This post is the second in a series investigating conditions in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center from the perspective of people incarcerated there. Posts are compiled here. Identifying details have been omitted to protect our sources when they wish to remain anonymous.
Julius (name changed) has been confined at the Vanderburgh County Detention Center for over 6 months. Because of a chronic medical condition, he stays in the medical unit--his complaints about which include staying in his cell for 24 hours a day, interacting with "overworked," "nasty," and "mean" correctional officers, paying fees for sick calls and medicine, and his grievances and complaints "fall[ing] on deaf ears."
Unlike most county jail detainees who are awaiting trial, Julius has already been sentenced. Sentences are typically served at state-run facilities, but people like Julius who are charged with level 6 felonies (the lowest level) serve their time in county jails. Julius has a 2.5-year sentence, half of which will be served in jail.
Julius mentions twice in his letter that the cost for a medical visit is $15 and prescriptions are an additional $15. The maximum co-pay at state prisons (according to Indiana Code 11-10-3-5) is $10; however, county facilities such the Vanderburgh County Detention Center set their own co-pay policies and do not have to follow this regulation (according to 210 Indiana Administrative Code 7-1-1). The higher cost is particularly unfair for prisoner like Julius, who would be paying less if he were serving his sentence in a state-run facility instead of a county one. Not only are those incarcerated in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center unable to earn money through underpaid prison labor as might be possible at a state-run facility, they also must pay more for medical care than prisoners in state facilities, which burdens their financial supporters on the outside.
In a follow-up letter dated February 16, 2018, Julius clarified that even for chronic conditions like his, inmates must pay for each prescription and sick call. This, too, contradicts the Indiana Administrative Code regarding IDOC prisoners, which states, "There shall be no co-payment for renewal of chronically prescribed medication following the initial prescription of the medication" (210 IAC 7-2-3). Again, county jails housing IDOC prisoners are not required to follow the regulation. Julius said he had been paying $70 per month for his prescriptions but is now paying $45.
Julius also offers an prisoner perspective on Vanderburgh County's push to remodel and/or expand the county jail. The jail, which is only 11 years old, is required to produce a plan to correct 6 code violations, including overcrowding, by late April. Julius says that prospective donors for a new medical portion of the jail are taken on tours through the unit. For their viewing pleasure and for the benefit of the jail, donors parade past "people that are sleeping in pain, in need of a real doctor, confined to this unit in despair."
His letter is reproduced in full below.
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."
A couple of weeks ago, I left Evansville, Indiana, to spend time in southern Arizona working with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group that aims to prevent death in the Sonoran desert, where 170 bodies and human remains were recovered in 2016 alone. For the past twenty years, heightened obstacles along the U.S.-Mexico border have funneled people migrating north to do so in remote and treacherous areas, such as around the town of Arivaca, Arizona, where I've been staying. I am offering water, food, and medical care to migrants to be in solidarity with them, to accompany them briefly in their journey and to take a political stand against the ongoing immigration crisis. To read more about the situation and my motivation for spending time in Arizona, you can read my previous post here.
Someone asked me recently what I've learned so far in my first two weeks. A couple of things came to mind.
First, walking from Mexico to the U.S. can take much longer than I thought; sometimes 14 miles as the crow flies can take a week or longer, especially when people lose their guide, become sick or injured, or have to hide from Border Patrol. Depending on where a group launches their journey, several days could be spent walking on the Mexican side before crossing as well. Folks who have stumbled upon our camp since I've been here have sometimes walked for 8 or 9 days.
For the next five weeks, I'll be distributing food, water, medical supplies, and other necessities to people who are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and walking north through the southern Arizona desert with the hope of a better life in the U.S.
Although the U.S.-Mexico border may seem distant, border dynamics and immigration policy affect those of us in Southern Indiana, too. In Vanderburgh County, 4,800 residents are immigrants. Of those, an estimated 1,522 (31.7%) have no formal residency status, and about half of those without papers have been in the U.S. for thirteen years or more.
For immigrants (as well as their friends, family and community members), the risk for attacks, exploitation, and deportation are increasing along with fear and psychological stress that accompany these realities. In one week in February 2017, for instance, over 100 people in Indiana and Kentucky were arrested in a series of immigration raids. For those deported, getting back to Indiana and Kentucky might come with significant physical risk (including risk of death) and financial burden. Immigrants in Southern Indiana who manage to avoid raids like these might attempt to become more hidden or "well-behaved" and, in turn, more vulnerable to abuse from bosses, landlords and police. Meanwhile, the criminalization of immigration benefits private prisons by filling their cages, which increases the prisons' income from the federal government who pays the prisons to house inmates. These same prisons help to write the immigration legislation that criminalize immigration and keep the prison business lucrative.
Extreme right-wing groups advocating white nationalism and a fascist government have recently announced their plans to hold a conference and rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, on April 28-29, 2017.
The press release for the event from the National Socialist Movement announces that an umbrella organization calling itself the National Front, which includes the Traditionalist Worker Party along with various KKK, neo-Nazi and other Alt-Right groups, will hold a conference at Jenny Wiley State Park near Pikeville, Kentucky, on April 28, followed by a rally at the Pike County Courthouse in Pikeville from 2-5 p.m. on April 29.
Protest tactics came to life on Saturday at PG, where attendees at Evansville Letters to Prisoners' event could learn how to "lock down" to equipment, create barricades, make face masks out of everyday items, shield themselves from state violence, and compile and use a street medic kit.
Participants could also make prayer ties and participate in a drum circle facilitated by members of a group of native and non-native people who meet regularly to drum. The repeated rounds of drumming throughout the event echoed the role that spirituality has played at Standing Rock. Drummers carried in mind a particular intention during each round of drumming, including positive intentions for water protectors and hope that those seen as enemies--cops, security personnel, politicians--change their minds and hearts.
Di Lucid is a 19-year-old rapper from Evansville who just released a new album called Constellations on November 9th. We were intrigued after seeing him perform at PG one night and decided to catch up with him and learn a little more about his life. When we met up, we talked about the new album, coming up as a white kid in a mostly black hip-hop crew, seeing his friends go to prison, living with mental illness, and about the Evansville hip-hop scene as he sees it.
Di has a show coming up with Kelo Kaddafi and Ali Buckets on January 6th at PG. Don't miss it.
"If a prison can take on so many variations in form (i.e. no walls, an executive chef, use of drugs and alcohol, family living with you, etc.) then what constitutes a prison? If it is the nature of the relationship of being subject to the control of another, regardless of the form of that control, then certainly a prison is the only future the state has for you in any form."
There was a benefit held Sunday, October 16th to raise money and awareness for Luke O'Donovan and the nationwide prison strike that is in its fifth week. Luke O'Donovan is a queer anarchist prisoner who just finished a two year prison sentence for defending himself against a homophobic attack in Atlanta. The night was themed around points Luke had initiated in an interview on It's Going Down Cast: his experience in prison, his banishment from Georgia as a term of probation, and his involvement in a network of communes.
The judge in Luke's case tried to punish his openness to the world by expelling him out into it. As a condition of probation Luke is only allowed in one county in Georgia. It is a county where he has no friends or connection. This condition was determined by a whim of the judge in order to further marginalize Luke's politics so that they would collapse without support. However Luke was receiving dozens of letters each week in prison, always had the highest allowable amount on his commissary, and had weekly visits from friends, family, and comrades. Luke attributes this to the interdependent lives that he and his friends and comrades have intentionally fostered for years. This life involves buying houses in the same neighborhood, opening a store together, committing to developing a rural land base, and no less marching in the streets together.
Luke's imprisonment continues to be a social relationship that tries to deny him from being drawn into the intimacy and trust that generated the courage and indignation for him to defend himself. He was first captured by the state and kept confined within walls. This did not wither the rhizomatous interconnections of his life. Now, secondly, the state pursues an opposite approach of ripping him out by the roots and transplanting him into the lonely deficiencies of what most of us have come to know as the normalcy of everyday life. However, the resilience of what is a radical alternative to prison is that our social ecologies are polycultural and heterogeneous. "We are everywhere," and everywhere is the front line of our war as we put this "everyday" of our lives in common.
Mississippi Stand's latest direct action successfully stopping Dakota Access Pipeline construction in Keokuk, IA, consists of water protectors blocking Bakken trucks from entering their sludge dumpsite. What is this "sludge" and where does it come from?