Friday, January 31, 2020

FFUP has been busy!

Since our last update, FFUP has taken action on four major issues: 

  1. Resisting lockdowns at Columbia CI and elsewhere. 
  2. Abolishing solitary confinement and advocating for mental health treatment. 
  3. Fighting for the release of old law prisoners. 
  4. Defending sex trafficking survivor Chrystul Kizer.
These efforts are ongoing, as is advocacy and assistance for individuals suffering hardships in Wiscsonin prisons. We could always use more support! Donations are appreciated and will go to direct support for incarcerated people and to cover the many small costs associated with doing our work. FFUP is a very small volunteer-based organization, so your money goes far with us.

We are also always looking for volunteers and people to show up and stand up for incarcerated people in Wisconsin. Whether that means attending a rally, talking to officials, writing to prisoners or helping with reports, there is a place for everyone in this work.

Help with coordinating legal assistance, video editing, and social media work is especially needed. If you have any of those skills, and would like to plug in contact either Peg ( who focuses on intake, legal and communication with incarcerated people or Ben ( who focuses on outreach, media and event planning.

On to our current major projects...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Let Our People Go Rally! Feb 5, at the DOC

Wisconsin's parole commission is a disintegrating disaster.

Volunteers, organizers and supporters of people sentenced under the old law (and thus eligible for parole) have been attending the monthly meetings of the parole commission since last August. There we have seen evidence of active efforts to sabotage and obstruct the long overdue releases of our loved ones.

The racism and signs of manipulation we witnessed at January's meeting were particularly intolerable. We will not sit and watch this injustice any longer. From now on we will follow the monthly meetings with a rally supporting reform and releases.

We're asking you to join us on February 5 and on the first Wednesday of every month thereafter until they LET OUR PEOPLE GO!


    • 9:30 am- attend the public portion of the parole commission meeting. Public is not welcomed to speak during the meeting, but the more people we have bearing witness, the more pressure for reform will be felt.
    • Unknown- the meeting will go to closed session and we will have to leave the room, but will gather outside near the staff parking lot on the south side of the building.
    • 12:00- rally and press conference, outside the DOC building on the south side. We will have speeches, signs and chants demanding release of our loved ones as the parole commissioners leave the building.

    Speakers include:

    Talib Akbar- survivor of Wisconsin prison system, sentenced under the old law and released in 2013. Organizer with MOSES.

    Davina Jones- fiance and advocate for Anton C. Hudson, currently trapped in Wisconsin prison under the old law.

    Tiffany Hollimon- fiance and advocate for Marshawn Venzant , currently trapped in Wisconsin prison under the old law.

    More TBA
      If you cannot attend, please support this effort by signing and sharing our petition demanding accelerated releases and reformed criteria.

      Also, please share and invite friends using the facebook event.


      Governor Tony Evers appointed John Tate II, a social worker from Racine to Chair the Commission. Tate is the second black man in this role, and the first person coming from a social work and helping profession (typically commissioners come from the DOC or prosecutor's offices). He came in with a stated intention to increase releases and help reduce mass incarceration in Wisconsin.

      In response, Tate has seen extraordinary obstruction from the DOC, the legislature, and even the rest of the commission. 

      Wednesday, January 29, 2020

      Waupun Christmas Eve Lockdown “Worst Since 99”

      Report on the lockdown at Waupun CI, written by anonymous contact held there.

      Pertaining to the lockdown here at Waupun. The lockdown started on the 24th of December and was back to normal functions on January 13th. Trinity students were supposed to have returned to school on Jan. 2nd, but we returned on Monday, January 13th.

      1. We were given one shower per week (7 days).
      2. We never received a hot meal while on lockdown.
      3. We were never given any kind of forms to communicate our problems, concerns, or health to staff.
      4. Visits and phones were available to us.
      5. We were not given any recreation the entire time on lockdown.
      6. After 2 weeks, there were passes issued for HSU,  and Social Services.
      7. The warden suspended some rules, but I forget which ones. I will get it to you.

      This was the worst lockdown that I have experienced since entry on 4/99.

      Saturday, January 25, 2020

      Culture of Forced Homelessness? by Ron Schroeder

      The below is a letter and call for assistance from Ron Schroeder, who is leaving prison this spring, but will be forced into homelessness because of residency requirements.

      Does the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Division of Community Corrections (DCC) have a culture of forcing parolees into homelessness, despite available and suitable housing?

      Ron Schroeder will be released 3/31/20. His victim was not a minor. His trial judge has stated there is no evidence or indication he is interested in victimizing children sexually or otherwise. He is heterosexual. DOC has determined him low risk to reoffend, and stated in his risk assessment: "He may need to focus on obtaining more stable living arrangements . . . There may also a need for a referral to financial supports or subsidized housing."

      Columbia Hunger Striker Demands Met! Medical Staff Quitting at High Rate

      We received a message from Damani Nantambu. Staff at CCI finally acknowledged his hunger strike and agreed to get him treatment. He is suspending the protest, but will resume if what they promised is not delivered.

      He also reports that 6 nurses quit last month and more have put in notice due to Warden Novak's policies.

      Damani's full message:

      "I just wanted to let you know that I ended the hunger strike (the psychologist came to see me 10-days after the fact, then told me she was not going to do the Paper work since I agreed to eat).I found one of my hunger strike log sheets in The trash,which told me that they were trying, to undermine the hunger strike, by Not fully documenting it. I send you a copy, once I make them.

      Friday, January 24, 2020

      Report from January 22 meeting with DOC Secretary Kevin Carr and other officials.

      These are notes from the meeting we had following our march on the DOC. We will send copies of these to hundreds of incarcerated people today via Corrlinks.

      The meeting attendees included Secretary Carr, his assistant Shannon Carpenter and the head of Division of Adult Institutions Makda Fessahaye on the DOC side. Myself, Rachel Kincade from Moses and Linda Rose from Soul Sessions. The meeting was supposed to be 30 minutes, but it went on for more than an hour, making Secretary Carr late for his next meeting.

      We definitely appreciate their willingness to take time and meet with us. We came away with the impression that Secretary Carr and his newer heads of staff believe they are doing their best, but we remain impatient. We were over-all disappointed with the lack of detail, transparency, and commitment in this meeting and the lack of progress in DOC reforms.

      Demand #1 Fire or discipline Warden Novak and other staff

      Secretary Carr said that he meets with Warden Novak regularly and had a meeting with her recently. He said he doesn't think she broke any rules or did anything fireable, but would not hesitate to fire her if she did. When we asked him about specific issues that include what we understand to be violations, though, he was evasive.

      Wednesday, January 22, 2020

      March on the DOC reportback

      Today we had another good action at the DOC against lockdowns and calling for Warden Novak at CCI to be fired.

      First, we gathered at Worthington Park for about 20 minutes, talking to reporters (NBC news editors cut all the specifics out) and sharing notes on what we've heard out of CCI. Only 10-15 people made it out on this cold Wednesday morning, but we made the most of it.

      We also organized a phone zap for people who could not attend the action. 

      Then we marched up to the visitor's entrance at the DOC. Chants of "Hey! Ho! Warden Novak's got to go!" bounced off the building and through the neighborhood. After our last action DOC administrators expressed willingness to meet with us, but they didn't actually set up a meeting time until last night. They also asked that they only meet with 2-3 representatives. Also, Secretary Carr was not available until noon. Unfortunately, we had already sent out invitations and press releases so we were unable to push back our action, but we still took the meeting with Carr.

      Tuesday, January 21, 2020

      "Death is here" report of continued CCI staff hostility causing more deaths

      We have collected a number of new letters reporting on events and conditions at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI). Incarcerated people continue to suffer and die under the authority of Warden Susan Novak.

      Brief summaries

      • Possible suicide- On January 14, a white Muslim man who uses a wheelchair or walker either fell or jumped off a 2nd floor tier and died the next day. 
      • Possible suicide- On January 16, a close friend of Damani Nantambu died of heroin overdose, possibly suicide. 
      • Four deaths tracked- This makes four deaths we've become aware of at CCI since the lockdown that started on November 8, 2019. Muhhamad (Larry) Bracey was killed on December 3, and we got mail to another prisoner returned with "convict dead" written on it in early November. 
      • Pattern of Muslim fatalities- At least two of the four who died were Muslims and a third was a close friend of an Muslim organizer and protester. Racism and pro-Trump attitudes of staff at CCI are well-documented. Muslim prisoners are likely to receive heightened harassment and less attention to medical needs in this Islamophobic environment.
      • False conduct reports- Staff continue to issue frivolous conduct reports. A man named Christopher Dawson was written up and lost his job because he told a guard to stop yelling at him.
      • Staff instructed to increase hostility- When Dawson complained that the guard falsified the report and requested camera footage be reviewed, unit manager Lindsey Walker said "with everything that has happened we where told to be more aggressive an demanding with you guys" 
      • Hunger striker threatened with a taser- On the 6th day of his hunger strike, Damani Nantambu avoided a similar confrontation with an aggressive sergeant by not speaking. In response, her supervisor threatened to tase Damani.


      Thursday, January 9, 2020

      Notes from January 8 Parole Commission Meeting

      These notes were written by volunteer Ben Turk after he attended the January 8 Parole Commission hearing. They include opinion statements, recollections and speculations made by Mr. Turk, who is solely responsible for their content.

      I suspect Commissioners LaCost and Drankewicz as well as the DOC staff are actively undermining Tate's efforts. I suspect that he's aware of this, but has no choice but to navigate it, because he doesn't have the power to fire commissioners. He is very diplomatic, but things are clearly strained and could get worse before they get better.
      Both Karen and Jacob (office assistants) left and were hired by the DOC. Two replacements have been hired, but they seem really unclear on their whole job. The commission is a full year behind on correspondence. They were already six months behind when Tate came in. Support letters and important things- like job and housing offers are not getting into people’s files, undermining their qualifications for release.

      Tuesday, January 7, 2020

      Columbia County Courts and Sheriff complicit in prison torture and death

      For the last two months Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) has been on a lockdown. The lockdown was officially lifted on December 22, but the facility continues to operate on "modified movement" status, and many lockdown restrictions remain in place, seemingly indefinitely.
      FFUP has been monitoring the lockdown as closely as possible. Our correspondence has repeatedly been delayed because staff are improperly intercepting corrlinks emails and labeling them a "threat to the institution" when they contain nothing but descriptions of conditions, events, and violations of DOC administrative codes. We've also filed records requests, which the DOC is taking unusually long to respond to. We are an all-volunteer organization navigating these delays, but we will continue to investigate and release information as fast as we can.

      County Sheriff complicit in covering up Death of Muhhamad (Larry) Bracey

      We heard that Portage county sheriffs were investigating Mr Bracey's death and contacted them about letters we received about guards refusing Bracey treatment or access to his inhaler and the Warden's policy that medical staff only be alerted for emergencies. This policy and guards neglect clearly led to Bracey's death.

      Monday, January 6, 2020

      NYE Noise Demo and January 9 Solidarity March

      On New Year's Eve around 30 people gathered outside Columbia Correctional Institution for a noise demo in solidarity with the people who've been locked down since November 8 because Black prisoners beat up racist guards.

      Demonstrators made a huge racket with pots and pans, drums, whistles, a conch shell, vuvuzelas, a megaphone and hand-held air-raid sirens. We held a large banner with glow-in-the-dark letters that read "Fire Warden Novak" and chanted the same. Also: "you are not forgotten / you are not alone / we are gonna fight / to bring you home!" 

      See video here.

      We were heard throughout the residences. People inside responded by shouting and banging on their windows. With the concrete walls and distance between the buildings and the fence it was hard to distinguish much of what was said, but at one point when local Portage police showed up to monitor the demonstration, someone inside the prison saw them and shouted "fuck the police!"

      A few days later supporters received word from inside:

      Oh new years day [people] was protesting in front of the CCI. I'm surprised it didn't make the news with all the racket they made, I could hear them from my cell and I'm on one of the furthest units from the parking lot.
      Later on New Years Eve some people also set off hundreds of fireworks outside the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) in solidarity with the campaign to close that facility. Video of that here, and here

      On Thursday January 9, protestors will follow up with a march on the WI DOC Headquarters in Madison. From the Facebook event:

      "Warden Susan Novak has implemented fatal policies and enabled abusive behavior by racist guards... Larry Bracey’s death is on Novak’s hands. Allowing her to continue operating any WI prison is irresponsible and a great moral failing. Join us in demanding change!"

      Conditions at Columbia Correctional have been horrific for months and Forum For Understanding Prisons (FFUP) has been working with multiple people within the facility to expose the racism, violence and retaliation since the lockdown started. Between October 22 and November 8 three racist, petty, loudly Trump-supporting guards got beat down in separate incidents by black men imprisoned at CCI.

      But, here it is 3-fervent Donald Trump supporting cops get a lil touched up by some black inmates and we’ve been on lockdown for 2-months.
      - from a letter by Damani Nantambu at CCI

      In response, Warden Susan Novak and staff have engaged in a wide variety of retaliation, collective punishment and repression. On December 3rd, staff CCI killed Muhhamad (Larry) Bracey through medical neglect. Warden Novak is refusing to administer flu vaccinations, endangering many with compromised immune systems at this over-crowded prison. A man named ODell Miller went on hunger strike demanding that Warden Susan Novak be fired, and Columbia County Judge Todd Hepler authorized staff force feeding him for a year, sealing the record to cover his complicity in that torture. 

      Read more about the lockdown and these incidents here (chronological order):

      Damani Nantambu on CCI staff racism, assaults and lockdown

      We received a long letter from Damani M.Nantambu with new and more detailed information about the CCI lockdown. Damani provides insights into the assaults that occurred leading up to the lockdown, the death by medical neglect of Muhhamad (Larry) Bracey on December 3, and the hunger strike and force-feeding of Odell Miller, as well as many other conditions and incidents. We removed some information from his letter to protect the privacy of incarcerated people.

      Date: 12/10/2019

      Dear Peggy,

      I want to thank you for the hard hitting piece of journalism you did on the piece titled “Warfare at Columbia Correctional Institute”. In this letter I hope to add and correct a few things that officials lied to you about and inmates got wrong.

      But before I get to that, note I can’t tell you how much I regret not staying in touch with you when I first came to the state in 2012 from the feds (the super max in Colorado called ADX or “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.)  To serve the remainder of my federal sentence. Life W/O!!! It’s a long story about an class action.


      Also I’m sure you will want t know that inmate Muhhamad Bracey died on 12/3/19 in DSII in cell #8 after complaining for weeks of ill health! The LAST dirt bag he tried to get to help him was Sgt. L.P. She lied to the nurses and claim he was fine when she checked in on him, to determine if it was a medical emergency, the only type of medical aid, the Iron Lady (Sue Novak) would allow them to render aid to. She killed this man (Sue). Plain and simple. And he had been on ACC for “years”!!!

      I filed a complaint for him already.


                2008 rally by families of prisoners in front of the WI DOC headquarters                    FAMILIES for a  SECOND CHANCE   WE invi...