Following is a first-hand account of a visit to Marquette Branch Prison by David Sole, a retired Detroit trade unionist and supporter of political prisoner the Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Mich.
The Rev. Edward Pinkney, already in 24/7 isolation in Marquette Branch Prison, was slammed with bogus charges on Nov. 21 and placed into “segregation,” canceling any prison visits.
Pinkney had been punitively transferred to the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Oct. 6 from downstate Lakeland Prison. At Lakeland, he had absolutely no problems from the prison guards or administration. But many believe this political prisoner was getting “too many” visitors and “too much” media coverage, leading to his transfer.
Since his arrival at Marquette, he has been targeted by vindictive and racist guards, slapping him with numerous “tickets” for so-called violations of prison rules. Pinkney is African-American. Since Oct. 23, he has been denied access to the telephone and put into “house arrest,” barred from leaving his cell except for 15 minutes in the cafeteria.
Rev. Pinkney’s isolation was finally broken on Nov. 12 and 13 when his spouse, Dorothy Pinkney, and Detroit supporter Marcina Cole drove a total of 1,400 miles round trip to visit him.
On Nov. 20, I flew to Marquette to visit Rev. Pinkney. A press conference outside Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Marquette office just prior to the visit attracted local television reporters. That night, ABC-TV 10 gave a clear account of the threats and harassment guards were directing at Rev. Pinkney.
After the press conference, I had a three-hour visit with Rev. Pinkney inside Marquette Prison, during which I took several pages of notes. The previous week, a guard had provided Cole with paper and pencil for notes she took with her on leaving. This time, the front desk guard, an Officer Johnson, demanded I empty my pockets and confiscated my notes. He stated that nothing could leave the visiting area and refused to answer when asked why the guard on duty inside had said nothing for three hours while I took notes in front of her.
As I arrived at the prison on Saturday evening for another visit, Officer Johnson was waiting and came out to the car. I was told that I would not be able to visit Rev. Pinkney as he had been placed into “segregation” for “smuggling.” I objected that Rev. Pinkney had not written anything and that the guard had watched for hours as I took notes. Johnson refused to discuss any of this and shouted that I must leave the prison grounds immediately.
From my visit the day before it is clear that numerous guards — all of them white — have it in for Rev. Pinkney. He had reported that one prisoner was Tased to death that month and four others had been killed in September. Marquette Prison is a low-security, Level 1 facility.
Pinkney stated that the food served the prisoners was unfit for human consumption and speculated that someone high up might be profiting from scrimping on the food contract. “The meatballs they serve are balls, but there is no meat,” he joked. Recently served “pizza” was “undercooked dough with a drizzle of cheese.” He was considering writing a grievance to demand a forensic audit of the prison.
Rev. Pinkney, along with his supporters, are concerned for his health and safety under these conditions. Already, he has developed high blood pressure, which he did not have before his December 2014 incarceration. The prison medical staff has been ordered to check his blood pressure once a week, which is clearly not adequate care. With no exercise and the terrible diet, Rev. Pinkney’s health cannot improve, especially because of the psychological strain of what he described as “daily confrontations with aggressive and arrogant guards.”
A protest at the gates of Marquette Branch Prison was held at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 22. Supporters throughout Michigan and across the region have scheduled an “Emergency Conference to Save Reverend Pinkney” in Detroit on Dec. 12 from noon to 5 p.m. The location is St. Matthew/St. Joseph Church, 8850 Woodward Avenue. See workers.org for background on Pinkney’s persecution by Michigan authorities.