Milwaukee 53206: Documenting the Constant Battle for Justice

The film has ended and a woman approaches the podium in front of roughly 100 faces, all looking at her with concern, confusion and sympathy. She’s seen these eyes before and she’s talked about her personal story with mass incarceration before.

As her son hands out small information cards with her email address and website, she talks about how she’s thankful for those who came out and how she and her children have had to fight every day to live a life without their father around. She goes on to talk about how although her husband made a few bad choices in life, he’s a caring father and a loving partner who has gone on to earn over 17 degrees.

She explains what she does now with programs around the city and how her website is made to help those who, after seeing the film, want to learn more and help.

She is the wife of one of the 3,000 people in Wisconsin’s incarceration system.

The film “Milwaukee 53206,” documents the lives of the 62% of black men within Milwaukee’s zipcode 53206 and how those who are released have transitioned to the outside world. The film though, also highlights the life of Beverly Walker, her family who go unnoticed as they are impacted by the loss of their family members to mass-incarceration.  Their stories were released in 2016 and there have since been film showings around the state of Wisconsin, one of which locations being Mount Mary University on October 5, 2017.

Since the film’s release, Beverly Walker’s husband, Baron Walker, and the other 3,000 men and women qualified to be released from prison, haven’t been.

“Baron Walker has been incarcerated for 22 years and he went to prison during a time where we used to be under the law of parole,” Beverly said. “What that means is he has to earn his way to be released, so even though the judges gave extensive sentencing, a 60-year sentence, if he’s met all the conditions and has good behavior he should be able to go home after serving 25 percent of his sentence.” she said.

Charged with two cases of bank robbery, Baron, her husband, has been stuck between two laws: one stating release after meeting certain behavioral requirements and 25 percent of a sentencing and another stating full prison sentencing completion before release. Baron’s sentencing happened before the latter was implemented.

People aren’t showing concern or action, and to make matters worse, the film hasn’t yet been shown in the zip code of 53206, where incarceration injustice is most prevalent.

“Beverly is fighting up here [with the systems] but who’s fighting on the grounds?” Mount Mary theology professor, Shawnee Daniels-Sykes said.

Daniels-Sykes said, “I just really felt that it was imperative that at least we have it here because we speak so much about social justice and transformation,” explaining why the film was chosen to be shown on campus.

The one-hour film opens up a world of violation of inmates’ rights through a lens following the Walker family and how it has affected them.

“The film asks us to think about the larger implications of high levels of incarceration, the people who aren’t [represented] so the family members, community members, the schools, people who interact,” said Lynne Woehrle, Mount Mary professor of sociology.

Lynne Woehrle was another active faculty member responsible for bringing the film to Mount Mary University, in hopes of bringing up topics like injustice and morality for viewers to reflect upon.

“Getting into the Walker family’s story challenges us to not think of it as just about bad people but possibly about bad policy or failures to close loopholes,” Woehrle said.
“They can enforce these folks to stay in prison longer.”

By watching the film, viewers not only learn about the problems of mass incarceration but do so in a way that is not force-fed.

“Instead of trying to take on this entire giant topic on mass-incarceration, it gave us a smaller way into it.” Lynne Woehrle added.

Dr. Woehrle said that the film though, could have added more statistical data on mass incarceration.

Zakia Wells, a Mount Mary student who’d also seen the film on campus said, “The film briefly touched on it but they’re not fully going into detail. ‘This is how they keep them in here.’ ‘This is how they get profiled.’ etc.”

Others like Mount Mary students like Kaoly Thao have critiqued the film for its lack of statistics on Wisconsin’s incarceration. They also believe that the focus on individuals proves to be effective in presenting the seriousness of the issue within the film’s timespan.

”I think [this] should be required for people going into Justice or Law [programs] just to understand why it happened because a story is so powerful.” Koaly said.

The impact of prolonged incarceration on families is aided by Walker’s discussions afterwards when she spoke of specific examples of exhaustion from caring for her children and elderly mother by herself.

During her Q&A panel after the Mount Mary viewing, she told the story of one of the ways the prison system uses loopholes to keep Baron imprisoned when a prison official once revoked Baron’s rights to phone time after seeing him accidentally brushing elbows with another inmate.

“You won’t let him out for whatever, feigning a brush on the elbow or shoulder and getting written up–it makes no sense.” Daniels-Sykes said on hearing the story.

After the film Walker elaborated on how, though her husband is currently still in prison, she has been told many times by prison officials that her husband has met the qualifications to be released on the basis of behavioral, mental and time guidelines.

“They keep putting him in positions where he has to be responsible for other inmates,” Walker said. “He has positions of authority and power yet they’re declining him his basic rights to work outside the sentence. Depriving him of his rights to come home and he’s met all of his requirements to do so.”

Specific information on Baron’s life in the prison system aren’t touched on as closely as his family’s lives are. This is why she recommends those wanting to screen the film to ask her to go along to speak thereafter.

[The film] presents the issue and the problem and hopefully when people request to see the documentary they request me and I’m able to give them the information,” Walker said.

“When the woman came after the film, I learned more about what went down,” Zakia said.

“[By showing the film] we think about keeping people aware of policies – opportunities to educate themselves and make their own choices, because you don’t want to ever say ‘Well, incarceration is wrong so you should do this about it,’” Woehrle said.

Many times after seeing a film like Milwaukee 53206, people judge for themselves the seriousness of this issue and try to show their want to assist in freeing Baron Walker and other individuals in his position.

“People feel condemned to help in some time of way when they see the documentary but we’re so busy with life that people can promise me – hey promise me and guarantee that they’re gonna support me and write letters and do all these things but then life happens,” Walker said.

Walker said that she works hard to make sure the website is easily accessible and understandable, adding sources on law incarceration law and information on her husband’s life, for those with limited time but who may want to help.

“The same people who make the decision about whether or not they should go home are the same people who realize that if they allow these 3,000 men and women to go free, this impacts their job,” Walker said.

“Him being incarcerated benefits the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said. 

Walker urges all those who were already able to see the film “to write to our legislators to let them know that it’s not okay to keep these 3,000 men and women who’ve met the conditions to go home. It’s not okay to keep them locked up.”

 

UPDATE: As of August 2018, Baron Walker was released from prison. Beverly has said that she thanks everyone for their support in bringing him home.

To find out about screenings or host a screening in your area, you can visit the film’s website.

To find information on how and who to write a letter on Wisconsin’s continuous parole dispute you can visit Beverly Walker’s page. 

 

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