Inside Oklahoma’s statewide prison lockdown

Though fights broke out only at men's prisons, women's facilities were also placed on lockdown.

Donate
Women in the Regimented Treatment Program at the Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in northeast Oklahoma wear military-style boots and uniforms that distinguish them from other inmates. CREDIT: Allison Herrera/KOSU
For more than a week starting in mid-September, Oklahoma’s prisons were locked down. Routines were interrupted as visitation was canceled, classes were put on hold and inmates were allowed to shower only three times per week. They were largely confined to their cells or bunks.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections put prisons on lockdown on September 15 after fights between gangs at six men’s facilities left dozens of inmates injured and one dead. Though the violence erupted in only the men’s prisons within a 24-hour period, the agency put the women’s facilities on lockdown as well.

Poetic Justice, a nonprofit that operates writing workshops in the state’s three women’s prisons, collected written accounts of experiences women had during the lockdown. Women recorded their frustrations with the lockdown and the “blanket punishment” that they felt DOC handed down to them.

The lockdown at women’s prisons was lifted on September 24, but normal operations didn’t commence until October, 19 days after the lockdown had started.

Women wrote vignettes and poems about missed birthdays, washing clothing by hand and the frustrations of being confined to their cells and bunk beds. One woman noted her mother was dying of cancer, and another wrote about missed visitations.

With the authors’ permission, Poetic Justice collected the writings and bound them into a small, black booklet titled, “Not a number: Locked Down in Prison.”

“For those of us on the outside, it is impossible to understand the trauma an extended lockdown causes. These poems change that,” the first page reads.

The department of corrections put prisons on lockdown as the agency investigated “gang-related violence,” according to a news release in September. The investigation led to the seizures of several contraband cellphones, weapons and drugs.

The lockdown aimed to stop violence from spreading to other prisons, the released stated.

“This is in no way intended to penalize the thousands of state inmates who did not participate in this violence. We thank their families for continuing to be patient with us as we get to the bottom of what happened and bring those responsible to justice. As soon as we believe it is safe to return to normal operations, we will do so efficiently and safely,” DOC Director Scott Crow said at the time.

DOC did not respond to further questions from The Frontier by publishing time.

Stackable said during the lockdown volunteers wrote encouraging letters to women who participated in Poetic Justice workshops.

“We knew it was going to be really rough,” she said.

Stackable started Poetic Justice in 2014 with a writing class at the Tulsa County jail. Since then, her team has launched weekly classes at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center and Kate Bernard Correction Center. And this year, the nonprofit launched classes in jails in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.

The women’s writings from the lockdown are a “unique opportunity for the outside world,” Stackable said.

“I don’t think anyone who’s working with women in correctional facilities has the kind of access and stories we get,” she said.

Those interested in Poetic Justice’s “Not a Number: Locked Down in Prison” can get more information on where to find it here.

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
Donate