Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, Tecumseh, Nebraska
May 10, 2015

On Mother’s Day, at least 400 prisoners took control of multiple housing units in the prison (including staff offices), fought off guards, set fires and destroyed walls and other prison infrastructure in an uprising that lasted nearly twelve hours. Damage was originally estimated at $500,000, but later determined to be in the millions. Prisoners used office phones to call their mothers and the media and chanted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”–echoing the anti-police protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

One prisoner, Rashad Washington, was shot in the leg with live ammunition by guards during the uprising and another prisoner, Samuel Smith, was shot by less-lethal weapons and injured. Two prisoners, Shon Collins and Donald Peacock were murdered by prisoners during the uprising.

According to State Ombudsman Marshall Lux, the uprising “began as a peaceful protest by a few inmates upset about changes in prison policy which restricted access to the prison yard as well as participation in various activities, including recreational activities.”

In response to the protest in the prison yard, prisoners in Units 2 and 3 refused to lock down and began building barricades and covering windows and surveillance cameras and eventually escalated to starting fires and destroying large amounts of prison infrastructure.

After firing warning shots at the prisoners protesting in the prison yard, an unnamed guard (whose name was redacted from the Ombudsman’s report for fear of reprisal) shot Rashad Washington in the leg. According to a report released by the Nebraska Department of Correctional services on the incident, “although inmate Washington falls to the ground, the other inmates do not seem to substantially react (run, lay down, comply, etc.) to the use of deadly force. The group of inmates then pick up inmate Washington and carry him to the medical door where they are instructed by staff to leave him and move away.”

Prisoners continued to destroy infrastructure and set fires for a total of almost twelve hours until staff gained control of the prison early Monday morning.

In the aftermath of the uprising, the Ombudsman’s office released a report containing the list of grievances the prisoners attempted to show staff during the uprising:

1. Administration and staff are intentionally and arbitrarily placing us in seg, only to let us out as if nothing happened. But we lose our jobs, cells, units, jerseys, etc.

2. We are refused transfers to other institutions by arbitrarily denying us lower custodies, even though most qualify, while those who cause the most trouble are being catered to.

3. Rewarding inmates who inform on their fellow inmates with jobs and other privileges.

4. Created two classes of inmates: Those on the so-called “Incentive/Wellness League,” and those who aren’t. Which now is a requirement to work in Cornhusker State Industries laundry, play group sports, use the music room, have access to a microwave and an ice machine, and it’s rumored to be expanded to many other things such as more yard access.

5. The so-called creation of a Security Threat Group unit, which seems to be coming true since a large majority of all alleged STG are being housed in Housing Unit 2.

6. The ongoing and increasing disrespect of TSCI staff, who are becoming younger and more inexperienced as staffing problems and overcrowding become ever more prevalent.

7. TSCI inmates being punished (in the form of library and night rec being taken May 9 and 10) for actions of other inmates not currently housed at TSCI.

8. Arbitrarily celling inmates together who aren’t compatible and then denying those inmates to move into cells with an inmate they are compatible with.

9. Being denied access to modern technologies and job skills, vocational and technical training, which would help prepare us for our eventual return to civilian life.

10. Inmates are being placed on Drug Offender Classification for “alleged” drug use. (This classification has been accompanied by loss of privileges.)

11. TSCI does not support self-betterment clubs or their volunteers.

 

The above-stated complains are not the only ones, but are the most important, but they are causing us inmates at TSCI psychological and emotional harm because of the following

1. We are human beings that are sent to prison as a punishment, not to be punished in the form of disrespect, ridicule, harassment etc. by TSCI staff.

2. Many of us TSCI inmates have long sentences and are being denied access to better-paying jobs to pay child support and purchase items such as TVs, running shoes etc., and must depend on outside support. These items would help ease the hardships of being in prison, away from our children and other loved ones, and the feeling of shame and inadequacy of knowing we’ll always be felons, which prevents us from getting better jobs because most of us don’t have any vocational/technical training (i.e., computers, typing, etc.)

3. A lot of TSCI inmates are being warehoused with no end in sight. Those of us who are here only for a short time don’t care what’s going on here at TSCI.

4. The fact that those of us no on the “Incentive/Wellness League” are treated differently makes us feel less than those who are on the “Incentive/Wellness League” who are being treated better.

Most of us are getting out of prison someday, and it’s in the best interests of everybody that the reasons stated above be addressed because nobody wants more Nikko Jenkinses.” [citation added by Perilous].

 

Workers clean up the aftermath of the uprising at Tecumseh State Prison (Photo Source: Omaha World-Herald).

 

Damage to housing unit 2B following the riot at Tecumseh State Correctional (Photo Source: Journal Star).

 

Prisoner Lenaris Brown attempts to show a handwritten list of grievances to staff during the uprising at Tecumseh (Photo Source: Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office).

 

Prisoner Lenaris Brown attempts to show a handwritten list of grievances to staff during the uprising at Tecumseh–close up of list of demands (Photo Source: Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office).

One former-prisoner at Tecumseh sued the Nebraska Department of Corrections in the aftermath, alleging that the DOC’s negligence led to injuries he sustained during the uprising.

The judge, however, ruled in favor of the Department of Corrections, saying the prisoner provided “insufficient evidence to convince the court of any breach by the defendant, which caused him to suffer injury entitling him to damages.”

Citations:

Judge: Tecumseh prison staff retreat in Mother’s Day 2015 riot ‘was the only reasonable course of action’“, Lincoln Journal Star, November 12, 2019.

SEE IT: First photos of fatal Nebraska prison riot emerge after governor tours the battle-torn facility“, New York Daily News, May 20, 2015.

At Tecumseh: Short staff, long hours, high stakes“, Lincoln Journal-Star, June 7, 2015.

Tecumseh report details May 10-11 prison riot“, Lincoln Journal Star, June 29, 2015.

Incarcerated Workers’ Uprising In Nebraska“, Industrial Worker, reposted on It’s Going Down, July 2, 2015.

Deadly Tecumseh State Prison riot might have been avoided, report says“, Omaha World-Herald, November 3, 2015.

Peaceful protest morphed into prison riot at Tecumseh (AUDIO)“, Nebraska Radio Network, November 6, 2015.

Cost To Repair Tecumseh Prison Riot Damage Higher Than Expected”, WOWT News, November 29, 2015.

Reports:

Critical Incident Review Team Final Report Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, June 2015.

Ombudsman’s Report: Mother’s Day Riot at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office, October 20, 2015.

Riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution: Causes, Course, Change, Dan Pacholke, Burn Useem, nd.

Background/Update:

Tecumseh prison has made some progress since riot, but lawmakers are urging faster changes“, Omaha World -Herald, January 18, 2016.

“Staffing concerns persist at Tecumseh prison”, Lincoln Journal-Star, May 7, 2016.

Building Bridges with Nebraska Prison Rebels“, It’s Going Down, May 8, 2016.