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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
From Riffi Bloomington
Received and transmitted:
*Please call Wabash Valley Correctional Facility Superintendent Richard Brown and Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner Bruce Lemmon to protest the ongoing torture of inmates in disciplinary segregation at WVCF!
More information below.*
Richard Brown: (812) 398-5050
Bruce Lemmon: (317) 232-5711
"I am calling to protest the ongoing torture of prisoners in disciplinary segregation at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. The prisoners are being tortured by slow starvation and exceedingly cold temperatures in the cells. The food rations these prisoners are receiving are dangerously insufficient, and the staff keeps the AC on so high that prisoners are constantly cold. Please examine the practices of the staff at WVCF in regard to the provision of food to inmates in and their operation of the heating and cooling system in disciplinary segregation. Also, please repair the sink in the cell of James Phillips (DOC #106333), because it is currently broken to the point that he can't get water to drink unless he puts his mouth on the faucet. Thank you."
This is a list highlighting actions taken regionally in association with the September 9th nationwide prison strike. For a comprehensive, world-wide list of actions check out it It's Going Down's strike coverage.
In 1948 at the Bucyrus-Erie plant on the west side of Evansville the workers went on strike with the demands of higher wages, a closed shop, and increased agency in the functioning of the shop floor. The workers were going door to door in neighborhoods and discouraging scabs from working their jobs. With violence at the picket lines and support from other unions, B-E couldn’t get more than 30% of its shop running. Out of desperation, B-E tried to use prison labor to get the factory up and running, but workers with community support put a stop to it.
A banner in support of the upcoming national prison strike appeared over the Lloyd Expressway in Evansville on Monday morning.
Actions like this are currently happening all across the country to spread word of the strike as it approaches.