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Chicago rallies to shut down Menard prison

By Kobi Guillory |
August 4, 2022
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Chicago protest demands shut down or Menard prison.
Chicago protest demands shut down or Menard prison. (Fight Back! News/Bryon Crawley)

Chicago, IL - The families of a group of wrongfully convicted Black men - Michael Minnifield, Isaiah Brady, Omarr Parks, Chaz Thrailkill and Kenyatta Brown - who are incarcerated in Menard prison held a rally of over 100 people on Monday, August 1 outside the ABC TV headquarters in Chicago. 

Demands expressed at the rally included the transfer of the wrongfully convicted men out of Menard, an independent investigation of the prison so abusive guards can be held accountable, a limit to the use of solitary confinement, and ultimately for Menard prison to be shut down.

The rally was organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) and supported by the Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC), Justice for Nick Lee, and the Rainbow PUSH coalition.

"Illinois Department of Corrections Director Rob Jeffreys and Governor JB Pritzker have the power of the pen to change the conditions in these prisons" said Roni Thrailkill, mother of Chaz Thrailkill, who was sentenced to 30 years in Menard. Some protesters carried posters reading, "Rob Jeffreys has blood on his hands." Others wrote those words in chalk on the sidewalk. Those words referred to the people who have been killed by the inhumane conditions and practices in Menard and other Illinois prisons.

"My husband died in jail," said Cassandra Greer, whose husband, Nickolas Lee, was one of the first lives lost to COVID-19 in Cook County Jail, "I don't want these mothers to go through what I went through." 

Angel Gill spoke about the unsanitary conditions in which her brother, Michael Minnifield, has been living in Menard, where prisoners are denied food, water and showers while living with mold, feces and insects in their cells. Minnifield has been assaulted by guards who also threatened his life and tortured him with a year in solitary confinement.

"I don't lock my dog in a cage for more than eight hours." Said Darlisa Kendall, mother of wrongfully-convicted Isaiah Brady. "They're locking these men up 24 hours a day for years at a time!" Darlisa and other protesters voiced their support of HB 3564, or the Anthony Gay bill, which would limit the use of solitary confinement to ten days within a 180-day period. Extended solitary confinement, which is defined as torture by the United Nations, is a weapon used by prison guards against prisoners who speak up against the cruel conditions and treatment.

Speakers at the rally pointed to the systemic nature of the human rights abuses committed in Menard. "The same damn judge [Vincent M Gaughan] who sentenced Jason Van Dyke to 81 months for killing Laquan McDonald gave my brother 54 years for a crime he did not commit!" exclaimed Angel Gill.

"Menard is at the top of our list to be shut down, but we won't stop there. All prisons need to be investigated," declared Jasmine Smith, leader of the campaign to get justice for the 18 survivors framed by corrupt cop Brian P. Forberg. "For too long our loved ones have been treated like animals in these prisons. We demand answers and change. No justice, no peace!"

The families and activists who organized the rally identified it as only the beginning of a movement to shut down Menard and the racist prison system. "We're here building a movement because we don't have to accept injustice," said CAARPR Field Organizer Frank Chapman, "We're not responsible for the oppression that's inflicted on us every day. What are we responsible for? We're responsible for our liberation!"

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