The following report comes from Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS).
East Lansing, MI – A dozen supporters of prisoners visited a quiet, residential East Lansing neighborhood Sunday afternoon to deliver Mother’s Day greeting cards to the home of Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington. The cards – some absurdly large, some brightly colorful – contained messages against the MDOC’s highly restrictive mail policy.
The enforcement of the current mail policy began October 1, 2017, and since then any mail that doesn’t meet the regulations is “returned to sender and/or rejected by the mail room staff.” These regulations prohibit any stickers (including return address labels); mail written in colored inks; and greeting cards with embellishments. At this time, letters allowed in must be written in blue or black ink.
Demonstrators seized the opportunity to protest the limited allowable mail by contrasting it to the extravagant cards left on Director Washington’s lawn. The protest was organized by Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS), a group that seeks to end the violence and isolation of incarceration.
The MDOC states that the policy was implemented to stem the flow of contraband into prisons. While it is possible to hide fentanyl, Suboxone, and other substances under stickers, the large majority of contraband entering prisons is smuggled in by prison staff and employees. Rand Gould, a prisoner at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, reports that “if the MDOC really wanted to stop drugs and other contraband, such as cell phones and tobacco, from entering its prisons, then they would search all MDOC employees just as thoroughly upon entry as they do prisoners’ families and friends when visiting. Consequently, one can only conclude that stopping contraband is not the goal of this new policy, merely the excuse for it…”
Gould suggests that the real goal of this restrictive policy is to discourage the use of mail in communications with prisoners, and to force prisoners and their families to “buy email stamps from JPay, so JPay and the MDOC can rake in profits, while enabling this mail to be closely monitored and recorded for future reference.” JPay, a privately owned company, provides digital communications services in Michigan prisons at a cost to prisoners. This further isolates prisoners from their families and communities.
Some of the cards referenced that isolation. Demonstrators believe the restrictive mail policy and other repressive efforts perpetuate prisoner isolation, which allows for abuses to be hidden from the public eye. Prisoner abuse is not the only form of harm inflicted within and hidden by the prison system. A recent scandal brought publicity to numerous cases of sexual harassment perpetrated by prison staff against female corrections officers. An investigative report covering the officers’ experiences included damning claims of tolerance and protection for known, serial abusers and many incidences of retaliation against the survivors.
One of the supporters, Lansing-based social worker Peter Hochstedler, delivered one of the cards and stated, “whether it’s censorship or sexual abuse, the Department of Corrections cuts people off from the support they need. If the the administration cannot protect their own guards, imagine how they treat prisoners.”