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Family Members Call Prison Conditions 'A Crisis'

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) -- The Minnesota Department of Corrections says the prison in Stillwater is transitioning off lockdown, while family members of some inmates call the conditions in which they've been living a "crisis."

Prisoners have been on lockdown for nearly a month since corrections officer Joseph Gomm was beaten to death with a hammer by an inmate inside a prison workshop.

Now, families and concerned friends are complaining inmates are being denied showers, warm food and basic human rights.

Allegra Kennedy is worried about the father of her child, who is housed inside Stillwater prison.

"I can't speak to him, I don't know what's going on," Kennedy said.

Since July 18, Kennedy says there has been no communication from him until he was allowed to call Friday.

She says his account of what is going on inside the prison is concerning.

"They haven't taken a shower since last month, the 18th, they are only being fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they are just now being able to use the phone," Kennedy said.

Desmond Reed, who represents Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers, also expressed concern.

"All of these things that we found out today has risen this issue to a crisis," Reed said. "They want public pressure and prayer."

He says his contacts inside the prison tell horror stories of how they have been treated since Gomm's murder.

"We know that they've been escorted by canines and automatic weapons during their shakedown," Reed said. "When the shakedown happened, they were handcuffed together and sent to the gym and they were sat down naked."

The DOC commented on the lockdown transition process.

"Stillwater has been transitioning off lockdown. This is a process, and each step depends on the success of the last step," a DOC representative said. "Coming off a lockdown of this nature in a gradual manner is critical for the safety of our officers and offenders."

The DOC has also denied what Reed's contacts told him, that the inmates were "chained together" and " were sat down naked."

"They were escorted fully clothed, individually, to the gym," said Sarah Fitzgerald, the department spokesperson. "They were seated in chairs while their cells were searched. Cell searches are common practice during a lockdown and turn up weapons and other contraband that can seriously injure staff and offenders and jeopardize the safety and security of the facility."

Meanwhile, Kennedy said she is still concerned about the father of her child.

"He sounded worried, he sounded like he didn't know what was going to happen next, he sounded like he didn't have nothing to look forward to," Kennedy said.

Kennedy did not want us to use her daughter's father's name. She said she is concerned about retaliation.

"Him along with the other cell mates, they are all being punished for something one individual done, "Kennedy said.

A public meeting will be held next Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Shiloh Temple on West Broadway in Minneapolis.

The Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers group hopes to address what it calls human rights violations inside Stillwater.

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