With community support, a mother takes on IDOC

What do you do when you make the trip to see a loved one behind bars and, upon entry, are violated by prison authorities who proceed to arbitrarily and without explanation deny you any further communication with your own family member? If you feel alone and isolated, the options are limited. If you realize you’re not only isolated but in the same situation as millions of your people, and that many of those people are willing to support you, your options are almost unlimited.

Fortunately, when all three of Queene Lewis’s sons were locked up, IDOC Watch proved she wasn’t alone and she had a community ready to stand with her. Fast forward, and Queene is now one of the fiercest advocates for family members and everyone with loved ones behind bars. As a leading member of FOCUS Families Initiative, Queene helps families who are new to navigating the carceral system and provides them with a system of support.

FOCUS Families is now a member-organization of the Indianapolis Liberation Center, so when Queene told her comrades the IDOC banned her from communicating with her imprisoned son, because she questioned visitation protocols while prison authorities violated her during a visitation, they collectively sprang into action.

Now Queene is leading a fight-back movement that started with an action on January 23. After rallying outside of the IDOC Administrative Headquarters in downtown Indianapolis, Queene and her fellow Center organizers and supporters marched into the reception area where Queene bravely read a formal complaint (full text below) to an official.

After, the official said he would immediately contact “the warden at Branchville” and “find out what the issue is.” He promised that “if the warden doesn’t get back in touch with you, then I will get back in touch with you.”

The Indianapolis Liberator will keep our readers updated as the situation unfolds, and the Liberation Center will ensure that the IDOC representative sticks to his word.

Watch and listen as Queene delivers complaint

“Branchville visitation complaint” transcript

Good day to you. The purpose of this communication is to get some clarification concerning the recent gate closure placed on my name from the staff at Branchville Correctional Facility. I’m not sure exactly when the restriction was put in place; however, my last visit with my son in Branchville was on December 20, 2023. According to the online policy for the Indiana Department of Corrections (Manual of Policies and Procedures Number 02-01-102):

“Denial or suspension of visitation privileges or gate closures shall be given to the offender and visitor in writing, including the reason for the denial, the name of the staff member making this decision, the length of any suspension… the offender and the visitor should be notified of the suspension or gate closure within two (2) weeks of the initial decision.”

I have not been able to speak with my son via telephone, email, nor schedule a visit since on or about December 26, 2023.

Entering the facility to get to the visit, I experienced what can only be described as a blatant abuse of power by the officer. Unfortunately, I am unable to identify any officer by name, as absolutely no one wore any identification or name tags. I was harassed by the initial officer concerning my clothing, which was totally in line with the Branchville’s visitor dress code policy found online with a date of 05/22/23:

Adult visitors shall wear clothing that will pose no threat to the security, control, or maintenance of order at the facility. the following items are considered inappropriate attire for visiting this facility:

  1. Halter tops (midriff shall be covered)
  2. Sleeveless dresses or tops
  3. Revealing dresses, blouses, or tops, including see-thru garments
  4. Spandex or extremely tight-fitting jeans, pants (including skinny jeans)
  5. No jeans, pants or shirts with decorative accessories and no clothing with holes
  6. Shorts must be no shorter than 2 inches above the knee
  7. Winter outerwear, hoodies, jackets, tops with kangaroo pockets will not be permitted inside the visiting area
  8. Adult female visitors, as well as other visitors that need a bra, shall be required to wear a non-wired bra, as well as the dress code policy listed by the Indiana Department of Corrections

Although I have not received proper notification of the gate closure restriction from the facility, according to the policy listed online I am declaring that I have been arbitrarily removed from my son’s visiting list without substantiated evidence that a safety and/or security issue exist.

Whatever the reasoning, which has not been relayed to me, couldn’t have been substantiated due to the fact that when I went to the visit on December 20 I was allowed to visit. Questioning and violating rules are not the same action.

I have not violated the visitation rules/procedures. Therefore, I request the denial visits, electronic communication, and phone privileges between me and my son be restored.

Featured photo: An organizer hands Queene Lewis a bullhorn before the group entered IDOC’s headquarters to deliver a complaint about their punitive actions. Credit: Indianapolis Liberator