Freedom’s Cause # 9 – Jan. 27, 2020


IWOC-Milwaukee has received and verified information from inside contacts that an incarcerated person committed suicide in front of 30 people at Columbia CI on January 15. Another prisoner, Keith Gary has died from an apparent drug overdose. These deaths follow the loss of an incarcerated person in December, 2019. 

After a long lockdown, CCI has never returned to ‘normal’ operation. Some restrictions on recreational activities and movement remain in place. 


We are getting conflicting reports from inside on DOC plans to cut pay. 

On January 19, we received this message from Jackson CI: ‘I have been digging and digging, I cannot find anything about inmate pay decreases, or increases. I’ve looked on the law computers, contacted inmate accounts, business office, two unit managers and have even asked some of the officers whom work on my unit. The only thing I heard different was from a first shift sergeant whom said he heard inmate pay was going up. However nothing has been posted and that sergeant hasn’t been able to find anything.’ 

Meanwhile, this report came in from Columbia CI: ‘Here is something new for the worse which was mentioned in the prison news week that is going around stating that the wage is going to go down 10 cents so that means for people like me making 26 cents will only make 16 can cents. We should be getting an increase not a decrease every year prices go up.’ 

Even if pay remains the same, however, the net purchasing power of incarcerated persons has gone down over time. This from Dodge CI: ‘Prices from daily living (through canteen and approved property vendors) keep rising, but inmates pay has not risen. In the  mid-90s, a 3 rate was $0.33 an hour and a 4 rate was $0.40 an hour. Now, 3 rate is $0.26 and 4 rate is $0.35 an hour. The highest, a 5 rate, is $0.42 an hour. Today’s pay makes it extremely difficult to buy hygiene, impossible to put my own money onto the phone and pay off the outrageous charges the county courts have imposed, or much less (pay) child support.’


This was received from two contacts in Oshkosh CI: ‘Parole is routinely denied due to unmet treatment needs. However, treatment is often delayed due to deficiencies in staffing. This puts parolees in a catch-22 position. They may file a habeas corpus action challenging the parole decision, citing these cases: Reddin v. Israel, 455 F.Supp. 1215 (parolees have a due process right in their expectation of parole); Darrington v. Graham, 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 61776 (same); Knowlin v. Heise, 420 Fed. Appx. 593 (court admonished WI DOC for delays in offering treatment); Wellman v. Faulkner, 715 F.2d 269 (8th Amend. viol. when treatment is delayed or denied due to inadequate staffing). For AEDPA concerns, see Martin v. Barrow, 628 F.3d 871 (1 yr. clock starts from date of decision). Finally, Parole officials must consider evidence of current (not past) risk of reoffending. In re Lawrence, 44 Cal. 4th 1181; see also Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216 (citing Lawrence).’


On January 21, IWOC initiated a phone and email zap directed at DOC official Makda Fessahaye, protesting restrictions on phone use at Columbia, Oskhosh, and Stanley CI. 

Ms. Fessahaye responded with an electronic form letter as follows: ‘Changes to the phone systems are system-wide and are intended to expand access to family and friends for the adults in our care and custody. As a result of this change, we were able to reduce the cost of phone calls from $0.12 – $0.18 per minute to $0.06 per minute, and expanded the amount of individuals that an adult in custody can call.… Adults in our care and custody were informed of these changes in May prior to the changes going into effect. In July, we also expanded and upgraded facility kiosk equipment so that the adults in custody can message their loved ones. Finally, over the holidays, we partnered with CenturyLink to offer adults in custody with free phone calls to their loved ones.’ 

What is your take on Ms. Fessahaye’s claim of ‘expanded access’? 


The national office of IWOC has called for a phone zap in support of sixteen persons incarcerated at Central Prison in Raleigh, NC. They have been on a hunger strike since Monday, January 20, 2020, in solidarity with the 200 prisoners being tortured in Unit One (a mental health/solitary confinement unit). The specific demands of the hunger strikers are to stop the excessive use of chemical mace on non-threatening persons, to stop targeted searches of mental health prisoners who attend the weekly group in Unit One, and to address the indifference shown by medical staff to prescription refills and sick calls. (Source: IWOC)

In an op-ed piece in US Today, Danielle Sered wrote, ‘There is hope in the fact that there is bipartisan support to reduce incarceration. But it’s time to acknowledge that just as we cannot incarcerate our way out of violence, we cannot reform our way out of mass incarceration without taking on the question of violence.’ He noted that what most survivors of violence truly seek is not revenge or punishment, but the feeling of being safe. ‘Survivors know that the temporary removal of someone who has hurt them does not change the conditions that made violence likely in the first place. They have seen people go off to prison and come back, and they know many return worse than when they left. And this matters, because they also know that almost everyone who goes to prison will come home…It’s time to envision a justice system that is not just smaller but also truly transformed into the vehicle for accountability, safety and justice that everyone deserves.’ (Source: USA Today)

One of the great open wounds of the 1970s black liberation struggle came closer to being healed on Saturday (January 18)  with the release of Delbert Orr Africa, a member of the Move 9 group who has been imprisoned for 42 years for a crime he says he did not commit. Del Africa walked free from Pennsylvania’s state correctional institution, Dallas, on Saturday morning after a long struggle to convince parole authorities to release him. He is the eighth of the nine Move members – five men and four women – to be released or to have died while in prison. Only one of the nine, Chuck Africa, remains behind bars. (Source: The Guardian)