Content warning: This article contains descriptions of violence against women.
Around 100 community members gathered outside the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti Sunday morning to protest against the prison’s operation and advocate for justice for the currently incarcerated individuals.
The Webster Law Office, which was invited as a guest for the rally, provided The Michigan Daily with two whistleblower clips. The clip was recorded by a former prison employee detailing the abuses inside the facility. The anonymous voice on the recording said a male correctional officer, believed to come from a contracted service, strip searched the female inmates outside of camera view, which is against the facility’s policy, according to the recording. The recording said the officer was not reprimanded.
The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility has also received criticisms over its crowding level and sanitary condition following 24 scabies breakthrough cases among their inmates in 2019.
Ashley Goldon, who was formerly incarcerated and is now the director for the state-wide program Nation Outside, a Michigan-based organization dedicated to supporting justice-impacted individuals, spoke at the protest. Nation Outside is Goldon recounted her experiences in the facility during her speech.
“Before I was an advocate, before I was a director of Nation Outside or had a pot to piss in, I was (identified in the prison as) 681349,” Goldon said. “We can’t heal our nation by treating the most vulnerable population like animals. Even the prongs give their beasts access to heat and water.”
In an interview with The Daily, Goldon explained how gender inequality, combined with rising COVID-19 cases and overcrowding, made this facility’s situation unusual, even among Michigan prisons where the incarcerated serve on average the longest sentences in the U.S.
“There weren’t nearly as many women in the prison at Huron Valley (Correctional Facility) when I was there,” Goldon said. “They have 400 beds, but the facility was never intended to hold 2400 people, so they were making rooms that were once common areas into sleeping quarters. We’ve been hearing complaints from the women on the inside that they are sleeping on the floor. The difference with a men’s prison is that they have several facilities to shuffle people around if needed to make sure everyone is safe for COVID. There is only one for women in Michigan.”
The protestors marched around the correctional facility. Facing the building from behind the fencing and barbed wire, the crowd stood in a line and shouted: “We see you, we love you, we will be fighting with you!”
Goldon told The Daily in an interview after the rally that later contact with individuals inside the facility, many felt and were inspired by the support from outside, but the prison shut down the yard to prevent gathering.
Gordon also pointed out that Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility was disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. According to data published by the Michigan Department of Corrections, as of Jan. 19, there were 276 positive active cases.
Shawanna Vaughn, a justice-impacted activist and the founder of Silent Cry, Inc., said she travelled to Michigan from New York after hearing about the protest and violence against women in the prison system. During her speech to the crowd, she underscored the trauma linked to incarceration and encouraged Michiganders to press for legislative change like she did in NY for W76337, the post-traumatic prison disorder act that made its way to the New York State Senate.
“W76337 was my prison number,” Vaughn said. “I wrote it myself because it’s the only mass incarceration mental health bill in the country, and I’m clear that everybody who comes home from prison is not well. Guess what? Since the state made us not well, they don’t want to heal us, but 2022 is gonna be a different type of season because we comin (sic)to get everything they steal from us.”
Trische’ Duckworth, the founder of Survivors Speak, told The Daily about their goals for enacting legislative change, including advocating for SB487, a Michigan Senate bill to provide oversight over women’s prison.
“When it comes to criminal justice reform, our politicians are the ones that legislatively delay on that, ” Duckworth said, “So if they’re not going to do what’s right in their seat, we will ensure that we individuals will do what is right for people at all times.”
Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at email@example.com.