BAYPORT, Minn. — A former corrections officer is speaking up about what it’s like in the Minnesota prison where inmates staged a protest this weekend.
Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater has been on lockdown since Sunday morning, when about 100 inmates refused to go back to their cells for hours.
They say it was a protest against the conditions inside.
Maria Olanda Aguilera was a corrections officer at Stillwater for more than two years. She describes how inmates’ access to showers, phones, and common areas can be severely limited on hot summer days, and especially holiday weekends.
“Nothing has changed,” Olanda Aguilera said. “If they’re already short-staffed and people call off because they don’t want to work in heat, extreme conditions, programming is going to stop, and inmates are going to be locked in 23 hours a day in extreme heat.”
The corrections officers union, AFSCME Local 3607, says “chronic understaffing” is to blame for inmates’ free time being restricted. The Minnesota Department of Corrections says Stillwater’s down 50 officers.
Olanda Aguilera says on the hottest days, inmates would spend most of their time just in their underwear, and she couldn’t wait to get home to her air conditioning.
DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell admits the cooling system in the prison is “inadequate.”
“We know it’s exceedingly hot in these facilities,” Schnell said. “We care about that issue for the sake of the people who live here, but also the people who report to work here every day.”
Olanda Aguilera was fired; she says it was for an alleged relationship with an inmate, who’s now her husband. She says their relationship started after she left the prison.
“It makes me angry, and it makes me sad that these guys feel so helpless,” Olanda Aguilera said.
The DOC says it’ll be asking the state legislature for money to install climate-control systems in prisons.