter NWI-Gary and the Michigan City Social Justice Group.
On August 31st, the Friday after the protest, Leslie Hernandez went to visit her son Aaron at ISP, as she does most weeks. Aaron is currently on non-contact visitation, so they visit through phones with a glass pane separating them, making physical contact completely impossible. About 15 minutes into the visit, 3 or 4 correctional officers entered Aaron’s side of the visitation area, ordered him to stand, cuffed him, and took him away from his visit with his mother.
Meanwhile, on Leslie’s side of the visitation area, a woman who is an investigator was blocking the doorway so Leslie couldn’t leave. Then a heavily tattooed man, an internal affairs (IA) officer named Christopher Clinton Dustin, came in, flashed a badge at Leslie, and told her he was a police officer and that he would be right back. Leslie, not knowing what was going on, said “Okay,” and just waited for him to return, with the doorway still blocked by the female investigator.
Eventually IA officer Dustin returned and led Leslie through several doors, outside, and to a different building and told her to sit down. As they were walking he was telling her that it would be better if she confessed, that they might be easier on her. Leslie had no idea what he was talking about. Then, he read Leslie her rights and asked if she wanted to talk. Still not knowing what was going on, Leslie responded that she wanted to talk to a lawyer. Without responding, Dustin left, closing the door behind him, leaving Leslie in the room for thirty minutes without any explanation.
Finally the female investigator came into the room, and Leslie asked her for a bottle of water and if she was under arrest, because if not, she was going to leave. The female investigator must have been in training, because she had to defer everything to the other officer. Dustin came back in after approximately 60 minutes and informed Leslie that he had no evidence with which to arrest her, but based on the video of Leslie and her son’s visit, he would be recommending to the prosecutor’s office that Leslie be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for trafficking with an offender and that they just “haven’t found the package” as yet. As Leslie was leaving, Dustin informed her that they were X-Raying her son, looking for a “package.” Then, he went on to say that Leslie would never be allowed back on ISP property again, regardless of what evidence is found against her and her son. She was also informed that her son would no longer be allowed to call her.
Leslie called the office of Warden Ron Neal to discuss the situation, and was informed that he wouldn’t talk to her because there is an active investigation, but that she would be receiving a gate closure notification in the mail.
Later, Leslie learned that her son Aaron, had not only been X-rayed, but also held in a strip cell overnight and made to drink an entire bottle of magnesium citrate, which is a laxative causing forceful colon cramping, forcing him to have diarrhea bowel movements at least 8 times over the course of the night. Investigators also interrogated Aaron. Dustin telling Aaron “we know your Mother is a protester”. They also told Aaron “Dustin and the LaPorte police have your mother handcuffed, taking her to jail, you gonna do your mother like that?” all awhile analyzing his stool during this time – supposedly looking for evidence to support their threat of trafficking charges. Of course they found nothing. Nonetheless, Aaron is being charged with trafficking and being held in segregation.
It is clear that all of this is retaliation for Leslie and Aaron’s efforts to bring conditions in the prison up to standards that meet basic human needs! IDOC Watch calls on everyone who can to lend their voice and help push back against this shameless repression!
How you can help:
Please call Warden Ron Neal, IDOC Commissioner Richard Carter Jr., and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, and demand that the baseless and fabricated charges against Aaron and the cruel gate closure and phone restriction that have been imposed on Leslie be rescinded!
Office of ISP Warden Ron Neal: (219) 874-7258
IDOC Commissioner Richard Carter Jr.: (317) 232-5711 – ask to speak to Chief Counsel Robert Bugher
Governor Eric Holcomb: (317) 232-4567
“Indiana State Prison Warden Ron Neal and his staff are retaliating against Leslie Hernandez and her son Aaron McDonald, DOC #159447, by fabricating trafficking charges against them in order to prevent them from communicating, because they have exposed the inhumane conditions and rampant abuse in ISP. I am calling to demand that the baseless trafficking charges against Aaron (#159447) be dropped and he be returned to general population immediately. Further, I demand that the gate closure and phone restriction imposed on Leslie, which amount to cruel and unusual punishment, be rescinded immediately.”
Letter Writing Events
If you or your organization would like to organize an event to write letters of support to Aaron and letters to authorities demanding that the trafficking charges, gate closure, and phone restriction be dropped, please get in touch with IDOC Watch and we will help facilitate that. Reach us at email@example.com or message our Facebook or Twitter.
Warden Ron Neal
Indiana State Prison
1 Park Row
Michigan City, IN 46360
Commissioner Robert E. Carter Jr.
302 W. Washington Street, Room E-334
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Governor Eric Holcomb
Office of the Governor
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797
You can also email Governor Eric Holcomb with the sample script above, subject heading “Stop Cruel and Unusual Punishment of Prisoner Advocates”, by following this link: https://www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm