On June 11th, a group of prison abolitionists, including the family members of some of those incarcerated, marched to the home of the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, Heidi Washington. On the suburban street and sidewalk we staged a “solitary is torture” demonstration to pressure her to let the remaining 60 Kinross rebels out of administrative segregation (solitary confinement). They had been in ad-seg for 9 months following their alleged participation in the Kinross uprising on September 10th, 2016. The home demo followed on a phone blast campaign two weeks earlier called by another solidarity group.
At her house we amplified audio recordings of interviews with those who had been tortured with solitary confinement. We also talked to her neighbors, some of whom immediately picked up their phones to call Washington and question her about her treatment of the Kinross rebels. Some news channels picked up our action and aired coverage reached inside at least three prisons in the Upper Peninsula.
Then, just two days later, we heard that the 60 Kinross rebels who were in administrative segregation at Oaks Correctional Facility would be moved out of segregation in the subsequent weeks. This was the single demand we had, the demand that fueled the flames for the demonstration. We will probably never know exactly what conversations happened in the offices of the MDOC in downtown Lansing about this decision. But we do know one thing: we acted, we demanded, we flexed our muscles, and they caved in.
We also know that our previous efforts were successful in getting H.H. Gonzales out of segregation at Baraga Correctional Facility. To support H.H., many supporters across the country called in to Baraga to demand his transfer to general population. And this small act of resistance directly led to his transfer. We know this because the officers told him (foolish on their part, exciting for us).
This past Wednesday, on July 12th, we received multiple confirmations that the 60 Kinross rebels at Oaks had finally been moved back to general population.
So this is a call to both celebrate our collective success and to remind ourselves that even in the times of seeming hopelessness, sometimes we win. Sometimes, when we think carefully and put pressure in the right places, we can actually back up our pledged commitment to solidarity with deeds that materially improve the lives of those on the frontlines of the fight against the violence of prisons. And if this collective effort can materially improve the conditions of freedom fighters behind bars, then as our collective power expands we can continue to chip away at those cracks in the wall that already exist.
At this point, a handful of Kinross rebels remain in solitary at the Alger, St. Louis, and possibly Oaks facilities. This solidarity campaign will continue until all are returned to general population and to their previous security levels, which will take months longer. Many lost all of their belongings, and it may take years for them to recover materially from the retaliation.
Nevertheless, we should take a moment to celebrate this good news. And we should use this win to remind ourselves that when we struggle, carefully and with dedication, we can succeed in the things we try to do. With this in mind, anything is possible.
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” –Jacob Riis