Chippewa Correctional Facility, Kincheloe, MI
February 3, 2020

In early February, three men incarcerated at Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were accused of organizing a protest at the facility. In response, one man–Edward Terrell Walton–was put into solitary confinement. The allegations came in the wake of a letter sent in late January signed by three prisoners–Walton, Edward Roland Combs, and Eric Tobais Woods–addressed to the Governor of Michigan and the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. The letter detailed unlivable conditions and other abuses at Chippewa.

In response, the three men were retaliated against by the Chippewa administration. Walton was accused of organizing a protest inside the prison and received a misconduct for “inciting to riot”.

This is where the two accounts diverge, however. The MDOC claims that the prisoners were planning a protest inside the prison, while the three prisoners maintain that they were encouraging a protest outside the prison, potentially at the MDOC headquarters  in Lansing. According to the MDOC, if there was any indication of a protest planned by prisoners inside of a prison, even a peaceful protest, that is enough cause to issue an inciting to riot misconduct ticket because, according to MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz, inside the prison, “there is no such thing as a peaceful demonstration” and “prisoners are not permitted to engage in organized protest.”

Woods, one of the men facing retaliation, tells the story differently and in an email to the Detroit Free Press claimed that the response is “to either cover up the problems at hand or in some way make us villain(s) in order to stop us from pushing our claims”. Combs described the situation similarly, claiming that all that he did was “exercise my First Amendment right to free speech.”

The letter from Woods, Walton, and Combs raised complaints related to forced labor, overcrowding, black mold in bathroom and shower areas, and a lack of racial diversity among prison officers that they say leads to abuse against prisoners of color. The MDOC denies all the claims and even alleges to have sent an “inspector from a different facility come and look into” the issues.

Perilous has also reached out to the three men for further comment.

Citations:

U.P. prison inmate wrote complaint about conditions. Then he was moved to solitary.“, Detroit Free Press, February 11, 2020

Michigan Department of Corrections: Chippewa Co. Inmate Attempted to Incite Riot in Email to Family Member9&10 News, February 12, 2020.

Article published: 2/19/20

Header photo source: PrisonInsight.com