Freedom’s Cause # 18 – June 7, 2020


On June 1, Milwaukee IWOC issued the following press release: ‘On Sunday (5/31), at Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI), 75 incarcerated people were chanting ‘Black lives matter! George Floyd-Say his name!’ In retaliation, officers confiscated prisoner cellphones and shut off the antenna for local TV station….The same prison is identified as the source of a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the City of Waupun. In the meantime, the use of masks and PPE is not enforced. This is just one of many examples of a lockdown used against the prisoners whose health it officially proclaims to protect.’ IWOC has initiated a phone zap targeting the security director of WCI. For more on conditions inside the prison, see below. 

Update: Under pressure, WCI has restored phone access. Since medical neglect continues, IWOC will continue to mobilize calls on abuses there and in other prisons.


As of Friday (June 5), the DOC reports that there are 195 active cases (vs. 36  two weeks ago) and 64 recovered or released cases among ‘persons in their care’, for a total of 259. 5,641 persons have been tested (vs. 1,283 two weeks ago). Here is the ratio of positive tests to total tests by prison: WCI 225/1,207, Felmers O Chaney 18/92, Marshall E Sherrer 5/47, MSDF 1/653, CCI 2/4, OSCI 8/42. In DCI, there were no positive tests reported out of 1,429; in TCI, there were no positives out of 1,004 tests. Among employees, there are 50 confirmed cases in adult institutions (vs. 26 two weeks ago): CCI 4, Felmers O Chaney 2, FLCI 1, GBCI 2, Marshall E Sherrer 1, MSDF 7, OSCI 2, RCI 5, RYOCF 3, RGCI 2, Robert E Ellsworth 1, TCI 1, WCI 20. In addition, there were nine cases in the Division of Community Corrections. 33 have recovered and 27 are still out. (Source: DOC official site)

On the outside: as of June 5, Wisconsin has 20,249 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 633 deaths. 12,930 people have recovered. (Source: AP)


Many contacts have reported that prison staff are not wearing PPE. On Thursday (June 4), DOC posted the following statement on its official site: ‘The Department of Corrections mandates the use of a mask or face coverings by staff as part of certain posts and positions such as in the health services areas, during any transports, and in quarantine and isolation areas. Additionally, the following Division of Adult Institution sites are requiring face masks for staff and persons in our care: Felmers Chaney Correctional Center, Marshall Sheerer Correctional Center, John Burke Correctional Center, Waupun Correctional Institution, Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility, Green Bay Correctional Institution, Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Milwaukee Women’s Correctional Center, Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center.’  

We have also heard that the transfer vans are rolling again. DOC confirmed this in a statement issued on Tuesday (June 2): ‘On March 23, 2020, Governor Evers issued Emergency Order #9, which instituted a moratorium on admissions to state prisons and juvenile facilities. This moratorium has expired and beginning June 1, 2020, intakes from county jails will resume. These operations will occur with modifications to limit the risk of potential exposure and spread of COVID-19 to the staff and the persons under our care.’ 

Finally, there is some good news in this statement, posted on May 28: ‘Beginning June 1, the Department of Corrections will be expanding video visits to all persons in our care at Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility (RYOCF), Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) and Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI). Video visitations are a free service being offered to persons in our care and their authorized visitors, and will be available while visitation is suspended in response to COVID-19 precautions. The Division of Adult Institutions is working to expand this initiative to other adult institutions and will do so as resources allow.’ 


On May 31, IWOC received a phone call from a contact in Waupun CI, who reported that 75 incarcerated people were chanting “Black lives matter! George Floyd-Say his name!” Although guards threatened to shut off the blowers, the chants (which could be heard over the phone) continued for at least an hour. Guards shut off the antenna for [a] local station and confiscated phones. In an email message received on June 1, another contact reported this: ‘It’s so bad that the prisoners in the northwest cell-hall began to revolt, on 5/30/20, and started setting fires and throwing fire bombs in an attempt to get the outside world to take notice of what’s going on in here, but the effort was suppressed by the WCI administration.’ 

WCI has the largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the DOC system. This comes in addition to ongoing concerns about the safety of the water supply. Two contacts quoted a memo dated February 11 and entitled ‘Important Information about your Drinking Water’. The memo states that water samples collected from WCI, DCI, Burke CC, and the Creamery in 2019 show levels of combined radium that exceed the Maximum Contaminant Level, and that prolonged consumption at these levels increases the risk of cancer. The memo goes on to say that as DOC builds a new system (which may take until 2023 to complete),  incarcerated people may go on drinking the contaminated water. 

On the subject of PPE and social distancing, the following report from KMCI is fairly typical: ‘It seems as though the public is blind to the fact that inmates are being forced into their cells because the officers refuse to wear masks. We are told to sit only two to a table but are allowed to walk in groups of six (making moot the two to a table). Even officers are expressing how superfluous these restrictions upon prisoners are and yet state they are enforcing them “because [they’re] told to.” Inmates in medium security institutions are being treated as MAX inmates because THE OFFICERS don’t want to wear PPE. They expect us to take things seriously and then watch them do the opposite, congregating in groups of 5, 6, and 7 behind small officer’s stations playing games and laughing at our being locked in for the last 3 months.’

In addition to the other miseries resulting from COVID-19-related lockdowns, the quality of food  continues to deteriorate. A prisoner in CCI writes: ‘We’re being denied two hot meals a day, we get bag meal with a sandwich one fruit and a handful of chips twice a day and a sandwich and handful of cereal in the morning! Our calorie intake is not adequate, does not reach anywhere close to 2000 calories which is the federal guidelines! We also are being denied showers. We have not had a shower since Tuesday on unit 7 (my housing) unit! Furthermore, staff are not wearing masks or gloves and handling our bag meals during this corona virus pandemic!’ 

Finally, the freedom of incarcerated persons to practice their religion has been further restricted. A contact in PDCI reports that Muslim prisoners are not allowed to perform ablution [wudu] or bathe [gushl] in the bathrooms; they have been told to perform tayammum in their rooms. Meanwhile, a contact in OSCI reports that social-distancing requirements have prevented Christian prisoners from participating in communal worship since the Covid epidemic began. 


In the previous issue of Freedom’s Cause, we included a story about Pinix and Donovan, a law firm that advertises help with applications for early release. We have since heard that the firm requires $3,500 to make a fairly straightforward filing. The Community newsletter, however, reports that public defenders can help with applications for reduced sentences, etc. You can contact them through the State Public Defender’s office at Box 7923, Madison, WI 53707.

We received this discouraging report from a contact in SCI, who had completed paperwork supplied by DOC: ‘Just got shot down on paper work for early release. I fit the criteria to 100 percent. But because I was never offered programs I was denied.  These programs aren’t even offered here. So how can one take the program?…Social worker told me that she knows of no one who has yet qualified.’ 

On the other hand, we have some good news from OSCI: ’An inmate below me (on the lower tier) was just called to the RECORDS department and was told that he was being released. He was here on revocation, has four months to release, and never even filed a petition for release. Obviously, he is VERY excited! They told him he would be released within the next 2 weeks.’ 

Have you or has someone you know applied for release? Let us know what happened. 


Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into the nation’s capital and other major cities Saturday (June 6) in another huge mobilization against police brutality, while George Floyd was remembered in his North Carolina hometown by mourners who waited hours for a glimpse of his golden coffin. Military vehicles and officers in fatigues closed off much of downtown Washington to traffic before massive marches. (At least some of the officers on the police line by the White House appeared to be with the Bureau of Prisons, which dispatched ‘Special Operations Response Teams’.) Large protests also took place across the U.S. and overseas, including in London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney, collectively producing perhaps the largest one-day mobilization since Floyd’s death 12 days ago at the hands of police in Minneapolis. The dozens of demonstrations capped a week of nearly constant protests that swelled beyond anything else the nation has seen in at least a generation. After frequent episodes of violence in the early stages following Floyd’s death, the crowds in the U.S. shifted to a calmer tenor in recent days. (Sources: AP, Huff Post)

In Milwaukee, thousands took to the city’s streets throughout the past week, and several nights saw tensions mount with the National Guard and Milwaukee police responding to looting, arson, and gunfire from scattered groups. As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett decried police use of rubber bullets against protesters, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales pleaded that violence against his officers must stop. In Madison, the protests have been largely peaceful, if intentionally disruptive, in some cases temporarily shutting down city streets and highways. Over the first three nights, they were followed by spasms of vandalism, looting, and clashes with police that left virtually every business on State Street damaged.  (Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel,

On June 2, the Industrial Workers of the World and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) issued a joint statement, which reads in part: ‘The recent murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Tony McDade in Florida, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are not isolated incidents. Within the racist history of the United States, Black and Brown bodies have consistently been treated with such callous disregard….As an international union with a long-standing history of interracial solidarity, we stand united with all members of the working class in their fight against racism, police repression, and state-based violence. Moreover, we reaffirm our commitment to our motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”…Until there is justice, there can be no peace for the working class.’

On June 3, an op-ed appeared in the New York Times entitled ‘When Jail Becomes Normal’. It begins: ‘For most white Americans, interactions with the police happen rarely, and they’re often respectful or even friendly. In many black communities — and especially for black men — the situation is entirely different. Some of the statistics can be hard to fathom. Close to 10 percent of black men in their 30s are behind bars on any given day, according to the Sentencing Project. When the government last counted how many black men had ever spent time in state or federal prison — in 2001 — the share was 17 percent. Today, it’s likely closer to 20 percent (and this number doesn’t include people who’ve spent time in jail without being sentenced to prison). The comparable number for white men is about 3 percent….The anger coursing through America’s streets over the past week has many causes, starting with a gruesome video showing the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But that anger has also been building up for a long time. It is, in part, anger about incarceration having become normal.’