From within the tombs and dungeons of the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration comes a Call from prisoners to rise up together on September 9th 2016 – the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion. As their Call states:
On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.
At a time when US police are killing three people every day, and a national movement for Black Liberation is being forged in the streets, men and women being held in horrendous conditions of imprisonment will be putting their lives on the line to stand against the state-sanctioned slavery of the New Jim Crow police state that farcically calls itself “the greatest country in the world.”
As someone who personally knows the living death of the US prison system – and who spent many years in solitary confinement in that system – I find it incumbent upon me to stand in solidarity with those brothers and sisters still locked down in those hellholes.
We will be marching in support of the September 9th National Prison Strike. On September 9th we will meet at the State of Illinois Thompson Center at 1pm and march to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). The Illinois Department of Corrections has administrative offices in the Thompson Center, and the MCC is a United States federal prison in the heart of downtown Chicago.
Other actions will be planned as well. If you or your organization is planning anything, please let us know so we can support it. I will post any further details here.
On Friday July 1, 2016 the Illinois Department of Corrections released new proposed regulations that apply to the grievance procedures and disciplinary actions. After reviewing the grievance portion again there is nothing that addresses the issue that is heard over and over year after year: disappearing grievances. Every report written about Illinois institutions brings up the problems with grievances never being responded to, being delayed, Counselors “misplacing” grievances and the plain out problem of IDOC employees covering up for each other by throwing grievance away.
The U.S. Court of Appeals (7th Cir.) as well as lower U.S. Courts have repeatedly issued opinions that slam the interference with access to grievances procedures in Illinois prisons that are meaningful. Due to this Courts have been forced to hold Peevy hearings on a lot of case to address the issue of exhaustion of grievances and interference with the procedures. Several years ago proposed new regulations were submitted to IDOC that addressed these issues, yet with the change of Administrations they have been shelved. This issue directly affects the Constitutional Right of meaningful access to the Courts by those incarcerated.Further because of these problems tax payers have to again pay the cost of these extra hearing as well as the cost of Attorneys to address the issues.
The new change proposed does not address the problems with Illinois prison system and the systematic and routine interference with access to the Courts. We should all challenge this farce and encourage IDOC to enact Rules and Regulations that create a meaningful grievance procedure. We have 45 days to submit written objections to the proposed Regulations!
For years while incarcerated I tried to get assistance from a so-called prison “watchdog” group that claims to help prisoners and is bipartisan. I spent years on a psychological experimental program called the circuit. This group told me year after year there was no such program. After a judge ruled on the conditions of the program, this group chimed in.
For over 20 years they have released reports claiming that they help prisoners and their families when in fact they allow the Illinois Department of Corrections to review the reports prior to releasing them. Donors mistakenly give large donations to this group believing they actually do something to help prisoners and change the prison system in Illinois. This is completely false. They collect money, write reports and that’s it! Another twist is look at the history of JHA and IDOC. Look at ranking Officials change from organization to organization.
If you remember history, IDOC Director Donald Synder (serving federal prison time) and the Director of John Howard Mike Mahoney were indicted in a kickback scheme together! Mahoney admitted to taking kick backs during his trial before Judge Zagel. As The State-Journal Registerreported:
Snyder admitted that he took $30,000 from Larry Sims, a lobbyist for two vendors. He said he pocketed up to $20,000 from two other lobbyists, former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and Michael J. Mahoney.
Sims and Robinson have pleaded guilty. Mahoney was acquitted in a bench trial before Zagel who said he didn’t believe Snyder’s testimony.
The case drew the spotlight not only because of Snyder’s position but because Mahoney had lobbied the prison system while executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization.
At his trial, Mahoney admitted what he had done but argued that whatever the ethical lapses, he simply had not done anything illegal.
John Howard has an extensive history of telling the public that they are the only nonpartisian prison watchdog group in Illinois fighting for social reform through working with legislative system. But seeing the horrific job they did monitoring the juvenile justice at the Juvenile Detention center in Chicago shows it all. Priest openly criticizes the monitoring job as horrific. How is it they have numerous Attorneys on staff but refuse – or rather have a charter that forbids them from litigating conditions in IDOC? So donors you give donations to them and they publish reports approved by IDOC that have zero authority to enforce reforms.
For the past several years in every report published by John Howard and IDOC about a prison there is the condemnation of the overuse of solitary confinement in IDOC. Yet as the years pass nothing has ever changed. Solitary/segregation is still over used report after report. JHA makes strong recommendations for change yet that is all it is – hot air. Tamms was okayed by JHA because IDOC wanted it. Then the Governor decided to close Tamms and JHA changed their position – not because of Human Rights abuses happening at Tamms but only because of the excessive cost of having a completely solitary confinement prison. JHA never once issued a report that condemned the torture happening inside Tamms even as men cut off parts of their bodies and went crazy. The prisoner didn’t matter to JHA.
Now is 2016 and a bill was entered by Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford that would limit the use of solitary confinement. JHA at first was some what supportive and brought up every report they have written about the over use of solitary/segregation. A week later after what I can only term as talking to IDOC (I say this because of the wording) JHA used the exact same words as IDOC why this House Bill should be stopped. JHA is now against the Bill to limit the over use of solitary/segregation. Makes no sense.
So I have to ask what is the actual function of this alleged prison watch dog group. They don’t represent or help prisoners, in fact they seem to actually be another arm of IDOC. So a false representation!
Please listen to Pleasant Encounters radio show about the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, solitary confinement and the John Howard Association with formerly incarcerated host Geraldine Smith and guests Brain Nelson and Gregory Koger.
Gregory Koger’s Statement to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee Hearing on the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act HB5417:
My name is Gregory Koger. I’m here to demand that the state of Illinois stop torturing people in prison.
I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement in Pontiac “Correctional Center.” I was incarcerated when I was 17 years old. I went to trial when I was 17, before I was even convicted, from solitary confinement in the adult county jail.
The United Nations has categorically stated that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days constitutes torture. As we’ve seen, we have been there many more days than 15 days.
And there is no justification from the Illinois Department of Corrections to state that people should be held for longer than 15 days in solitary confinement for “security” purposes.
Torture is a crime. There is no excuse for that – for “security” purposes or any other reason.
You know, I still wake up at night and expect to be in a prison cell. I grew up in prison, I grew up in cells. You know. And I know people who have mutilated themselves because of losing their rational cognitive faculties. In these cells. That are being operated by this government, the government of the state of Illinois. And, you know, it has to stop. It has to stop.
–Gregory Koger, to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee in Support of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act HB5417
My statement starts at 47:30 minutes in on this video. Yes, I know the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it is what it is…
My life is controlled by the I.D.O.C. everyday. Not because I committed a crime, but because I love someone tortured by the I.D.O.C. in solitary confinement for the last 8 years.
It’s really hard to keep a family together under that pressure. Its because I’m so focused on surviving and keeping the I.D.O C. in line that I’m sometimes vulnerable to people and organizations and take them at face value. I shouldn’t, but sometimes I just lack the energy to investigate. Gerard says I fall for snake oil salesmen. He’s rarely ever mad at me but this is one of the things that really upsets him.
Well this time with The Marshall Project we both bought that oil. I understand what nonpartisan means but that’s not the same as misquoting and using sensationalism to lean opinions one way or the other. That’s what they did to me. I should have learned my lesson when Gerard was quoted in an article about double bunking in solitary. He had written back and forth with the writer for months. He gave the letters he wrote to me to read before sending them off so I knew what he said. The article came out and it was good. I even messaged the writer and thanked her and sent her the link to a video about our current situation.
It bothered me though. I know Gerard better than anyone. I recognized the article as mostly his own writing and yet he was given credit for one quote. She should have just said “Here write an article about this topic” because basically that’s what happened. He’s intelligent and articulate. He can do it. Give him credit. I kept my mouth shut because it was a helpful article. I did send him a copy and mention my suspicions.
Then the Texas decision to stop family members from doing social media for their family members in prison came out. At that time we were going through Gerard being threatened with solitary for the Facebook page I made for his art. I was very vocal about it. Someone else from The Marshall Project contacted me and asked if they could speak with me about the decision. I sent the the link to a video I made with Brian and Greg from the Torture Survivors Against Solitary site and told the writer he should watch that and then contact me with questions. He called the next day. I felt I had given a lot of good information as to why social media is good for all of us in and out of the prison system. I was happy with it. He called again the next day to ask a few more questions.
A few days later my mom sent me a link and asked if I had seen it. I wasn’t even notified it was done and out. I was horrified. Besides being misquoted and made to look ignorant, he used the “selling serial killer art” as sensationalism to draw people into his horrible article. That makes him no better than someone who profits from their crime or profits from someone else’s crime. Its disgusting. I have NEVER used who Gerard is or what he’s incarcerated for as a way to advance myself or make a profit EVER. We most certainly could.
Unlike that writer, we have morals. It was basically a trash article that could go in National Enquierer with me thrown in at the end in a mess of misquote and misinformation. No help to the reform movement whatsoever and most definitely NOT neutral. I feel as though it was a passive aggressive move to harm us. I was hurt, embarrassed, ashamed. I didn’t know what to do. I emailed the so called writer and told him how I felt and that Gerard and I were no longer available for The Marshall Project. A week and a half later I decided to put my name and The Marshall Project in the search engine to see who shared the article so I could do a little damage control and stick up for myself. What I found was that countless websites and blogs took the Marshall Projects horrible article and switched it up a bit and used it as their own. With the misinformation.
I feel violated. No one ever got ahold of me to fact check or anything whatsoever. If this happened to me how many other people do you think its happened to? I put my heart out there to make things right in the Dept. of Corrections. I’m honest and give my all. My life is hard and I go through hell. All I ask for in this world is for people to do the right thing. The Marshall Project doesn’t. Thats the nicest way I can put how I really feel, but yes I feel violated and I’m mad as hell about it. Our lives are too hard already to have to deal with things like this. Beware of wolves in sheeps clothing.
As we fight torture in the State of illinois (solitary confinement) on several fronts and we have struggled to work with other groups and like minded activist to abolish solitary confinement we have struggled with being misled, let standing alone or utterly disrespected. So to clear the murky waters Greg Koger created this page and this page is not controlled or ran by any group except:
We have been helped by Uptown People’s Law Center, United Voices for Prisoner’s and Greg Kulis & Associates (Brian Orozco) but not by Illinois Coalition Against Torture. ICAT has not assisted us in any way at all in creating the web page or helping us film survivors, family members and loved ones of those still being torture in solitary by Illinois Department of Corrections.
John McCullah has been on hunger strike at Pontiac Correctional center for 102 days as of today. John is protesting the horrific torture he has been subjected o since arrival in Illinois Prison system.John has not violated any Illinois prison rules yet IDOc placed him in solitary confinement immediately upon entering the prison system. John is also protesting lack of medical attention by IDOC How can IDOC justify torturing John by placing him in indefinite solitary confinement even though he has not violated any prison rules? It baffles me how Illinois is so quick to torture human beings by the overuse of solitary confinement without justifiable reasons. Support John McCullah Y10200 P.O. BOx 99 Pontiac, Illinois 61764 and demand Illinois ceases this barbaric torture practice.
Stop Overlooking Torture; Rid Illinois of Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement has been found to be a form of torture by the United Nations, in a resolution signed by the Chicago City Council in 2012, and by humanitarians everywhere. We are urging the Illinois State Legislature to pass legislation banning solitary confinement in Illinois. Solitary confinement means a prisoner is isolated in his cell at least 23 hours a day with no human contact. Access to commissary, visits, classes and outdoor exercise is very limited. Solitary confinement leads to the physical and mental deterioration of the prisoner. Better, cheaper alternatives are mental health, educational classes and group counselling. Prison systems, such as in Mississippi, which have severely curtailed solitary confinement report less prison violence and tremendous cost savings.