Janika and Kayla only lived to be 25, both dying this year at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, located on the border between Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti, Michigan.
I have never been incarcerated in any prison. The information I deal with in the following pages includes reports by others, some of whom have also never been incarcerated. If truth is a value, a beauty, then prison is the antithesis of truth. Prison officials lie routinely. What we do know is that the Huron Valley prison exists as a site of mundane torture, as a tool of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. I want the women to be released immediately and tell their own stories. I want the next generation of women to tell stories that are not about abuse, repression, and torture, but about the good things in life. This is not too much to want. Two young women died in Huron Valley this year. They will not be able to tell their stories, they will never be released.
Kayla Renea Miller was pronounced dead July 16; the cause of death, released in September, was “heroin toxicity.” WNDU reporter Mark Peterson, having interviewed her mother and her attorney, reported that Kayla “went to prison for drug treatment.” Here we must remember that murder can be disguised as an overdose, and that overdose in a highly regulated environment is suspicious. In August, the police were still saying they were waiting for an autopsy report. I would like to have the autopsies made public; autopsies not just of the bodies (were there signs of trauma, pregnancy, malnutrition?), but of the prison as well.
Janika Nichole Edmond died four months after Kayla. As reported by Darcie Moran, the Michigan Department of Corrections says she died on Nov. 11, while her death certificate states Nov. 6. The cause of death is missing from the death certificate. The autopsy report is not yet available, but “an attorney for Edmond’s family said inmates told the family she was taken to the hospital after hanging herself in a shower area.” Both attorney David S. Steingold, as well as Carol Jacobsen of the Clemency Project, stated that other inmates have reported that Janika was feeling suicidal and was denied the help she was asking for. We must remember that murder may be disguised as suicide, as the recent publicized murder of Sandra Bland makes clear.
As the investigations into Janika and Kayla’s deaths unfold, we must question at every step the objectivity of the investigation, as well as their representation in corporate media. When a Black person is killed by police, corporate media is ready to speak of everything but the direct cause of death—as if Eric Garner choked himself to death, as if Aura Rosser shot herself in the heart.
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) categorizes prisoners as male and female, white and non-white. A little under a third of all females committed in 2012 and 2013 were non-white. In 2013, out of the total population of just over 2,000 at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional, 40% were non-white. Only 30 of the women were over 65 in 2013, and only 11 of the women over 65 were non-white.
Officially, Huron Valley is the only women’s prison in Michigan; although, for various reasons, this is not actually true. For one, the prison is not the women’s; it doesn’t belong to them, they are incarcerated within it. Moreover, there are various places where there are “male” and “female” sections (like all the county jails, police holding cells, and the Special Alternative Incarceration Facility in Chelsea). Lastly and most importantly, there are prisoners whose gender identity does not match up with the one assigned to them by the fascist State.
Mundane torture: Connecting through violence against women
What follows are some publicized struggles. I hope that listing the routine torture of women prisoners at Huron Valley will make us consider other forms of relating, forms that are not cruel. Drawing on the continuity of violence against women both inside and outside the prison, the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project works to free women prisoners who were convicted of murder but who acted in self-defense against abusers and did not receive due process or fair trials. The Clemency Project is currently demanding the following reform: “End 4 point chaining and other torture in Michigan prisons” and has released various documentaries narrated by women prisoners.
In the last fiscal year, the State of Michigan finished paying a $100,000,000 settlement for the Neal et al. class-action suit against the MDOC. According to the State of Michigan Budget, “The payment is due to Plaintiffs for systematic sexual harassment, sexual assault, and retaliation inflicted by male MDOC personnel.” Neal et al. was filed in 1996 on behalf of 900 women, and the settlement was reached in 2009. It nullified the reparations that 18 women had won at a jury trial, paying them half of what the juries adjudicated.
Another outcome of the class action was that in 2005 the MDOC banned male guards from women prisons. The abuse, of course, has not ended. If it had, Kayla and Janika would be alive today. The ban is also not complete, having been challenged by male employees in a class-action lawsuit. Males make up about one fifth of “corrections officers” at Huron Valley. Since 2012, there appears to be an exponential drop in the total number of “corrections officers”: in 2012, there was a total of 393, in 2013, 368, and in 2014, 320. While the majority of the guards are still female, the drop in females employed was disproportionately larger than among males.
In 2011, after years of complaints, a humiliating and unsanitary cavity search was officially stopped, though prisoners testified that the practice persisted.
In the summer of 2014, as reported by Kyle Feldscher, the physical and psychological torture perpetrated on women at Huron Valley—particularly those with mental illness—was questioned by the ACLU. In November of the same year, the ACLU recommended a series of reforms. As of January 2015, the MDOC had not responded to the ACLU’s recommendations.
Acknowledging the continuity of violence against women should not deter us from seeing continuities across genders. Physical, psychological and sexual torture are routine in male prisons as well. In August 2015, the Michigan appeals court dismissed a class-action lawsuit by male prisoners aged 16–17 who were raped by other prisoners and staff, because “Michigan’s civil rights law doesn’t apply to lawsuits by prisoners.”
Connecting through the recognition of overcrowding
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has been publicizing the overcrowded conditions at Huron Valley. In November 2015, Natalie Holbrook of the AFSC’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program, said that “long lines for food and medication, and staff shortages are growing problems at the prison.” The prison has been accommodating the increasing women’s population by taking away common areas and TV rooms. Like other prisons, Huron Valley sometimes uses the Washtenaw County jail to house people.
More than a year ago, three prisoners filed their own complaints about four women being forced to share a 96-square-foot cell that used to be a chemical closet. The MDOC dismissed two of the women’s appeals, stating: “Two or more prisoners and/or parolees may not jointly file a single grievance regarding an issue of mutual impact.” In effect, their collective action was being punished. The third woman’s complaint was accepted for consideration, but ultimately denied.
In 2012, the Robert Scott Correctional Facility site in Northville Township, Wayne County, was sold to the development company Redico for $1, having been in operation from 1991 to 2008. The “development”/demolition/construction business weaves prisons into the everyday budget of the State (is the State going to buy some other piece of land, build another prison, pay another contractor…?). Just across the street in Plymouth Township, the Western Wayne Correctional Facility, which operated as a minimum-security women’s prison from 1986 to 2004, was also sold to developers. The sites of both prisons are used for “suburban development,” but the city of Detroit is making claims on some of the land, since it used to be the location of the Detroit House of Corrections. In this way, the prison institution is interwoven with the systemic robbing from the predominantly Black residents of the city of Detroit, to benefit white suburbs (both Plymouth and Northville are over 90% white).
But, of course, good riddance to the Scott prison! It has been called “Michigan’s Abu Ghraib” by Brian McKenna, who was a teacher of anthropology there in 2007 and 2008, and employed Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed as part of a program that was launched by Lora Lempert of UM-Dearborn in 2004. Most of the survivors of torture who were granted a settlement under the Neal et al. class action were from the Robert Scott prison. When it closed, all the women were transferred to Huron Valley, and Jacobsen reported to McKenna in 2012 about “four suicides over the past 2 years (three by hanging and one suffocation with a plastic bag) and said that there are at least three prisoners who appear to have died from medical neglect.” In fall 2014 a woman at Huron Valley was declared brain-dead.
Overcrowding is not new. Janika and Kayla were not yet even born when overcrowding in Michigan prisons was recognized as a problem. Efforts at legal reform have been ineffectual. In 1980, the state legislated a “Prison Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act,” to be used by the governor “’whenever the population of the prison system exceeds the rated design capacity for 30 consecutive days,” and granted him or her the power to release prisoners as needed. Governor James Blanchard declared such an emergency for the female population in 1984, reducing all minimum prison terms by 180 days. The Act was repealed in 1987. It was originally created at the recommendation of a task force that concluded: “Since 1975, Michigan’s prisons have been continuously overcrowded by as many as 2,000 prisoners over the system’s rated capacity. As a result of this population pressure, the Department has been forced to house prisoners in areas not designed for housing, e.g., recreation and treatment areas and garages. This restricts the availability of rehabilitative and diversionary activities and only serves to aggravate the normally high tension levels found in an institutional environment.” These testimonies from over 30 years ago sound exactly like the testimonies provided by AFSC this year.
“Your Industries”: connecting through recognizing prison labor
In this state, prison labor is euphemistically called “Michigan State Industries”; prisoners work for public and private businesses, producing shoes, American flags, clothes, signs, printing, mattresses, and more. The Huron Valley Women’s Operations employs prisoners to produce dental prosthetics and a variety of garments for prisoners in Michigan. The Garment Factory produces prisoner jackets, jumpsuits, coveralls, kitchen hats, dazzle shorts, specialty clothing requiring embroidery or decals, and outerwear for maintenance and prisoner work crews. The Huron Valley garment and dental sales made the MDOC $1,067,000 in 2012, $1,399,000 in 2013, and $1,061,000 in 2014.
The prison also includes a garden, tended by 35 women in the horticulture educational program. Their labor “provides 40 percent of the fresh produce donated and distributed by Food Gatherers local growing initiatives in Washtenaw County.” The education program is voluntary, and the women who sow and till and reap the food don’t eat it; “the meals in the prison are on a two-week rotation of mostly processed meats and packaged foods, and almost no fruits or vegetables.” Since September 2015, the multinational corporation Trinity Services Group provides the “food” to MDOC. Trinity replaced Aramark after much negative publicity (spoiled food, maggots, and more), which was in large part driven by workers’ solidarity against privatization. There is no indication that Trinity is doing a better job. In December 2015, Trinity partnered with the multinational corporation Telmate. Telmate calls itself a leader in “corrections technology,” a field that developed “video visitation,” which is the reason that there is no longer in-person visitation in the Washtenaw County Jail. Telmate and Trinity plan to further exploit prisoners by providing them Tablets to “simplif[y] the process of purchasing daily necessities.”
AFSC’s Natalie Holbrook “estimates that prisoners make 17 cents per hour, or no more than $20 a month. She uses the example of prisoners paying for a medical co-pay of $5. That would be 25% of their monthly budget.” Since the state charges prisoners for staying in prison, it is “more difficult for prisoners to save any money to get back on their feet when they’re released.” Further, the widespread “pay-to-stay” practice is unconstitutional, since it “constitute[s] an increase in punishment after conviction.”
The regulation of prison labor has a legal history that is demonstrative of the failures of reform. A Michigan State Industries Advisory Board was created in 1993 and abolished by John Engler’s executive order in 2001, giving all power to MDOC officials.
In 1968, “The People of Michigan” passed a “Correctional Industries Act”; it was variously amended. The Act states that “Prisoners participating in the prison industry enhancement certification program shall receive, in connection with any work performed, wages at a rate which is not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work was performed, except that such wages may be subject to deductions which shall not, in the aggregate, exceed 80% of gross wages.” The end of the act states that the willful violation of the act is a misdemeanor and sufficient cause for removal from office. Are the prisoners working today at Huron Valley not under the “enhancement certification program”? Is the law being violated? Who will be made accountable? Who will make them accountable?
The use of prison labor by private businesses has much expanded in the past 100 years. While supposedly regulating and levelling the playing field between imprisoned and free labor by requiring equitable compensation, the 1979 Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program in fact allowed for the use of prison labor by private entities, worsening the conditions of workers both within and outside the prison. As Bob Sloan puts it, “as with any situation where free enterprise and capitalism flourish, the pursuit of profits often outstrips rules and regulations designed to prevent abuses.” Currently, corporations such as Walmart, IBM, Motorola, AT&T Wireless, Texas Instruments, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, and countless others are taking advantage of the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program.
The State of Michigan spends almost twenty percent of its general fund on “corrections.” Prison officials will blame the abuses that happen under their jurisdiction on lack of funding. Prison populations continue to swell—particularly with women prisoners—and the abuse continues. History shows us not only that prisons do not reform people, but that prisons cannot be reformed themselves. The state will not stop torturing people, whether it has two prisons or a hundred. The level of misuse of authority, the level of impunity that the prison has institutionalized, is indicative of how organized the carceral State is at exploitation and repression. In light of this, how do we organize, so as to be able to wage a response?
Masthead of the August–September 1984 issue of D.A.W.N., a newspaper written and edited by women incarcerated at Huron Valley
 Geraldine Matthews, “The Routine Lies of Prison Officials”: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/11/the-routine-lies-of-prison-officials/.
 Darcie Moran, “Heroin overdose killed Michigan prison inmate”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/09/heroin_overdose_killed_huron_v.html
 Mark Peterson, “”I thought she was safe”: Victim’s mother reacts to prison overdose”: http://www.wndu.com/home/headlines/I-thought-she-was-safe-victims-mother-reacts-to-in-prison-heroin-overdose-359087751.html
 Darcie Moran, “Police await autopsy report in death at Huron Valley Correctional Facility”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/08/police_await_autopsy_report_in.html
 Darcie Moran, “Family seeks answers after woman dies in Michigan prison”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/12/family_seeks_answers_in_death.html
 Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2012 Statistical Report”, p. B-49: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/2013-08-12_-_MDOC_2012_Statistical_Report_-_Vers_1_0_430723_7.pdf; Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2013 Statistical Report”, p. B-49: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/2014-04-04_-_MDOC_2013_Statistical_Report_-_Vers_1_0_452815_7.pdf
 Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2013 Statistical Report”, p. C-71, 75: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/2014-04-04_-_MDOC_2013_Statistical_Report_-_Vers_1_0_452815_7.pdf
 Michigan Senate, “Fiscal Year 2014-15 Corrections Budget,” item 9: https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2013-2014/billanalysis/Senate/htm/2013-SFA-0764-U.htm
 “Ann Arbor judge signs off on settlement for female inmates”: http://www.annarbor.com/news/ann-arbor-judge-signs-off-on-settlement-for-female-inmates/
 “Inmates unhappy with sex assault settlement have hearing in Ann Arbor courts today”: http://www.annarbor.com/news/inmates-unhappy-with-sex-assault-settlement-have-hearing-in-ann-arbor-courts-today/
 Michael Rigby, “Ban On Male Guards In Michigan Women’s Prisons Upheld”: https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2005/sep/15/ban-on-male-guards-in-michigan-womens-prisons-upheld/
 Kyle Feldscher, “Looking back: How high-profile complaints about prison conditions were investigated and resolved”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/09/looking_back_how_high-profile.html
 In 2012, 324 of the officers were female; in 2013, 296, and in 2014, 260. Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2012 Statistical Report”, F-19: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/2013-08-12_-_MDOC_2012_Statistical_Report_-_Vers_1_0_430723_7.pdf; Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2014 Statistical Report”, F-19: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/MDOC_2014_Statistical_Report_-_2015.07.02_493514_7.pdf
 Melissa Anders, “Huron Valley prison for women stops routine strip search described as “sexually humiliating””: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/04/michigan_female_inmate_strip_search.html
 Kyle Feldscher, “Water deprivation, hog-tying of mentally ill inmate among complaints at prison near Ann Arbor”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/09/alleged_human_rights_abuses_at.html
 ACLU Michigan, “Investigating Abuse at Huron Valley Women’s Prison”: http://www.aclumich.org/article/investigating-abuse-huron-valley-women%E2%80%99s-prison
 The Associated Press, “Michigan court dismisses lawsuit over alleged abuse of young prisoners”: http://michiganradio.org/post/michigan-court-dismisses-lawsuit-over-alleged-abuse-young-prisoners
 Amanda LeClaire, “Prisoner Advocates Say MDOC Is Housing Too Many Inmates At Huron Valley”: http://wemu.org/post/prisoner-advocates-say-mdoc-housing-too-many-inmates-huron-valley#stream/0
 Tim Skubick, “Tim Skubick: Women inmates filling up Michigan’s Huron Valley prison fast”: http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/10/tim_skubick_women_inmates_fill.html
 Kyle Feldscher, “Inmates: 4 women forced to share 8-by-12 foot cell at Michigan prison”: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/09/inmates_complaints_describe_cr.html
 Kirk Pinho, “Redico plans $150 million redevelopment of former women’s prison site in Northville”: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20150602/NEWS/150609969/redico-plans-150-million-redevelopment-of-former-womens-prison-site
 Eric D. Lawrence, “Detroit’s claim on old prison stalls major suburban development plans”: http://archive.freep.com/article/20140530/NEWS02/305300018/Dehoco-Detroit-Northville-Plymouth-development-Detroit
 For an analysis of the suburban takeover in Detroit, please see Jon Cramer, “Race, Class, and Social Reproduction in the Urban Present: The Case of the Detroit Water and Sewage System”: https://viewpointmag.com/2015/10/31/race-class-and-social-reproduction-in-the-urban-present-the-case-of-the-detroit-water-and-sewage-system/
 Brian McKenna, “Michigan’s Abu Ghraib?” http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/01/michigans-abu-ghraib/
 Perry M. Johnson, “Additional Reduction of Minimum Sentences Required by Prison Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act (Female Prisoners Only),” DAWN, Aug-Sept 1984, p. 4.
 Act 15 of 1980 (MCL 800.71-800.79): http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28zkbljop4qyfoddb2zmzv4qyu%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-Act-519-of-1980.
 “411 Mich. 183 (1981), 305 N.W.2d 515: OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY v. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; Docket No. 67134, (Calendar No. 12)”: http://law.justia.com/cases/michigan/supreme-court/1981/67134-2.html
 A catalogue of Michigan State Industries from 1940, which included the factories in Jackson, Ionia and Marquette prisons, as well as the Employment Institution for the Blind in Saginaw is prefaced by a one-page glorifying industry, normalizing exploitation, and “making the prisons and inmates self-supporting”: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015071263886;view=1up;seq=5. The idea of industry as reforming may be seen in earlier publications. In 1883, “The Reform School for Girls” was renamed “State Industrial Home for Girls”, an institution that killed 3 girls within their 3 years of operation (one from acute rheumatism, one from TB, one from blood poisoning) while claiming that “the girls are in a home where they are tenderly cared for and instructed in all that tends to make them useful and virtuous women”; the state was pushing them to house more and more together: “we do not think it is well to treat them as criminals whom the State regards merely as prisoners, to be maintained at the least possible cost, regardless of reformation; but as children who have gone astray, and who may be reclaimed to society by judicious care and home training”: https://books.google.com/books?id=TDm4Y3ZLzaYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ViewAPI#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Huron Valley Women Operations: http://www.michigan.gov/msi/0,4642,7-174-23875_23904-49882–,00.html
 Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2012 Statistical Report,” F-11, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/2013-08-12_-_MDOC_2012_Statistical_Report_-_Vers_1_0_430723_7.pdf; Daniel H. Heyns, “Michigan Department Of Corrections 2014 Statistical Report,” F-11, http://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/MDOC_2014_Statistical_Report_-_2015.07.02_493514_7.pdf
 Kim Bayer, “Growing food and redemption at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility”: http://www.annarbor.com/entertainment/food-drink/growing-food-and-redemption-at-the-womens-huron-valley-correctional-facility/
 Steve Carmody, “County health departments may once again inspect prison kitchens”: http://michiganradio.org/post/county-health-departments-may-once-again-inspect-prison-kitchens; Rebecca Kruth, “Union wants to stop Michigan’s new prison food contract”: http://michiganradio.org/post/union-wants-stop-michigans-new-prison-food-contract
 Prison Policy Initiative, “Exhibit 1, Screening out family time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails”: http://static.prisonpolicy.org/visitation/Exhibit1.pdf
 “Telmate Partners with Trinity Services to Streamline Commissary Ordering in Local Jails”: http://www.telmate.com/telmate-partners-with-trinity-services-to-streamline-commissary-ordering-in-local-jails-prweb/
 Stateside Staff, “How to reduce Michigan’s corrections budget in the long term”: http://michiganradio.org/post/how-reduce-michigans-corrections-budget-long-term#stream/0
 Joshua Michtom, “Making Prisoners Pay For Their Stay: How A Popular Correctional Program Violates The Ex Post Facto Clause”: https://www.bu.edu/law/central/jd/organizations/journals/pilj/vol13no2/documents/13-2MichtomNote.pdf
 John Engler, “Executive Order No. 2001 – 7: Michigan State Industries Advisory Board Michigan Department Of Corrections”: http://www.michigan.gov/formergovernors/0,1607,7-212-31303_31305-3453–,00.html
 Public Act 15 of 1968, as amended in 1980, 1990, 1996, and 1997: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%283lniqpjf21q2ifpadutkbjjd%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-Act-15-of-1968
 Public Act 102 of 2007: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2007-2008/publicact/htm/2007-PA-0102.htm; Public Act 307 of 2010: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/publicact/htm/2010-PA-0307.htm
 MCL 800.324, section h and for private business in 800.327a, section 3
 MCL 800.333 and 800.334
 Bob Sloan, “The Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program: Why Everyone Should Be Concerned”: https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2010/mar/15/the-prison-industries-enhancement-certification-program-why-everyone-should-be-concerned/
 Ibid; Rania Khalek, “21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor”: http://www.alternet.org/story/151732/21st-century_slaves%3A_how_corporations_exploit_prison_labor