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  • Doug Tjapkes

Fresh, clean water: a prison rarity!

As I sat in a prison waiting room, I noticed that all incoming employees were carrying their own water container. “What’s the deal,” I asked my prisoner friend? I should have known the answer. Because the prison water was terrible. He said the nasty water not only had color but also had odor. Yet, that’s what prisoners were stuck with. Staff brought in fresh water. It’s that way in many Michigan prisons, and yet our state does nothing about it. A couple years ago prisoners filed a class action suit in St. Louis, Michigan, because the water in that city’s two state prisons was contaminated. They should not have been surprised when they lost that case over some dumb argument. Prisoners are used to getting crapped on. I’ve had reports most recently from the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia about bad water. That’s the same prison where the MDOC Director and the warden proudly show off the Calvin University classroom project and the vocational job-training program. They make no mention of the stinky water. I have purposely waited to pass along this information because retaliation is rife in the prison system. Now that my reliable snitch is no longer there, here’s what I can tell you, straight from the whistle-blower’s lips: “All staff are advised not to drink from the potable water supply; instead, they are permitted to bring in water or purchase bottled water. Meanwhile, prisoners are forced to drink dirty water. The vendor contracted to serving vending machines here ceased placing bottled water in prisoner vending machines some years ago, but they do provide bottled water in staff and visiting room vending machines. This is not coincidence or oversight. Rather, it is intentional. Maintenance workers have confirmed to me that staff sink fixtures contain water filters. Prisoner sinks and water fountains do not. Prisoners who try to do something about it are met with either implied or overt threats by facility leadership. Elected block representatives who try are initially admonished. If they continue to raise concerns, they are indiscriminately transferred to another facility. I know of Calvin Prison Initiative students who were threatened with dismissal by MDOC staff if they didn’t abandon the issue of clean drinking water.” If you think the bad water problem is exclusive to the Handlon facility you’ve got another guess coming. We hear complaints like this all the time. Many of our prisoners are consuming, showering in and washing their clothes with bad water. But, with Michigan’s outstanding water history---lead poisoning in Flint and PFAS contamination all over the place---what else could we expect? An outrage! “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” – Luna Leopold

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