This is a partial listing of the direct action victories that organizing on the inside and outside has achieved in the Wisconsin prison system. These are cases where incarcerated people have gotten improvement in material conditions. All these gains are partial and limited. They are small beside the routine horror of prisons. Any improvement in conditions is uncertain as long as power systems are in place that can reimpose torture. Also, much of the most crucial work of organizing involves less dramatic longterm processes that can build collective people power. Nevertheless, collective action has more power than we often realize, and it is important to document these small, partial gains as they happen. If you have any questions on these cases, information on other victories, or want to get involved in outside support, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
June 2016 mass hunger strike ended longterm solitary for some participants. The Dying to Live Hunger strike, although falling far short of the goals of ending longterm solitary confinement, because of massive DOC repression, did allow some incarcerated people to bargain with the prison system. In exchange for ending their hunger strike, some people were transferred from isolation into general population. One person had been in continuous isolation for 26 years.
August 2016. Outside pressure fights retaliation of hunger strikers. Some of the remaining holdouts from the Dying to Live Hunger Strike faced retaliation from guards, including cell extraction and being left naked in their cells. IWOC heard about this from a family member of one of the hunger strikers, organized an immediate phone zap with participants across North America, and heard from the family soon after that the most severe retaliation stopped because of outside attention.
August 2017. People inside Kettle Moraine organize to get abusive guard fired. IWOC heard subsequently that in response to a pattern of sexual assault by a guard at Kettle Moraine Correctional, incarcerated people worked to expose this and get the guard fired and arrested.
September 2017. People inside Waupun co-ordinate to improve entertainment. IWOC heard from an inside member that he and others had co-ordinates I.C.E. complaints to get the Waupun Correctional to expand television access, providing people with an African American based station.
February 2018. People inside Racine mobilize phone zap against freezing conditions. IWOC received information in March that 3 weeks earlier people inside Racine Correctional had organized their families to do a phone zap against Madison on problems with heating in the rock unit of the prison. As a result of this pressure people from the DOC visited Racine Correctional, and told the warden he had to fix the heating, which happened after some delays.
March 2018, incarcerated people organized against new regulations. In 2017 IWOC received a description from people inside that the warden had imposed a set of new burdensome and arbitrary regulations on movement within the prison. In 2018, we heard that people inside had managed to self-organize to restore a degree of flexibility for where they went at certain points, bypassing prison regulations. Details are kept vague for this because this is an ongoing situation and publicly describing specifics may make the DOC act against these. If you want more information on details for non-public posting, contact us at email@example.com
September 2018, outside pressure helped someone with urgent medical needs. IWOC got word that an incarcerated person at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility was being denied medication, and had been for over a month. Specifically that someone inside: “has not received any of his needed meds since 8/17/18 including his psych meds. He has bloody stool & has been seen by the MSDF medical unit who have done nothing.” We organized an immediate phone zap to put pressure against the prison, and later heard that this person had gotten the medical help he needed within 3 days of the phone zap.
September 18, hunger strike at halfway house improved quality of food. At a Milwaukee halfway house, in response to low quality of food 36 formerly incarcerated people collectively skipped meals. This pressure helped them to cancel the Aramak Contract, and get better quality of food within the next month.
October 2018, outside awareness leads to firing and arrest of abusive guards at Columbia. On 10/26/18 several guards attempted to murder an incarcerated person and stage it to look like a suicide. After FFUP and IWOC members heard of this and contacted the prison, and made open records request on the incident, the guards involved were fired and arrested. At this point we don’t know how much the prison’s action were caused by outside attention, and the ongoing focus on Columbia involved with with IWOC’s pressure campaign, but this level of accountability for abusive guards is extremely rare, and likely contributed to some extent in forcing the prison to make real accountability.
December 2018, outside pressure restored heat at Columbia Correctional Institution. On 12/11/18 Milwaukee IWOC received reports that some of the incarcerated people at Columbia Correctional Institution have been without heat for over 5 days. They have not been told anything about when heat will be fixed or what is going on. We organized a phone, email and open records zap on the issue, involving at least 17 people. On 12/17/18 IWOC got an update from the person that we heard initially of the lack of heat at Columbia. She said: “I spoke with the person inside, he said the heat was back on Friday. [12/14/18] Thank you for all of your help. The men truly appreciate it!”
April 2019, phone zaps helped stop transfer of an inside organizer to Boscobel. Milwaukee IWOC worked with family member of a longterm organizer at Racine Correctional, who was facing transfer to Boscobel, 6 hours drive from his family. The person inside refused food and water, and Milwaukee IWOC mobilized people to call the prison protesting the transfer. 19 people confirmed their participation, and the call to action was shared via IWOC and IWW networks across the U.S. In response, the family got word that the person inside would not be transferred to Boscboel, and the hunger strike ended.
Update: Despite this, he was eventually transferred from Racine Correctional several months later, although to Green Bay Correctional and not at quite an extensive distance from is family.
October 2019, sit-down strike at Columbia Correctional won increased rec time
An incarcerated person in Columbia Correctional Institution sent us this report: “As you were aware, Unit Manager Fink instituted a policy allowing only off-unit workers to go to rec/lib 1 time a week during “worker rec/lib” regardless if a slot was available during non-working hours. I was able to get a couple of fellow workers to band with me for a good ol’ sit-down reminiscent of the 60s. We refused to go back to our cells until a white shirt came and spoke with us. So originally 5 of us sat down but 2 got away. So like 20 officers showed up. 2 inmates cuffed immediately. I couldn’t understand why there was a need to cuff up when all we wanted to do was talk civilly about Fink’s policy…. Next thing you know, I get thrown from the table, my head slams into the CO station…. The good news out of all this is that the Security Director reversed Fink’s policy! Now all I need to do is get out of RHU…. To be honest, I was surprised that I got inmates to actually sit down and demand change. Normally people get scared. Not gonna lie; if I have to do it again, I’m gonna be nervous.”
Participant in hunger strike at WSPF in January 2020 described partial gains form his action
“I have now spoken with people in charge here & we have come to an understanding that leads me to believe that my continuation of this food & fluid strike will advance my cause no further as the issues I have raised have now been made know to the people that had no idea these things were even happening. So now all I can do is sit back & wait but some things did get changed that needed to.”
February 2020, people inside Oshkosh Correctional report recent improvements in rec access and clothing
“We’ve never participated in a “phone zap” prior to incarceration but we get the concept and believe it is a crucial action for positive change. Retaliation needs attention and exposure.For example, many have likely complained to IWOC about OSCI’s removal of pockets from pants and coats. We recently got word we’re getting them sewn back on. Also, nearly every prison has courtyards outside each unit so the residents may go outside anytime (except count and meals). OSCI doesn’t. Residents here could just go out to the rec field, instead of a courtyard, until a few years ago when two people overdosed. We could only go outside during limited, scheduled hours. Many likely complained to IWOC about this as well. And starting (12/22), we’re able to go out in the rec field anytime as we were prior to the overdoses.We can’t help but think IWOC had something to do with these positive changes. And we’re sharing with others the importance and effectiveness of sharing our concerns with folks outside these walls.”
March 2020, Waupun: showers increased
From inside contact: “Just a quick update..our cell hall Sgt just told me that he had just received an email from the Warden stating that effective we will be going back to the old shower schedule of 4 times per week. I’d like to think that your phone calls played a role in that decision, so thank you very very much!! If they fail to adhere to this I will let you know….thanks again.”
June 2020: phone zap restores phone access to prisoners at Waupun
On 5/31/20 IWOC received word of retaliation against prisoners at Waupun after people chanted “Black Lives Matter” in support of the George Floyd uprising. Statement reads : “Today at approximately 2:45pm some officer in the front office hit the switch that cut off all the phones in the entire institution for no reason. Then the sergeant came over the intercom and announced, “phone pick up.” The officers collected the phones, not the inmate workers. I believe this was done to upset us because they are upset about the white officer was charged with murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis. As they know we as predominant African Americans in this prison are happy to see him charged. So they are trying to steal our joy and cause us anger.I need you all to call this institution and demand we receive the phones because they are planning to not give us the phone back, and are not giving us any answers.”
IWOC organized a phone zap in response starting 6/2/20 and on 6/4/20 heard from inside contacts that: “They are passing our phones back out now.” Later contact with family members of incarcerated people attributed the change to pressure from the phone zap. Other forms of retaliation and medical neglect continued, and IWOC continued to press on these.
August 2020: Kettle Moraine Correctional, job restored
From letter 8/4/20: “Today I was summoned to the administration building again and was informed that due to my unjustly and targeted termination, I’d be receiving my job back with back pay for the days that I missed, and that the things that I’ve been advocating against will be addressed….I don’t know exactly but it could be a plethora of things. It could be due to the fact that I had help from beyond these walls that was applying pressure on this place(your organization included) or maybe they feared legal action. Maybe it was my letter to Kevin Carr and he sent an email to this place or it could be due to the fact that nobody here has ever stood up against the unfair structure that these officers benefit from and fought as hard as I did.”
August 2020: Racine Correctional, incarcerated person moved from solitary
Persistent phone zap pressure by an IWOC member got her brother moved from solitary confinement. “He is now
out of segregation. Thank God. I heard from the warden this afternoon
and we spoke with my brother. He is actually in a nicer unit with
cooler air. One thing this has taught me is that persistence pays
off. I really had my doubts about jailhouse justice but very thankful
for the turnout. I also heard that the C.O. is going to “retire” not
sure what that all means but as long as she is no longer in charge
there or any other prison, I’m ok with that. Next is that my brother
wants to make sure that his record is corrected as well to reflect the
wardens decision. Keep up the fight!”
September 2020: Taycheedah Correctional, incarcerated person moved from solitary
Persistent phone zap pressure by two IWOC members over a week and a half got someone’s three months in solitary confinement dropped, and her moved back to general population.