From a Michigan prison: An organizer speaks out

Michigan solidarity with Kinross prisoners’ uprising.

Gonzales was a participant in the September 2016 mass demonstration and protest by prisoners at Michigan’s Kinross Prison. He has been singled out and punished for being “a leader.” These remarks are excerpted from a longer account in the San Francisco BayView on Feb. 3.

All the inmates at what is now known as Kinross were transferred as a whole to that facility in the fall of 2015. The “new” facility was abhorrently below the health and safety standards required to open it. When we arrived, there was no heat, the plumbing didn’t work, the room and cell furnishings that are required by Correctional Facilities Administration (CFA) policies could not be met, i.e., blankets, sheets, washcloths, towels, etc. …

Kinross just created a united mindset to stand against it finally. Suddenly, everyone was an activist, willing to support in any way they could.

We exhausted all the avenues for legal redress on the issues to the kangaroo judicial system — it just happened to be the same system we were seeking redress from: “Big Business MDOC,” the same people who approved and allowed us to be transferred there. Clearly, they were not going to answer in our favor and give in to the most hated enemy of Big Business: “liability.” …

Suffice it to say the work stoppage was organized and put in effect the morning of Sept. 9. The protest had taken on a national aspect, where it was no longer just about Kinross, but the idea and concept of mass incarceration, built with racial overtones, unfair and unethical sentencing practices, unjust taxation without representation, such as the 6 percent sales tax on anything we order except food from the store, even shipping and handling, “the New Jim Crow.”

The warden knew of the protest and the truth of why it happened at his facility, a fact that can be logically proven by his stance of inaction against it. He instructed his staff not to write tickets or fire inmates for not working. If you check the records, no tickets were written and no one lost a job for not working that day. Clearly, he knew we had legitimate gripes against his facility.

His staff, however, was of a different opinion. They chose to try and exorcise the protest out of us through mistreatment: malicious shakedowns, breaking property and underfeeding us with dated, spoiled food; and when seeking redress, we were told to “deal with it.”

This sparked off the assembly on Sept. 10, 2016. …

So I ended up out there and, yeah, when things started to turn dark (mindsets, not the time of day) and people — scared, tired, frustrated, with hope almost gone — asked me to be the spokesperson for the inmates with the administration, I did it, and peacefully ended the assembly. This action has me labeled as the “leader” of the incidents, when in actuality I ended a situation that could have turned ugly for everyone. I thought I did a good thing for us: no one hurt, good discussion with the warden, a positive tone all around.

But “Big Business” couldn’t allow it to end like that. It had too much attention and they couldn’t allow the focus of the incident to be on the issues, so they literally sent in the guns to an already agitated, anxiety-filled, desperate group of individuals who were barely talked out of violence, to aggravate and intensify their aggression.

They intentionally incited a riot-type atmosphere so the department would back their past transgressions — they would have no choice! They intentionally collage all the events together to paint the picture of a bunch of inmates storming out of units rioting, when in fact the assembly had been over for at least two hours, inmates were in their units in their cubes and peaceful when they sent in the “storm troopers.” Inmates in my unit were on their bunks and still they gassed us repeatedly.

We were taken out of the unit and myself and 102 other inmates were taken to Marquette Prison, to a condemned block that had been closed down for four years prior to our arrival. We were placed in filthy cells here also, plumbing didn’t work, and supplies and treatment were below standards. We were always fed the same bag meals, although they had a functioning kitchen with workers, and already fed everyone else there in their cells hot meals.

After the second day, I was separated from the rest of the transferred Kinross prisoners and placed in another block, where I was informed that they “knew” I was the “leader” and I had nothing coming. They meant my property was “lost.” Everything I possessed — hygiene, legal transcripts, coat, shoes, appliances, photos, etc. — everything gone. I was denied toothpaste the whole time I was there.

Twenty-seven days later, 88 of us were transferred again to Baraga Maximum Facility, where again I was separated from the rest of the inmates. I was immediately called into an office, told they “knew” I was the “leader” of the “rebellion” and that I should plan to be there in segregation for two years. …

[But before, on] Aug. 19, 2016, I was a level one-one prisoner, the lowest security achievable. I was a father with an 8-year-old son I have never seen face to face, not living in the best of circumstances, striving diligently to reach him. I had three years left on an 11-year sentence. …

We need help! I’m shouting out from this 8-by-10 cell, help us!

Don’t let them quiet our voice; be an amplifier for us. Don’t let what they are doing to us and throughout the MDOC fade into oblivion. We were not angels, but we don’t deserve this! …

Show your support and write to Harold Gonzales, 194496, Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility, 13924 Wadaga Rd., Baraga, MI 49908-9204.