MDOC Runs Death Camps: COVID-19 Pandemic in Michigan’s Overcrowded, Understaffed, and Deteriorating Prisons

None of Michigan’s 38,000+ state prisoners were sentenced to death. Certainly, not to death by COVID-19. Not for murder. Not for robbery, assault, drug possession, drunk driving, or anything else. In fact, Michigan never had a death penalty, until now! A fact due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing in its overcrowded, understaffed, and deteriorating prisons, its death camps, as required by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is bound by policy to follow. See “Interim Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities,” CDC (March 23, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/correction-detention/guidance-correctional-detention.html; and PD 03.04.110, Control of  Communicable Diseases, 5/01/2015.

            The world is facing a deadly COVID-19 pandemic of epic proportions, with no cure, no vaccine, and an ability to spread widely and rapidly among humans and animals. Yet, here we are today, all 38,000+ of us inside MDOC death camps. Some dead, some dying, and the rest of us at risk from COVID-19, along with the MDOC employees brave enough, or desperate enough, to continue working during this pandemic, which infects more and more people each day. Even President Trump, while publicly disparaging medical professionals, has finally (after four months) ordered White House staff to practice social distancing and wear masks. Mind you, he won’t wear one, but that’s his executive privilege, along with the privilege of having everyone around him tested at taxpayer expense and taking hydroxychloroquine for a non-prescribed purpose.

            Almost all of MDOC’s prisons are double-bunked and operated at 200% of their designed capacities. Well above the 130% limit set by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the 137% limit set for California’s prisons by the United States Supreme Court in Plata v. Brown, 563 U.S. 493, 539 (2011). No wonder these death camps are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases and include prisons that are the 8th and 11th hottest spots for COVID-19 in the country. See Ted Roelofs, “Coronavirus Cases Surge in Michigan’s Crowded Prisons,” Bridge (March 27, 2020), https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/coronavirus-cases-surge-michigans-crowded-prisons.

            What that means for prisoners here at Central Michigan Correctional Facility, East and West (Formerly Mid-Michigan and Pine River Correctional Facilities, respectively, now combined and known as STF), is that we are unable to follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing because we are packed like sardines in a tin – 8 men to a cubicle (cube) designed for 4 – leaving each man with only 8 sq. ft. of unencumbered floor space. (This is three times less than the 25 sq. ft. required for great apes weighing over 55 lbs. by the Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act of 1985.) There are 20 of these cubes to a unit, with two units each in the 8 deteriorating polebarns, i.e., cattlebarns, in the STF death camp containing 2,560 prisoners, or twice its designed capacity of 1,280. Most of these men will be released back into their communities within 5 years or less. That is, if they survive their remaining time in the MDOC’s overcrowded, understaffed, and deteriorating viral and bacterial incubators known by the MDOC euphemism of “correctional facilities”, more commonly as prisons, but now as death camps! See Rand W. Gould & Kenneth Smith, “Letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, 29 April 2020”; and Rand W. Gould, “Inside Michigan Prisons: Overview and Analysis of Structure and Conditions”, based on a talk over the phone to prison abolitionists in Lansing, MI, on 7 July 2018, and published by a different editor, who altered the title, in San Francisco Bay View, December 2018. Both available at www.freerandgould.com.

            Wouldn’t it have been great if someone sounded the alarm and exposed these over-crowded viral and bacterial incubators in Michigan before they turned into death camps? Well, someone did. Back in 2009-2010, I wrote everyone and anyone I could think of, from local civil rights attorneys, the ACLU, the NAACP, to deep-pocket civil rights litigation firms in NYC, DC, and Chicago, begging them to look into this situation, especially here at what was then known as Pine River Correctional Facility, as described in further detail below, in order to file a class action lawsuit on the overcrowding, as had been done in California. See Plata v. Brown, 563 U.S. 493 (2011). None was filed. The responses, in general, were that Michigan’s prisons were different, somehow, and it would be too expensive, with one estimate stating, “the costs for experts and depositions would be around $500,000, if not more”. Apparently, that is the price this attorney put on the lives of those who were sick and dying then and those sick and dying today.

            None of this is news to the MDOC, its Bureau of Health Care Services (BHCS), medical provider Corizon Health, Inc., and STF administrators. I know, because I’ve been here before, arriving in June 2009, and just missing the norovirus “quarantine” in April 2009. Although MDOC policy defines quarantine as “respiratory isolation and transfer[ed] as soon as possible to a negative pressure room”, what it actually does when confronted with a prisoner or prisoners diagnosed with a dangerous and contagious viral or bacterial disease is to “quarantine” the unit they are housed in by locking it down, with everyone required to stay inside–no yard, no work, no classes, no library, etc.–and the unit called to the dining hall separately from the other uninfected units. Thus, the MDOC has created a situation where 159 or 158 healthy people, not including staff, are locked inside an overcrowded unit with 1 or 2 sick people–the antithesis of a genuine medical quarantine for infectious diseases and a prescription to spread the contagion. For the MDOC, the word “quarantine” means “just what I choose it to mean,” in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. See Rand W. Gould, “Back Through the Looking Glass: The Death of Brian Rodriguez and the Fake ‘Flu Quarantine’ at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility,” 25 March 2019, and “Fake Flu Quarantine Equals Real Lockdown in Michigan Prisons,” 7 February 2018. Both available at www.freerandgould.com.

            I did not, however, miss much else. During my brief stay, from June 2009 to June 2010, I experienced:

  1. A summer whooping cough, a.k.a. pertussis, epidemic;
  2. A winter influenza epidemic; and
  3. A Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) epidemic for the entire time.

BHCS staff ignored and covered up the first two epidemics and did not even bother to go through the motions of a medically invalid quarantine. Prisoner Health Care Requests resulted in a $5.00 co-pay charge for a cursory examination, where would-be patients were told they had a cold, to take the Tylenol or aspirin they could purchase from commissary, and drink plenty of fluids. BHCS staff’s response to the MRSA epidemic was to lock down everyone, including the infected person, in the cube after it was “sanitized.” Nevertheless, prisoners could leave the cube at will to use the bathroom, shower, and go to the dining hall. This was not a proper medical quarantine by any stretch of the imagination. See Rand W. Gould, “Letter to Dr. George Pramstaller, MDCO Chief Medical Officer”, 11 June 2010. Available at www.freerandgould.com.

            During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the MDOC and STF administrators’ response since February 2020 has been to identify COVID-19 as the flu, while instituting a series of medically ineffective “quarantines” of individual units as described above. On February 24th, visits to prisoners were suspended, and, by March 2nd, STF itself was quarantined with only STF staff allowed to enter. This quarantine eventually morphed into a COIVD-19 quarantine, but no proper screening or testing procedures were put in place for the STF staff entering the prison, thereby, continuing the MDOC BHCS’s improper medical quarantine procedures, or its fake “quarantine”.

            This quarantine went on at STF until March 25th, when in an apparent test of new quarantine procedures, four prisoners were removed from general population, tested for COVID-19, and placed in isolation cells to await the results. One of these prisoners, Bruce Bradshaw, #168085, who locked in my cube, E-Unit, bunks 81-88, told us later that while at Health Care for his annual examination on March 24th, Dr. Oliver noted redness in his nose and throat. However, he was not called back over to Health Care until the following day, March 25th, where he was held with two other prisoners, one from B-Unit and the other from G-Unit, who both had sent in Health Care Requests complaining of alleged COVID-19 symptoms. All three, along with one other prisoner from B-Unit, were tested and placed in isolation cells until the results came back.

            Meanwhile, the rest of us, their 20 cubemates, were removed from general population to the closed visiting room, without any of our property, which was “packed up” by other prisoners per staff orders in violation of policy PD 04.07.112 resulting in significant property loses. (N.b., these losses were documented and we were promised reimbursement, which we have yet to receive.) We were held in the visiting room until March 26th, when our security levels were arbitrarily raised rom Level-I to Level-IV and we were transferred to a segregation unit, Unit-6, at St. Louis Correctional Facility (SLR) until the afternoon of March 28th when we were returned, untested, to general population at STF because none of the four prisoners, plus one of the other taken from the visiting room, tested positive for COVID-19.

            During these four days, all 24 of us had no change of clothes, no personal hygiene items, and were not allowed to shower. We did come into contact with multiple MDOC staff, most without masks, we would normally have never come into contact with, as well as other prisoners at SLR. Again, this was not even remotely a medically-effective quarantine.

            STF administrators are still “quarantining” prisoners suspected of having COVID-19 in the visiting room on the West side and old visiting room, now school rooms, on the East side. To what purpose? Nobody knows, as since Sunday, May 3rd, prisoners allegedly recovered from COVID-19 have been transferred into STF, despite an existing no-transfer order, and housed in R-Unit, STF-East, with non-infected prisoners. On May 9th, four of them tested positive for COVID-19 and were transferred out. Prior to this, one of them had told us he was transferred from Lakeland Correctional Facility, the 8th-ranked COVID-19 hot spot in the country, without being tested after his supposed “recovery.” Moreover, last Monday, May 18th, prisoners from the Reception and Guidance Center (RGRC) in Jackson, next door to Parnall Correction Facility, the 11th-ranked COVID-19 hot spot, were transferred here, effectively ending the so-called quarantine of STF. We can only wonder why the MDOC would transfer high-risk recovered, or recovering, untested COVID-19 patients into STF, one of the largest, most overcrowded prisons in Michigan, which they claimed up until May 9th had been COVID-19 free? We’ll never know, because the one thing the MDOC is really good at is covering up the truth.

            I learned this during the winter of 1991-92 at the now-closed Camp Lehman in Crawford County, Michigan, where I was housed with 15 other prisoners in a converted day room in Erie Unit called the “Fish Tank” because of the glass windows separating it from the larger TV room. One of these prisoners had been coughing up blood for days, and, when he was finally escorted by two guards to Health Care, he left a trail of blood drops in the snow all the way there. He never returned. The next day, one of our unit officers, RUO Palm, who was a union representative, called me into the office and told me he thought this prisoner had tuberculosis (TB). Since I spent a fair bit of time in the Law Library, RUO Palm wanted to know if there was a law or policy requiring those of us exposed to TB, guards and prisoners, to be tested. I informed him that law and policy required cases of TB to be reported to the county health department where they were diagnosed, and it would be likely that health department, if not the MDOC, would require us to be tested. RUO Palm checked with the Crawford County Health Department and was told no cases of TB had been reported at that time.

            In a case of the chickens coming home to roost, in the Fall of 1995 I was here at what is now known as STF-East, when the guy I’d last seen at Camp Lehman coughing up blood while being escorted to Health Care came up to me and told me that they took him to the hospital that day where he was diagnosed with TB and had to have a lung removed. He showed me the scar and the paperwork because he wanted my help with his lawsuit. I helped him and also got word to RUO Palm about the cover-up. I never found out if he won his lawsuit, but he should have. I also never found out if RUO Palm was able to hold the MDOC to account. What I did find out was the MDOC is incapable of telling the truth or owning up to its mistakes. It is also incapable of running a proper medical quarantine but entirely capable of lying and spinning any inconvenient facts to its advantage. In a word, it is corrupt.

            While there have been no deaths in STF-West where I am at, or none to my knowledge, STF-East prisoners have informed me that the J-Unit Prisoner Counselor (PC) Ziegler has died from a “heart-related” illness and, now, the J-Unit laundryman, Keith Shiflett, prisoner bunk number J-23, is at a hospital in a coma due to a “heart-related” illness. Shiflett would’ve worked in close proximity to PC Ziegler and it is well-known that COVID-19 causes a hardening of the lungs, which places tremendous stress on the heart. Therefore, we suspect these cases can be attributed to COVID-19. Also, a prisoner in K-Unit, who had been the visiting room photographer, has died from a “cancer-related” illness.

            Last Thursday, May 14th, the entire population at STF was tested for COVID-19 via a swab stuck up both our nostrils, as part of the statewide testing of all prisoners. We were told we’d get the results on Monday, May 18th. It’s now Thursday, May 21st, and we still have no results. However, on Tuesday, May 19th, the results came in from testing at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, indicating 612 prisoners, out of approximately 1,800 tested positive. It is unlikely our results at STF will be much different. Thus, we can expect one-third, or about 800 prisoners, to test positive. No surprise, given that the MDOC is spreading COVID-19 by housing positive prisoners at four separate prisons – Carson City C.F., Cotton C.F., Macomb C.F., and Woodland C.F. – and has so-called “step-down” units here and at Harrison C.F. All of which illustrates the shocking-but-expected failure of the MODC BHCS’s illusionary, or fake, quarantine procedures that have turned its prisons into death camps.

            As bad as all this is, and it’s really bad, it is made even worse because the MDOC BHCS, and its medical provider Corizon Health, Inc., who for years have failed to use proper quarantine protocols, could not implement them now even if they wanted to, and they don’t, because Michigan’s overcrowded and under-staffed prisons prevent even the practice of minimal social distancing. Then there’s the question of where will the guards come from to transport prisoners who are sick with COVID-19 to the hospital and secure them there for 24/7 for 5 or 6 days until they recover? The regular officers in my unit have long since disappeared and have been replaced by an ever-changing series of guards for the most part.

            Consequently, it is up to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the legislature to muster the political will to reach an accord that will allow her to issue 90-day time-cuts, as has been done in the past, using her emergency powers and for legislators to introduce and pass a bill to repeal the disciplinary time laws, i.e., so-called “Truth-In-Sentencing” (“TIS”), so that prisoners once again earn disciplinary credits for good behavior as they did prior to December 15, 1998. This would quickly allow the parole of enough prisoners to alleviate the severe overcrowding and reduce the risk of the remaining prisoners catching and possibly dying from COVID-19 in what are now death camps. The only other alternative to alleviate overcrowding would be to reopen closed prisons, which, due to a lack of staff and money, is virtually impossible.

            A reduction of Michigan’s prison population would have the added benefit of bringing some economic relief to the state, which is currently facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, or worse, due to the recent state of emergency declared over the previous days’ flooding in mid-Michigan, as it would allow for a significant reduction of the MDOC’s bloated $2 billion-a-year budget via closing more prisons once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. It seems the only other viable alternative would be for the state to declare bankruptcy, just like it forced Detroit to do, as Senator Mitch McConnell has suggested recently.             This is a choice that this state’s politicians, whether Democrats or Republicans, must make. Either way, none of us in Michigan’s MDOC-run death camps were sentenced to death!

21 May 2020

Rand W. Gould C-187131
Central Michigan C.F.
320 N. Hubbard St.
St. Louis, MI 48880-1926

The author has been transferred 14 times in 21 years and passed over for parole twice since first eligible in May 2019, for telling the truth of “what goes on behind these walls”.

Download a PDF of “MDOC Runs Death Camps”

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