More than 100 men at the Stillwater state prison could remain on lockdown until early October, according to the Department of Corrections, as punishment for a peaceful protest at the prison earlier this month.
Dozens of men who the state Department of Corrections believes participated in the protest had no access to showers and could not call their families for a week after the protest, according to the department.
"I'm just thankful that he's OK," said Angela Ritzer, whose fiancé is in the B-East unit. Though he did not participate in the protest, she said, she was not able to call him until late Monday, after last speaking with him early the morning of Sept. 3.
"It's hard not knowing he's OK," she said.
The entire Bayport facility was on lockdown for about six hours Sept. 3 as more than 100 prisoners in the B-East unit refused to return to their cells, protesting problems that stem from staff shortages. No one was hurt and there was no violence. The other units of the prison are not on lockdown.
Since the protest, seven men remain in restrictive housing or segregation, according to Department of Corrections spokesman Andy Skoogman, who said the department believes those seven people organized the action.
Another 120 men who protested Sept. 3 and refused to return their cells are on "in-house" segregation as punishment for their participation, Skoogman said. About 120 men in the unit did not participate in the protest.
Most of those who protested were kept in their cells from the afternoon of Sept. 3 to Monday evening. They have had to eat in their cells and had no access to showers or phones. The in-house segregation could last up to 30 days, he said, through the beginning of October.
There is a process for the men to appeal the punishment, Skoogman said.
Some restrictions started to lift this week.
Skoogman said prisoners who work as janitors were let out of their cells around 5 p.m. Monday to clean the unit.
Around 7 p.m. Monday, prison staff started letting some men on in-house segregation out of their cells to shower and call their families. Skoogman said for some of the men, this was the first opportunity since the protest last Sunday to use the phones and showers.
Starting Tuesday morning, the prisoners who participated in the protest will be allowed out of their cells for one hour per day, but they will still have to eat in cells.
Skoogman said prisoners in B-East will be allowed to make purchases from the canteen on Wednesday, 10 days since the unit staged the protest.
Protesters in the prison, as well as their families and activists who support them, also raised concerns about murky water that runs through the taps in cells.
The state Department of Health collected water samples from the prison, including cells on every block as well as common areas, said department spokesman Michael Schommer.
"Most samples being analyzed for bacteria, iron, manganese, lead, copper and total suspended solids and a subset also are being analyzed for organic chemicals," Schommer wrote in an email.
On Sunday the Department of Corrections announced prisoners would be provided with bottled water during the tests.