A Shocking Truth

July, 2007.

It was an unseasonably cool and nasty summer day when we decided to make a trip out to the recently abandoned Camp Brighton, a minimum-security penal colony in Livingston County, outside of Hamburg. We even had the assistance of trail markers to guide us to our target:

The MDOC said in a communication that Camp Brighton shut its doors in March 2007, a mere four months prior to our visit.

After a nice long hike through the woods, we popped out at the fenceline. Like most custodial institutions, it had a proliferation of thorny plant life growing all around its perimeter like a girdle.

I imagine that this is not only to dissuade or slow down the prospective escapee, but if one should manage to get through the primary defenses, then getting scratched on the thorns would make such an escapee easier for the dogs to track by their open cuts.

From a distance we waited to see if there was any activity still going on within the camp. We knew that some of the buildings were actively being cleared out, but things should be pretty quiet on a Sunday. We didn't see any security vehicles.

"Operational expenses" were cited as the reason for closure after over half a century of operation. MDOC noted that Camp Brighton also had a history of problems with their water supply, as well as with the septic system, and aging buildings.

Assistant Deputy Warden Tom DeSantis said, "It's a bittersweet time for us...I've been here five years and the staff here works well together. We're like a family. Some of them have been here for 15, 20 years."

Camp Brighton opened in February 1952 "primarily for youthful male offenders." It became a female facility in 2001, housing 404 "Level I" prisoners under the auspices of Huron Valley Correctional.

The book The History of Michigan Law says that when the Detroit House of Correction closed in 2004, Camp Brighton received some of its female inmates, as well as Scott Correctional.

With the closing of Camp Brighton in 2007, prisoners were divided between Camp White Lake in White Lake Township, and Camp Valley in Ypsilanti.

Camp White Lake was formerly known as Camp Gilman, and would be reactivated after having been closed since 2004. The new camps are also closer to their parent facility than Camp Brighton was to Huron Valley.

The book Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women details some of the ummm, "personnel problems" that plagued Camp Brighton.

In 1997 an anonymous letter was sent to officials at Camp Brighton alleging that the guard Edmund Hook was a sexual predator. Four months later complaints from 18 more women had piled up, saying that he ogled them while showering, or groped them during pat-downs. 

In the typical "thin-blue line" protocol, Hook was warned by his superiors to "exercise better judgement." No investigation.

I have a feeling that if you or I had been the target of workplace sexual misconduct allegations, the penalty would be a lot different. 

Another eight months later Officer Hook forced a woman to touch his genitals, and a month after that he managed to rape and impregnate a female inmate. He was finally arrested, but chances are his charges were light, and he probably got off on a reduced plea, or the charges may have even been dismissed entirely, as is often the case when law officers are caught in criminal acts.

This is done to prevent "embarrassment" to the department or agency rather than have to publically acknowledge wrongdoing, at the victim's expense of course. And usually the officer perpetrating the acts was only caught in one or two acts, where they probably are guilty of many many more that go unreported.

The power was still on to most of the complex, which put us on our guard.

As you can see, these dormitories are basically identical to the ones found in other modern Michigan halls of detention, such as the Detroit House of Correction and Dunes Correctional Facility.

This is an example of a minimum-security facility.

By the two numbers on the doors, I imagine that means two inmates occupied each room:


A recreation room with a pool table:

What a delightful little nature trail:

What a delightful little fence:

In one of the older residence halls, this was what looked to be the mess (dining) area:

I would guess this cinder-block building dated to the 1952 construction of the facility.

According to the US Justice Department, there are 93 jails and 33 prisons in Michigan. In 2006 there were 18,164 people in our jails, and in 2010 there were 44,113 people in our prisons, as well as over 20,000 supervised parolees and almost 60,000 under some sort of probation on average.

In 2009 it cost $29,056 to house one inmate in prison for one year...which in my book is the equivalent of a year's pay for one working class citizen. 

According to a Detroit News special report that just came out, Michigan spends $5 million every day on its prison system, or $2 billion per year. In the year 2014 we have 50,200 people imprisoned, and that number is projected to go to 56,000 in five years.

Michigan's incarceration rate is currently 31% higher than average in the Midwest. According to a June 2014 MLive article, we have a higher incarceration rate than Cuba, Russia, or Iran.

"Michigan's rate is below the national rate, at 628 inmates per 100,000, but that's still high enough to exceed every other country in the world"...doesn't that seem a little...I dunno, incongruous?

That said, it's almost kind of surprising now that there would even be any abandoned penal institutions in Michigan, but here we are.

Despite Michigan's seemingly astronomical incarceration rate, it is not far off from the national average.

The Prison Policy Initiative (which the MLive article draws its data from) says that the United States, "which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn't had a civil war in nearly a century and a half," has a higher percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other nation in the world.

Hang on, I need to read that again, so as to better wrap my head around it:
The United States, "which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn't had a civil war in nearly a century and a half," has a higher percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other nation in the world.
Wow. And what's ironic is that despite this mind-boggling statistic, our crime rates are also still amongst the worst in the civilized world...

...There is something terribly, terribly wrong with this picture.

The History of Michigan Law, by Paul Finkelman, Martin J. Hershock, Clifford W. Taylor p. 170
Michigan Department of Corrections, FYI Newsletter March 22, 2007
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, by Victoria Law, p. 62


  1. An article about Edmund Hook. I can't find the original:


  2. I was there Horrible condition

    1. So was I. I'm so grateful to God for deliverance. That was 20 years ago.

  3. I was there 06-07 And still have problems. Due to Camp Brighton water.

  4. I live close by. In the mid 1990s, I was out riding my bicycle. I rode into the parking lot, which was outside of the fence, and filled with parked cars. A voice came over a loudspeaker system which seemed to echo around the entire area warning me to immediately report to the guard house or leave the area. I looked around for a few seconds and slowly rode away, just as a few guards came looking for me

  5. I was there when they clos ed in 2007,my experience there was not bad at all, I came there from Huron valley, that place was the worst!! Although we bought froze to death it was still better than Huron valley, and the food was delicious , looking at these pictures brings back a lot of memories.


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