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May 14, 2020 45 mins

Katy, Cody, and Robert interview Prison Abolitionists about COVID-19.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Worst Year Ever, a production of I Heart
Radio Together Everything, So don't don't hey, Cool cats and

(00:22):
kitties Welcome back to Worst. Silly salamanders and slithery snakes
nailed it perfect, Wild whales and Willie Wallis HM. Welcome
back to the Worst Year Ever, made worse by this

(00:43):
fun intro. If you listen to the episode earlier this week,
you already know that today we have an interview. Yes,
it is an interview with a couple of activists with
a group called No Detention Centers in Michigan. UM, and
this ties in with you know, what we've been talking
about about the coronavirus and in prisons and why maybe

(01:05):
prisons are bad. Also, it ties in with a lot
of stuff, so we hope you enjoy it. So JR. Brandon,
you all want to uh, you all want to kick
us off by kind of introducing yourselves by name and
in your organization? Sure? Uh, yeah, Brandon, if you want
to go first. Hi, I'm Brandon Johnson. I'm here with
No Detention Centers in Michigan, and my name is j R. Martin.

(01:27):
I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I'm also with
No Detention centers in Michigan. And the like purpose of
your organization is is kind of pretty obvious in the name,
but I think people don't actually know much about the
specific sort of detention center. Um, and you know, the
term that's used a lot to describe what you're specifically

(01:47):
protesting against, our our shadow prisons, and these are essentially
areas where the government detains undocumented immigrants. And and because
they're kind of seen as temporary detention, thisities they don't
have to abide by the same rules and provide the
same sort of quality of life things that a normal
prison would be required. Is that more or less kind

(02:08):
of what what how you describe it? Yeah? And they
also kind of are I mean, as kind of the
name suggests, they're very good at hiding what they're doing,
so of course they wentever forward say what you just said,
but they're very good at keeping everything they do kind
of under wraps. Yeah, And I would just add on
to that. I think, uh, one issue that we have

(02:29):
been just trying to communicate about as much as we
can over the last year is that there is a
distinction between ice detention centers and these privately contracted federal
immigrant only prisons or shadow prisons. So even though you

(02:51):
know the name of the group is no detention centers
in Michigan, I think are the work that we were
engaged in shifted somewhat because the coalition was formed early
last year, like in the in the first couple of
months of en in response to UH proposed plan for
a new immigrant attention center to be run for ice

(03:13):
by this private company I see a immigration center in America,
and that was a proposal for Ionia, and and so
we the the coalition started to oppose those plans, which
were shut down successfully within a couple of months. But
then it was just after we heard that, and it
was just as we were sort of celebrating that news

(03:34):
that we heard that the Geo Group would be reopening
this private prison in in Baldwin, Michigan. So we that
I think a big part of the work that we
were doing for a while UH in you know, especially
before this crisis that we're in now started, A big
part of of what we were doing was just to

(03:58):
learn as much as we could about the particular facilities
and also try to against the sort of propaganda that
was coming from who supported this prison in Baldwin. And
from the GEO group, and you know, from from people
who would say like, well, this prison has nothing to
do with ice, and these protesters are confused because they
think it's an ice detention center, right, So trying to

(04:21):
make it clear to people like first that we know
it is a federal prison for people who've been convicted
of so called federal crimes, and that we are here
to support those people, right, and that we see this
as part of a broad abolitionist struggle that incorporates the
fight against ice and against attention centers, and against these
prisons and against public prisons. You know, all these struggles

(04:42):
are connected. And yeah, I mean that that is kind
of interesting to me because as you say, your your prison,
your prison abolitionists, um, but your your your organization is
focused on a very specific, you know, kind of prison.
Why why this focus for you? Like, because obviously you
had you know, there's a number of different organizations that
are kind of prison abolitionist organizations in the United States.

(05:05):
Why did you pick this fight in particular? So at
least see, at least for me, we are a coalition.
So obviously everyone's got their own reasons, but I see
it as the most like militant form of the prison
industrial complex is to have private prisons run by a
company for US non citizens. That's like the most aggressive,
the most like kind of sketchy way to do it.

(05:26):
And I feel like you start there and then move inward.
That's kind of how I think about it at least. Yeah,
and I think it's also I would agree, and I
would also just add that I think for many people
around the state, there was just a feeling that with
the current administration there was a need to respond to
some specific steps that were taken and you know, specific

(05:50):
attempts to expand this this particular network of incarceration. So
these like for example, these you know, these private the
federal prisons, we're going to be phased out during like
there were there was a plan during the Obama administration
to effectively end these contracts, which of course was celebrated

(06:12):
as a as a major victory by many people around
the country, and then almost immediately when the Trump administration
came into power, that was reversed. And so, uh, there
are facilities that were scheduled to shut down that are
now remaining open, or places like the one in Baldwin

(06:33):
that you know two years ago or three years ago,
UM or four years ago, would there there would have
been no possibility or wouldn't have occurred to anybody that
they could have opened in this particular way. Um. And
this is a facility that has opened and closed multiple times,
and that's something that maybe we can talk more about.
But uh, you know, so, I think it was clear
to people that there was a need to engage in

(06:54):
a targeted struggle against this particular kind of expansion of
the the Carsonal State. It's also worth I think knowing
that of like the shadow prisons, this is the only
one in the Midwest as of right now. So it's
kind of like, if you learn you can make profits
off of it, there's gonna be more, so you want
to stop it before the profits start rolling in. Yeah,

(07:16):
it's really interesting hearing kind of strategically how you look
at this. And you've been obviously very successful, um, at
least you know, comparatively so far. Like you you were
successful in getting Governor Whitmer to block a contract with
Immigration Centers of America and stop the construction of that
center in Ionia. Um. But uh, and I guess one

(07:39):
of the things that I want to ask about that
is it's very difficult to get I think kind of
mainstream American voters, adults, I guess you'd say to to
care about prisoners, um like that's that's a tough sell
for a lot of people in this country, which is
part of why I think it's been very difficult getting
much traction and stories about like the corre and virus

(08:00):
spreading in American prisons. There's just not a huge amount
of inherent sympathy towards people who have been convicted of
a crime among a lot of people in this country.
You've been successful at getting a lot of folks angry
on behalf of these people um and and against you know,
these these detention centers. How have you gone about trying
to spread this message in a way that actually um

(08:23):
catches on with people? Well, I guess one there are
there are a couple of points that I would want
to make there. The first is that you know, unfortunately
it was there has been a very recent announcement that
we are struggling to keep up with and respond to
right now, which I don't know if if Brandon already

(08:44):
mentioned this before I came on, or if you were
you had heard this already, but there there's actually a
new proposal for a detention center in Ionia. Yeah, right, so,
and that that's just something we've just been aware of
in the in the lot a couple of weeks so,
and and you know, unfortunately it's a it's a different situation.

(09:05):
It's uh, it's private land, so there's not the same
you know that there's not exactly the same way to
to have it shut down. But will you know, we'll
we'll check out everything that can be done to fight
against that. And with respect to that question about sympathy
for incarcerated people, I think that's a really it's a
really important question, and I think, um, there are I

(09:30):
think we've been starting to see that the COVID nineteen
emergency has just been a reminder for so many people
that prisons and jails and detention centers are just not
safe for anybody, and we're never safe and have always
been an emergency. And so I think as people continue

(09:55):
to hear about all the suffering and all and and
all the people who are affected, I think for at
least some people, there has been a kind of growing
awareness of like the particular violence that in cards ready
people are are subjected to and so I think this,

(10:17):
you know what we're We're still going to see how this,
how this plays out and and what the you know,
long term effects are. But I think this has been
something like a wake up call for many people about
what has always been a crisis. Yeah, And I think, um,
what's been we've been able to do recently is connect

(10:38):
with prisoners inside you know, the North Lake Correctional Facility
where this the prison is, uh and kind of here
like have some recorded calls that we've published on our website,
and they seem pretty powerful, like they're talking about what
they're going through. And I think that hearing like a
voice attached, it's not just like a group of people,
it's like a person with a soul in mind, and
all that stuff kind of carries that out to hope.

(10:59):
It does absolutely, And we've been in touch, you know,
increasingly over the last few weeks with family members too,
And I think if you know it maybe, I think absolutely,
as Brendon said, like hearing somebody's voice and hearing them
talk about what they are experiencing makes it very difficult

(11:19):
to pretend that this is not you know, a person, right,
And I think people understand when we think about family
members too, that we I mean, I think incarceration effects
so many people's lives and so many direct and indirect ways.
You know. I think people when we when you really

(11:39):
get down to it, you know, they're everybody has some
degree of experience or or know somebody who knows somebody, right,
And so I think, uh, when people hear those those
those voices and those stories directly, and when they hear
more about family members, like particularly in the situation that
we're in where that's so difficult to get information and

(12:01):
family members and loved ones are just desperately looking for,
you know, for details on what's happening involved Win. I
think people people you know, have to have to see that.
That's that's real and and and really painful. Can we
can you tell us a little bit about what's happening there?

(12:22):
I mean you just now you mentioned this inability to
get information in details, and I'd like to hear a
bit more about that. Sure. So it is a Federal
Bureau of Prisons facility, so it's it's operated under the
authority of the b OP and the Bureau of Prisons
has a so called Coronavirus Resource page with with a

(12:46):
with a map that like an online map that's meant
to be updated every day with information on people who
have tested positive staff members and in carcerated people at
facilities around the country. And because this is a privately
contracted facility and like as a perfect illustration of as

(13:07):
you said earlier, the way it's called a shadow prison
because it's because of the you know, because of the
nature of this facility, it does not appear on that map. UM.
So that we've we've heard from multiple family members who
have been really confused, right and really alarmed by this
because they are told that this is that that that

(13:28):
this information should be available. And especially also since there
are we know that there are people who have been
recently transferred to this prison involved win who have experienced
at several other federal facilities, and like one thing we've
consistently heard from them is that this this place is
the worst that they've ever um. But we also know

(13:49):
that that you know, even even considering the the lack
of transparency and the appalling conditions that that I'm sure
are prevalent throughout the system, right, we like I we
know that that people are had expectations that their loved ones, Uh,
you know who who had previously been in other facilities,

(14:11):
that that they would be able to sort of get
access to some of the same information getting and and
that's now, that's how impossible. And from what I understand,
there are known cases there, at least among the staff,
but they are not admitting that there are actual cases.
And that's contrary to what prisoners themselves are saying on

(14:32):
the scene there. Right. So, the GEO Group, the company
that owns and manages this place, they have been releasing
information on staff members who have tested positive. And the
last that we heard that I'm aware of was in
an article in the Detroit Free Press that was published yesterday,
and that article had the number of staff members who

(14:56):
tested positive at fourteen, which was an increase of five
since last um when when there was another piece that
we've seen that had a number. So the GEO Group
has has been for a while releasing those numbers. They've
known about staff members testing positive since the first week
of April. They have consistently refused to release any information

(15:18):
on incarcerated people who have tested positive. So the only
way we knew that there were incarcerated people who had
tested positive for the virus was that a reporter at
the Michigan Advance who has done a lot of really
great and and you know, helpful work. Um, she was
in touch with the Michigan Department of Health and Human

(15:40):
Services and he had heard on April from them that
nine incarcerated people at North Lake had tested positive because
the GEO Group had reported those numbers to the Health Department,
even if they hadn't shared them with anyone else. And
since then, the Health Department has said that they don't
have the staff or they don't have the capacity to

(16:01):
keep up with this situation. So they they've said that
all questions about prisoners who have the virus, who are
have tested positive for the virus should be referred to
the facility itself, which, of course, you know, the way
things are now means that those questions aren't going to
get answered. So there was one source that we had
or you know, confirmed up to date information on incrtrated

(16:25):
people at Northlake to the tested positive, which we no
longer have. Oh it's so upsetting. Yeah, I think it's
worth bringing up to that, Like, this is all happening
in Michigan, which is currently not doing super great in
terms of the national coronavirus situation, and you know, I
think we hear a lot is essential workers. Essential workers
are the only one that should be out. And it

(16:46):
makes you wonder, like, well, is having this prison run
by a company something essential? Like is that are we
glad that we spend a lot of effort making this
happen so that now when the pandemic pandemic is happening,
we're all dealing with that, right, Well, everything down, down, down,

(17:10):
So I mean, y'all are in Michigan and I assume
some of our listeners are, but a lot aren't. So
one thing I'm kind of curious about, like if we're
trying to because I think it's important. I think what
y'all are doing is important. I also think it's important
to push for a larger and kind of more expansive
nationwide prison abolition movement. If we have people sitting here,

(17:33):
you know, doing some googling as they listening to as
they listen to this, trying to figure out what in
their own state, uh like what kind of detention centers
are open in their own state, or if they're they're
wanting to just push against private prisons in general, Like
do you have any recommendations for how folks can kind
of get into this sort of activism because it's it's tough,
you know, it relies a lot on Like one of

(17:55):
the things that's been difficult about getting stories from inside
prisons during this outbreakout is that they have so much
control over the people in them, so it's it's hard
to to reach people inside. It's hard to like form
those kind of bonds of solidarity and get their stories out. Like,
how would you recommend folks who are interested in, you know,
contributing to this movement gets started, you know, especially if

(18:17):
they're you know, not in Michigan and can't um actually
help you all directly. So I guess the first my
opinions first start local, look and see what prisons are
around you, what organizations are around you. Like I found
this group just online one day, just happenstance, which is
nice after I had moved to Michigan. I grew up here,

(18:37):
but I went away and came back and then found
this group by chance. Um, but it's worth doing. They're like, okay,
you can go on online and the biggest private pristic
companies are the Geo Group and course if you can
read about them find out if they're around you. Um,
the Industrial Workers of the World has an organizing committee
called the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and they have chapters.
I'm not I'm not like part of the organizing committee,

(18:59):
but they have a you know, a website and they
can direct your resources. That's another way, especially since we
can't really go outside. I feel like the internet and
like finding local groups is the best way to do
it in my opinion. Yeah, I mean, I am also
not officially a member of the UH in cars rated
work as organizing committee, but I have so much love

(19:21):
for eye Walk and all the you know, the the
organizing work that i've that is I've seen them do
and people who are UM involved in that. So I
would I would agree that that's a wonderful resource. And
I would also just say that in terms of study
and and context and learning about abolition, there's so much

(19:45):
history and and so many people who are like every day,
uh making this information and these struggles, you know, accessible
to two people. So like just yesterday there was an
interview on Democracy Now with Wilson Gilmore who talked, UH

(20:05):
about the you know that the abolitionis struggle in California,
and around the country and specifically responding to to COVID
nineteen and in abobles context. Um, there are people like
Miriam Caba who is prison prison culture is her handle
on Twitter, and just like the amount of work that
she has consistently done, like I I you know, based

(20:28):
out of Chicago for a while. She may live somewhere
else now, but just you know, the the amount of
knowledge that like she and other abolitionists share online every day,
and it is just like really really amazing. Also, churches, Um,
not all of them obviously, but in our group, we
have a lot of churches who are against this prison

(20:51):
and so you never know, you might find some and
that's a good resource. I think that's a good way
to connect totally. I think, uh yeah, this whole conversation
is a very interesting I think it might be good
to spend a moment just talking about uh, abolishing prisons
in general. I think that some people might not know
that much about it. Uh you know, the idea of

(21:13):
we look to other countries like Sweden, who has a
really excellent prison, real prison situation that's based in rehabilitation
and everything like that, is that what your goals are? Like,
I think I would see a major goal as just
to reframe the conversation about incarceration and about punishment, about

(21:37):
responding to violence. Um and just too two you know,
acknowledge this, uh, this, this this understanding, and continue a
conversation about how prisons do not solve these problems of
violence days Like, as Angelo Davis said, like, prisons do

(21:59):
not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Um So,
you know, particularly particularly like in the US, there's just
such a tendency to um imagine that that incarceration is
the answer or that um as you know, as as
one of you was saying earlier, like that that we
don't have to worry about people right once they are

(22:23):
in prison, or that like if if somebody is incarcerated,
then they deserve whatever they get, or you know, that
that that that the problem is solved. And I think
it's just you know, so clear in so many ways
that that this is not the solution, and then that
not solved by by locking people away. But I was

(22:49):
just gonna say, I'm just always blown away by you know,
it's very easy to forget about prisons in our day
to day life. It's very easy to be distracted by
everything else that's going on. But when you stop and
look at it and you think about it. Uh. And
you know, just from my own personal experience knowing people
that have been in and out of the prison system,
how little it does to help them. With the effect

(23:11):
that it has on families that lose people to the
prison system, uh, what that is for their income. How
being in a prison environment often exascerbates problems. It it
leads to, you know, more violence. There's all sorts of
stuff that that people just don't have the time to
think about and and it frustrates me. Um in this

(23:35):
country at least, I know, we have this like huge
amount of prison facilities and huge amount of money that's involved.
And it's kind of one of those situations where you know,
if you have a nail, how's it go if you
if you have a hammer, every problem is a nail.
And so, you know, you read about how the mentally
ill you're treated, you read about how minor crimes are treated.
You meant, you read about how all these things are treated.
And of course, if you have a large amount of prisons,

(23:57):
that's where people are going to get get put and
that's I think the thing people should think about is that,
you know, if we expand our prisons, the prisons we
build today might hold you tomorrow or your loved ones,
you know, because if they're there, they're going to get used,
especially if they're run by corporations who are trying to
make money. We end in some cases they're required to
be used. Like that was a big thing, not just

(24:19):
in Arizona, but I remember it specifically in Arizona, where
like they had a contract with the state to keep
the prisons at a minimum level of occupancy. Um. Yeah,
And I think one of the things that's hardest you
can you can get I think almost anyone, at least
anybody who's kind of liberal on the left and even
a lot of conservatives on board with the idea that
like prison reform is necessary. But once you start talking

(24:40):
about prison abolition, um, I think like the first questions
in people's minds is they're going to imagine, you know, Okay, well,
then you're talking about letting serial killers out on the street.
Then you're talking about letting letting out murders and all
these violent people, and like what about all these people
that that we believe need to be in prison? Um?
You know, there's a couple of tactics I can think

(25:02):
of for sort of dealing with that off the bat.
Number one, to just emphasize how rare those kind of
crimes are and how often incarceration actually contributes to people
who weren't violent criminals becoming violent criminals. Um. But I'm
curious how you know, and since this is something y'all
spent a lot more time thinking about and doing than
I do, um, how you approach answering that question for people.

(25:25):
So this is just kind of how I personally view it.
And I don't know if even JR. Would agree with me,
or if you know, everyone would, But I see there
to be a qualitative difference between a prison that houses
the few amount of people who might be like serial
killers or you know, that kind of example you were
giving versus what we have now. And I almost like

(25:46):
I'm getting a little wishing watching here. But I almost
wouldn't call that a prison like it is but so
functionally different from the system we have now that I
don't consider them kind of the same institution. And I
don't know if that's like academically correct, but that's kind
of how I think about it. If you look at
the majority of the incarcerated population. They're not really fitting
that mold, and so I kind of think, like, maybe
we need entirely different institutions set up. If you need

(26:08):
that kind of institution, I would just add to that.
Um you know there, I'm thinking of a really great comic,
like there's a there's a there's a sort of abolitionist
there's an introduction to abolitionist politics with Miriam Cobba. That's
in the form of a comic and I don't have
an in front of me right now. But she talks
about how she has been confronted with this question so

(26:32):
many times, right, this question like well, what do we
do then with the so called violent people? Or how
you know, how what like what if we if there
are no prisons, then then what do we do with
those people? And she talks about how she has stopped
responding to that question or or just like the importance
of reframing that question. And I know there are there

(26:54):
are other abolitionists too who talked about that. You say,
like where er is that violence happening now? Right? Or
like people who commit violence? Do we actually believe it?
Is it actually our understanding that prisons and that violence

(27:15):
when we know that you know, people who have committed
sexual assault are the president, right or they're like on
the Supreme Court, or they're everywhere, and that and that
that violence is getting not you know, it's not it's
not getting uh, it's it's it's not a problem that's

(27:36):
being solved. It's simply being relocated when people are put
in prison, and it's getting intensified. Right, And like, you
cannot talk about serial killers or or sexual violence, I
think without also talking about the serious like the the
mass death and the mass sexual violence that prisons themselves

(27:58):
are responsible for. Like, um, is a serial killer in
the US prison prison system is a factory for sexual
violence and other forms of violence, you know. And I
think reframing the question in that way is a really
crucial step for for like thinking about how an abolitionist

(28:20):
response is, you know, I would say in so many
ways like the only response or the only solution to
to these questerns. Yeah, I think that's very intelligent, particularly
because I mean, the thing you're fighting here is less
people's entrenched um ideas about what should happen in a
prison um and more people's entrenched and entrenched I think

(28:43):
by the media, particularly like fictional media. More than anything,
a trenched idea is about what crime is in this country.
I think in general the picture people have of of
crime in America is it might be the thing that
the average person is wrongest about, even including like climate
change into that ended at bunch just because of cop
dramas is kind of where I would lie a lot

(29:04):
of the blame um. But there there is one of
the things that strikes me as like the real Titanic
struggle here in terms of making progress on prison ebolition,
is is informing people properly, properly of what what violent
crime really looks like in the United States. And I
think you're right when you do have an accurate picture
of that, you realize that that prisons are factories for

(29:26):
creating the kind of crimes that people fear. I mean,
you have people going there, let's say for ten years.
They're put into this prison system under the understanding that
then they will be released back into society because they've paid,
you know, serve their time. But they're being injected into
a system that is inherently violent that also probably has

(29:48):
has drawn access to drugs, to all sorts of different
things that they're supposed to be moving away from and
then they come back into society, and I feel like
there's a really compelling case to be made that that's, yeah,
increasing the violence in our society. We're not giving people
tools to survive in the real world. We're just reinforcing
what they already know or introducing people that aren't violent

(30:10):
into that world of violence, you know. And then I
think another thing we're fighting is that, you know, there's
ignorance about what crime is and also about what the
prison population, with the incarcerated population is dealing with. And
that actually matches up with a lot of geo groups
like messaging and propaganda is you know, it's don't look here,
We're doing fine. We have this great new innovative system
of innovatives, of fun word they like to use. And

(30:32):
then you know, we get messages from the people inside.
When we put up on our website recently was oh,
there's a guy who's like coughing up something and they
just left him in his sell for five hours. And
you don't really hear that in the media. You don't
really hear that when you're talking about do I want
to keep this person in prison? Under my text dollar, Like,
is that how we want to spend our resources in life? Um?
And I don't think most Americans think about that because

(30:54):
prisons a way to take something, that is, they make
it not their problem and then don't think about it.
I think it up to us to kind of take responsibility.
Well or everything down, down down? Can we do one
more thing before we moved from the prison. I know

(31:15):
a lot of the people we've been talking to have
asked us to, like, say, what's been happening in the prison.
Can we just like give a narrative of what we heard? Yes? Please? Yeah.
So for a long time, we knew that more and
more people were coming into this prison in Baldwin. Uh
And and we were just looking for ways to to
get in touch with them and support them. And we were.

(31:38):
We first heard uh in early March from a relative
of somebody who had recently been transferred to the North
Lake Prison. Uh. She was very concerned for her relatives safety. Um.
She said that whenever she had talked to him on
the phone, Uh, not not that many times, but whenever

(31:59):
she had to his voice since he arrived in Michigan,
he just knew that something was wrong. And she had
not heard him speak like this before, and so we
sort of gradually got more details about this group of
ten to twelve predominantly black men in this prison who

(32:20):
had been rounded up and put in the special housing unit,
which is a restricted housing area that's cut off from
the general population. So they there. You know this that
there had been a sort of general climate of unrest
and violence inside this facility, and there was a particular

(32:43):
incident in early March where a one one prisoner was
was jumped by some others or there was a fight, um,
and none of the black men were actually involved in
that situation. But the warden's response was to basically round
up almost all the black people in the prison and
put them in the secure housing unit. And he told

(33:04):
them that this was supposedly for their own protection, but
they had not asked for protective custody. Um. You know,
many of them had no idea what was going on.
They didn't know why they were being put there, why
the prison staff were coming into the kitchen and the
barbershop with their guns drawn and with mace to to
lock everybody down. And in addition to that, since being

(33:25):
put in the in that restricted it in that restricted unit,
they you know, they also had their privileges restricted or
like some of their ability to to use the commissary
and to to get on the phone and things like that,
those were restricted as if they were being punished for
something wrong, as if this had been like disciplinary confinement,

(33:48):
um so. And they they they have been there and
so this was this was a situation that that sort
of predated the COVID nineteen emergency. We we started hearing
about in early March, and they've been in that restricted
unit since then. They've gone on hunger strike two separate times,
um within the last month or or month and a half.

(34:11):
And they were demanding, you know, first of all, just
an explanation and a response to what they understand what
what they you know, very directly perceived to be racist
repression and just the fact that they're in this unit
in the first place, and also demanding, you know, increased
access to the to the shower, more phone time, that

(34:34):
our food. They've talked about how appallingly inadequate the food is,
and that's something that we've actually heard throughout the facility.
So it's it's bad in the in the secure housing unit,
it's bad throughout the prison. The food is just not good. Um.
But so they were demanding food better, better food as well, um,
and limited water excess if I jump in, they were

(34:54):
complained about that. If I remember, a lot of limited
water access, right, yeah, And that was actually that was
that was That was a tactic that the warden had
also used to retaliate against people who were on hunger strikes.
So the first time there was a strike, um, there
was one person, there was one participant in the strike,

(35:15):
the warden. Basically, the way the warden him to end
the strike and to start eating again was to restrict
the water access in his cell. And that was just
around the same time that the warden had learned that
there were cases of the virus in the prison. Right,
So at a moment when everybody is supposed to be
washing your hands as much as possible, the warden made

(35:36):
this active decision to restrict somebody's access to water. And
that that person also told us like even in addition
to that health concern, the main reason it was a
problem for him was that he's a practicing Muslim, and
so he needed more frequent access to water to be
able to engage in his religious practice and to bathe

(35:57):
before praying, UM. But what we know that she of
off the water was something that the warden also did,
not just for that person, but for other participants in
the second hunger strike. UM. And that was well after
there were confirmed cases of the virus again. So we
had been since we found out about this, doing as
much as we could to support those people who were

(36:17):
on a hunger strike and spread the word about it.
And I think it's because of a couple of articles
that were published about that hunger strike that people outside
you know, family members and others found out about our
group and found out about how they could reach out
to us. And so that was what sort of ultimately
led to us having more contact with people in the

(36:40):
general population. And it's and that and like that communication
has been getting has been continuing to grow in the
last couple of weeks, and it's been getting more and
more urgent right because of what's going on throughout the
prison with with COVID nineteen. Thank you for that. It's
pretty bleak. It is very bleak. And this is just

(37:02):
one one prison, you know. I mean you're hearing horrifying
stories everywhere. UM. The audio that you have recorded from
the calls because that's pretty um, pretty hard wrenching stuff. Um. Yeah, I,

(37:22):
as I mentioned, I do have a non prison question
that we could keep in or not. I'm just curious
for your thoughts. Um. Governor Whitmer was mentioned earlier, and
I'm just curious to know from citizens of that state too.
I'm curious what you think about her because we're hearing

(37:42):
her name a lot. You know, she's being floated as
a potential VP, and I think it's fair to say
that a good amount of this country and our listeners
don't know that much about her pre coronavirus. Uh. And
it's easy for somebody to look good compared to Trump
right now, and I I just would value your insight
into her. Sure. Yeah, Well I can share something if

(38:03):
Brandon has a response as well. Uh yeah, I I
I appreciate that the non prison question. And I'm sorry
if that was you know, a very long digression before it,
But no, not at all. That's what you're here for.
I'm just curious while I have your attention. Yeah, well, definitely,
So I would say that my feelings about the governor

(38:26):
are really complicated, or that it's a it's a very
complex situation because it's very clear that there are fascists
and reactionaries in Michigan who are organizing and who are
taking advantage of this moment to grow their capacity and

(38:46):
to show up in public, right because they are not
embarrassed about showing up in public, and they're exploiting that
that opportunity to to to organize. And that's really scary
and something to fight, something for everybody to mobilize in
response to. And it is very clear that they are
naming the governor and and you know, singling her out

(39:11):
in in very specific ways. And so I I think
it's important to respond to to you know, to to
to that organizing and to and just to shut it
down in whatever ways we can. I also am I
also think it's important to avoid uh a sort of

(39:35):
immediate response to that dynamic, which I think is really
tempting and very understandable, right to present the governor as
someone as as a as a you know, as a
sort of heroic opponent or or or or or someone
who is yeah, we're we're at this point in our

(39:55):
country where someone who like does a basic minimal level
of respond two of like of taking science seriously responding
to a virus is able to like people kind of
can get on board with them without really thinking about like, okay,
but if if the comparison wasn't the guy who's in
charge of at all, like with this guy. Well, also,

(40:16):
we're in Michigan. Our last guy poison Flint's water, so like, yeah,
our bar is pretty low. So there's that. So you know, listeners,
just this should all be reinforcing, and you it's a
great time to get into politics. You can actually kill
a lot of people and still be doing better than
the folks before. So really, you know, anything goes now

(40:36):
that might not be there the tagline. Yeah, I mean
so I think all of that is right, And I
think about about Governor Whitman, I would I would just say,
you know, like, like, who knows what it feels like
to be singled out by the President of the United

(40:58):
States right for criticism in the way that that that
she has, And I think that's a that's a real concern,
and I understand that that people would would have a
lot of sympathy for her on that. And I also
just know that there are people in Michigan who have
been begging the governor to take action and release people

(41:20):
from prison and and that has happened, you know, so
I think, uh, it's it's a very complex thing to
to to deal with because there is much more that
she could have done, specifically on this issue of incarceration
in Michigan, and I think we're watching the effects of
that in action play out in real time. There's also

(41:41):
a simultaneous issue of like I know, you guys hadn
episode on tenantinings and stuff, and there's tenants movements happening
in Michigan right now. But we kind of want her
to you know, maybe wave some rent but that hasn't
happened yet either. Aute. Yeah, yeah, and that's that's a
that's a really I'm really grateful for that reminder. Like

(42:02):
I have friends who are like closely involved in organizing,
you know, for for tenant tenant unions and for a
rent strike in Michigan, and I know that's that's another
that's another area where people are you know, trying to
apply as much as much pressure as as they can. Yeah, well,

(42:24):
thank you for that. That's some interesting insight. Oh, she's
not going to be leaving our news cycle anytime soon,
I don't think, but you know, be paying attention. Yeah. Well,
that was everything I had to ask Katie. Ye, No,
I think that covered it. Thank you so much for
taking the time to speak with us guys. This was

(42:44):
super informative. Yeah, we really appreciate your time and of
course your activism, the actual work that you're doing on
the ground. Thanks for your work too, Yeah, thank you,
Thank you so much for talking with us. And uh,
I really appreciate the questions and the opportunit need to
think about some of these things together. If our listeners
wanted to help with what y'all are doing, um, is

(43:06):
there a place they could donate to kind of further
help further your efforts. I I don't think that there's
a that there's a way for people to donate, you know,
directly to no detention centers in Michigan at this time
or like we're not I don't think that we're necessarily
asking for donations in that way. But I guess I would,
you know, just after thinking about it for a minute,

(43:27):
I would, I think, in response to to that very
good question, I would just say that finding your local
mutual aid network, Like if people people in Michigan or beyond,
you know, are thinking about ways that they can support
financially you know there. I know that in Michigan and
again across the country there are mutual aid networks that

(43:47):
have been growing over the last month, and that they
are you know, in so many cases responding to some
of the same or to some like directly overlapping issues
with like state violence experiences and incarceration experiences of of
racist violence, and and and and you know, and and

(44:09):
the violence of everyday life in capitalism. Right. So, I think,
in addition to like emailing us and checking out our website,
if people are interested in UM in supporting in that way,
then like the Grand Rapidary Mutual Late network is is
the local one that friends of mine are involved in
in Michigan, and I know there are other groups like

(44:30):
that that have been springing up more and more everywhere. Now.
The website is no detention centers am I dot org.
If you get there and there's a cool picture of
people standing in a light, you'll be there perfect um,
please keep us updated on things they're I'm sure we'd
all be very curious to hear what happens, and we'll

(44:51):
be following it as well. Definitely, thanks so much for listening, guys.
That was our interview. You can check us out online
at Worst Year Pau on Twitter and Instagram. Yeah, thanks
for listening. You uh neat uh nematodes and cool see
la cants you little lovees and dovies. You're charismatic see

(45:16):
la cants see like your microcosmic madees com Bye everything,
so everything, So it's again. I tried. Worst Year Ever

(45:36):
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