Overview of the Kinross Rebellion and Retaliation

On September 9th, 2016, people in at least 46 prisons took part in a national prisoner work stoppage. The occasion was the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising, and the strike was called by the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). In Michigan, prisoners abstained from work and other activities at four prisons, most famously at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula.

Kinross, a facility that was reopened in 2015 despite numerous health and safety violations and inadequate space, had already been the site of a chow hall boycott in the spring and several subsequent demonstrations of unity intended to put administration on notice of the prisoners’ grievances. All this was to no avail, since conditions only worsened. Block representatives who communicated grievances had their property destroyed for their trouble, and were immediately transferred out.

Kinross came into the national spotlight when news finally leaked of what unfolded in the wake of the September strike. On day two, after prison staff broke their promise of non-retaliation for the strike by withholding food, prisoners demanded an on-the-spot meeting with administrators at a massive, hours-long yard demonstration. Following negotiations and empty promises, prisoners returned to their units only to be assaulted hours later, without provocation, by an emergency response team (ERT) armed with long guns, pistols, pepper spray guns, and tear gas.

This provoked an all-out riot in several of the units, causing about $86,000 worth of property destruction; no one was injured. Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) spent another $94,000 transferring hundreds of prisoners in retaliation for the protests, and about $741,000 on personnel costs for the ERT.

The full scope of the retaliation against the prisoners who were at Kinross that day is only beginning to be comprehended. Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS), an affinity group organizing in solidarity with prisoners against the violence of incarceration, reached out to dozens of people imprisoned at Kinross last Fall. From their responses to date, a picture of repressive and arbitrary retaliation is taking shape.

Of the approximately 250 people transferred out of Kinross and tried in kangaroo courts on identical misconduct tickets alleging “incite to riot/strike,” over 180 were found guilty and sentenced to at least one year in administrative segregation (a.k.a. “the hole”). Some are facing two or more years in the hole, and all have had their security classifications raised from level I or II (lowest security levels) to level V or VI (highest levels). Even after release from segregation to the general population, their security classifications may remain raised which could prevent them from consideration for parole.

Another feature of the retaliation is that it is collective and arbitrary; people who had nothing to do with the strike, yard protest, or riot are among those facing the most severe punishments. Kinross administrators were well aware of the planned three-day strike and met with block representatives on September 7th to declare that they would not interfere or retaliate for the strike. In fact, some staff supervisors told their prisoner employees to stay away from work during the strike. On this basis, no tickets should have been issued for the strike.

As for the yard protest on September 10th, many unit officers permitted prisoners to participate. In some cases, the guards later testified to this, while in other cases the same guards denied it. The MDOC cast a wide net when it came to retaliation; all alleged participants, no matter their level of participation, were handed the same charge. The prisoners that rebelled through self-defense and property destruction as well as those that merely attended the demonstration in the yard—and even some who did not participate in anything—face draconian repression. Throughout this ordeal there has been no meaningful due process; all appeals of the misconduct tickets and all grievances have been rejected or simply ignored.

The conditions endured by the transferred prisoners is an intensification of the uninhabitable conditions they faced at Kinross that drove them to desperation there. For roughly one month following the uprising, people were held in atrocious conditions—even by Michigan standards—at temporarily reopened facilities in Jackson and Marquette. There, they awaited hearings and transfers to other facilities. Those found guilty of misconduct were transferred to Oaks Correctional Facility or Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility where entire units were cleared out and designated for segregation of people from Kinross. They report being singled out for special mistreatment by staff as well as systematic efforts to isolate them from the outside world by denying them television and writing supplies. Two people in isolation reported that they suffer from suicidal ideation and that they are not receiving adequate mental health treatment.

Food quality and quantity was one of the grievances at Kinross and, indeed, at all Michigan prisons where private contractor Trinity Food Services has been the target of a series of coordinated food boycotts as well as prisoner lawsuits. In the hole, people report being served even worse food, not conforming to the required menus and arriving to them stone cold. People on the religious diet have probably fared the worst. One such prisoner reports losing 40 pounds in five months and went on hunger strike to protest his malnutrition.

Adding to the despair, a great deal of personal property belonging to people transferred out of Kinross was destroyed or “lost.” These items include televisions, radios, music players (and the expensive music they stored), clothing, footwear, art supplies, writing supplies, stamps, footlockers, and even legal documents. People might have spent years or decades acquiring this property on their meager wages.

There is no doubt that this group of nearly 200 people is paying a heavy price for the mass uprising at Kinross on September 10. Yet many remain steadfast and committed to solidarity with their brothers and sisters behind prison walls. Many have asked that their stories be told publicly. As Jacob Klemp put it, “Thousands of people have been negatively affected by this. And ultimately I need it to mean something.”

We agree with others who have stressed that the full consequences of the prison strike may not be understood for years to come. At this stage, two points are clear:

  1. As long as conditions only worsen when desperate people communicate their grievances, the riots will continue.
  2. Since none of us are free while some of us are caged, those of us outside who seek an end to the violence of incarceration in the world must continue our efforts in solidarity with those inside.

See the notes at the end of this article for information on supporting prisoners facing retaliation.

Voices of the Imprisoned

Several accounts from people formerly imprisoned at Kinross who have courageously spoken out have been published previously and should not be missed. Read Gilbert Morales’ reflections, letters from Jacob Klemp and Lamont Heard, an article from Rand Gould, and a comprehensive account from H.H. Gonzales published recently in the San Francisco Bay View. Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, included Kinross prisoners’ testimony in a recent article reflecting on the Vaughn uprising as well as an earlier article linking Kinross with the Attica uprising. The MAPS website is under development as an archive of voices of the imprisoned in relation to the Kinross rebellion.

Below is a letter from Larry Baba X-Guy, who appears to be the first person at Kinross targeted for retaliation—in his case for purely political reasons before the strike even began, despite staff instructing other prisoners to stay away from work:

The Puritans brought the prison system to these shores in the 1500s? The people on this side of the world was doing just fine without it. Didn’t want it. But it got forced upon them/us anyway.

I marched in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s against the wrongs of this system and was brutalized by racist cops (whom I sued and won), got crosses burned on my lawn. As president of the “coalition to end police brutality and racism,” we got the whole barrage of insults, media-wise, subversive-wise, COINTELPRO frame-ups, etc….

I’m getting on in my years. I was going to sit this one (sentence) out. In 21 years I only received three tickets, accumulating good time. Then this riot happened. More out of desperation than anger, to be treated as human beings not like animals in a cage. The Bay Mirror News speaks of two peaceful demonstrations, and the third (1,400 inmates) started out the same way, until the C/Os [correctional officers] overreacted on purpose, pressed the despair button into desperate acts of defense, frustration of racist dehumanizing practices, overcrowding (eight men in a cube made for four), not allowing inmates to sit next to loved ones, only across the table from each other. [Overcrowding and oppressive visitation room rules were among prisoners’ key grievances.]

Imagine a child looking, coming to hug, and a voice on the intercom forbidding the child to do so? Child looks at Dad wondering if he’s diseased or what? And can’t touch their father? (I’ve heard MDOC changed visits back to normal after riot) and hearing racist statements like “don’t let me get the whip back out” from C/Os!

As an old vet I sensed mayhem coming, block reps would do their jobs and present a list of requests and get sent back and early in the morning get chained up and rode out, not allowed to pack their personal property (otherwise half the property comes up missing, thrown away, etc.). But block reps were glad to get away from those conditions, many inmates would refuse to lock up or sit on their bunks so they could go to level IV, that’s how bad it was. I had planned to run for block rep so I could get rode out. [The transfer process, which made it nearly impossible to get out of Kinross, was another of the prisoners’ grievances.]

But on 9/9/2016, the day of the Attica Rebellion of [1971], I was called up front and the two inspectors drilled me about my political actions in the past years before I was locked up on these so-called charges! While I was there they had C/Os going through my property and they brought news clippings of us marching and protesting. They asked about my lawyer (revolutionary lawyer Chokwe Lumumba), all this from the 80s! Anyway, they locked me up in segregation early that morning before anything happened and charged me with striking/inciting to riot!…

Solidarity with the Imprisoned

Please send messages of solidarity and support to the following people facing retaliation for the September strike and subsequent events in Michigan. Over 180 remain in the hole for the same reason, but the following have granted explicit permission to be listed publicly.

Please be very aware that these imprisoned comrades are facing a high degree of scrutiny of both incoming and outgoing mail. The following guidelines recommended by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) apply to Michigan, where letters and donations have, in a few known cases, been blocked and caused prisoners to be threatened with more retaliation.

DO NOT mention Sep 9, organizing, the strike, burning prisons, or anything like that unless they reply and ask for such information. Just receiving mail at all sends a message of support. These messages are also seen by the staff which deters further retaliation. Talking about the actions might get the mail blocked or even provoke more repression, so don’t do it.

DO tell them you’re thinking about them, that they are not alone. It can be a short note, a drawing, or a long letter describing your day and asking how they’re holding up.

Please make sure to address envelope to the legal name and address letter to name in parentheses.

Also, if it’s within your means, ask if they would like books (and what their preferences are) or monetary donations. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) policies for incoming mail and books should be reviewed here, beginning at section Z. Books must come directly from approved vendors listed in Attachment A at the end of the document; however, a recent requirement being selectively enforced is that the package must contain an invoice or packing slip, which rules out Amazon. Double-check that the vendor you use encloses an invoice or packing slip. Schulerbooks.com is Michigan-based and if noted that a package is going to a prison they try to ensure that it meets MDOC requirements.

Many people in the hole need funds for postage and basic hygiene items. As of February 2017, there is a new vendor for monetary donations. See this link for instructions on sending funds via money order. If you can send funds, we recommend that you do not include any message. If you write separately, we recommend that you do not mention the donation.

If you hear of problems getting funds, books, or letters through, please notify MAPS.

Larry Guy #132556 (Baba X-Guy)
Oaks Correctional Facility
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Harold Gonzales #194496 (H.H. Gonzales)
Baraga Correctional Facility
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Gilbert Morales #186641
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Richard Carter #178539 (AhJamu Baruti)
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Darrin Coats #185616
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Jacob Klemp #231258
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Jamarr Loyd #234363
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Timothy Schnell #516619
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Cedricx Doss #243288
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Leon Echols Bey #204922
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Deon Taivon Joiner #682561
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Ronald Perdue #292317
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Michael T. Witherspoon #225422
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Jonathan Aiden #277075
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Howard Lashawn Smith #358816 (Shawn)
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Juivonne Littlejohn #141899
Baraga C.F.
13924 Wadaga Rd.
Baraga, MI 49908-9204

Freddy Hardrick #440921
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660

Matthew DeShone #686384
Oaks C.F.
1500 Caberfae Hwy
Manistee, MI 49660



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