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.
On February 23, 2018, Evansville Police Department officer Samuel SeDoris shot and killed 59-year-old Douglas Kemp during a traffic stop. Kemp was the 182nd person killed by police in the U.S. in 2018, and the second person killed by the EPD in 6 months.
Less than a month before, on January 18, 2018, EPD officer Jackie Smith fired two shots at Vincent Bufkin while responding to a "refusal to leave" call; Bufkin survived a gunshot wound to his shoulder and faces several charges related to the encounter.
Six months ago, on August 29, 2017, EPD officer Kenny Dutschke and a yet-to-be-named federal security officer fatally shot 55-year-old Ricky Ard in front of the Federal Building in downtown Evansville.
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.
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.