Indiana inmates appeal to People’s World and its readers for help
In this April 28, 2020, photo, inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Ind., watch protesters from a window. The protesters wanted better safety measures after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the prison. Though the pandemic may have receded somewhat, coronavirus isn't the only health problem that the men incarcerated here face. Medical neglect, racism, and aging infrastructure must also be added to the list. | Kale Wilk / The Times via AP

WESTVILLE, Ind.—In October, People’s World began receiving letters from our incarcerated readers at Westville Correctional Facility (WCF) asking for help with dehumanizing conditions.

Denial of necessary healthcare, withholding of medicine, lack of heat, and undrinkable water were some issues that Jamark Jackson and Harry Harrison reported. Harrison is currently incarcerated and is bound to a wheelchair due to inaccessible surgery.

“I have been paralyzed from the waist down for six years due to a bullet that has been left in my back,” he said. With surgery not an option, Harrison told People’s World the horrors of being disabled at WCF. “The wheelchair I have currently is broken in five places. It puts my life at risk every day.”

He has broken teeth as a result of faulty equipment. Harrison insists that without access to proper healthcare, hygiene, and suitable living conditions, his sentence will not reach maturation. “The judge sentenced me to do time, not to death.”

Jamark Jackson has a hernia that restricts his mobility and prohibits him from working. He is also being denied access to health care. Jackson reached out to People’s World, he said, because he fears losing his life. His hernia has continued to grow and has become more painful.

Copies of requests for health care and grievance forms indicate the following:

  • On 6/26, Jamark reported severe pains and trouble with mobility via a request for health care form.
  • On 7/8, WCF confirmed his inguinal hernia and ordered him a hernia belt with no further action scheduled. (According to the Mayo Clinic, an inguinal hernia isn’t necessarily dangerous. It doesn’t improve on its own, however, and can lead to life-threatening complications if not treated.)
  • On 9/13, “I have a hernia and this medical department is aware of it…” Jamark requested both bottom bunk privilege, to avoid the life-threatening risk of falling out of bed, and additional treatment to resolve the severe pain. “I need medical to do their job and help me to get this serious problem taken care of, thanks.”
  • On 9/16, “wrong attitude when asking for something” was written as the response from prison health care staff. Jamark was granted bottom bunk privilege for the next three months but no further evaluation or testing for his condition.
  • On 9/28, Jamark wrote in an offender grievance, “Medical has continued to ignore what a ruptured hernia could do to me…. I have to receive adequate medical treatment.”
  • On 11/12, he turned in another request for health care. “…[Medical] confirmed this, it’s been 4 months, no testing, no x-rays, just a belt. I’m being deprived of medical treatment.”

WCF was officially opened in 1979. The construction of education and industrial complexes, along with a gymnasium, multipurpose building, and a chapel, came during the transition from a mental hospital into a prison. In 1991, an additional 220-bed complex was added.

The facility now has the capacity to hold more than 3,400 individuals, according to the Indiana DOC. It is a state-operated prison for adult males. Nearly half—49%—of the prison’s population are people of color, slightly higher than the average of 40% for Indiana’s jails and prisons as a whole.

In 2022, Indiana’s General Assembly approved $400 million to demolish and replace the aging facility, but for now it still operates at full capacity.

And to hear the opinions of those who live there, the lack of properly-maintained infrastructure is life-threatening. According to Harrison, “The roof of the [B1] housing unit,” where he and Jackson live in the medical dormitory, “has fallen in twice, and is going to collapse again as it has not been repaired.” In addition, Harrison reported that “over 60 windows are broken, including in the showers.”

As of Nov. 15, more than 10 people inside the medical dorm have contacted People’s World asking for help in getting the heat turned on, as they cannot thoroughly wash themselves in these conditions. According to weather data, the average November temperature in Westville was between 35 and 47 °F. Now, deep into December, it is even colder.


Racial tensions inside WCF have also been reported. Individuals of color face racist repression from the staff via medical neglect while simultaneously dealing with the threat of harm from guards and other incarcerated persons.

As we have been investigating this situation, one of our unnamed contacts was attacked by a member of the racist Aryan Brotherhood group but was punished for defending himself.

Then, on Dec. 2, another inmate, 53-year-old Matthew Chester, died at WCF.

Our anonymous source alleges that Matthew’s life was ended by the correctional officers, that they beat him to death. The witness is being kept in “the hole,” slang for administrative segregation, throughout the ongoing investigation.

In December, we were told of minor repairs taking place and that the heat in the dorm was finally turned on.

Warden Kenneth Gann has not responded to multiple requests from our team to investigate the dorm or to comment.

When asked how People’s World readers could help, Harrison responded, “We need people to lift our voices and help those of us in serious need.”

Readers are encouraged to contact Indiana leaders representatives and demand immediate medical care and proper repairs to the medical dorm B1 housing unit at WCF.

“Denial of medical care is defined as cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution,” Jason Jones, a licensed clinical social worker who works with the formerly incarcerated in Indianapolis, told People’s World.

“Human rights should not be blocked by prison walls. Many of those suffering inside of Indiana’s jails and prisons are there as a result of addiction, mental health, or indigence.”

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. Our readers include the incarcerated. Please considerdonating to our efforts for us to reach those inside with our publication.

Our Incarcerated Readers Program enables us to reach over 100 people every week who are currently behind bars in the United States.

A donation of $50 allows us to print and mail a weekly digest of People’s World articles to a single incarcerated person for one year. Can you sponsor one of our incarcerated readers? How about two or more? CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

For those interested in working against mass incarceration in Indiana, please contact:

UPDATE: As of the time of publishing, Harry Harrison, Jamark Jackson, and many others are still being denied medical treatment at WCF. The Indiana State Police has not responded to People’s World public records requests concerning the cause of death for Matthew Chester, nor has the Laporte County Coroner provided any information apart from that of the ongoing investigation.

If you live in Indiana, please contact your representation on this matter. Due to the nature of information disclosed, some witnesses have chosen to remain unnamed.


Jake Watkins
Jake Watkins

Jake Watkins is a representative of the BCTGM local 372A in Indiana. Born in Santiago, Chile, he is an activist with the Young Communist League and CPUSA.