Vaughn Correctional Center Inmates Rose Up Against Decades of Oppression
The rioters who took hostages at the Delaware prison were rising up against policies that “are meant to sound reasonable,” but are really “extremely repressive,” says Kim Wilson
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore.
This is a special edition of Rattling the Bars. Recently there has been a riot, a hostage situation in Delaware in the Vaughn Correctional Centre. Joining me to kinda explain what’s been going on up there is Professor Kim Wilson. Kim Wilson holds a PhD in Urban Affairs and Public Policy, from the University of Delaware. Her research in activism focuses on the impact of mass incarceration on communities. You can follow her on her Twitter. Her handle is, philly, professor, zero, three — @phillyprof03.
Thanks for joining me, Kim.
KIM WILSON: Thank you for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Kim, can you please explain to the audience what’s going on in Delaware, as far as you know, in relationship to the Vaughn Correctional Center?
KIM WILSON: Well, what we know is that last Wednesday there was a situation where a number of incarcerated men took control of one of the buildings –- Building C, we now know — and they took several hostages. This had been widely reported through a number of different news outlets. There was a phone call that was made by someone in Building C, outlining a list of demands. This person was -– it appeared to be –- that this person was being held hostage by other incarcerated men at Vaughn, and he outlined, or read, a series of statements and demands, that these men were asking for.
And this included things like better treatment, a review of their status sheets –- or correct status sheets –- they had concerns about the Cos, and the training that the COs received. And they made a point to say that the situation that was taking place at Vaughn on February 1st, was connected, and in response to what… to the President of the United States. So, that is a basic summary of what took place.
EDDIE CONWAY: Mm-hmm. What was the resolution? What was the outcome –- before we go any further -– how was it resolved?
KIM WILSON: Well, around five in the morning, I believe it was, the response teams stormed Building C, and basically ended the hostage siege at that time. And we don’t know what else happened. We know that one CO was found unresponsive, and he later died, or was pronounced dead that morning.
We know that a counselor, a woman, was held hostage during this time, and she was released, okay. And we don’t know anything regarding any of the men who they say were involved. We don’t know what’s happened to them.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. I’ve looked at some of those reports you refer to, and it seems like Vaughn Correctional Center has a long history of problems with the prison population, and the treatment by the guards. Is that something that you are aware of?
KIM WILSON: Absolutely. I did my graduate work at the University of Delaware. I was there in 2003, and even back then, in those days, it was very much an issue, that there were problems inside the Delaware Department of Corrections facilities, James T. Vaughn being just one of them, and the rest of them, as well.
In 2006, there was a call for a federal investigation of the facilities. And Vaughn was at the focus of that, and this had to do at the time, more with the healthcare provider, and the access and availability of healthcare to people at Vaughn.
That’s just one example of the many complaints that had been lodged against Vaughn, and its officials, as well as its COs.
We know that last year, for example, there was a lawsuit –- not even a lawsuit –- it was an FBI investigation, found that several COs were involved in taking contraband into the facility, and making money from the sale and distribution of drugs, including heroin. They were selling phones to people on the inside, and things of that nature.
EDDIE CONWAY: From your study, or just from your communication from other people that work around the prison system itself there, are you aware of what kind of conditions actually exist inside for the prisoners that are being kept in there?
KIM WILSON: Well, I can speak to my own experience as the mother of two sons who are currently incarcerated at Vaughn, and I’ve been to Vaughn many times as a visitor. I can also speak to what I know –- I’ve been told –- from other people who are held at Vaughn. The policies at Vaughn are meant to sound reasonable, but in practice these things tend to be extremely repressive.
The men have complained -– and I’ve heard this, not only from my sons, but from a number of other people through their loved ones -– that they’ve had their legal paperwork destroyed. This was one of the demands that was outlined in the recording that was released last week, that was made by the hostage… the people involved in the siege.
So, we know that there are a lot of problems at the facility. We know that the COs don’t always behave the way that they’re supposed to behave. We know that they don’t follow the Code of Conduct, as it’s outlined in the CO Manual. We know that the Warden, and other officials, have roundly ignored and dismissed legitimate complaints about the conditions at the facility.
This is not a new situation, as I said earlier, the complaints date back decades. It’s just recently coming to light, as a result of what happened on February 1st.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Well, myself, I had spent 44 years, in the Maryland prison system, and one of the things that was constantly reoccurring, was the lack of medical treatment inside. Prisoners were always trying to get medicine, or first aid, healthcare for ailments, and it was kind of pushed on the side. That was always a large complaint, especially with a population that’s aging, which most prisons have aging populations now.
But also beyond the medical problems, also there was always this problem with visitors, relatives, family members, coming to visit, being hassled, treated like criminals, et cetera. Do you hear any of that, or have you experienced any of that yourself?
KIM WILSON: Oh, absolutely. I’ve written about this on Twitter, for years now. I’ve described what happens, from the moment that you arrive at the facility. You have to be buzzed in to get inside of the reception area. From the moment you get inside, you’re asked –- well, you’re told -– that you have to arrive 30 minutes before your visit. And they hold very closely to that. So, if you’re even one minute late, they have turned people away.
I have been there when there’s been snow on the ground, and people are driving for miles, and I’m usually driving from Philadelphia, when I’m visiting my sons at Vaughn, and they know I’m coming from out of state. So, I usually have to leave two to three hours before my visit, so that I can get there 30 minutes ahead, because I know if I’m a minute late, I won’t be allowed inside.
There’s an arbitrary application of rules for -– not even an application of rules –- there’s also the arbitrary development of rules on the fly, right? So, one day they may allow someone in that’s wearing a necklace, and the following week, no necklaces are allowed.
There’s all sorts of things that they do, in terms of coming to the facility with children. They limit the number of diapers, or the number of baby bottles that you can bring in. You can only take in one baby wipe, for example, and one diaper. If you have a child, or a toddler that is sick, that just doesn’t make sense. And it appears as if these policies are designed to discourage visitation, and to make sure that loved ones don’t even want to show up.
You get patted down, you get wanded, all of your belongings -– what you can bring in, which is usually just a jacket -– you’re not allowed to wear scarves. They do allow hats, but no sunglasses and things like that, although the sunglass thing, like I said, can be arbitrary. Some weeks it’s allowed, other weeks it’s not.
You get through that initial phase, and then you’re taken to a room, a holding area, before they allow you to proceed to the back where you’re going to have your visitation.
And part of the issue with highlighting how visitors are treated, really goes back to, in my view, the misconception that the public has about how contraband enters facilities. We know, (laughs), we know from studies that have been done, that the contraband that enters prison doesn’t come in through visitors, that most of the contraband that enters a facility comes in through staff and through COs. As the case that happened with Vaughn last year, with the FBI investigation, that found several COs involved in the distribution of drugs and telephones, at the facility.
So, we’re mis… the policies are designed to undermine, in my view, the rehabilitation, because that was the major concern that the men outlined last week. So, these policies appear to be designed to make it difficult for people, loved ones, to visit the men at Vaughn and people at Vaughn. And they don’t really contribute to effective rehabilitation, which is one of the key demands that were outlined… that was outlined last week during the rebellion, if you want to call it that.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Well, if people in the public want to follow your writings on Twitter, your handle is @phillyprofessor03, is that correct?
KIM WILSON: It’s… @phillyprof.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, that’s P…
KIM WILSON: P-R-O-F.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.
KIM WILSON: 0-3.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Well, thank you for giving us an update, and thanks for joining me.
KIM WILSON: Thank you for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.