This post is the first in a series investigating conditions in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center from the perspective of people incarcerated there. Posts will be compiled here.
In January, Vanderburgh County Detention Center inmate Jacqueline Neugebohrn wrote to a Where the River Frowns contributor about conditions in the county jail and her experience there. Jacqueline has been held in the jail for over a year--since January 11, 2017.
Her letter comes a few months after the Vanderburgh County Detention Center was cited for six violations of Indiana Code:
In November 2017, Shaka Shakur underwent a successful 12-day hunger strike at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Vincennes, Indiana, after which he was moved to a non-camera cell and most of his confiscated property was returned.
Starting the morning of November 3, Shaka Shakur, Cortez Wheeler, and another person who goes by Martins refused to eat and made demands of Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. According to Shakur, "Cortez's issues were addressed and resolved the next day so he started to eat," and due to medical conditions, Martins "was advised by medical that he should eat." Shaka decided to continue until his demands were met.
Recounting his demands, Shakur states, "I wanted to be placed in non-camera cell. I wanted to be moved out of the SHU where the August 31st alleged assault happened and where I was being subjected to retaliation. I wanted my trays to stop being tampered with, for incoming/outgoing mail to stop being tampered with, censored and/or disappeared." Explaining the demands regarding mail, he adds, "I just recently found out they threw away my daughter's school pics that came in the mail!"
IDOC Watch, Kite Line Radio, and other groups shared news of the strike and encouraged supporters to call in to Wabash Valley to ask about the hunger strike.
On Thursday, December 21, Evansville Letters to Prisoners (ELTP) hosted an event at Central Library where attendees read about common pathways to prison, explored and took home zines and other prisoner support materials, dropped off paperback book donations for the Vanderburgh County Detention Center, checked out library materials on mass incarceration and abolition, and listened as members of ELTP read aloud letters from prisoners. Some of the letters were written specifically to be shared at the event.
The event was part of a series developed by the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library called "A Million Voices in the River City, "which aims to ask the question, "is 'E' really for everyone?" Each month, a different group of people whose voices are often overlooked are invited to use the lobby of Central Library to share their stories.
The letters read aloud were written by Indiana prisoner, scholar, and playwright Anastazia Schmid; Indiana prisoner Shaka Shakur who recently underwent a successful hunger strike for better living conditions; Lamont Heard, a Michigan prisoner who was sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile; anarchist prisoner Sean Swain; black liberation fighter Kuwasi Balagoon; and Malcolm X.
Evansville Letters to Prisoners formed in October of 2015 as a way for people interested in supporting prisoners to work collaboratively. The group regularly holds letter writing events at which people can write to prisoners of their choosing or to the prisoners who are spotlighted that week, such as political prisoners with upcoming birthdays. Periodically, the group also holds fundraisers, movie nights, and other awareness-raising events. For updated information on the group, see facebook.com/evansvilleletterstoprisoners.
The following statement was provided to Where the River Frowns by Shannon, Ricky Ard's niece:
The Ard family would like to express our deepest gratitude to the community for the heartfelt outpouring of sympathy. We are very much appreciative of all the expressions of support.
Around 11 a.m., about a dozen people gathered outside the Winfield K. Benton Federal Building in downtown Evansville to stand up against the police killing of 55-year-old Evansville native Ricky Ard, who had been fatally shot there twenty-four hours before.
One protester stated that his goal was to call attention to Ard's killing and to take a strong stand against the police so that they think twice in the future before killing more people.
Ard was shot and killed by police yesterday, August 29, 2017, outside of the federal building by an Evansville police officer who has been identified as Kenny Dutschke and a federal security officer employed by the U.S. Marshals who has yet to be identified. Surveillance cameras on site show that Ard had a baseball bat and had smashed out the front windows of the federal building.
Early this morning, workers eliminated the elaborate memorial that Evansville residents had created the night before outside the building, washing away chalk from the public sidewalk and throwing away posters, candles and stuffed animals left by mourners.
Evansville residents gathered tonight outside the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building to hold a vigil for Ricky Ard who was murdered earlier today by police.
Approximately sixty people attended the spontaneous vigil, which was organized by word of mouth and social media. Although no centralized group took responsibility for organizing the event, the group appeared unified in their message that Ard's murder was unjustified.
An Evansville police officer and a federal security officer employed by the U.S. Marshals shot and killed an Evansville man, 55-year-old Ricky Ard, outside the Winfield K. Benton Federal Building in downtown Evansville today.
Police allege that Ard smashed out the front windows of the federal building with a baseball bat and was complaining about "the government" during the confrontation. One witness, Andrew Wolfe, interviewed by the Evansville Courier and Press, said that the police tried to use a Taser on Ard, but it "didn't work." According to police, Ard was kicked out of the Federal Building yesterday after some sort of incident.
Of course, Ard cannot tell his own side of the story, and as of yet, no information is available from his family or loved ones that could shed light on this incident.
EPD spokesperson Sgt. Jason Cullum could not confirm whether or not the officer's body camera was on during the shooting. If it was, the video will eventually become public record but could be withheld from the public during an investigation period. Video from surveillance cameras attached to the federal building has yet to be released.
According to the project Killed by Police, which tracks police murders, Ricky Ard is the 804th person killed by police in the U.S. in 2017. According to The Counted, a project that tracked police murders last year, police killed 1,092 people in the U.S. in 2016.
According to their press release, the Evansville Police Department claims the officers believed "the man’s continued violent behavior posed an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death," and that "the officers discharged their firearms to protect themselves." They also stated, in a Tweet, that the officers had used "multiple de-escalation techniques" prior to shooting Ard.
But some Evansville residents have taken issue with this claim, wondering why two armed and trained officers could not resolve this incident without loss of life.
Jeremy Wilson, an Evansville resident, wrote in comments on Facebook: "They should of shot him in the shoulder or leg, he should still be alive. They are trained to aim before firing. My point is they killed a guy who had a bat! A bat! This should of been handled so different than just killing him... They should of went and picked up a couple Jim Town thugs and said 'give you guys 20$ bucks to disarm him.' And watch what they would of done with out killing him...if they would have done their job this guy would be alive right now getting mentally assessed and figuring out what he needs to get to the help he needs, not put down like a rabid dog."
Another resident wondered why the officers had failed to properly deploy their Tasers: "Help me understand something...Officers are trained to protect and serve right? You can shoot a man 4 to 5 times with a gun but you can't hit him once with a tazer? Yeah great job."
As usual, the corporate media sprung into immediate action, helping the police justify the killing, parroting police talking points word-for-word, and working to vilify Ard. Article headlines on the Evansville Courier and Press website read "Witness: Man was swinging bat before fatal shooting" and "EPD: Taser, talk failed before fatal police shooting at federal building." And in a sentence so contrived as to be laughable were it not so common, 14 News mysteriously stated that "A man died after an officer-involved shooting." How the officers were "involved" and how the man "died" are left to speculation.
Editors' Note (August 30, 2017): An earlier draft of this article contained a photo, taken by the Evansville Courier and Press, of Ricky Ard's body. This photo has been removed at the request of Ricky's family.
On Friday, July 21, banners hung across Evansville expressing support for those arrested during the protests against Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington, D.C. on January 20 of this year.
The banners appeared during a week of solidarity called by the Crimethinc Ex-Worker's Collective. According to the announcement for the event, the week of solidarity was called to coincide with a hearing in Federal Court in Washington D.C. on July 27, in which a judge will hear a motion to dismiss the multiple felony charges against the more than 200 defendants in the case. More information on the case is available at defendj20resistance.org.
The banners, which were dropped at various points along the Lloyd Expressway as well as along the Greenway Passage on the Evansville riverfront, made use of a new marketing campaign, "Evansville--e is for everyone," created by Evansville's business leaders in an attempt to re-brand Evansville as friendly to commerce and development. The new brand, which many worry is an attempt at fueling gentrification in the city, has appeared in shop windows and city buildings throughout Evansville in recent months.
The modification and use of this new brand in support of protesters facing government repression is an example of détournement, a tactic of political subversion in which the symbols and images of those in power are altered to be expressions of resistance. This tactic has a long and rich history, from the Situationist International to Adbusters.
by Those neighbors you called the police on last week
In 1824, prospectors drilled two salt water wells at Maryland Street and Fountain Avenue on the eastern banks of Pigeon Creek in Lamasco, Indiana. They auspiciously intended to open up a salt factory and expand their fortunes but would have no such luck. Despite their ambitious investments into the project, they quickly learned the water was too salty for the primitive desalination equipment of the times and the landscape proved too hostile for their endeavor and were forced to abandon it.
This saltiness and hostility toward the upper class--the "burghers" (literally German for "wealthy out of towners") as they came to be known locally until the mid-1900s–-has permeated the neighborhood throughout its history.
After weeks of indecision, I finally decided to make the five hour drive from Evansville to Pikeville, Kentucky, last weekend to attend a neo-Nazi rally. To be real, I didn't totally feel like going. I mean, who wants to spend their weekend listening to arguments in favor of sending gay people and people in mixed race relationships off to re-education camps? It sounded super annoying and it would have been easier to just avoid the whole thing.
But I've been getting more and more concerned lately about the growth of white nationalist movements, all these racist attacks on marginalized groups, and the way the white working class is hitting the streets in support of a billionaire and his fascist policies. Like anybody who's read a few history books, particularly about the growth of fascist movements in Europe in the 1930s, I don't like the way the winds are blowing.
Plus, this shit felt personal given the fact that one of the main groups organizing the event--the Traditionalist Worker Party--has its home base just a few miles up the road in Paoli, Indiana, and its shitbag leader, Matthew Heimbach, has told the media about how he thinks people in Southern Indiana are really open to his dreams of concentration camps and white ethno-states: "Southern Indiana's a natural home for our politics...You have struggling working-class issues; you have the frustration and alienation from Washington insider politics. We need to be where people are being left behind, and I think there are few places that can compete with Kentucky (and) Indiana."