For immediate release: 6/23/2020
On Sunday, June 21st and Monday the 22nd, as rebellions against anti-Black state violence and campaigns for police and prison abolition continued around the country, two members of a group of primarily Black men isolated within a restricted unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan reported that longstanding dangerous conditions in the unit had been getting worse, and that prison staff had withheld necessary hygiene products for over five days despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“For a month and a half now, they haven’t been switching out our blankets or giving us new sheets,” one person in the Special Housing Unit (or SHU) said on Sunday night. “Since Thursday, they haven’t been giving us any hygiene products. We’re just trying to get basic hygiene materials.”
North Lake is a private facility owned and managed by the GEO Group on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. The group of Black men confined to the SHU have been there since March, following a fight in which they were not involved. They have launched three separate hunger strikes over the last three months in response to racist repression and religious discrimination.
“Since Thursday, we been up here asking for soap, we can’t get soap,” one of them confirmed on Monday afternoon. “We been here asking for toothbrushes, we can’t get no toothbrushes. We been asking for toothpaste, we can’t get no toothpaste. We been asking for toilet paper, we can’t get no toilet paper. We been asking for deodorant, we can’t get no deodorant.”
This denial of essential sanitary supplies comes at a moment when the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of decline or effective containment at North Lake or elsewhere in the U.S. prison system. Even with its lack of comprehensive testing, North Lake has had one of the highest counts of coronavirus cases throughout the Bureau of Prisons, more than any other private facility appearing on the BOP’s COVID-19 resource page. Two incarcerated people are confirmed to have died after contracting the virus there, more than at any other private federal prison listed on the site.
Immigrants incarcerated in Baldwin over the last several months have described a climate of denial, cruelty and negligence which allowed the virus to spread unchecked throughout the prison. A new report from The Intercept details the BOP’s pattern of transferring incarcerated non-citizens across state lines well into the so-called lockdown period, with many ending up at North Lake and suddenly exposed to grave new health risks. But while many new people have been shipped into the prison, few appear to have gone out. The men in the SHU state that since April they have repeatedly been promised transfers to other facilities which have never materialized. “There was rumors that we were going to be shipped, but it never happened,” one of them said on Sunday. “We’re all still here.”
“We don’t have access to do anything on our own,” another added on Monday, “so we need the assistance of a case manager. And the case manager’s supposed to be here once a week. We haven’t seen the case manager in over a month and a half. None of us even know who our case manager is right now.”
“The anti-Black violence and neglect experienced by these men in the SHU is a reminder for us that struggles for the abolition of police, immigrant detention, and prisons are all connected,” said JR Martin, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “This facility is not a safe place for anyone. And the GEO Group’s specific anti-Black repression is part of the same machinery of state terror that killed Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless others, leading to the uprisings we’re witnessing right now. This fight will not be over until the whole system of policing, detention, and incarceration is abolished.”
“From day one, North Lake has been a nightmare and should be shut down,” said Kara, the wife of one of the men in the SHU, on Monday. “My husband has been incarcerated there for about six months, and the entire time he has been denied basic healthcare, nutrition and sanitation. At times they cut the water off on his room, and the staff attempted to interfere with his religious practices. The discrimination, outright racism, and mistreatment my husband has suffered at the hands of North Lake should not be tolerated and is another strand in the national dialogue about injustice.”