Bayport, MN — Those incarcerated in the B East living unit at MCF-Stillwater are suffering retribution a week after over 100 prisoners practiced an act of civil disobedience by refusing to go to their cells for a staff-induced lockdown. An email sent to the media on the morning of Sept. 12 from a person housed in B East details some of the retaliatory actions by corrections officers and the “aggravated” charges that those demanding humane treatment inside Stillwater now face for their actions. Unicorn Riot has independently confirmed the identity of the letter writer.
“I’m writing this on behalf of the many inmates in Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. I am in the unit that was brave enough to take a stand against poor living conditions and corrupt staff, we are now officially off full lockdown but the 130 inmates who participated in the protest remain on In-House segregation which limits our time outside our cell to 1 hour per day. After 7 days without showers, we were finally allowed time to clean ourselves on Sunday.”Letter from unnamed man housed at MCF-Stillwater sent on Sept. 12
On Sunday, Sept. 3, men housed in the B East at Stillwater prison were told to lock up in the morning before they could shower because the prison didn’t have enough staff. With no air conditioning in the housing units as temperatures neared 100 degrees that weekend, and with Labor Day the next day, the unit of men who worked all week in the prison factories simply wanted what they felt they were due — showers and recreation time.
“It’s not ok for him to work all week, be told he would be locked down Saturday at 2, didn’t come out Saturday, and Sunday morning he called with a situation,” said a person we aren’t naming whose loved one is in B East.
Protesting the orders to lock down, over 100 people in B East calmly kept playing cards in the rec area and refused to return to their cells. Word quickly got out to the public and family members of incarcerated ones along with advocates and organizers showed up outside the prison to show their support.
On the inside, special operations teams were ready to swarm the unit. A white tarp covered the unit from the rest of the prison. “‘They’re coming in suited up with mace and I have my mask on.’ We said our goodbyes knowing we wouldn’t know when we would talk again,” said the anonymous person whose loved one is in B East. The situation inside was handled with prisoners finally returning to their cells in the evening.
Civil Disobedience Inside Minnesota’s Stillwater Prison [Sept. 7, 2023]
However, the protesting had just started. Now with international news paying attention and advocates on the outside pushing the narrative from the inside, incarcerated demonstrators with a list of grievances over their living conditions were finally being heard. Protests for several consecutive days occurred outside the prison and in front of the residence for Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
Complaints over the dirty and brown water have led to the Department of Corrections (DOC) supplying each prisoner with seven bottles of water per day. Past studies from the tap water at and around Stillwater prison from 2014-2019 found six cancer-causing contaminants in the water. Investigations into the water are now reportedly being planned by the DOC.
“The DOC disregarded the fact that they are the ones who incited this protest by increasing the prices of commissary then limiting the amount you can spend from $140 to $40, changed visitation to only one day out the week, and not taking our poor living conditions seriously such as extreme heat, brown/contaminated water, and excessive unannounced lockdowns.”Letter from unnamed man housed at MCF-Stillwater sent on Sept. 12
Men housed in Stillwater now report that those in B East who protested their conditions are facing loss of privileges, extended segregation and aggravated charges that could add time to their sentencing. “The reality is that inmates are being punished for exposing the prison for what it is, which is a government funded inhumane way to financially capitalize on crime” said the person who wrote us from B East.
“It goes back to the days of slavery” said the person whose loved one is inside Stillwater, “when the men were taken from their women and kids and the slave owner did what he wished with them. Our homes have been broken for centuries. Almost like our families aren’t as valuable as white ones.”
On Sept. 7, four days after the protest, an individual incarcerated across from B East reported that three people were targeted by officers and sent to segregation on charges of “kidnapping” and “threatening staff.”
“There should be no punishment for doing what’s necessary to survive, the smartest thing to do was to stay out because locking in has put people lives at danger and the Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater has shown that they are in no position to protect ANYBODY. They lost control to a PEACEFUL protest of ONLY 130 PEOPLE so just imagine if the entire facility took a violent stand against the DOC’s wrongdoings.”Letter from unnamed man housed at MCF-Stillwater sent on Sept. 12
Read the full letter below, sent on Sept. 12, 2023 from a person housed in MCF-Stillwater’s B East unit.
This is the third in our periodic ‘Letters from Prisoners’ series. The following text is commentary reflecting lived experience and/or perspectives of the author, who is imprisoned a Minnesota correctional facility. The views and opinions expressed don’t necessarily represent those of Unicorn Riot. See the previous entries in ‘Letters from Prisoners’: “Philadelphia Three” Political Prisoner Khalif Miller Languishes Pre-Trial in Federal Prison and Minnesota Inmate Calls on DOC to ‘Value Us as Human’.
The following statement was sent to Unicorn Riot on September 12, 2023, by a person housed in MCF-Stillwater’s B East unit:
I’m writing this on behalf of the many inmates in Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater. I am in the unit that was brave enough to take a stand against poor living conditions and corrupt staff, we are now officially off full lockdown but the 130 inmates who participated in the protest remain on In-House segregation which limits our time outside our cell to 1 hour per day. After 7 days without showers, we were finally allowed time to clean ourselves on Sunday.
I have the discipline report with me that details the charges placed upon the inmates who participated in the protest which include the charges “Disobeying A Direct Order” & “Interference With Security Procedures.” Both of these charges were enhanced with a “aggravated” tag which allows each violation to hold harsher consequences. Although the situation was major, the violation report labeled it minor. By doing that, inmates who took their case to trial would not be allowed to call witnesses and the case could not be heard by central office instead it would be heard by in-house hearing officers which usually almost guarantees you’ll get found guilty. This was a tactic to pressure inmates into signing a deal for 30 days segregation instead of facing a sure 60 days in segregation after a unfair trial.
The narrative in the report is exactly this: “On 9\3\23 Offender was 1 of approximately 130 B-East offenders that refused multiple directives to switch into their cells. All staff were given the order to evacuate B-East. Two staff were unable to evacuate, those two staff were trapped inside of the B-East bubble for the duration of the incident. B-East was lost to offenders for approximately 8-9 hours. A command post was activated along with SORT, SOG, CNT, and multiple outside agencies.”
This narrative is a clear example of how the DOC lies and twists facts to meet the requirements of the story they’re trying to put out to the media. Saying staff were unable to evacuate and trapped inside the bubble is a lie. After hearing that was the narrative being put out, inmates even cleared a direct exit for the officers to leave without being harmed, camera footage will show that.
The DOC disregarded the fact that they are the ones who incited this protest by increasing the prices of commissary then limiting the amount you can spend from $140 to $40, changed visitation to only one day out the week, and not taking our poor living conditions seriously such as extreme heat, brown/contaminated water, and excessive unannounced lockdowns.
When some inmates told officers that they only stayed out because they were in fear for their safety, officers ignored the fact that if more inmates would have switched in their cell there would have been no way for them to be protected from harms way. The report says the unit was “lost to offenders for approximately 8-9 hours,” implying that during that time they lost all control over the situation and had no say so in what went on. The safety of the inmates was overlooked and inmates were still charged and stripped of their jobs, officers were outside the unit and safely in a security bubble while inmates were and still are in risk of danger. The inmates who switched in and did not participate are in danger today, to switch in was a clear shot against the prisoner community. The inmates who didn’t switch in their cell did what was necessary to keep themselves safe because the people who are suppose to protect us were nowhere to be found. There should be no punishment for doing what’s necessary to survive, the smartest thing to do was to stay out because locking in has put people lives at danger and the Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater has shown that they are in no position to protect ANYBODY. They lost control to a PEACEFUL protest of ONLY 130 PEOPLE so just imagine if the entire facility took a violent stand against the DOC’s wrongdoings.
This prison is in no position to house prisoners and a investigation should be launched against Stillwater. It’s obvious that the protest that occurred was necessary, since then a problem that has been going on for years has been exposed finally. We have been complaining about having to drink and shower in brown/contaminated water for years, now that photos have been leaked and the news is giving us a platform, the DOC has decided to do something about it. They’ve passed out water bottles which has never been done before, but why now? Its only because of the protest, because we showed photographic proof, because we have people out there who are speaking on our behalf helping regain our voices. DOC staff continue to go on the news and lie about what’s going on in the prison because they know we have slim resources of getting our voices heard but now that the spotlight is on us they want to act like they’re making changes but these actions are long overdue.
The reality is that inmates are being punished for exposing the prison for what it is, which is a government funded inhumane way to financially capitalize on crime. If we didn’t take the stand that we did and gain the attention that we needed the prison would’ve continued to treat us wrong. The problem with the water is just one example of how if we can’t prove something is wrong they won’t change it. It wasn’t until a photo was leaked to the public that the problem was addressed and water was passed out but the problem has been for years. So if we didn’t expose them we would have been left with the same inhumane conditions. Please launch a investigation against the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Specifically Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater.
Watch video from Sept. 3 and 4 spotlighting the first two days of the prison protest and featuring Marvina Haynes, the sister of Marvin Haynes and Alissa Washington, the fiancé of Cornelius Jackson. Both Haynes and Jackson claim innocent of the charges against them and are housed in Stillwater.
Recent Unicorn Riot Prison Coverage:
The #NoKidsInPrison traveling art installation highlighted artwork from several cities across the U.S. along the theme of abolishing youth imprisonment. We were given a tour of the Saint Paul exhibit.
Be Their Voices Presser: ‘No More Jail Deaths!’ [Oct. 2023]
At least 15 people have died this year while inside Minnesota jails and at least 65 since 2018 and several have died this year. Five years after losing her son Hardel Sherrell to medical malpractice and improper care while in a Minnesota jail, Del Shea Perry leads another protest against in-custody deaths.
Cristian Rivera-Coba died in the Anoka County Jail in July. Months later, his family and advocates are still left seeking information about the circumstances surrounding his death and demanding an investigation into the jail where, only weeks before Cristian died, 24-year-old Miles Jackson was also found dead in a cell.
Report: Prisoners Strike at Oak Park Heights Canteen [Sept. 2023]
Incarcerated workers at the nearby ‘level 5’ MCF-Oak Park Heights prison canteen have staged a work strike, according to activists who regularly stay in touch with prisoners.
An email sent to the media on the morning of Sept. 12 from a person housed in B East details some of the retaliatory actions by corrections officers and the “aggravated” charges that those demanding humane treatment inside Stillwater now face for their actions.
A peaceful protest in a Minnesota prison and prisoners in Georgia and Alabama have been taking stands. We take the reader through some of our recent coverage of prison related stories.
Men housed in Stillwater Prison’s B East unit refused to go back to their cells on Sept. 3, protesting no air conditioning, no clean or cold water and whole units intentionally being locked down with no recreation time nor showers because a staffing shortage.
Derrol Shaw’s attempted escape from Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama speaks to a wider human rights crisis in the state’s corrupt, neglectful and deadly prison system.
Created to prevent, identify, and remedy wrongful convictions, Minnesota’s first-ever Conviction Review Unit had completed only one official investigation in nearly two years.
Unicorn Riot received a statement from Kashaun Damon Pierce Sr., a man housed at MCF-Faribault. Pierce provides a short glimpse into the state prison system and calls out what he calls the dehumanization of prisoners as a fundamental issue.
Despite no evidence tying Marvin Haynes to a 2004 murder and Marvin’s consistent claims of innocence, Haynes has remained in prison for nearly two decades based off of coerced testimony of jailed teenagers. We examine his case in our investigative series.