Account and recommendations from another survivor of the CCI lockdown, named Mathew Schumacher. If you would like to support Matthew's efforts, please write to him.
Columbia Correctional Institution
PO BOX 900
Portage, WI 53901
I was 17 years old when I committed my crime and I received life without parole. I was a mess my first 10 years in prison. I was scared, angry, confused and I was still struggling with the demons that took me down the path I went down. I had no hope and I cared more about my prison reputation... After a little over a year at the supermax I was sent to WRC due to the lawsuit against the supermax as I was deemed to have a serious mental illness and I could not be sent back...
I then caught another conspiring to escape ticket.. was put on A/C and eventually won a lawsuit against the segregation unit... for being cruel and unusual. I was released back to GP in 2010 and worked with security and clinical on getting my life back on track. I received my HSED, received a diploma from... Technical College... and completed all programming required by PRC. I got a job... In 2015... I was allowed to transfer [to CCI]. A change of scenery that was very much needed.
I got here in 2015 and things drastically changed for the worse in just the last 2 years. We use to have multiple day rooms a day, recreation, phone calls everyday, multiple programs/schooling and vocational courses, jobs, good property, positive institution environment, etc., to the bare minimum, if anything left at all. No more day rooms, recreation fluctuates, phone calls have gotten worse, minimal programming, no vocational courses, limited jobs, stricter rules on magazines and books, fundraising stopped, and the toxicity in this current environment is bad.
I also worked on the mental health unit... it was one of the best jobs I've had. I also became a mentor for a positive psychology group, but that has not been up and running for awhile. I was also working with Larry Bracey as a mentor while he was in segregation and just recently we held a talking circle to remember him.
To keep it short I've seen a lot of changes since the new administration. This environment is toxic and you can feel it. I have put together an email... on changes that could get us going back in the right direction. [Posted below]. Really appreciate everything you're doing out there.
1. PRISON PHONE CALLS
a) allow one phone call per day
b) add more lines on tier like WCI
c) let us call anytime between 8am and 8pm. This is how it use to be so those of us that have loved ones working can have a better chance at getting ahold of them
d) enable their to be a phone app on the tablets " for those that have one. " That would cut down on the number of inmates needing to use the institution phones, opening the lines for others that don't have tablets.
They have cut our phone usage to a bare minimum. The connection we once had with our loved ones has been strained. Right now we get phones on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. One call and we have to sign up to use the phone on first shift 2 days and second shift the other 2 days. They are forcing us to call when they want. And it's hard to connect with family when they work and our first shift phone times start at 8am and second shift starts at 2:30pm.
2. TV CHANNELS/MOVIES
a) should be a universal system like WCI
b) CCI has not updated their TV system like other institutions. We have a limited amount of channels and it's hard to watch channels when they're constantly going in and out.
c) Allow: National Geographic, Quest, History, Discovery, etc. for educational/learning purposes. Our brains need to be stimulated and active. With educational/rehabilitation materials and groups at a minimal, or nothing at all, these channels could help
a) allow more outside fundraising
b) or, allow more in house fundraising
We already have deals with companies " pizza ranch, Culvers, " and in house we sell ice cream from cedar crest and candy/bags of trail mix from farm fleet and Walmart. I would like to see more candy/food items sold in house to raise more money to give away at our yearly victim awareness celebration. Which we give away to groups and organizations here in Portage. Every year in April we have a victim awareness celebration and I'm not sure we'll have that this year. We for sure won't have nearly what we were able to give away last year, over $20 thousand. We would have surpassed that amount had our fundraiser's not been cancelled due to the lock downs. They started by taking our holiday order. Something myself and another inmate helped set up this year.
4. PRISON ACCOUNTS
a) open an account that a percentage of money from fundraising can go into. This could help pay for: recreational equipment, books for the library, up to date TV systems, TV channels/movies, black topping outside basketball courts, etc.
b) when we have a fundraiser or sale, on top of what we pay for the item, after a percentage is set aside for the victim awareness celebration, we could add on a dollar per every order and that dollar could go into the prison account
a) allow each institution to set up a system that would allow inmates family/friends to order canteen from outside sources
b) could be an " I care " package like the company Books N Things sells. Or the DOC could allow us to order the hygiene and food items that JL Marcus, Union and Access sells.
If you owe a lot of restitution it's going to be hard to maintain your personal hygiene and overall daily living by not being able to purchase canteen. I know a worry would be that this could be a way for guys to get around paying their restitution, but if an inmate owes restitution he's more than likely not going to have money sent in. What I propose if this happens is for a contract to be written up with an I care package company or one of the property companies we order from, and have it to where you have the cost of the item(s), tax and then add on a $5 restitution fee. That way something can go towards the inmates restitution fees.
a) allow nudity and any lingerie/swimsuit/see through clothing: books, magazines, and photos. NO HARDCORE MATERIAL
b) have rules set up if an inmate has nude, partial, see though (books, magazines, photos) those items can not be visible when out of the cell. And photos must be kept in photo album or on tablet.
c) magazines and books should not be denied due to partial nudity, see through clothing, covering of nudity or position female is in deemed to sexual, etc. Which is now being done.
d) allow sale of commercially published photos and fliers
The rule was that nude magazines/books were suppose to be approved for historical, educational, artistic value, and or as long as nudity wasn't promoted for the sale of that particular book or magazine, it's to be allowed, but that is very rarely being done. Now, everything is being denied because the content can be deemed obscene or lewd for lingerie and swimsuit books/magazines. If a lingerie/swimsuit book or magazine comes in staff can and are deeming the poses obscene. There can not be lewd poses, see through clothing or covering of bare breasts or pubic area as that now is deemed: promotion of nudity.
I could give a list of the many titles and reasons for denial. The fact that books and magazines we use to get in are now being denied for lewd poses and pornography for nudity, shows that their needs to be a policy that clearly states what's allowed. Playboy for example could fall under the category of art. Not pornography as it is deemed in Wisconsin. Or if someone wants to buy the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazine. They should not be considered pornography because of minimal nudity, see through clothing or because poses are deemed to sexual " obscene or lewd. "
7. INMATE COMMITTEE
a) allow inmates going in front of the disciplinary committee to have an advocate that is an inmate
b) allow for a committee to be put together of inmates that meet regularly: discuss issues, fundraising, movie requests, program requests, privilege requests, etc. And then monthly meeting with upper management: Warden, Deputy Warden, Security Director, etc., to discuss the issues brought up by the committee.
Having an inmate as an advocate would not be a new concept. Only new for the state of Wisconsin. It's not right or fair to have staff as an advocate. Specially if that staff member is from the ICE Dept.
And the same goes for the inmate population committee. Only a new concept for the state of Wisconsin. I think it would help change the environment by feeling we have a say and are being listened to or at least having issues addressed.
8. LEVEL SYSTEM
a) allow inmates to gain privileges by earning levels for good conduct " no warnings, conduct reports. " And privileges could be: participation in fundraising, partaking in buying I Care packages, more phone calls, more apps/games, being allowed to order from an actual hobby store, etc..
This just gives guys something to strive for. And it'll weed out the good from the bad. Those of us that want to earn privileges for turning our lives around. And this really helps by punishing the individual and not the whole inmate population.
And we pretty much already partake in a level system. To get to medium we have to maintain good conduct, do your programs, volunteer work, etc. If you're in segregation you have to work your way through a level system to get property and privileges back little by little. Eventually working your way out of segregation.
a) add updated books we can purchase
b) allow us to purchase our own apps or activation fees for services already approved in the DOC: phone app, khan lite app, books/magazines/newspapers/photos, institution mail ( request forms, HSU, PSU.)
c) allow purchase of magazines and newspapers
d) allow photo app
e) add more games. Educational, mental, challenging games to keep our brains stimulated, active and growing
f) add more educational materials. There is an app Keefe offers called: KHAN LITE. This app is all educational videos approved for DOC facilities. They take you into the classrooms, to sights of historical significance, etc. It is a visual learning tool that is greatly needed in here with educational opportunities and vocational programming dwindling, " non existent here. "
g) have an app for each institution so an inmate can have a schedule of daily activities, job openings and memos. And have an app for any DOC rule/policy changes
h) add motivational videos/content
I believe there's a lot that can be done on the tablet to help alleviate some of the work load for the DOC, cut down on the amount of paper we waste/use and to help bring back positivity and rehabilitation back into the system. One thing I think would help mail and property staff is putting magazine's, newspapers, books, photos, etc, on the tablets. That way we cut down on the number/volume of physical items coming into the mailroom.
2/5/2020 11:51:30 PM
Not sure if it was planned or pushed because all of the attention currently on the WI DOC, but they just added institution messaging. When you click on the box a section comes up where you have to pick the department and that section has nothing in it yet. But it's their at least and hopefully we won't be charged to much. Even if we are I don't mind cause this will be something that can't be destroyed as easily as paperwork. Just wanted to get the word out since it just popped up on our tablets. Take care.