Former inmate shares concerns over state prison conditions

James Morgan works as a peer specialist with Madison Urban Ministries and uses his own time...
James Morgan works as a peer specialist with Madison Urban Ministries and uses his own time behind bars to help those recently incarcerated.(NBC15)
Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 5:35 PM CST
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A group is working to meet with DOC leaders about the conditions in the Wisconsin state prison system, specifically surrounding a recent inmate death and two-month lockdown at the Columbia Correctional Institution.

James Morgan spent 37 years behind the bars of various state prisons in Wisconsin, including CCI.

“The punishment is being sent to prison and to be isolated from freedoms that we all enjoy,” Morgan said.

He was convicted of 1st degree sexual assault in 1983 in Dane County, but released on parole in 2007.

Morgan says he accepted his time in prison and felt it helped him transition into becoming someone else.

In fact, Morgan recently met with the district attorney who prosecuted against him.

“My only response to him was ‘thank you’,” said Morgan. “It was necessary at the time.”

Morgan says he has concerns over how those who are incarcerated are being treated.

“To be overly punished, to be de-humanized and to be degrade is something totally different,” he said.

He says lockdowns can cause depression, anxiety, and anger for all those inside an institution.

“The strip searches and other things like that going on really leaves an individual feeling totally powerless in that situation.”

Since his release, Morgan has landed a job with Madison Area Urban Ministries working as a peer support specialist. His work allows him to work with those currently incarcerated and those recently released navigate their new freedom.

“I utilize that experience to do what I can to help individuals come back in a safe way,” Morgan said.

He says he remains hopeful lawmakers can find a way to bring change to the correctional institution system.

“Potentially there will be some changes that can create a safer environment for all of us,” he said.

On Wednesday, the organization, Forum for Understanding Prisons, met with leaders from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to express their concerns over inmate safety.

In an email, a DOC spokesperson tells NBC15 “the conversation was productive” and encouraged the organization to continue to meet with DOC leaders to express their concerns.