Marking progress and renewing the call to action at the 1-year mark of the fight to close Wisconsin’s torture chamber

The forces and friends driving the Campaign to Close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility gathered last night at Hephatha Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, to mark their successes in the fight to close this sweat box unfit for humans.

MSDF is an irredeemable torture chamber. It represents how mass supervision fuels mass incarceration. It was built to warehouse people alleged to have violated rules of probation or parole – infractions like missing an appointment or being late for curfew. MSDF is taking lives and destroying communities

This campaign has shifted the conversation in Wisconsin. Since we launched the campaign a year ago:

  • 5,000 people have signed the petition
  • 8 candidates for governor publicly supported the idea at a forum attended by 700 people in Waukesha last month
  • 40 coalition local, state and national partners committed to working with us
  • Other righteous campaigns nationwide (for example, #closeRikers, #closetheCreek) are making great strides against similar inhumane institutions

Last night at the 1-year anniversary event, people witnessed to their experiences of wrongful incarceration by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and coalition members stated their commitments, plans and demands.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West says, “We are calling for a more fair system” and stated the campaign demands and blueprint for next steps.

Sharyl McFarland, JustLeadershipUSA: I’m not easy to be surprised. But I am surprised. From what I’m hearing, it’s slave treatment. We still got some work to do. They say to us, “Wait… maybe next year…we’ll look into it.” We all know that means no. So when are we going to get angry enough to say enough is enough? Because they never get tired of reinventing the same crap.

When our families serve time, we serve time. My son was at MSDF when he was 17 years old. He shouldn’t have been there. He was being made an example of it. It hurt him. It hurt me. It hurt our community. While there, my son …was put in solitary confinement for what they call “aggressive eyeballing” [staring at a corrections officer from his cell] because he recognized him from our neighborhood.

I am mad as hell. I mad because they keep getting away with these terrible things. They are good liars, and they are good at what they do. So I am challenging us to be better and persistent. We’ve got to stay in their faces until they shut it down!

Ben Turk, IWOC: The prison system is control, confine, enslave. We will use direct action to put pressure on the system. We are organizing people inside the prisons. On Aug. 21 IWOC is holding a national strike of prisoners. They will refuse to work, and prisons can’t function without prisoners’ work. Get involved and take a stand!

Rev. William Harrell: We are going to agitate and demonstrate to move this thing.

Shanyell McCloud, Clean Slate Milwaukee: One call to your parole officer with an allegation of a [noncriminal] parole rule violation, whether it’s true or not, you can land right back in MSDF. That ruins whatever opportunity you are working on. If it weren’t for crimeless revocation, there would be no need for MSDF.

Sean Wilson, ACLU: We are committed to cutting Wisconsin’s prison population by 50 percent. The next step is to eliminate crimeless revocation, and if we can do that we can close MSDF.

Alan Schultz: When I was in MSDF, they turned off my water for two days…That’s just one example of the horrendous conditions I witnessed and experienced there. I knew two of the 17 people who died in MSDF. Despite this treatment those of us who survived are celebrating this fight tonight and mobilizing to shut down MSDF!

Rodney Hoskins: My medical conditions were ignored till it got to the point I was throwing up blood and had to be rushed to the hospital. I suffered the results of it.  Things happen there [at MSDF] that don’t happen other places. I kept my sanity by reading, writing and praying.

Yolanda Perkins: I was in MSDF three months. I was very sick and got no medical attention. They brushed off my health situation.

Jerome Dillard: They built MSDF on the projection of revocations, not for new crimes. It was designed for a maximum stay of 3 months. That’s not how it’s used now. Some stay much longer. The people in Madison who signed off on building place knew they were designing a torture chamber. We’ve got to keep talking to our legislators, because it’s wrong.

Carl Fields, EXPO: I was furious when I learned about MSDF. It was sold to the people as a short term place. Period. It became a prison overnight where they house people long term. It was a bait and switch. It’s inhumane. Our power is in the pressure. [Despite] the tyranny and oppression of extended supervision, I live my life out loud….we are persons with conviction and our words have power! My call to action to you all: Get informed. Get involved.





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