This article is a conversation and the following day reflections on that conversation concerning the a local activist effort to change to change the conditions in the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. I was arguing that the changes were insignificant and the supplemental strategies of demonstration and promotion were in consequential since any change would come through law which requires neither popularity nor civil disobedience.
I was watching I think game 3 of the Denver Nuggets and Portand Trail Blazers playoff series by an aquaintence. The aquaintence mentioned an activist who I had been critical of on social media. The man I had a conversation with I met briefly a few years ago and he told me he was involved in the subject that this activist was involved in. He came to his defense and the defense of the cause when I became instantly critical of it.
The subject was basically for the rights of incarcerated people. Unfortunately I missed the two most crucial points in the course of debate which I blame on the influence of intoxicants. The first aspect of it was people being detained in MSDF while awaiting trial on cases they haven’t been convicted of. The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility is a state facility and generally, if you are awaiting trial you are detained in a county facility. Years ago when I was in MSDF it was used for parole holds and to house people who were revoked on parole who didn’t have enough time to go through DCI (intake prison) and be staffed to the appropriate prison.
As he presented this aspect of the movement, it related to ensuring county inmates weren’t housed in a state facility while awaiting trial. Having been in the county jail and having been in MSDF, the difference between the two facilities is minimal in terms of conditions. In both facilities you are in your room for about half the day and you are out of your room for about half of the day. The amenities are similar, tables and a TV in the day room. In the county jail there are basketball courts between some of the Pods and the opportunity to play basketball every other day when I was there. In MSDF there is a room with a ping pong table and a pull up bar that is accessible during day room time. The phone calls in MSDF when I was there were substantially less than the phone calls in the county jail, although this may have changed since I was there over 15 years ago. I preferred MSDF, while another person present said he thought county was better. The point being is, the accomplishment of ensuring county inmates are only housed in county facilities only marginally affected the quality of life, and to me, was better in MSDF.
He went on to mention how inmates in MSDF are housed three men to a cell, but as KB confirmed through his experience and I had known through mine, there are times when the county jail houses inmates 3 to a cell when there is over crowding.
A point I did not address was how being housed in MSDF as a state inmate did not afford the inmate everything afforded to inmates in other state facilities. He mentioned contact visits but I likely misunderstood the context thinking he was making a point on MSDF verses the county jail and I commented that visits in county are also on a video screen.
The point on MSDF inmates not having contact visits as is the case with most other state facilities or perhaps, proper recreational opportunities pertains to the duration with which these inmates are housed there. Again, I may be wrong in regard to policy, but when I was there, no one was being staffed there on revocation for longer than a year and usually if you had 6 months or more you went to DCI. Part of the reason why state facilities have contact visits and must maintain certain standards in regard to access to recreation, is because people are sentenced to state facilities for decades and life. MSDF is a temporary facility so the requirement of these opportunities is less necessary. The same as the county jail is temporary and operates under processes that are nearly identical to MSDF as it relates to conditions. I didn’t make this point at the time being much less focused as a result of inebriation and maybe partially due to the surprise of finding myself in a serious conversation in that setting, but they are valid to the subject.
I asked what they accomplished and there were two things that were significant, one much more than others. First was no one could receive 360 days in segregation anymore. I didn’t make the point at the time, but although a person can no longer receive 360 days in the hole on one ticket, I don’t think it means people cannot be held in segregation for more than 360 days.
I was in segregation for about 7 months in the Racine Youthful Offenders Correctional Facility. At the time, you were supposed to be released on your half time if you didn’t have any incidents while in segregation. My original ticket for fighting was 4 days of adjustment time and 120 days program time. While I was in segregation I received a picture from a friend showing people in a group. I didn’t actually receive the picture but I received a write up for the picture being sent to me for some violation related to gang activity. This meant I wasn’t going to get my half time on my original ticket. I received 4 days of adjustment and 60 days program time.
While in segregation I had an incident with a correctional officer. Verbal threats among disrespect. I received 5 days of adjustment time and 150 days program time. I was also given additional restrictions, two man escort, back of cell lower trap, no clothes, and spit mask among probably others I cannot recall. The person I was debating with mentioned that he was given the same restrictions and chose not to eat.
The worst part was being naked and having to go to the back of the cell, face the wall, kneel down, and cross your legs naked as one CO watched you and the other CO pushed your tray through the lower trap. The person I was talking to said he refused and went on hunger strike for 10 days. I on the other hand couldn’t see the logic of me being naked in a cell and hungry so I went through the degrading process to eat. I think the restrictions only lasted a week so the only goals his hunger strike accomplished was hunger, and not having to participate in the process of getting his tray.
I was in segregation longer than a person who would be given a 360 day ticket who was released on his half time, and I began with 120 days. What is the significance of not being able to be given 360 days in segregation if you can still be in segregation for over 360 days? There are still people who are in segregation for longer than 360 days. If you’re deemed a threat to yourself, others, or order because you continue to receive violations, you’re not sent back to general population simply because you have been in segregation for 360 days. The doing away with 360 day tickets does not change much.
What was significant and I don’t know the role his organizational affiliates played in this change, was time in the hole for fighting was significantly reduced. Scooba said tickets for fighting were reduced to 30 days or less. I haven’t independtly verified this assertion so it may not be true as the individual has an affinity for exageration and deception.
There were two points I was trying to make and the first I mentioned in part at the time of the debate. The first was that changes in the living conditions of inmates does not come through changing public opinion and protesting against the issue. Change comes through legal processes. Another aquaintence who came before the game and returned after was in Boscobel, the notorious Wisconsin super max. While he was there he participated in a process with human rights organizations like Amnesty International to remedy conditions at the facility as well as the duration a person could be housed there. These are legal actions where the outcome is not predicated on public opinion or people holding signs chanting slogans. At the same time, groups can attach themselves to the kind of things that are ongoing and claim for themselves some of the accomplishment of other people who are executing change that would take place with or without the promotion of the cause by the group.
The obvious case to be made is that when an inmate’s time at Boscobel reaches it’s maximum, these inmates are likely returned to segregation at the institution they are being transferred to, which offers only marginally different circumstances. There was more at stake though than simply capping the duration of time an inmate could be kept at the super-max. It also related to conditions which is to say the significance of these changes can not be reduced to a comparison between Boscobel and segregation at other facilities.
He asked me “what are you doing”? I provided a brief description of Centers for Economic Planning but I was side tracked before I could make the point related to it. The point was, it is more important to direct energy towards correcting the causes of people becoming incarcerated than it is to invest time and energy into conditions that have only the most minimal impact on an inmates life. This isn’t to say you cannot do both, but it is straining the gnat to swallow the camel. Again, changes are not coming through pressure applied on government due to the changing of popular support and civil disobedience, which is the source of my point: what are you really doing?
The person whose house we were at gave me an in for this as he said “O, maybe people are not interested in what you were talking about just like you’re not interested in what they are talking about”. That would have been an in to talk about how a CEP truly serves the interests of people who are concerned about incarcerated people. Another secondary aspect not mentioned is how a CEP would serve as a resource for people to lobby to change law or provide resources for accomplishing goals associated with prison conditions. My main source of disappointment was how I only partially made the point that what is being accomplished is being accomplished through legal processes; protesting, writing signs, and chanting slogans has little to no affect on those processes.