On this week's episode, the Ypsilanti community rallies support for female prisoners at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Eastern Michigan University welcomes Afghan refugees and offers volunteer opportunities, Washtenaw County prosecutor and the City of Ypsilanti file lawsuit against an EMU fraternity. I am your host Jacob Walter Kendrick and this is the Eastern Echo Podcast.
On Sunday January 16th, A protest was held outside of the Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti after allegations of mistreatment of prisoners and inadequate facility conditions emerged.
The Huron Valley Correctional Facility is Michigan’s singular women-only prison, and the rally was held in part due to allegations of sexual misconduct at the prison.
Two former employees at the facility allege that there is a “culture of rape punishment” at the facility. They also accuse the prison of allegedly distributing drugs to inmates who are fighting against drug addiction and of medical negligence.
A report was also released by the Michigan Department of Corrections, noting several concerns with the state of the facility, including overcrowding, poor ventilation, and leaky roofs.
“Prison Radio,” a radio show and activist project, has released a special collection of commentaries coming from the Huron Valley Women’s Prison. One inmate, Krystal Clark, reported that there was a chronic mold problem at the facility.
Clark, who suffers from health issues such as a heart condition and asthma, said to the Echo: “I’m allergic to the mold. They told them not to house me in here but I’m back in here with the black mold everywhere and can barely breathe.”
Clark accuses the warden and doctors at the facility of neglect despite being allegedly aware of the conditions. She also accuses them of allegedly covering up the conditions of the facility on purpose.
There have also been several testimonies of COVID negligence at the prison. Another prisoner, Brandi Oligney, tested positive for COVID-19 after working in the prison’s kitchen.
Oligney said to the Echo: “They put me in a unit, and I am on medication to treat drug addiction. They are not giving me my medications, so for three days, I haven’t had my medication. I’m on complete withdrawal on top of COVID. I’ve talked to two different surgeons on this and they have no disregard. Instead, they threatened to lock me up and put me in segregation because I’m demanding to see somebody. They keep bringing more and more people in this unit who have the disease, but no one’s even seen a doctor yet. We haven’t had any health care in here whatsoever.”
Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) addressed these concerns earlier this month. In a letter released on Jan. 5, Irwin called for a hearing on the conditions at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional facility.
In his letter, Irwin emphasizes the severe staffing shortage at the facility and how these staffing shortages pose threats against the inmates at Huron Valley.
In a written statement, Irwin said: “As members of the Senate Oversight Committee and as members of the legislature, we must ensure that inmates are treated humanely, and that state employees have suitable working conditions and the support they need to carry out their responsibilities.”
Next, Eastern Michigan University welcomes Afghan refugees and offers volunteer opportunities for students.
Eastern Michigan University partnered with Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County to host 12 Afghan refugee families in campus apartments last month and students can now get involved through volunteer opportunities.
JFSWC is a nonprofit human services agency focused on helping the most vulnerable in their community. JFSWC has a Resettlement and Integration division where they resettle people from all over the world from countries, such as the Soviet Union, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
JFSWC has been doing this work for over 28 years, and they assist refugee families with important social services that help ease the process of settling into a new community. JFSWC has resettled about 300 Afghan refugees since August 2021.
Devon Meier, chief development officer at JFSWC, said to the Echo: “In late-August, the crisis in Afghanistan started to unfold. We agreed to help resettle 300 people, specifically just from Afghanistan. In the last three months, we have welcomed close to 260 individuals, and we have another 70 or so people who we expect to be arriving by February, and we may be asked to help additional folk.”
Currently, resettlement agencies are facing two major challenges: safe affordable housing and resources. When these refugees come over to the U.S., they do not have access to all the different benefits.
Meier said to the Echo: “When you have this many people coming all at once, of course things will get a bit backlogged. We knew we were expecting to have to support folks for two to three months. Most of these people are coming over with very little, they had to just leave. We knew it was important to galvanize these resources to be able to help meet these basic needs. We are so grateful for the community support.”
EMU students will have many volunteer opportunities to help these families resettle smoothly. Along with moving furniture into these apartments for the families, there are mentorship opportunities and opportunities of helping language partners.
Auryon Azar, EMU student body vice president, said to the Echo: “The volunteer experience was amazing. I got to develop a personal connection with one family. Because I speak Farsi, I was able to communicate on a deeper level with them and talk about their personal situation, finding ESL classes, and looking for jobs in the area.”
The increase of Afghan refugees follows the rise of the Taliban after the U.S. military abruptly departed after 20 years of war, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The U.S. government said that about 50,000 Afghan refugees are expected to be brought to the United States.
Information about JFSWC, including volunteer opportunities and how to donate, can be found on their website.
Lastly, Washtenaw County prosecutor and city of Ypsilanti file lawsuit against an EMU fraternity.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit and the Ypsilanti City Council filed a lawsuit against the Eastern Michigan University fraternity Delta Tau Delta due to sexual assault allegations.
Former EMU students and ex-members of the fraternity Dustin Durbin, D’Angelo Williams, and Thomas Hernandez are among those accused of sexual assault on female students.
Savit said to the Echo: “Over the past seven years, we have had no fewer than 15 reported assaults and three additional related assaults dealing with Delta Tau Delta Theta XI Chapter. We are prosecuting those people who committed these assaults, but we also saw conditions that led to the causes of assault. This lawsuit is aimed to address those conditions towards a culture change at the fraternity so it doesn’t happen again in the future.”
According to the official court documents provided by the 22nd Judicial Court of the State of Michigan, the main condition leading to sexual assault at the EMU fraternity was underage drinking.
Savit said to the Echo: Currently the District Attorney’s office is seeking to have the court issue an order that will ensure those conditions at the fraternity won’t happen again in the future.”
EMU students held protests in September 2021 after three Title IX lawsuits were filed against the university and the Delta Tau Delta and Alpha Sigma Phi fraternities. The lawsuits were filed by 24 individuals who claim the university failed to protect them. Alpha Sigma Phi dissociated from EMU in October 2021.
Thank you for joining us for this week’s episode of the Eastern Echo News Podcast.
Reported: Areena Basmadijan, Cedrick Charles, Michael Dempster
Scripted: Tre Briscoe
Produced: Layla McMurtrie
Host: Jacob Kendrick