It’s no secret that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS has been going to bat for incarcerated women in Michigan for years. There are approximately 2,300 women in prison, all housed on one campus. In June, 2014, HFP’s file on alleged cruelty to mentally ill women became so full that we filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Last fall, complaints to our office from women regarding overcrowding issues reached such a crescendo that our October monthly newsletter headline shouted: WOMEN STACKED LIKE CORDWOOD! This week, we learned of a plumber who had worked at Huron Valley for the past four years who transferred out of there because he couldn’t take it anymore. I caught up with him by telephone yesterday, and here’s his story.
I’m a taxpayer. This has to stop!
“I saw the story in the Detroit Free Press where the Director said Huron Valley wasn’t overcrowded, and laughed like hell!” So says Charley Johnson, of Taylor, Michigan, who until December 9 was working as a maintenance man in Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti. He said that he and his co-workers saw the problems with overcrowding on a daily basis.
For the past several years inmates have been complaining about overcrowded conditions, which, they claim, led to the state’s new policy on restricting day room use to 3 hours a day. Officials from the Michigan Department of Corrections denied this, however, telling HFP: The purpose of the schedule is to address a growing problem with certain prisoners and groups of prisoners seeking to control the dayrooms and limiting access to other prisoners based on capacity. … we had begun hearing complaints from prisoners that certain prisoners or groups of prisoners were essentially controlling the kiosks and only allowing their use in exchange for favors or payment. We are seeking to break that form of intimidation/extortion to protect the population.
Johnson left his plumbing job at WHV last month, but is still employed by the State of Michigan. He told HFP’s Doug Tjapkes that he found conditions intolerable there. His description of how the women are being treated: “Absolutely terrible.”
“The Director came to visit the facility right after the Detroit Free Press story,” said Johnson. But she didn’t get to see the real problem areas, the rooms that formerly serviced as offices now converted to cells. “As she toured the facility, officers called ahead so that they could close the doors to those rooms so she wouldn’t see them.” Asked if he knew this as absolute fact, Johnson stated he actually witnessed this happening.
Johnson, a master plumber, has legitimate credentials. He owned his own business for 20 years, and he currently serves on the Taylor City Council. He’s a man who dares to speak his piece, at one time even initiating a recall effort against the Mayor of his city.
He said that he witnessed mistreatment of prisoners first hand, because he was assigned to supervise some inmates who would assist in maintenance. “I wouldn’t talk to my worst enemy the way they talk to these women. I’m a tax payer,” said Johnson, “and what I saw was sickening. 75% of these female officers treat the inmates just terrible. It’s got to stop!”
From the mouth of a state worker who sat in the front row at the WHV stage for four years.