Assaults at Columbia CI

CW- prison violence, suicide.

For the second winter in a row, people held at Columbia CI have defended themselves against the daily violence of incarceration in that facility. We do not know many details yet, but we’re hearing that on Dec 30 and 31, three staff were severely beaten. The preceding incidents for these specific assaults remain unreported at this time, but we do know that prison is a site of daily violence and dehumanization, and in the face of these events, we affirm our belief that any act of resistance by any incarcerated person against staff is always an act of defense. Our message to DOC guards is simple: if you do not want to get hurt at your job, do not take a job based on routinely hurting people. Eventually, someone will fight back.

What we’ve heard from inside:

Dec 30, at 6:14- An absolute blood bath…

“When I walked in the unit, there was pools of plasma, mixed with blood. There was cops everywhere. While we… coming from visits were trying to get our trays, this crank start telling us, “fuck that shit. We are not dealing with that now!”  I’m angry now, because he has been talking foul to people all day, including me, so I told him he had to feed us dinner! He yelled, “go to your cell, or get walked to the hole!” I knew then this was not a fight between inmates, and soon as I got to my tier, my guy who works out in the dayroom, where we eat said a convict battered one cop, and when the young black cop came to his aid, battered him as well. If the kid didn’t have a lot of time before this, he will have it after they prosecute him… no one knows what it was over, so far… I’ll keep you posted.”

Dec 31, at 2:10pm- Murder and mayhem at CCI…

“After the blood bath last night, where 2-cops were supposedly battered by a single inmate, this morning we awake to the news… a female cop was seriously stabbed. So this lockdown nonsense could be more than a minute… I didn’t see who it was who got hurt, so I can’t make sense why anyone would attack a female, in such a vicious fashion.

Then yesterday, I got a chance to move around for the first time in two and a half months, and learned my friends… had died this month from covid -19. I still can’t believe it, because, I would see [one] everyday, and I’ve known him for years and years, it just don’t seem real…and [the other] was on this unit a few months ago, angry as ever about his lack of medical care…I hope both find eternal rest now…”

Last year the dam broke in late October with three incidents of racist guards harassing Black and Muslim captives until they snapped and fought back. Two staff members were seriously injured.

We investigated the situations and began corresponding with the men who defended themselves. After reaching out to the people involved, we learned that the prisoners were experiencing harassment and verbal abuse, as well as untreated mental health requests. We were told by one of these men:

“…then he called me ‘African n*gger, don’t come out your cell,’ and I lost it so I did what anyone would do who is getting bully by CCI staff. They are racists to me and others who are gay and Black and who are Africa who don’t know how to speak English or don’t know the law this people in CCI don’t see us as human…”

Each of the people who defended themselves in these situations received longer sentences as a result. We have continued to advocate on their behalf and work with them to support them as best we can.

In response to these attacks, then Warden Novak instituted a brutal months long lockdown, during which staff killed Muhammad (Larry) Bracey through medical neglect. According to reports we acquired through public records request, Bracey, a devout Muslim, died kneeling in prayer after pleading for medical attention for two days. After the lockdown, two more people died of potential suicide. One Black man connected to the Muslim community overdosed on drugs brought in by staff. One white practicing Muslim who uses a wheelchair or walker to get around was allowed to climb a tier and either fall, or jump off of it to his death. These deaths are the result of obvious neglect and vehement disdain that the staff at this institution have for their Muslim captives.

We organized a series of noise demos and demand deliveries calling for the firing of Warden Susan Novak. These actions led to a meeting with DOC Secretary Carr and Makda Fessahaye, head of DAI. Later, at the start of the COVID19 outbreaks, CCI staff helped two prisoners with connection to white supremacist organization escape. After that, the DOC announced a re-organization of wardens that included firing Warden Novak.

In that reorganization, DOC Security Director Larry Fuchs became the Warden of CCI, and promised reforms, but conditions at CCI remain horrific.

We have filed records requests regarding the Dec 30 and 31 assaults. We will also continue to gather and report information from our contacts inside. Whenever someone defends themselves against prison staff, retaliation and collective punishment often follow. Part of the project of abolition is countering that retaliation and defending those who make the function of prisons untenable through acts of self-defense.