There’s a definite parallel between the residents of Flint and the residents of the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti. In a nutshell, here’s my view: Both groups of people are getting crapped on, and the State of Michigan really doesn’t care! I don’t see how you can reach any other conclusion.
I’m watching report after report from Flint Michigan, where the population of 100,000---mostly poor and mostly black---have been drinking water poisoned with lead for who knows how long. Turns out the state new about it, did nothing about it, provided clean water for state workers while they assured residents the dirty water was OK for them, until they couldn’t hide it anymore. Now it’s a national emergency drawing international attention. Tests this week said corrective efforts aren’t working, and lead content in the water is still at a dangerous level. Not one furrow has been dug to replace a pipe yet. But mind you, they're still being billed for water they can't drink!
I can guarandamntee it that if water containing lead was flowing into the Governor’s mansion, crews would be working through the night to replace water mains and pipes! Right now! But action like that ain’t gonna happen for poor people of color, many of whom cannot even get transportation to a nearby fire station where they may pick up water or a faucet-filter that might possibly work for low-lead content water. Only the Lord knows how much permanent damage has been done to 6,000 little kids of the community. Meanwhile, these people are told that within the next several months things will get better. Next several months! In a country where you’d think everyone should be assured of clean drinking water.
Now here’s the parallel.
Those of us working with prisoners have been complaining for the same amount of time about conditions at the only prison for women in the State of Michigan, located in Ypsilanti.
Natalie Holbrook, gutsy Program Director for the Michigan Chapter of the American Friends Service Committee wrote a detailed letter complaining of overcrowded conditions as early as August, 2013. That was the year that she also strongly protested the senseless rationing of toilet tissue and sanitary pads, allegedly for budget purposes.
In June, 2014, Humanity for Prisoners and the American Civil Liberties Union were instrumental in bringing the US Department of Justice to Ypsilanti to investigate documented reports of cruelty and abuse to women in the unit housing mentally ill patients.
In 2015, the pressure increased from many of us working with prisoners. In August we again protested the treatment of the mentally ill. I personally visited with the new Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections in the autumn to discuss overcrowding. The headline on our October newsletter screamed: WOMEN STACKED LIKE CORDWOOD! In our November newsletter we told the horror story of a young woman who gave birth while incarcerated. In November and December, Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press wrote stories about overcrowding.
And now, in January of 2016, HFP joined with 14 other agencies and individuals---all people who really care---to protest the overcrowded conditions.
Overcrowding at WHV isn’t just simply a matter of not quite enough space. It has gotten so bad that there aren’t sufficient toilets and showers, the use of the dayrooms has been limited to 3 hours a day, some rooms converted into cells don’t have adequate supplies and furnishings, the scheduling for food lines and medicine lines is messed up, visitation is seriously affected, access to phones and programs are a problem. The list goes on and on. That’s where these women live. They have no options.
And you wanna know something? I see no evidence that anyone is listening! It looks just like Flint to me. The only difference is these aren’t poor, low-income people who are living in their homes with bad water; they’re just prisoners. Neither group has a voice.
And again, if it were the Governor’s daughter in WHV, you can bet something would change. In a hurry!
Meanwhile, our Governor, our state administrators, our state legislators, can go home to their nice homes, enjoy clean water, and plenty of space for study and recreation.
Granted, the Flint problem is a bigger one, and a more dangerous one, and it involves 100,000 people instead of 2,000. But the similarities are there: Both issues are being ignored. And in this beautiful state, where most of us are so blessed, this just is not acceptable!
What are we going to do about it?