Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Correctional officer Schretter continually discriminates against black prisoners

The Marquette Branch Prison, over 500 miles from Benton Harbor, is known as the “great concentration camp” of the US.  No action is taken to correct inappropriate behavior by prison officers.  No discipline for rule violations, no counseling, no service rating for performance problems.  Everyday officers violate rules.

Correctional officer Schretter continually discriminates against black prisoners.

Instead of providing good behavioral examples for criminal offenders, officers are one step from prison themselves.  Most have no morals.  The MDOC no longer forces officers to be good citizens.

Here at Marquette, we live in total fear.  Officers do not protect prisoners;  I had to break up a fight two nights ago.  Fights occur everyday;  tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  The mental strain, the intensity, is far too much for the average prisoner.  The writing of false misconduct tickets and the everyday threatening, intimdating, and harassing is just too much.  Warden Rob’t. Napel does nothing to protect the prisoners.

Lakeland Prison (level 2 facility) had not a single incident in over 8 months - here at Marquette (level 1 facility) there are 2 to 3 assaults per day.

Marquette officers are untrained, unskilled, unprofessional, and uneducated  =  out-of-control.  They are allowed to break MDOC rules.  It’s tantamount to stealing from taxpayers.

My biggest fear is that officers will plant a weapon in my locker or control area.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Noel Night Demonstration in Detroit

Free Rev. Pinkney demonstrators at Noel Night in Detroit
On December 5, supporters demonstrated for "Free Rev. Pinkney" at the Noel Night event in Detroit. They also sang Christmas songs with new lyrics written by supporter Martha G., like this one (to the tune of "Away in the Manger").

Away in a jail cell, without a soft bed,
They’ve jailed Edward Pinkney for things that he said

For telling the truth the state locked him away,
for false frameup charges he’s caged night and day

In the town Benton Harbor where Whirlpool rules
It’s a company town but the people aren’t fools.

They stood up to injustice, said their park must be saved
Led by Reverend Pinkney with his spirit so brave.

To recall the mayor and take the town back
Petitions were signed against big money’s hack

Then the state said they found that there were some false dates
With no case against Pinkney they sealed his sad fate

30 months to ten years, just how cruel can they be?
No right to make phone calls, in solidarity

Without decent clothes, decent food or health care
Way, way up north in the middle of nowhere

With his life ever threatened, it’s worse every day
So the people united must stand up and say

Free Reverend Pinkney, we will save his life
And let him spend Christmas in the arms of his wife!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Close Marquette Branch Prison Now!

The difference between Marquette Branch Prison Level 1 and Lakeland Correctional Facility Level 2 is the warden. The conditions at Lakeland are 1,000 times more humane. I was at Lakeland for over eight months and did not have a single ticket. Since arriving here in Marquette Branch Prison, the worst-operating prison in the state, I have received 6 misconduct tickets on a false basis.

The correctional officers here make up offences. One officer wrote 39 misconduct tickets in one hour. Another wrote a little 18-year-old kid 13 misconducts in a two-week period, and another wrote 8 or 9 for one individual. The officers in N dorm write tickets mostly on Black prisoners.

At Lakeland in over 8 months there was not a single attack on anyone in the unit. There is only one officer in the unit and you feel safe. Here in Marquette every single day there is an attack. A fight broke out right in front of my bed and the correctional officer could not beak up the fight. These officers cannot protect anyone. I broke up a fight in the bathroom myself, but this officer could not so he pepper-sprayed the entire room, including me and everyone else. A week earlier a young man was attacked in his cell and half his face was burned off. Every single day a person's locker is broken into; at Lakeland you could leave your locker unlocked and not worry about your possessions.

At Marquette the warden does not mind all the sexual assaults by officers on prisoners. He does not mind officers gambling, every single day. He does not mind prisoners fighting prisoners. At Marquette Prison they do not follow their own rules, but if you are a law-abiding person and try to do the right thing, the warden will send his boys after you. They will lie, cheat, steal, or even plant a weapon in your locker. They all work together against the prisoners.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is a fraud stealing taxpayers' money. The people must stand up and say no more! Close Marquette Branch Prison now!

-Rev. Pinkney

Violation of Rev. Pinkney's First Amendment Rights at Trial

Rev. Pinkney was denied a fair trial because his First Amendment rights were violated. The law is settled that as a general matter the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory action, including criminal prosecutions, for speaking out.

When considering these factors, it is indisputable that Rev. Pinkney's statements to the media, participation in political campaigns, public speeches, authorship of newspaper articles, and similar activities were all protected by the First Amendment and criminal prosecution can certainly deter political and civil engagement by most citizens.

The improper use of irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence about Rev. Pinkney's constitutionally protected political activity suggests that such activity was a motivating factor behind his prosecution. Implicit in the prosecutor's closing arguments are disdain for Rev. Pinkney's political activities and associations and a sarcastic wink and nod to jurors, who he presumed to share his sentiment because he is also white.

The prosecutor repeatedly notes there was nothing wrong with the litany of First Amendment activities he recited. There was no reason to raise them during a criminal trial. The Michigan Rules of Evidence should have been the basis for excluding unrelated constitutionally protected activities. The trial court erred in allowing it.
...the bare facts regarding Rev. Pinkney's political and civic activism cannot alone be regarded as a basis for establishing that he had a motive for election fraud. If, as alleged, he like hundreds of other citizens spoke out against Mayor Hightower and engaged in election activities, then such does not demonstrate that he was motivated to commit crimes. In fact, there are millions of politically active citizens across the country who cannot be presumed to be predisposed to election fraud.

More important still is the fact that treating a politically engaged citizen in this way chills the type of political involvement that is so important to the democratic process.

First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive and when government overreach has a chilling effect on the exercise of such freedom, society as a whole is the lower. For this reason, using evidence of political involvement as the sole basis for alleging motive is improper.
Evidence does not lie, but Judge Sterling Schrock, Prosecutor Mike Sepic, and the all-white jury do!

Marquette Branch Prison and MDOC Are a Fraud on All Taxpayers

The mission statement of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is a complete fraud. You have to fail the polygraph test to become a staff member of the MDOC. You must be willing to lie, cheat, and steal from the taxpayers--not all staff, but the ones I have had contact with. One of the functions of the criminal justice system is supposedly to enhance public safety, but they cannot protect the prisoners behind their own fence--another lie.

The MDOC is a complete fraud on the taxpayers. There are five people over 90 years of age in the Michigan prison system, over 45 people over 80 years of age, 414 over 70 years of age, and over 4,000 prisoners over 60 years of age. The MDOC mission statement claims to provide meaningful opportunities for offenders to help themselves to improve their behaviors and become law abiding and productive citizens through academics, vocational work, recreational activities, etc. Yet the untrained, unskilled, uneducated, unprofessional, and out of control correctional officers are just one step from being incarcerated themselves.

Allow me to give you an example. A prisoner's wife came to visit. A correctional officer saw her and told other officers that he was going to sleep with the prisoner's wife. He went to the prisoner's file, wrote down the home number, and started calling the prisoner's wife and making sexual advances toward her. She told her husband who told the Warden. Instead of disciplining the correctional officer, MDOC transferred the prisoner and the prisoner was disciplined. This is how MDOC operates. There are correctional officers engaging in or attempting to engage in sexual assault on prisoners, but who can the prisoners tell? They all work together against the prisoners.

The MDOC states that one of the major objectives of the MDOC is to influence criminal offenders to become law abiding citizens and that both on duty and off duty conduct of department personnel must serve as an example of proper conducct for offenders. This is a huge lie. The whole department is a complete fraud on the taxpayers. We must close down Marquette Branch Prison to protect the public.
-Rev. Pinkney

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rev. Pinkney Punished for a Bible on the Bed

In the latest escalation of harassment, Rev. Pinkney has received another misconduct ticket--this time for having a Bible on the bed. Considering the magnitude of serious problems at Marquette Branch Prison reported in this blog, ticketing Rev. Pinkney for this supposed rule infraction is clearly intended to single out and harass him. Correctional officers in Marquette would not be able to get away with such egregious and ridiculous harassment if Lansing did not sanction it.

See here for steps you can take to protest MDOC and demand an end to the daily harassment, threats, and intimidation.

ACLU Amicus Brief: It Is All About Justice in Benton Harbor

The following are excerpts from the amicus brief and motion that the ACLU of Michigan filed in support of Rev. Edward Pinkney's appeal (as transcribed by Rev. Pinkney):

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, through counsel, files this motion to file an amicus curiae brief in support of Rev. Edward Pinkney's pending appeal for the reasons that follow.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is an affiliate of a nationwide nonpartisan organization of over 500,000 members dedicated to protecting the fundamental liberties and basic civil rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and civil rights statutes. The American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan is the legal and educational wing of the Michigan ACLU.

Among the rights that the ACLU vigorously seeks to protect are constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, due process and all rights to be extended to those who have been charged with violation of criminal laws.

The prosecution of Rev. Pinkney was effectively a penalty for his lawful exercise of his First Amendment right to engage in the political and civil life of his community. In addition his trial was tainted by improper references to his controversial, but lawful, First Amendment activities. Finally, he was deprived of the fair warning that a criminal justice statute must provide.

During November 2013, when the prosecutor Mike Sepic contends Rev. Pinkney was engaged in illegal acts, the statute he was charged with violating, MCL 168.937, was regarded by some judges and others as a statute that did not create a substantive crime. This effectively rendered that statute an ex post facto law, because nearly a year later the statute was construed to create a substantive crime.

The ACLU has represented Rev. Pinkney in a successful appeal of an order revoking his probation for quoting Deuteronomy 28: 15-40 in People v. Pinkney 2009 WL 2032030, unpublished opinion per curian of the Court of Appeals issued July 14, 2009, and the organization has filed amicus curiae briefs on his behalf in the instant case concerning bond.

Rev. Edward Pinkney was denied a fair trial because his First Amendment Rights were violated, and testimony about other unrelated and irrelevant acts likely distracted and inflamed the jury. The retaliation by the state for lawful First Amendment activity is prohibited, and the use of irrelevant, but politically inflammatory, evidence against Rev. Pinkney betrays improper motives for prosecuting him. Rev. Pinkney did not receive constitutionally required fair warning about the potential for criminal liability for acts he is accused of committing, because of an after the fact judicial construction of statutory language.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan's interest in this case is rooted in the core principle of the organization. At issue is a man's right to be fully engaged in the civic life of his community without fears that his legitimate political activities--perceived by some as controversial--will be inappropriately or unlawfully used against him in a criminal trial. When that happens there is not only the risk that the attention of an inflamed jury will be improperly diverted from the relevant law and evidence, but also the risk of a consequent broad chill on speech and political participation that the First Amendment was designed to protest.

The ACLU of Michigan is concerned as well that Rev. Pinkney finds himself trapped in a due process dilemma created by a criminal justice system that should have protected him. He was charged, tried and convicted of violating a statute that creates a criminal offense, not with its language, but by way of a judicial construction of that language that post-dates the act the defendant is accused of committing. This ex post facto prosecution denied the defendant the fair warning that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees.

While some might dismiss as insignificant the plight of a controversial activist, the strength and integrity of our Constitution and the rights it guarantees are most effectively tested when they are called upon to protest those who do not enjoy the favor of the government and powerful interests within a community. Rev. Edward Pinkney, the defendant in this matter, should be placed squarely within that category because of his long history of activism and perceptions that he has been the repeated target of reprisals and retaliation by his opponents.

Rev. Edward Pinkney is well-known in Berrien County for his advocacy on behalf of the low-income residents of Benton Harbor, a predominantly African-American city that is situated directly adjacent to St. Joseph, a predominantly white and significantly more prosperous city.

Rev. Edward Pinkney's focus individually and through his organization (BANCO) has been varied, ranging from issues of unfair treatment of African American defendants in the criminal justice system to economic development.

Some of Rev. Pinkney's supporters believe he has been targeted because he has antagonized the Whirlpool Corporation (headquartered in Benton Harbor), resisted private acquisition and development of a historic beachfront park and demanded that a portion of revenue from the PGA Senior Golf Tournament be used for economic development in Benton Harbor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Death by Debtors' Prison

America cannot lock its poor in debtor's prisons to fund its police departments

by Corrina Regnier
Tuesday 26 May 2015 07.15 EDT
The Guardian

Local courts and municipalities – reliant on fines and fees as a source of revenue – are adopting aggressive collection practices that prey on the poor

Ray Charles Staten Sr. should have celebrated his 60th birthday this month. Instead, his family marked the fourth anniversary of his death. It all started, according to a lawsuit that settled in March 2015, when a small debt became a death sentence in the spring of 2011.

Unable to pay an outstanding debt of $409 in court fines, Mr Staten was arrested and sentenced to 16 days in Mississippi’s Harrison County Jail. Shortly after being booked at the jail, Mr Staten fell seriously ill. Despite his obvious symptoms and his cellmates’ cries for help, the jail’s privately-contracted medical staff allowed his condition to worsen until – on the fifth day of his sentence – he collapsed in his cell and, upon being transported to a medical center, could not be revived. He had suffered acute peritonitis, a life-threatening infection of the abdominal lining for which early treatment is essential.

Whenever the government locks someone in jail, it has a constitutional duty to provide adequate medical care, a responsibility that can’t be evaded simply by contracting it out to a for-profit company. Unfortunately, Mr Staten’s is a familiar story: the ACLU is currently litigating a case in a Mississippi prison that challenges, in part, the dangerously inadequate health care provided by Health Assurance, a private corporation also responsible for Mr Staten’s medical treatment — or lack thereof.

Mr Staten’s experience is far from unusual. Every day, indigent Americans are ripped from their homes and their communities and forced into jails of varying degrees of dysfunction and decay. The US supreme court ruled three decades ago that it is unconstitutional to imprison people because they cannot afford to pay debts. The ruling, however, hasn’t ended the practice of jailing people for unpaid government fees and fines.

In 2010, the ACLU found that courts across the nation regularly deny Americans proper consideration of their financial position and throw them into jail over fines they could never hope to pay. As a result, local jails nationwide have transformed into modern-day “debtors’ prisons” overcrowded with indigent people whose only punishable offense is being poor. The effects are devastating.

This growing phenomenon funnels poor Americans into the criminal justice system with sentences that disrupt their lives, too often trapping them in a damning cycle of poverty and incarceration that far outlasts their initial conviction. These practices have a disparate impact on communities of color in the United States.

Marquette Prison, the Death House

It was another day at Marquette Prison, a kind of concentration camp where prisoners from across the state are assembled to be tortured.

Warden Robert Napel has installed 26 cameras, an apparatus for monitoring prisoners, and an additional 10-15 inside the bathrooms and other areas. The warden is spending taxpayer's money to help his friends instead of making the conditions inside the prison better and tolerable for the prisoners.

The warden should improve the meals, housing, clothing, and training of the correctional officers. He has ruled with an iron fist. He said that as long as he is warden, the prisoners will never have a microwave oven. Prisoners in other MDOC facilities have microwaves and the correctional officers have several. The prisoners themselves would pay the cost of the microwaves, but the warden refuses to allow it. This forces prisoners to rely on prison food not fit for human consumption.

The warden's only concern is to destroy the prisoners at all costs and keep them intimidated. The conditions are unbearable and the tension is so great that every single day there are several fights. This is a level 1 facility, but it operates like a level 5. The surveillance is like a concentration camp. They monitor the telephone, your visitors, and the visit.They monitor when you go to the shower room. This concentration camp is backwards and very much devastating to the prisoners.

The violence is out of control. A fight broke out two beds from me in the black mold room where I am once again sleeping. One prisoner attacked another, it was a big mess. The correctional officer pepper-sprayed the whole room and I got sick from the spray. This was after the attack. The officers are not trained to protect you. They cannot even protect themselves.

The hatred of some of the correctional officers against the Black prisoners is unbelievable. Surveillance cameras will not stop the violence, but improving the housing, food, and clothing conditions will. What are you going to do, Warden Robert Napel?

Only in America

Let's remember what landed Rev. Edward Pinkney in prison in the first place. The way he was treated before he even went to trial could be the key.

Rev. Pinkney was charged with forgery, when there was no evidence of forgery. Mark Goff from the Michigan State Police testified on the second day of the prosecution's case. His testimony only indicated that he believed dates had been changed on the petitions that were the subject of the forgery counts. Goff had no opinion whatsoever as to whether Pinkney or anyone else made the changes. He also could not indicate how much time had lapsed with respect ot each date entry between the point when a date was first entered on the petition and the point if/when a change was made. If the changes were made, it could have been by the person who signed the petition.

Three defense witnesses testified that Venita Campbell altered the dates on the petitions at the residence of Marquette Coates while Rev. Pinkney was not present. Coates, Tammy Jude, and Quacy Roberts all testified that one of those witnesses, Roberts, took the petitions from Campbell.

Rev. Pinkney testified that Campbell was active in the recall effort and drafted the language for the recall petition. After the felony charges were brought, due to what the prosecutor wanted the people to believe, Campbell could no longer be located in the community.

The recall election was scheduled to be held May 6, 2014. But at the mayor's request, his friends, the Berrien County Sheriff's Department, began investigating the petition campaign, intimidating everyone who had signed the recall petition. The Berrien County Sherif's Department was riding three and four deep, trying to harass and intimidate the people who had signed. Again Mayor James Hightower did not care about the law. The Sheriff's Department, the prosecutor and the judges had a plan and would not allow anything to get in their way.

The force the Sheriff Department used to intimidate the community was unbelievable. The prosecutor sent a SWAT team to Rev. Pinkney's home to arrest him. He had just taken his wife out for her birthday when News 57 reported "Rev. Pinkney is on the run." Rev. Pinkney turned himself in the very next day.

Rev. Pinkney turned himself in the very next day and Judge LaSata set bond at $30,000 (unbelievable, only in America). He also stated that neither Rev. Pinkney nor his wife could use the internet and that the internet had to be removed from his home or he would not receive bond.

Freedom of speech has no meaning any more when government is in control. "You cannot use the internet, your wife cannot use the internet, and you cannot write articles for the newspapers." We are living in times when the people are only pawns for the rich and government has merged with corporations and become one force against the people.

At the preliminary hearing, May 23, 2014, no direct or indirect evidence against Rev. Pinkney was presented and Prosecutor Mike Sepic said you don't need any evidence to convict him. Then the judge ruled that the trial could go forward with no evidence.

The trial was set on Rev. Pinkney's birthday, Oct. 27, 2014. The all-white jury's decision was not based on a desire to achieve a just, fair or moral outcome, but was motivated by unrevealed, deeply held racial prejudice. We must stop all-white juries.

Rev. Pinkney writes, "I am now in Marquette Prison, a real hell-hole, because of racial prejudice. I am not mad or angry. I hope the world understands that some people hate just to be hating and do not have any morals. We must continue to stand up for what is right. We must stand together, people of all colors, and say no more. We can win! We can win!"

-Rev. Pinkney

Radio Interview with Joe Peery

Listen to this radio interview with Joe Peery of #Justice4Pinkney!

Monday, December 21, 2015

People’s Tribune interviews Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney

“My husband opened my eyes to injustice” 

“So many young people are involved now,” says Dorothy Pinkney.

Editor’s note: The People’s Tribune interviewed Dorothy Pinkney about Benton Harbor’s history and Rev. Pinkney’s unjust incarceration.

BENTON HARBOR, MI — “I was four-years-old when my parents moved to Benton Harbor’s countryside. When we moved to the city, I saw a different side to Benton Harbor. I remember walking around as a teenager. I saw beautiful homes, a beautiful Main Street with many retail stores and restaurants. It was a city booming with factories and jobs. Men came here, got a job, and then sent for their families in Memphis, Arkansas, or Mississippi.” This was the era when mechanization of southern agriculture forced millions in the rural South to migrate north.

“When my parents moved to the city, it was mostly Caucasian. As African Americans moved in, resources like the courthouse and factories were moved to St. Joseph, which became a largely white city. Blacks were no longer welcome.

“Today, there’s nothing left in Benton Harbor. Whirlpool is the dominant corporation that rules the region. As Whirlpool and other factories closed their industrial operations, people became poorer. Now you see abandoned houses, no jobs, and a lot of homelessness.” That poverty has spread into cities with a large Black population, and beyond.

“When my husband got involved as an activist, he told me stories that opened my eyes to injustice. Then an uprising occurred in 2003 when the police murdered Terrence “T-Shirt.” My husband went out to the community to connect with the young people. They were dealing with police harassment and felt they weren’t being heard.

"With the merging of government and corporate power, Emergency Financial Managers were brought into Benton Harbor to take more resources away from the community, an attack on our democracy. We got involved with recalling Glen Yarborough, a commissioner-at-large who was selling the residents out to Whirlpool. Whirlpool wanted to buy up city resources. First they wanted the underground cable. Then the lakefront property. My husband and others were opposed to this. This was the beginning of the government’s attack.

“During my husband’s trial [for unproven charges of changing five dates on petitions to recall the mayor], the government brought the community organization he leads, BANCO, into the courtroom. BANCO speaks out against injustice and court watches. It is seen as a threat.

“Whirlpool and the government are trying to destroy the Benton Harbor movement for justice through the attack on my husband. But the ousting of the mayor in the last election shows that people are rising up. The new mayor, Marcus Mohammed, got 90% of the young vote, another indication that the movement hasn’t died. The people are ready for a change.

“I appreciate the hard work and continued support, national and international, to get my husband released from prison. We have to continue the work, even when he comes home. People are poorer than ever. There are no jobs and unemployment is at an all time high. Robots have come in and taken over. The lives of the young generation are at stake. We see so many young people involved now. I don’t think they can be stopped. What they have done is create a generation that is saying, “We’re fighting back at any cost.”

We encourage reproduction of this article so long as you credit the source.
Copyright © 2015 People’s Tribune

Rev. Pinkney Writes to the ACLU

The following are excerpts from a December 3rd letter from Rev. Pinkney to the ACLU of Michigan regarding MDOC Director Heidi Washington's response to Rev. Pinkney's complaints of mistreatment.

The Director Heidi E. Washington is being untruthful.

I was placed in an area of confinement containing black mold at bunk E-93 lower, behind the lockers and around the walls. After complaining for about a week, and talking to correctional officer Popo, he moved me to D-70. There was no black mold in D-70. Then on Nov. 25, 2015, I was moved back to E-93, and the prisoners washed the whole area down--it was full of black mold.

I have received my legal mail at least twice already open and read. They had also opened my outgoing mail that I had sent out, several times....They had been recording my attorney calls since January, the month I arrived.

I went over three weeks without clean clothing, clean state-issued clothing. I would ask to see or go to the Quartermaster. They would lie, and say we are too busy to write a pass, which takes 30 seconds. The prisoners got together and gave me clothes to wear, because they witnessed what was going on. Marquette Branch Prison does what every prison in Michigan does: whatever they want, and the Director backs them up.

The Marquette Correctional Officer Schretter on the 2pm-10pm shift has been threatening, intimidating every day he is at work. I have been subjected to mistreatment and harassment by the correctional officres. They have written misconduct tickets, when there was no misconduct. The correctional officers issued five misconduct tickets that were outright lies and for three of the five I was found not guilty. The other two misconduct tickets, I was too sick from the black mold to fight.

There was no violation of the telephone policies....Also the Hearing Book states, the name and number must be correct. The [earlier] misconduct ticket was dismissed because the name was wrong, but the [telephone] restriction was still allowed to stand. The notice of intent has three errors of the name, and I was still given or put on phone restrictions.

Mr. Lambert watched me attempting to call home several times. I was thinking Correctional Officer Schretter was cutting the telephone off and on from the office to harass me, whenever he saw me on the phone. So prisoner Lambert attempted to call. I was so upset I went into the TV room, then Lambert called me and said your wife is on the phone. I did not know Mr. Lambert had used his PIN. I never used his PIN.

Heidi Washington is not being truthful. There were no telephone violations. The Department of Corrections cut [my] telephone off before issuing a misconduct ticket which is a due process issue. The [earlier] misconduct ticket was dismissed. This is a violation of policy.

Why did not Heidi Washington send someone to speak to me?! Nobody came to speak about all the issues. She is being untruthful.

The prisoners have rallied behind me, because of the correctional officers' threatening, harassing and intimidating behavior....

Rev. Edward Pinkney

None of Us Are Free as Long as Some of Us Are Caged


Dina Bezgranitz

Janika and Kayla only lived to be 25, both dying this year at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti Township.

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.[1] 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.

Masthead of the August–September 1984 issue of D.A.W.N., a newspaper written and edited by women incarcerated at Huron Valley
Kayla Renea Miller was pronounced dead July 16; the cause of death, released in September, was “heroin toxicity.”[2] WNDU reporter Mark Peterson, having interviewed her mother and her attorney, reported that Kayla “went to prison for drug treatment.”[3] In August, the police were still saying they were waiting for an autopsy report.[4] 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.[5]

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.

Continue reading this excellent and well-researched exposé of Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Marquette Branch Prison: Racism at its Best!

[Written prior to Rev. Pinkney's release from punitive segregation in Level V]

Marquette Branch Prison is the one and only. There is not another prison like Marquette prison under Warden Robert Napel. He has the whole prison in an uproar. What he says goes. The prison leadership is questionable. We are at war,

Marquette's warden, known for his racist agenda, has now targeted me, Rev. Edward Pinkney, claiming I attempted to smuggle, when in fact I never attempted to smuggle anything. The question that plagues me and many is how to make sense of nonsense. There is so much nonsense going on here at this prison. It is like the world does not care, but giving up is not an option. Quitting is not an option.

We must continue to fight this battle at all costs. We are dealing with a system that is broken and the system is robbing the taxpayers. I call it poverty pimping, when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Marquette is a prison out of control, hundreds of miles from MDOC headquarters in Lansing, a real concentration camp with no regard for human suffering. This prison has untrained, unskilled, uneducated correctional officers--not all, but most. It's a jungle with lions and bears, snakes and spiders. The jungle is filled with poisonous people. The devil is blinding the people's minds from seeing reality. We see horrible things happening, the suffering and brutality that go on inside the prison, unimaginable to our eyes and senses. The prison system tortures the prisoners at Marquette Branch Prison. What I am witnessing is pure hell and evil, a living hell.

I have now been placed in a level 5 concentration camp at Marquette. A place where prisoners are assembled, a place where prisoners of war are confined. The Warden believes he is above the law, rules and regulations of this country. We must take a stand. I need your help immediately. They are closing all doors on the battle field with all of their power. I am reaching out for help. There are more of us than them.

When the system knows you are not guilty of anything, they try to destroy you. Can we stand together?

Marquette Prison targets Blacks who are attacked every single day, tortured. The correctional officers write bold tickets of misconduct, Blacks get the worst area, and are forced to do the dirtiest work. We must stop the racism inside Marquette Branch Prison and MDOC headquarters in Lansing at all costs.

-Rev. Pinkney

White Victims of Racial Caste (from "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander)

We now turn to another important difference between mass incarceration and Jim Crow: the direct harm to whites caused by the current caste system. Whites never had to sit at the back of the bus during Jim Crow, but today a white man may find himself in prison for a drug offense, sharing a cell with a black man. The direct harm caused to whites caused by mass incarceration seems to distinguish it from Jim Crow; yet, like many of the other differences, this one requires some qualification. Some whites were directly harmed by Jim Crow. For example, a white woman who fell in love with a black man and hoped to spend the rest of her life with him was directly harmed by anti-miscegenation laws. The laws were intended for her benefit—to protect her from the corrupting influence of the black man and the “tragedy” of mulatto children—but she was directly harmed nonetheless.

Still, it seems obvious that mass incarceration directly harms far more whites than Jim Crow ever did. For some, this fact alone may be reason enough to reject the analogy. An “interracial racial caste system” may seem like an oxymoron. What kind of racial caste system includes white people within its control? The answer: a racial caste system in the age of colorblindness.

If 100 percent of the people arrested and convicted for drug offenses were African American, the situation would provoke outrage among the majority of Americans who consider themselves nonracist and who know very well that Latinos, Asian Americans, and whites also commit drug crimes. We, as a nation, seem comfortable with 90 percent of the people arrested and convicted of drug offenses in some states being African American, but if the figure were 100 percent, the veil of colorblindness would be lost. We could no longer tell ourselves stories about why 90 percent might be a reasonable figure; nor could we continue to assume that good reasons exist for extreme racial disparities in the drug war, even if we are unable to think of such reasons ourselves. In short, the inclusion of some whites in the system of control is essential to preserving the image of a colorblind criminal justice system and maintaining our self-image as fair and unbiased people. Because most Americans, including those within law enforcement, want to believe they are non-racist, the suffering in the drug war crosses the color line.

Of course, the fact that white people are harmed by the drug war does not mean they are the real targets, the designated enemy. The harm white people suffer in the drug war is much like the harm Iraqi civilians suffer in U.S. military actions targeting presumed terrorists or insurgents. In any war, a tremendous amount of collateral damage is inevitable. Black and brown people are the principal targets in this war; white people are collateral damage....

It is fair to say that we have witnessed an evolution in the United States from a racial caste system based entirely on exploitation (slavery), to one based largely on subordination (Jim Crow), to one defined by marginalization (mass incarceration).
Source: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

We must stand together and fight together this real war against the people of all color!
-Rev. Pinkney

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Taxpayers Pay to Imprison Aging Lifers; Rev. Pinkney Speaks Out

The price of failing to place any limit on the exercise of discretion is very high. The taxpayers the average cost of keeping aging lifers is about $40,000 per year. If half of those currently eligible were released, the annual saving would approach $47 million, but for the criminal justice system it is a failure of integrity.

The system is not reliable when the intention of (even bad) judges and the bases of plea agreements can be undone, simply because the last decision-maker has the unilateral power to say "no." The function of (even bad) judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are effectively usurped. It is time for the people to take control. The power belongs to the people.

The judges' sentences lack predictive value, since no one can anticipate when a prisoner, who has good institutional conduct and a low risk of re-offending, will be released. The consistency in the treatment of similar offenders who have committed similar offenses is negated.

The fairness of a system with little transparency and no accountability is perpetually open to all kinds of questions, and today there is very little fairness, with very little transparency and absolutely NO accountability. Our system today should be open to a lot of questions.

Prisoners today and their family members understand today there has been a shift in emphasis from rehabilitation to direct and hard punishment which destroys the hope of families that people can ever earn their way home.

In Michigan, in the legacy of tough on crime policies, there is a stratling increase in the number of people aging in prison. Michigan is putting more and more corrections dollars into medical and geriatric care. In 1989 the average age of Michigan prisoners was 31.4. In 2011 it was 38.0. The percentage of the population aged 50 or over is approaching 20 percent. In 2004, the National Institute of Corrections estimated that the average cost of incarcerating an older prisoner, who is chronically or terminally ill, was $70,000.

It is time the people say no more and fight back. We can win this battle, if we stand together.

On Monday [this letter was written prior to 11/30] the Marquette News 6 featured a story about me and, against all odds, made me a hero here like never before. On Tuesday people from around the Marquette area protested outside the prison in shifts. I am now the talk of the prison--even some of the guards are supporting me. This is tremendous! Spread the word.

Rev. Pinkney Speaks Out from Prison

Another bad day for Marquette Prison; another brutal assault on one prisoner by another. Nobody would believe what's going on behind the prison walls. I call it a wall of shame.

Marquette Prison is operating like a death camp or concentration camp, a place where prisoners from around the state of Michigan are assembled. A place where prisoners of war in the State of Michigan are confined.

Last night it was a brutal attack by a prisoner who poured hot oatmeal on another prisoner's face. Every single night there is at least several beatings and on store day this place becomes what it really is: the jungle.

Marquette Prison is the jungle. This place is labeled as a Level I, but it is really like Level 5 and it is known as the jungle. The public, the taxpayers, are paying the price of this unchecked discretion. Prisoner counts are conducted over 16 times nearly every day. The correctional officers have to tell you when to go to breakfast, lunch, and dinner; every minute of your time is controlled. You cannot even go to the little bitty mini-law library. 

The Thanksgiving dinner was garbage, the food had no value. It was nasty, dirty, and disgusting to taste or smell. I would not have given that garbage to a dog to eat. In reality all the meals are like this. You get two blue outfits, 2 pairs of long johns, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, 1 summer coat, and 1 hat. This is what the taxpayers are paying for, and they are getting ripped off. Warden Robert Napel is ripping off the taxpayer to misappropriate funds to use as he wishes.

Warden Robert Napel has a very strong working group. Most are neo-Nazis (Nazis were members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, founded by Adolf Hitler. Some of the correctional officers complain about the other untrained, unskilled, unprofessional and uneducated officers at Marquette Prison who are really not skilled in anything to do with corrections.

We are living in a hell at Marquette Prison. The tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The correctional officers have the whole prison on edge and the Warden rules with an iron fist, creating the hostility that exists inside this prison.

It is time we start thinking about doing a complete audit on Warden Robert Napel and Marquette Branch Prison and closing this prison down!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Opperman Report: David Sole Speaks on the Free Rev. Pinkney Campaign

Ed Opperman interviewed David Sole about the campaign to Free Rev. Pinkney!

Check it out here.

Marquette Prisoners See Pinkney Protest on TV News; Brutal Shakedown of Marquette Prisoners

Writings from Rev. Pinkney dated 11/30

On 11-20-2015 at about 10pm, 6 correctional officers came to arrest me in prison, claiming I was at the front door of the prison smuggling handwritten notes: this is impossible.

Let the truth be told, this country, this state has gravitated back to the 60s, the days of the freedom rides. John Lewis was selected to speak for the group, facing a battery of cameras, microphones and notepads. There was a strange silence as he was transfixed by what he saw coming up behind the reporter, Norman Ritter, the Time Life Bureau Chief from Atlanta. He saw white men brandishing baseball bats, bottles, lead pipes, knives, guns. The people stood helpless as the racist white men barreled into them. Some of Lewis' group jumped, some were pushed, and some were literally thrown over the railing onto the roofs of cars parked in the post office lot below. The Freedom Riders realized that whites, who had been secluded at various observation posts, were closing in on them from all directions.

When I think about Marquette Prison and Warden Robert Napel, they are closing in on me from all directions. When I say this guy rules with an iron fist, I mean it. Warden Napel makes up the rules to fit his needs. The DOC can say you are making a three-way call without any evidence to support the charge; if the department says you are making a three-way call, that is the final decision, regardless of the facts.

The grievance process is a fraud. An employee of MDOC handles the grievances and always rules in favor of the department. The hearing process is a fraud on the people, including taxpayers.

On 11-25-15 at about 2:10 pm I was released from Level 5 segregation without my property. The 2pm-10pm correctional officer (who once wrote 39 misconduct tickets in one day) refused to call the property room so I could receive my property. For six days I had only house shoes (sandals) to wear in sub-zero weather. It was snowing and cold, and my feet got wet and cold every single day. I have to go outside to get to the chow hall.

Correctional Officer Balsa refused to allow me to call my attorney. She made several threats.

But the good news: For about a week, News TV 6 in Marquette, Michigan, televised the 11-21-15 protest at the front gate of the prison. The prisoners saw the coverage and the residents of Marquette now have been informed that the MDOC is a fraud. Residents came out to support "Free Rev. Pinkney." As a result of this news coverage, I've become a hero to the prisoners and around Marquette.

In Muskegon Prison, the Warden stole over $300,000. I suspect the warden in Maruette has stolen more than a million dollars of taxpayers money, under the guise of being tough on crime. Let's have a major protest and demand Warden Robert Napel be fired!

The Shakedown of Prisoners

It was a very sad day at Marquette Branch Prison. On Nov. 25, 2015, at around 9:30am, Warden Robert Napel ordered a shakedown of a unit with more than 200 prisoners in it. The correctional officers were like gang busters, around 30-40 untrained, unskilled, uneducated, unprofessional correctional officers. They were more like the Keystone Cops.

The untrained correctional officers destroyed the prisoners' sleeping area. They threw all the prisoners' sheets, pillows, blankets, clothing, food, radios, and TVs all over the place. It appeared to be the scene of a battle with no help coming. The prisoners' resentment, frustration, and anger was overwhelming, given that they had their world rocked by the shakedown. Who would believe the scene I witnessed. To explain it to the world, nobody would believe it if you have never been to prison.

The Michigan Department of Corrections headquarters in Lansing allow Warden Robert Napel to operate Marquette Branch Prison in this way. The Warden has a belief that all blacks should be in jail or prison, a Nazi mentality.

During the shakedown several officers were complaining, with an expression of grief an pain, at what the Warden asked them to do. Some stated that it's time for the Warden to retire or become a refugee on the run. He should retire because he believes that prisoners should not be treated humanely and with dignity in any matters of health care, personal safety, and general living conditions. He discriminates based on race. Some correctional officers also believe there should be an audit of Marquette Branch Prison, including but not limited to the money allocated for the prison and the prisoners' benefit fund, and all other funds he has control over.

Warden Napel is using every trick in the book to harass, intimidate, and threaten me. He is the battleship behind the attacks on me, but this is all part of war. We are dealing with a person who believes in ruling with an iron fist who has created a real jungle at Marquette Branch Prison. The prison calls 16 to 18 prisoner counts per day, day and night, which is sheer stupidity and harassment.

This is why Warden Robert Napel must be terminated or forced to resign as soon as possible. Warden Robert Napel must go! Resign now!

-Rev. Pinkney

Monday, December 14, 2015

On Victimless Crime Laws

On Victimless Crime Laws: And a Call to Release All Who have been Victimzed by Them

In recent months, a Seminar on Prisoners’ Writings has been meeting in Oakland. The idea of this seminar is to take some of the writings of people politicized by imprisonment, and make their insights available to the movements and the general public.
In the discussions in this seminar, the issue of the system of victimless crimes, and victimless crime laws, has arisen. There are two outstanding aspects of this system. The first is that around 70% of all prisoners in the US are convicted of victimless crimes. (Exact figures are unobtainable, but since 1970, when the US prison population was below 300,000, it has been through the “war on drugs,” the “broken window” paradigm, and stop and frisk procedures that imprisonment has risen to almost two and half million. All three campaigns depended almost exclusively on victimless crime laws.) The second is that this system provides the legalist power upon which police impunity, police racial profiling, and police militarization are founded.
read more:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

New Counterpunch article on Rev. Pinkney: must-read

DECEMBER 11, 2015

The Routine Lies of Prison Officials

On December 14th, civil rights leader and political prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney will have spent a year in Michigan state prison. An all-white jury convicted him of five felony counts of forgery for changing dates next to signatures on a petition drive for a recall election, though no evidence of guilt was presented. The trial was distinguished mainly by its outrageous violations of due process and constitutional rights. Judge Sterling Schrock sentenced him to 30 months to 10 years and denied bond pending appeal, despite Pinkney posing no flight risk and despite the near-certainty that his conviction will be overturned on appeal. While Pinkney’s appeal proceeds slowly through the grinding gears of the judicial system, he remains in the clutches of the state.

Over the past two months, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has attempted to intimidate him into silence and to gradually isolate him from family, friends, and supporters. This turn of events began shortly after his defense team filed his appeal brief. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has also filed an amicus brief in support of overturning the conviction. It is probably not a coincidence that Pinkney has recently endured a sudden escalation of harassment and mistreatment, now that the likely success of his appeal is apparent.

The details of Pinkney’s case give us some insight into the methods by which correctional systems abuse prisoners in general, and political prisoners in particular. Indeed, in this era of racist and mass incarceration, all imprisonment is arguably political. Prisoners who engage in outspoken activism before or during incarceration are among those singled out for especially abusive treatment.
This high-profile case also demonstrates how MDOC responds to demands for truth and accountability from Pinkney supporters: typically through stone-walling and stubbornly relying on an assumption of a gullible public. While lying to the public may be the modus operandi for bureaucrats speaking on everything from climate change to police brutality, corrections officials seem especially prone to this strategy. By isolating prisoners and inhibiting their communication with supporters, prison officials can easily manipulate situations to avoid scrutiny and deny culpability. One MDOC official, without speaking with Pinkney, claimed to know “the facts” of the situation because she had reports in front of her—written, of course, by her colleagues in the correctional system.

Pinkney himself wrote from prison:
I have been an eye-witness to at least five incidents where prisoners were beaten by corrections officers. The Michigan Department of Corrections has been able to dismiss the majority of allegations of abuse and misconduct by claiming that inmates lie and the correctional department always tells the truth. The privileged public believes that the prison system is doing its best to protect them. In the eyes of the public, law enforcement and corrections do not lie.
* * *
In 2013, Pinkney and fellow community organizers began a petition seeking to recall Mayor James Hightower of Benton Harbor, Michigan, who opposed an income tax that would have raised revenue from corporations for the extremely financially distressed city. In 2010, Benton Harbor became the first city in Michigan to undergo the dictatorial rule of an Emergency Financial Manager, appointed by former Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. Over 90% of Benton Harbor’s residents are Black and nearly 50% live in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau). Appliance giant Whirlpool Corp. is headquartered in Benton Harbor and announced record-breaking third quarter sales.

At trial in November 2014, Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic failed to present any direct evidence that a crime was committed, much less that Pinkney committed a crime. Only the defense summoned testimony that a crime was committed: three witnesses testified that they saw someone else, not Pinkney, change the dates without Pinkney’s knowledge. Indeed, Sepic failed to come up with even circumstantial evidence of Pinkney’s guilt. Instead, Judge Sterling Schrock permitted Sepic to question Pinkney and other witnesses about their constitutionally-protected political and community organizing activities, supposedly to point towards a motive for changing the dates. It is important to note that the petition drive had sufficient signatures without the five in question, but an appellate court cancelled the recall election altogether as a result of the unresolved charges against Pinkney.

There can be no doubt that the prosecution was politically-motivated, intended to both derail the recall of the mayor and to intimidate Pinkney, along with all Benton Harbor activists, from engaging in legal political activity. As an attempt at further intimidation, the warrant for Pinkney’s arrest on non-violent charges was delivered to his home by a SWAT team and multiple police cars driving through his neighborhood—even though his attorney had already informed the city that Pinkney would turn himself in if warranted.

After an initial few weeks at Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Rev. Pinkney was housed for nearly nine months at Lakeland Correctional Facility in southern Michigan. While there, he was considered a model prisoner and was popular with many other prisoners as a prisoner rights advocate and faith leader. On September 21st, Pinkney’s defense team filed for appeal of the unjust conviction, charging that his constitutional and due process rights had been violated. Two weeks later, a new order of Kafka-esque mistreatment began.

Pinkney was transferred from Lakeland back to Marquette Branch Prison, 480 miles from his home. Marquette is well-known among veterans of the Michigan prison system as a hardship assignment for prisoners due to its dictatorial warden (Robert Napel), cruel guards, cold and unhealthy environmental conditions, and the domination of the prison hierarchy by white supremacist groups. Pinkney is a Black community activist who has led a David and Goliath battle against racism and corruption in the judicial and political systems of Berrien County.

After Pinkney’s transfer, supporters began a call-in campaign from around the state and country to MDOC headquarters in Lansing. MDOC officials’ explanations for the transfer shifted over time and strained credulity. First, they claimed the transfer was because Pinkney belonged in a “safer,” lower-security, Level I facility, and so he was only temporarily housed in Level II at Lakeland. However, there are at least five other Level I facilities in southern Michigan, closer to Pinkney’s wife, attorney, and supporters. What’s more, Pinkney waived his right to a Level I facility in writing because he felt much safer at Lakeland.

MDOC next claimed that Pinkney had only been housed at Lakeland for purposes of proximity to his court hearings, but as his writ was now finished, he was returned to Marquette where “they saved a bed for him” (as if he might fear they hadn’t). However, Pinkney had not appeared at a court hearing since April whereas oral arguments for his appeal may be scheduled as soon as three months from now. Granted, MDOC officials do not legally need a rationale for any prisoner transfer—one more capricious form of prisoner harassment that can also place a great burden on prisoners’ families.

While MDOC officials continued to obfuscate, another source with no reason to lie revealed the actual reason for Pinkney’s transfer to a more remote and more dangerous location. Before the transfer, a sympathetic staff member told Pinkney that he had recently overheard other staff discussing the impending transfer. Among the phrases overheard were “we don’t have any trouble with him, but they must really hate him.” “We” in this context refers to the local MDOC staff. It cannot be proven exactly to whom “they” refers. However, a likely suspect would be someone who hates Pinkney to such a degree that they are willing to use political influence to exile him to Marquette for special mistreatment.

The chilling implication is that this particular transfer was politically motivated, executed by MDOC officials in Lansing but directed by the powerful political-corporate elite, driven by Whirlpool Corp., who dominate politics in southwestern Michigan. “They” do hate Pinkney with a passion. Indeed, at a county Republican meeting the county clerk and sheriff received standing ovations when they announced Pinkney’s conviction. This latest conviction is not the first time Pinkney has been framed and railroaded in Berrien County. In 2007, an all-white jury convicted him in a second trial (after a mistrial due to a hung jury) on charges related to another ballot petition. Sentenced first to house arrest, Pinkney ultimately spent a year in prison on a parole violation charge for quoting the Bible before the ludicrous charge was overturned on appeal.

It requires little imagination to picture someone in Berrien County making a back door contact with the Republican state administration and arranging for Pinkney’s expedited punitive transfer to a distant prison before his appeal succeeds. However, to hear MDOC officials talk, one would think no official has ever done anything untoward in the history of Michigan corrections.

On the way to Marquette, Pinkney was held in shackles that abraded his ankles until they bled. MDOC officials claim his medical record indicates no abrasions. On arrival at Marquette, he was housed in a cell so moldy he experienced dizziness, difficulty breathing, and nausea. The mold may have been toxic black mold which can cause severe, sometimes permanent health problems. While MDOC officials continue to minimize the mold issue, supporters have heard accounts of other prisoners whose health has been ruined by exposure to black mold at MDOC facilities in northern Michigan.

To be clear, Lakeland was no picnic either, but compared to Marquette, Pinkney had some measure of physical security and freedom. Other Lakeland prisoners made sure to escort him to and from the library where he helped prisoners with legal research. Soon after arrival at Marquette, prison guards began publicly belittling Pinkney in order to undermine his reputation with other prisoners. A prisoner recommended him to preach at Marquette, and the assignment was revoked at the last minute without explanation. Guards began ridiculing him and trying to provoke him into reacting, a common strategy to give them an excuse to attack a prisoner. One guard loaned him a rule book, and then another guard accused him of stealing it. Pinkney suspects that those who hate him have placed a hit on him within the prison system and that his life is in danger.

After the transfer, Pinkney remained in daily communication with his wife and reported that the public support helped pressure officials to move him out of the moldy sleeping quarters. However, on October 23 Pinkney’s phone privileges were abruptly cut without due process. He was accused of making three-way phone calls, which are a technical impossibility from prison phones, and of soliciting funds for a “business enterprise.” This appears to be yet another politically-motivated frame up, since what Pinkney had actually been discussing shortly before phone privileges were revoked was the idea of a public protest outside MDOC headquarters. Pinkney and his supporters are within their constitutional rights to plan a public protest against the agency (which happened in Lansing on November 2nd). Prisoners also have the right to solicit funds for their own legal defense and for items for their well-being, such as food and phone calls. Pinkney continues to fight these charges while his phone use is suspended until July 2016.

On October 27th, Pinkney celebrated his 67th birthday in prison, cut off from communication with family and friends except for postal mail (he was prohibited from using the prison email system until November 26 as part of his “punishment”). For a period of time, he was confined to his cell at all times, except for meals and visitors. He alleges that even mail from his attorney was tampered with, a serious violation of attorney-client privilege. The ACLU of Michigan put MDOC on alert with a letter dated November 5th.

This steady shrinking of Pinkney’s rights and liberties culminated in solitary confinement in Level V (maximum security) on November 20th. Even in MDOC’s biased administrative hearing system, in which prisoners fight allegations by prison staff without recourse to legal representation or other resources, the charges against Pinkney were soon thrown out. On November 25th, MDOC transferred him back to Level I, to the same sleeping quarters with black mold that impaired his health when he first arrived. He now has diagnosed high blood pressure, which he did not have before his transfer to Marquette. MDOC medical staff check his blood pressure once weekly.

What were these charges, allegedly so serious that Pinkney had to be segregated from the prison population in maximum security and isolated from all visitors? A supporter, David Sole, visited him on the evening of the 20th and took notes in order to remember details about steps for publicizing Pinkney’s case and building public support. A guard kept close watch on the conversation (other prisoners and visitors were not so closely monitored). As he was exiting the prison, a guard confiscated Sole’s notes. Pinkney was arrested and segregated in solitary confinement. When Sole attempted to visit the next evening, he was confronted in the parking lot by an Officer Johnson and informed that Pinkney could receive no visitors due to allegedly attempting to “smuggle information to his wife.” When Sole pointed out that it was he who had written the notes and pocketed them, not Pinkney, Johnson shouted at him to leave prison property immediately. Johnson refused to disclose his badge number.

On his release, Pinkney called the punishment “a power move” by MDOC. Perhaps it was in retribution for the press conference Sole organized with local media earlier on the 20th, including an interview that aired on TV news. MDOC officials claimed to the media that Pinkney had filed no grievances and was subject to the same rules and treatment as other prisoners. In actuality, Pinkney filed a step I grievance protesting the suspension of his phone privileges and when that grievance was denied, MDOC disallowed him from filing a step II grievance. Pinkney calls the grievance process “a joke.”

Some of Pinkney’s treatment by MDOC falls within the picture of the arbitrary and casual cruelty inflicted on all prisoners. Pinkney himself stresses this point. In the early 1990s, he led a campaign against mistreatment of Black inmates in the city jail in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1999, he served several months in prison for a flimsy embezzlement conviction involving less than $150 (Pinkney claimed innocence, but was manipulated by his attorney into pleading guilty). In prison, he underwent a spiritual experience and emerged an aspiring pastor and an even more dedicated activist for racial and social justice in his home community of Benton Harbor. He organized his community to target racism and oppression in police, judicial, economic, and political systems. For over a decade, he served as court watcher nearly every day Berrien County court was in session, witnessing and documenting injustice and leading a weekly march on the courthouse. Even from prison, he helps fellow prisoners with legal research, helps them voice their causes through BANCO’s blog, and organizes for prisoners’ basic rights and dignity. He frequently reminds his supporters, “We have to keep fighting, because this is bigger than me. This is about what they can do to all prisoners.”
In this era of mass incarceration, where the United States houses white prisoners at rates 2 to 6 times the total rates in Western European countries, and 6 times as many Black prisoners as whites, all prisons, all imprisonment, and all prisoners are political. Prison serves multiple roles in this politico-economy, including low- or no-cost labor, diversion of masses of unemployed people, pork-barrel employment projects for white rural communities where many prisons are housed, profit for privately-owned prison service industries, and, last but not least, intimidation and social control through fear, violence, and repression.

Those imprisoned for their political activity are victims of counter-insurgency strategies specifically intended to crush organized efforts to fight back against the political, economic, social, law enforcement, and judicial systems that already trap so many Black, brown, and poor people. In the U.S., the dominant narrative claims that there are no political prisoners here; that they only exist in countries like China, countries which should be sternly reprimanded for their human rights violations. In reality, the U.S. has many imprisoned for their political activity, most famously Mumia abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, both people of color, both framed for murder, both decades into life sentences, and both suffering health problems.

Rev. Pinkney stands as the most glaring example of imprisonment for political activity in Michigan, and possibly in the Midwest. As civil rights attorney Hugh “Buck” Davis put it, “Given the thousands of irregularities in election petitions in Michigan every year, it’s clear that this is political prosecution in retaliation for successful community and electoral organizing. Two-and-a-half to ten years? He’s a political prisoner.” With a false conviction and denial of bond pending appeal, his legal case represents a miscarriage of justice. The harassment and abuse he continues to suffer in MDOC custody reflects the kind of torture to which many prisoners are routinely subjected in the U.S.

And the indomitable Pinkney’s latest message? “I am doing great. WE ARE WINNING THIS BATTLE.”
Geraldine Matthews is an activist in Michigan.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Detroit, Saturday, Dec. 12: Emergency Conference to Save Rev. Edward Pinkney

Emergency Conference
to Save Rev. Edward Pinkney

Join the facebook event!

Detroit, Michigan December 12, 2015
Updated time:  12:30pm to 4:30pm.

Dinner served afterwards.

Chairperson/ Welcome – Abayomi Azikiwe
Opening remarks - Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney
Legal update – Attorney Tim Holloway; Mark Fancher of ACLU 
Taped message from Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly
Conditions facing Rev. Pinkney – Marcina Cole
Media coverage – elevating the profile of Rev. Pinkney – Abayomi Azikiwe
Meetings with Lansing Officials – J. Miller and David Sole
Reports and discussion
  1. Benton Harbor
  2. Lansing – Dr. James Anderson
  3. Lamont Lilly – Workers World Vice-Presidential candidate
  4. Milwaukee – Polly Hughes
  5. Trade union support – Tom Michalak
  6. Brian Pfeiffer – southern union organzier
  7. Campuses; other

Michigan political prisoner, the Reverend Edward Pinkney, fears for his life. With phone access denied, he is isolated in the far north Marquette Branch Prison, 500 miles from his wife, attorney and supporters. He recently wrote:
"I was transferred to Marquette Prison, shackled, mistreated, and intimidated. I was forced to strip on five different occasions. I am forced into overcrowding, inadequate exercise, lack of clean clothing, and inadequate medical care.
"I believe that [they] have put a hit on me, inside the prison system. I believe they are trying to force me to die in prison. If I do not survive this, you will know the reason why.
"The blatantly unconstitutional conduct by Judge Sterling Schrock, Prosecutor Mike Sepic, Sheriff Bailey, and the all-white jury have placed my life in danger.
"I need you to stand with me against the corrupt, broken system, a criminal enterprise operating in Berrien County and across the country--a lynch mob in black robes and three-piece suits."
Rev. Pinkney's family and supporters agree that his life is in danger. Racist guards are whipping up hostility among the 80% white prisoners against Rev. Pinkney. He lacks clean clothes, decent food, adequate medical care and exercise. Rev. Pinkney turned 67 at the end of October. We need to come together to put this critical situation before the whole nation and the entire world.
Saturday – December 12, 2015 – 12:30 to 4:30 P.M.
St. Matthew-St. Joseph Episcopal Church – 8850 Woodward Ave. 
(at King St.)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN       313-680-5508
Initial Endorsers: Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney; Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (; Observers in the Court; Pan African News Wire (; Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA); Detroit Green Party; Detroit School Board (in exile); Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures; Workers World Party;