Saturday, December 7, 2019

Updates on CCI lockdown from Nate Lindell and William Ledford

Letters from Nate Lindell and William Ledford. Both have reported trying to send more detailed accounts of the lockdown, but had their emails intercepted. Nate received two conduct reports for “disrespect” in direct retaliation for writing to us about the lockdown.


  • the lockdown continues and may go on until Jan 1.
  • A man in RHU died due to medical neglect on December 3.
  • Abuse continues, including restraints on disabled people.  
  • The investigation supervisor refused to let Ledford have a private conversation with a County Sheriff who came to investigate.  
  • Sgt Sansbury received a serious head injury and has retired with disability benefits.   
  • The administration is building a “bubble” around the area Sansbury was working to prevent incidents occurring again.
  • Guards are threatening to walk off the job, though this doesn’t seem to be an AFSCME-led action.   

Nate's first letter:

We're on lockdown, again, as the CO/Sgt "Sains-berry" (spelled phonetically) was "pushed," on Friday 8 Nov. 2019. Sains-berry is notoriously foul mouthed, yells at prisoners, follows them around to make sure their shirts are tucked in; i saw him stare at a prisoner insultingly/aggressively, with contempt, for over a minute, as I waited to see Dr. Dixon-Bauers (a psychologist). The guy's loud about how he's going to retire in some months, seems like he wants to leave w/disability benefits. EVERYONE has a story about how he insulted or harassed them.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Warfare at Columbia Correctional Institution

Columbia Correctional Institution
Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) has had off-and-on lockdowns in recent weeks due to conflicts we have come to believe were instigated by racist staff members in order to demonize captives who defend themselves against abusive conditions. CCI is operating at 150% of its design capacity. This unnecessary and avoidable overcrowding is the root of problems in this and other Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities. The tension and “psychological warfare” practices of CCI’s guards seems to be escalating, while incarcerated people demand new structures to interrupt cycles of violence.

What’s happened

The DOC has confirmed a series of three violent incidents leading to facility lockdowns. Our incarcerated contacts sent us detailed reports about these incidents, which conflict with what DOC officials were told by their staff.

On October 22- a sergeant named Fitz called a Black man “boy”. The man responded by attacking Fitz, leaving him “severely beaten”. The facility went on lockdown until Oct 25.

On October 29- four days after coming off lockdown, another sergeant, Sgt Gander provoked another Black man by calling him the N-word. Gander was also assaulted, but less severely. The facility went on lockdown again until November 5.

On November 8- a CO or sergeant named Sainsbury (spelling uncertain) was stabbed during program services. The facility has been on lockdown and people inside deprived of basic rights and the fundamentals of human dignity from November 8 to the date of this writing (November 21).

On Tuesday November 19, Makda Fessahaye, the head of the DOC’s Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) spoke on a panel at Marquette University in Milwaukee. After the panel she told Ben Turk of FFUP that she was investigating these incidents, but had been told all three staff members “were blindsided”. Our sources insist “nobody is just randomly assaulting staff.”

Monday, November 4, 2019

FFUP meets with Wisconsin DOC's Division of Adult Institutions

DOC Headquarters
Last week Ben from FFUP met with Makda Fessehaye, the administrator for Wisconsin’s Division of Adult Institutions and Molly Vidal, head of the DOC’s communication office. We will be having meetings like this quarterly. The next will be early January, which Peg Swan intends to also attend.

Here are the questions we asked, the answers we gained, and the next step actions we will be taking. This is a lot of work for a very small organization. If you'd like to get involved and meet with Ben sometime soon in Milwaukee, please email him at 

Makda Fessahaye, DAI Administrator

Molly Vidal, DOC Communications Director


QUESTION: What has the new administration done to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons 
  • Answer:
    • They created a Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) working group that’s reviewing policies to reduce solitary use, especially for people with mental health conditions.
      • There will be a time when public input is requested and Makda will include us in the process.
      • The biggest roadblock is gaining buy-in from staff. Makda and Molly said that staff see solitary confinement as a tool that keeps them safe, so it is hard to take that away without giving them a replacement tool or some assurance that they’ll be safe.
      • In the Division of Juvenile Corrections (DJC) they were required by federal department of justice to stop using solitary on kids, and it took years to implement.
        • Note: They’re still struggling with implementation, for example staff is tipping off reporters about incidents where kids fight with staff.
      • They called the changes they’re working on a “big overhaul” and said its coming just a few years after a previous “big overhaul” -the 90 days limit thing from 2015.
  • Follow up Action:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Advocacy meetings with legislators

FFUP is currently setting up meetings with State Senators and Assembly Representatives on prison-related committees, or who represent areas that are targeted for mass incarceration.

We've researched the current legislative agenda and made the below call to action we will press on these lawmakers.

First, we are deeply concerned by the lack of any proposed legislation to address the humanitarian crisis occurring in Wisconsin's prisons. Please see our "Staffing Crowding and Death" report for an in-depth look at these conditions and their causes. For an update with recent stories, please see our October Intake Report.

Second, we've heard that there is interest in making laws that will reduce the incarceration rate and address overcrowding, which is a major contributor to poor conditions. The only law related to this which has been introduced is a marijuana legalization bill. Meanwhile, there are 20 bills that will increase incarceration by criminalizing more activities, expanding penalties and scope of existing laws or eroding protections for people targeted by the system.

Finally, we're also calling on elected officials to support three campaigns FFUP is active with, by making public statements and signing these petitions:  the CLOSEmsdf petition, the Parole Rules change petition and the Free Chrystul Kizer petition.

Read the full call to action below...

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Staffing, Crowding and Death in the Wisconsin DOC

 A new report from FFUP.

Download and print or read the full report here:

The introduction and executive summary are below:


Wisconsin’s prison system is in crisis. Department of Corrections (DOC) officials claim the problem is understaffing and propose solutions like raising guard wages and building new facilities. These solutions expand their own department and increase Wisconsin’s capacity for mass incarceration, all at great expense for Wisconsin taxpayers. More importantly, they will not address the real humanitarian crisis, and may make it worse. A closer look at guard levels and staffing dynamics in the DOC shows that the problems comes less from understaffing than from overcrowding, high turnover and mismanagement. Expanding the DOC only expands these problems. 

GUT-PUNCHED, a Promise Betrayed

No prisoners will be eligible for pardon under Tony Evers’ new pardon advisory board guidelines. Governor Evers and Mandela Barnes made it seem like the parole board would bring long-awaited relief to incarcerated people. While revealing the order creating the board, they made statements and social media posts about Wisconsin's high incarceration rate and told the press “we believe in forgiveness and the power of redemtion” which made headlines across the state. Unfortunately, that forgiveness does not extend as far as it might seem.
You don’t have to look beyond the first page of Governors Evers’ newpardon application to see the betrayal. After a year of talking about dramatically reducing prison population and then months of back and forth between the governor’s transition team and the public; and after hundreds of prisoners submitted their heart-rending stories about indefinite delay of release, the new pardon application comes out with these fateful words:
Eligibility: You are eligible for a pardon only if all of the following conditions apply to you:
1. You are seeking a pardon for a Wisconsin felony conviction.
2. You have completed your entire sentence at least five (5) years ago. This means you:
Completed all confinement; and
Completed supervised release (e.g., probation, parole, or extended supervision).”
website containing pardon application:

So, who benefits here? Those who are past supervision (not “on paper”) already can vote. The pardon does not expunge the record, it does allow firearms but after five years out an ex prisoner gains little benefit from the pardon. Prison population will certainly not be reduced with this limitation.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

FFUP Youtube Channel

Forum for Understanding Prisons now has a youtube channel, where we'll be sharing videos we acquire via open records request and other content. Please like, subscribe, and share the channel and our first video, about an assault at Columbia Correctional Institution last October.

Our hope is that videos like this will increase awareness of conditions in Wisconsin prisons, and deter guards from abusing more people.

Updates on CCI lockdown from Nate Lindell and William Ledford

Letters from Nate Lindell and William Ledford. Both have reported trying to send more detailed accounts of the lockdown, but had their e...