Kinross Correctional Facility, Kinross, Michigan
September 9-10, 2016

On September 9, 2016, prisoner-workers in the kitchen at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan organized a work stoppage. The strike was organized on the 45th anniversary of the Attica State prison uprising, and in coordination with strikes and protests erupting around the country on that day. Without adequate labor to staff the kitchen, prisoners’ hot meals were withheld and they were fed small sandwiches instead. A prisoner at nearby Chippewa Correctional Facility noted that the workers in the kitchen at that facility did not go on strike and ended up making some of the sandwiches that were fed to the prisoners at Kinross.

The morning after the strike, on September 10th, hundreds of prisoners staged a mass protest in the prison yard. They marched in the yard to chants such as “Prisoner Lives Matter”.  The protest led to a meeting between some of the inmates and the warden. In this meeting the inmates aired various grievances related to the poor quality of food, the high rates for phone calls, the low wages for jobs for prisoners, and overcrowding.  The first demand on their list was a demand to be able to sit on the same side of the table as your loved one during a visitation.

As soon as the meeting with the warden ended and the prisoners left the control center, an Emergency Response Team (ERT) stormed the facility with guns, rifles, tear gas, and shieldsIn response, the prisoners defended themselves by barricading doors and setting fires. They also destroyed prison property, including in one instance smashing a window by throwing a drying machine through it. As the ERT attempted to enter one part of the facility, the prisoners would barricade that section. If the ERT changed targets, so would the barricades. This led to a situation that one inmate described as “like a game of chess“. Eventually, the ERT was able to re-take control of the facility. They zip-tied hundreds of prisoners and left them on the ground in the yard during a rainstorm. Prisoners were not even allowed to use the bathroom, forcing some to soil themselves where they lay.  Anthony Bates, a Kinross inmate who witnessed the incident, told the media that the inmates’ grievances “could have been settled,” if the ERT had not attacked the prisoners. The state ended up spending $900,000 on this operation; $741,000 of this was wages, overtime, meals, and accommodations for about 100 emergency response team members who were sent to Kinross from around the state and stayed there about a week. Only $86,000 was spent on repairing damage done to the prison property.

Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

In the wake of the uprising Kinross went on lockdown for 12 days. Over 200 prisoners were accused of organizing the rebellion and transferred to facilities around the state. They were then put in solitary confinement and faced many other acts of retaliation. They were originally told they would remain in solitary for two years. Due to prisoner organizing and outside pressure, many of the people put in solitary were allowed back into general population within a year.

The Michigan State Police also conducted an investigation after the disturbance and brought charges against six inmates who were charged with the felony “Prison Riot”. And in the month that followed the rebellion three prisoners died, potentially of medical neglect, within the Michigan Department of Corrections. At the same time, in an interview that followed the uprising, a representative for the prison guard union expressed understanding for the prisoners, saying that “the officers basically understand the prisoners’ plight,” and that “almost everyone that I’ve talked to — and I represent them — understand why the inmates would do it.”

Three months after the rebellion, in December of 2016, 80 high-security prisoners at Baraga Correctional Facility in the western Upper Peninsula refused to eat lunch and dinner this week in a protest over prison food. Many of the participants in this hunger strike had been transferred to Baraga after the Kinross Uprising and organized the protest in response to the retaliation taken against them.

The aftermath of the Kinross Rebellion

In the months and years following the incident, a public debate raged about what “actually” happened at Kinross. The MDOC initially downplayed the extent of the rebellion, but a report released in 2017 described how the guards at Kinross “lost control of some housing units”. When asked about that report, the spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections explained that, “It’s a very scary thing to see hundreds of prisoners moving as one body when, already in a prison setting, you are very outnumbered… You can’t allow a scenario for prisoners to move as one and act as one voice.”

 


Audio documentary featuring voices of prisoners involved in the
Kinross Uprising via Rustbelt Abolition Radio

Citations:

“Inmates in Upper Peninsula set fire, damage housing units”, Detroit Free Press, September 11, 2016.

Riot? Disturbance? What really happened at Kinross prison“, Michigan Radio, September 22, 2016.

Kinross inmate: Raid with pepper spray sparked vandalism“, Detroit Free Press, October 4, 2016.

PEACEFULLY MARCHING PRISONERS AT MICHIGAN’S KINROSS TEARGASSED, ZIP-TIED, LEFT OUT IN RAIN“, Voice of Detroit, October 9, 2016.

Guards Sympathize With Striking Prisoners: “We See It As A Moral Issue”“,  Buzzfeed News, October 9, 2016.

Michigan Prison Labor Strikers Release Their Demands“, Jezebel, October 10, 2016.

Fiancé of kinross prisoner who participated in national strike describes retaliation“, Shadowproof, October 14, 2016.

Officials debated message on Kinross prison disturbance“, Detroit Free Press, October 14, 2016.

Prisoner Strike Results In Retaliation, Death, In Michigan Prison“, Rising Up With Sonali, October 14, 2016.

Michigan prisoners rise up! Overcrowded and underfunded state prisons spawn resistance“, Rand W. Gould, San Francisco Bayview, October 15, 2016.

“It Is In Losing We Gain”: Reflections on the September 10th Kinross Prison Uprising“, It’s Going Down, October 20, 2016.

Protesting inmates refuse meals at western U.P. prison“, Detroit Free Press, December 30, 2016.

Kinross prison disturbance cost Michigan nearly $900,000“, Detroit Free Press, January 4, 2017.

Michigan prisoners speak out against ‘epic’ abuse and retaliation“, Harold Gonzales, San Francisco Bay View, February 3, 2017.

Kinross Prisoners Facing Up to Two Years in the Hole for Rebellion“, It’s Going Down, February 28, 2017.

The Battle Continues: An Update on Michigan Prison Strike Repression“, It’s Going Down, May 8, 2017.

State report shows ‘riot’ shook control of U.P. prison“, Detroit News, May 12, 2017.

Michigan Prison Admits Losing Control Amid Inmate Rebellion“, U.S. News and World Report, May 12, 2017.

Michigan’s Kinross Prison Strike: Reflections from Inside“, Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity & Rustbelt Abolition Radio, September 9, 2017.

Did Michigan have its first prison riot in 35 years? Michigan officials can’t decide“, Detroit Free Press, October 4, 2017.

Background:

Michigan Food Strike Begins at Kinross Correctional Facility Michigan“, Perilous Chronicle. 

2016 National Prisoner Strike“, Perilous Chronicle.

Containing the Crisis: A History of Mass Incarceration and Rebellion in the Rustbelt, Rustbelt Abolition Research Collective and Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS).

Rattling the Cages“, Dan Berger, Jacobin, November 18, 2016.

U.S. Prisoner Protest: Why Listening to the Voices of the Incarcerated Matters“, Heather Ann Thompson, Newsweek, October 25, 2016.

Prisons Are Erupting and Why It Matters“, Heather Ann Thompson, The Daily Beast, October 21, 2016.

What Happened At Vaughn Prison?“, Heather Ann Thompson, Jacobin, February 2, 2017.