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  April 19, 2017

Vaughn Rebellion Continues to Underscore Need for Prison Abolition, Activist Says

Kim Wilson and Eddie Conway discuss the ongoing nationwide repression of prisoners demanding human rights, ahead of the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March on August 19th
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Kim Wilson holds a Ph.D. in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware. Her research and activism focus on the impact of mass incarceration on communities. You can follow her on twitter @phillyprof03.


EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I'm Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars.

Recently I have been looking at the national prisoners' march that's slated to happen in August in Washington D.C., in which prisoners' families and supporters are trying to come together and bring one million people. And one of the reasons for this national prisoners' march is that there's continuing disruptions, uprisings, beatings, and in some cases, murders in the prison system -- and prisoners are speaking out, demanding redress about these problems that they're having.

They are demanding something be done about the slave labor that they're being forced to endure. Just recently in Tennessee, there was a rebellion there, and as I looked at the prison -- it's named the Tennessee Prison Industrial Complex -- or something. Which infers that it's doing massive work for Tennessee.

But also, I have been looking at the situation in Vaughan, in Delaware -- in that particular prison, there seems to be continuous retaliatory violence in that prison, by the guards towards the prisoners.

And so, here with me today, to kind of like, look at this stuff, and unpack some of it, is Kim Wilson. She's an educator, a prison abolitionist, and an activist; and she has been focusing on what's going on in Vaughan, in particular. So, thanks for joining me, Kim.

KIM WILSON: Thanks for having me again, Eddie.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, can you first maybe give me an update? What's going on in Vaughan? I understand there's more violence has occurred.

KIM WILSON: What's happening at the Vaughan is pretty much what has been going on. Officials would like us to believe that things have changed, and that there are no problems inside of the facility. But we continue to get reports from people at Vaughan that nothing has really changed. They continue to be harassed; they continue to have their belongings destroyed, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest son had been strip-searched, he had his cell ransacked, his belongings were destroyed. And they confiscated a number of his drawings, including some personal letters and photographs. What I learned from him, the following day, was that they strip-searched him again. So, he was strip-searched twice in a 24-hour period.

His cellmate was not touched, none of his cellmate's belongings were touched; and no one else on his tier was targeted for this kind of treatment. So, we know that, you know, certain folks inside of the facility are being targeted, especially if they have a connection to outside activists. And we have evidence of this as well.

He was moved to a new cell, and to a new tier, and during that move, or right after that move, he was strip-searched again. He had an envelope, the address off of the envelope was removed by COs, and they confiscated a number of other photographs and drawings as well.

He didn't get any answer as to why he was targeted. We mounted a, you know, calling campaign on a number of people, dozens of people called the prison, tried to speak to the warden. We didn't get an answer.

I got a personal response back through my son's attorneys, who did contact the warden, and asked him why my son had been strip-searched. And the response from the acting warden, I should say, it was rather flippant and dismissive. And he said, you know, "We already spoke to the families. We don't understand why you keep bothering us." You know kind of like, "Go away." And that was the tone of it.

So, you know, that gives you a sense of what's happening at Vaughan, and it's continued to happen. There are a lot of other families that have received letters, and phone calls, from their incarcerated loved ones at Vaughan, describing similar treatment, the abuses have not stopped, the beatings have not stopped.

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, are you aware of a disturbance also down in the Tennessee prison?

KIM WILSON: I am. I've been following that in the news and it just... Again, as I mentioned a few moments ago, it fits a pattern of what has been going on at other prisons around the country. The sort of abusive behavior by COs toward incarcerated people, and these things reach a boiling point.

So, you know, I read one article that said that this was not a surprise. And we should not be surprised if we see more of these uprisings. I refuse to call them riots. Riot gives the impression that this is not legitimate. That incarcerated people don't have a right to contest the dehumanizing conditions that they are living under, being forced to live under.

So, I take issue with that language, but also the formulation of that. What is happening in Tennessee, by all accounts, is something that has been brewing for a number of years. This is not new. And apparently, and there are people who are more well versed with what's happening in Tennessee than I am. So, I would defer to them for details.

But, in terms of the general sense that I'm getting of what's happening at that facility, especially after the departure of the former warden or Commissioner, of prisons down there. Including you know, a hepatitis C epidemic by all accounts. Also, the prison appears to be understaffed, and the conditions that incarcerated people are living under, are pretty deplorable.

Combine that with reports of gang activity, and the warehousing of people in, you know, these spaces, under these conditions -- it should not be a surprise to us that rebellions are happening around the country. So, I would expect more of these, as people understand and see that they have support on the outside. And that there are people advocating, not only for better conditions, but for the abolition of these facilities.

We don't need prisons that... These prisons basically perpetuate the problems that we have in society, and that there are better ways to respond to and to deal with what is happening here other than, you know, more incarceration. Or, as it has been suggested by a number of different groups, you know, moving people around.

Moving incarcerated people from one facility to another, which could be out of state, far away from their families and loved ones -- doesn't make sense, if you're really trying to ameliorate the problem, if you're trying to deal with the problem. And that's not what is... that's not the case. That's not what's happening.

EDDIE CONWAY: Uh huh. Are you... That leads me to this thing on August 19th, in Washington D.C. -- the National March. Are you aware of it? Is Delaware, the people that are working with you up in Delaware, are they trying to network, or participate in this? Can you give me an understanding of how you see that march in D.C.?

KIM WILSON: So, yeah. The Millions for Prisoners March, August 19th in Washington D.C. -- the intention of the march is to bring together advocates and prison abolitionists, families of incarcerated people around the country, to contest the horrible conditions within prisons, but also to call for an end to prisons.

So, our group in Delaware, the Delaware Coalition against Death by Incarceration, is organizing a group to go down there. So, we're hoping to get either, you know, a car pool together, or several car pools, or a bus together, to bring a number of loved ones down to the march. I have all intentions of being at the march, and participating, and being very vocal in those activities.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. So, do you have any final comments that you want to share with the public?

KIM WILSON: Well, yeah. I mean, I would encourage people to really -- to get involved, and to pay attention to what's happening locally in their own communities, around prisons. That prisons don't increase our safety and security, and that seems to be the line that is always used by prison officials, by public officials. By politicians to persuade people that, you know, prisons are a good thing and that this is something that's necessary.

So, there are a lot of activist groups around the country, I would encourage folks to find a group near then. And if they're not connected to a group, or they would like more information, they can always contact me, either through the Delaware CADBI group; or they can email me at

One final note, I have a new podcast that launched last week with Brian Sonenstein, of Shadowproof. It's called Beyond Prisons, and we explore creative alternatives to incarceration.

So, it's certainly grounded in abolitionist perspective, and we're looking to continue and expand these conversations regarding prisons and carcerality in this country.

So, we're on iTunes at, Beyond Prison, and hopefully, you know, we can offer folks something, you know, other than what they're used, to in terms of this conversation. So, thank you so much.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, well thank you for joining me.

KIM WILSON: Thank you Eddie.

EDDIE CONWAY: And thank you for joining The Real News.




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