The Home for Good (HfG) coalition held a press conference and rally on Saturday, September 16, outside of the University of Minnesota’s Eastcliff Mansion, Governor Tim Walz’s temporary residence while the governor’s mansion undergoes renovations. The coalition, which includes activists, families of inmates, and formerly incarcerated individuals, called on Walz to meet with them to discuss prison staffing levels and reducing Minnesota’s prisoner population through work release and reduced sentences through the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act.
“There are currently 1,400 low-risk inmates in the Minnesota [Department of Corrections] being denied work release by the commissioner,” said David Boehnk, one of the rally’s organizers. “That is more people than are currently in Stillwater prison today, and that is a key solution to the staffing crisis.”
Boehnk says reducing the number of prisoners will lower the number of staff needed and help alleviate the Department of Corrections’ ongoing staff shortage.
The HfG rally comes after a work strike at Oak Park Heights prison last week and two weeks after a lockdown at Stillwater prison in a standoff where inmates refused to return to their cells and demanded better living conditions, including air conditioning and cleaning of the facility’s water, which inmates allege contains heavy metals and other toxins. The DOC announced it would be bringing in bottled water for inmates while it tests the facility’s drinking water to see if it is safe.
Melissa Lund of Minnesota Wrongfully Convicted Judicial Reform thought the DOC’s testing actions were only performative. “The DOC is an abuser,” Lund said.
“They will shine up their actions, smile for the cameras and say, ‘See, we’re getting the water tested. See, we’re getting them water bottles. We care about these men.’ But then behind closed doors they strip search the men and throw them in solitary.”
Some members of HfG jumped the picket fence surrounding Eastcliff to deliver the governor a card that read “Meet with us,” but State Patrol officers stopped the group before they reached the residence’s door. No arrests were made, and HfG’s card was dropped in a garden on the property.
Novelist and editor Tia Williams came out to show support for the rally and called for the DOC to “free all of our families” that were in prison. “This is just another example of how, since COVID, Black and Indigenous people, poor people, have been left in the dark when it comes to resources,” Williams said. “They’ve been left in the dungeons when it comes to us not caring about them.”
Williams said that the protocols since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic often leave inmates stuck in their cells. People should be released. “If they’re not needed, send them home,” Williams said.
“What we want is for our family members to come home and get to work and be able to pay taxes and to be able to properly care for their families. The economy’s not doing as good as it could be, and those are potential laborers that could be entered into the workforce.”