During the Vanderburgh County Jail Blue Ribbon Committee meeting on April 2, various groups and individuals spoke out against increasing the jail's capacity and continuing to criminalize and incarcerate people in the county.
A member of Evansville Letters to Prisoners (ELTP) pointed out racial and class disparities between the members of the jail committee and those they are incarcerating. The speaker highlighted ways in which the committee members spoke about prisoners, including referring to prisoners covering fluorescent lights above their beds while they slept as "vandalism." The ELTP representative read an excerpt from a letter from a local inmate and mentioned conversations with locals about the fluorescent lights at the Vanderburgh County jail and their strategies for dimming them. "People talk about taking stickers off deodorant, taping books up to the lights, and things like that, and I think that's a sign of resilience and creativity and how strong humans are, rather than just a problem of vandalism or people not being compliant...I think it makes a lot of sense that inmates wouldn't want a fluorescent light above their bed while they are trying to sleep."
Rather than fixing "little things" in increasing the capacity of the jail, the ELTP representative said now is an opportune time "to look to abolitionist strategies." "Abolition," according to the group Critical Resistance, is "a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment."
Submitted to Where the River Frowns by Frank Brand
I’ve lived in Evansville for the last decade. I like it here. I like that the city is small. I enjoy the street culture and social abandonment of folks day-drinking in empty lots, singing loudly to themselves without embarrassment, or having public sex, and I enjoy folks’ inventiveness, though it’s brought on by overwhelming need-- “the mother of invention."
I moved here indirectly from Newnan, Georgia. I have to work this weekend, but if didn't, I’d be back in Newnan, down by its old remodeled square, much the style of Franklin Street in Evansville (not the warehouse area where they house prison laborers but gentrified Lamasco where the suburbanites come into town for the weekend to get drunk amongst themselves). I’d be back south in physical opposition against the neo-Nazi rally.
This post is the third in a series investigating conditions in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center from the perspective of people incarcerated there. Posts are compiled here.
In early January, prisoner David Hooker of Evansville, IN, traveled under the captivity of the Indiana Department of Corrections from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to the Vanderburgh County Confinement Center, a trip which led to panic attacks, sleeplessness, and bouts of claustrophobia.
During the 300-mile trip, David reports cramped quarters, bouncing around against a steel interior while handcuffed without a seatbelt, and becoming dizzy and nauseous. At one point, another inmate started crying. David wrote, "I talked to him for a while to forget our physical and mental torture but after a while the pain became too unbearable to speak further. While he cried, I put my head down and begged God to ease or stop our suffering. After 4 ½ hours nonstop, it was finally over."
On April 3 at the Vanderburgh County Jail Blue Ribbon Committee meeting, Sheriff Dave Wedding said that 95 Vanderburgh County inmates were housed outside of the county's facility that day, and that he hoped to transfer 80 more by the end of the week, bringing the total to about 170 Vanderburgh County inmates housed in 9 or 10 jails throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. Each of these inmates will be transported at least twice--to and from the outside facility--but could also be transported at other times for court appearance or other reasons.
Although David Hooker is serving a sentence as a state prisoner under the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) rather than serving time as a Vanderburgh County inmate (he transferred briefly to Vanderburgh County for a court appearance), his story could give some insight into the abuse that is typical for inmates in Indiana who are transferred back and forth between facilities. Below is David Hooker's full account of his traumatic trip from a letter dated January 30, 2018.
My name is David Hooker and I was transported here in an ordinary appearing sheriff’s transport van. I was told by transport officer Deputy Riney that since trip is more than four hours there would be many stops to stretch, orientate and use restroom—esp. since I take blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetic medication which causes constant urination.
In a follow-up letter from March 28, 2018, David Hooker included this diagram of the van he and others were transported in. He explained, "At the back is a slant that prevents a prisoner from sitting up. You must stay bent forward. At every turn and stop you must brace yourself from being slammed into the walls," which are "mere inches away" from the inmates' heads.