The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the elderly in prison once again. Illinois prisons across the state are having to ration food to people in custody. The institution can no longer supply the proper dietary requirements to the people they house. The elderly in prison are suffering the most because of the ailments that come from old age.
Recent reports like the one from the Center for Constitutional Rights ( 2021, February 8) have shown people age much faster while incarcerated. Due to poor diet, stress, lack of adequate recreation, etc.Now with the supply chain dilemma it has exacerbated the poor conditions we live in. Due to these unforeseen events, IL prisons’ kitchen supplies are limited. At Stateville Correctional Center, we're being served the same three items over and over again. Breakfast consists of two medium size pancakes or waffles (with no syrup or jelly) and a scoop of cereal or oatmeal. There are only three items that are rotated for lunch and dinner: a single hamburger or polish sausage or cold cuts with only one slice of bread or no bread at all. We may get broccoli stems or rice and two cookies when available. It's not like we were receiving hardy and healthy meals before, however, they were whole meals and met the requirements of special dietary needs of people with health problems.
We're dying slowly, especially the most vulnerable, the elderly. Most elderly people who have been in custody for 20 to 30 years or more, do not have family members alive to support them emotionally or financially. So they have no choice but to eat whatever the prison provides. So many of us are going to bed hungry each and every night.
We're dying slowly because death by incarceration is a real thing. Then when you factor in the elderly health issues, high blood pressure, diabetes,cancer and other underlying conditions that all call for us to eat right, exercise and get proper sleep. But how can we do any of that if the food is not there? Where does the energy come from? It seems like we're just wasting away.
We're dying slowly, because some of us who can afford to purchase food from the expensive prison commissary (that can legally mark up prices by 33% to us) shelves are nearly bare. The elderly people in custody with underlying conditions only option is to buy and consume foods that go against their dietary requirements. The prison staff has only been able to obtain junk food that's high in sugar and salt. The most vulnerable are forced into a choice of buying potato chips, cookies and candy bars. We're experiencing a food desert inside these prison walls. Can you imagine feeding your hungry, elderly diabetic parents or grandparents items full of sugar and salt? What would their life expectancy look like? The elderly in custody must live daily with the option of starving or going against the doctor's strict advice of not consuming unhealthy food in order for them to live longer- the elderly prisoner dilemma.
Lawmakers, the Governor and policymakers now have the historic opportunity to be leaders in parole justice and stopping the pain and suffering of the most vulnerable behind bars. While reducing the prison population which will also save Illinois taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. All hope is in Governor Pritzker keeping his promise that Illinois will be a beacon of humanity. Illinoisans need to make a humanitarian effort to stop the pain and suffering of death by incarceration sentences of fellow citizens who are in custody. The state needs to have a mechanism that allows for mid-sentence review to make it possible for the elderly people in custody that have participated in rehabilitative and educational programs to be able to reduce their lengthy prison sentences through good behavior. This argument is not saying let every person out of prison, but at least assess them individually. Many of us shouldn't be defined for our past mistakes because it ignores a person's capacity to change.
At the time of this writing I am in my last year of a Master's degree program at North Park University at Stateville for restorative arts and ministry. My goal in life is to help at-risk-youth. I want to help guide them into not making the same mistakes I made as a youth. That is my plan. There are many of us here studying for the Commercial Driver's License exam hoping to become a trucker driver that can help move this country beyond the supply chain problem that is slowing up the economy. Most prison jobs only pay twenty dollars a month, but requires the same full time hours and hard work. Many of us dream of becoming essential workers and fill in the jobs that many Americans are declining to take these days. Not only will it help the economy by lowering the unemployment rate, but it will also save taxpayers of this state tens of millions of dollars of wasted money for warehousing rehabilitated incarcerated citizens. Keep in mind incarcerated adults aged 55 and older are the least likely to commit a new crime across all age groups. And, at this moment, there are hundreds of clemency petitions that are sitting on the Governor's desk waiting to be signed.
Rehabilitated incarcerated citizens are an untapped resource that needs to be utilized if Illinois is ever going to be a beacon of humanity.
About the author: Lonnie Smith B00708, he's 56 years old and has been incarcerated for 33 long years and suffers from high blood pressure.
Every year, Illinois incarcerates over 250,000 people who are awaiting trial. None of these people have been convicted of a crime, and most are jailed simply because they can’t afford to pay a money bond. Pretrial incarceration is hurting communities across our state.
Please call in today and for release of folx in Cook County jail. A reminder that of the 250,000 people locked up in Illinois jails, 90% are there PRE-TRIAL because they can't afford bond. Those numbers are bad enough, but now with COVID-19 numbers rising, and seven people have died on COVD19 in Cook County jail, we can make calls to save lives.
Phone: (312) 603-6444
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that the Cook County Sheriff’s Office take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19 and ensure that anyone in his custody is able to practice social distancing.”
Office of the Chief Judge
Phone: (312) 603-6000
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that the Cook County Chief Judge take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. This means facilitating bond review hearings for people currently in jail and instructing judges not to admit new people to the jail.”
Read more from our friends at the Chicago Community Bond Fund.
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by Sylvia A. Harvey
The Marshall Project Life Inside series
"As a child, I got used to the barbed wire gates and the officer holding a rifle in the gun tower. I knew prison guards would make me undo my hair in the hopes of finding heroin tucked in the folds of my braids. It was merely the price I had to pay the prison deities. In exchange for surrendering my freedom, I was allowed to see my father."
by Eli Hager and Weihua Li
"The president of Minneapolis’s police union called George Floyd a “violent criminal” and those protesting his killing by a police officer a “terrorist movement.” A union chief in Baltimore once said Black Lives Matter activists were a “lynch mob”; one in Philadelphia referred to them as “a pack of rabid animals.” Another has labeled St. Louis’s democratically elected prosecutor, who is black and supports police reform, a “menace to society” who must be removed “by force” if necessary.All of these union leaders also have this in common: They are white." Read more
by Abbie VanSickle
The Marshall Project
The coronavirus-stricken prisoners kept off the books. Officials in Santa Barbara County faced a dilemma weeks ago. They desperately wanted permission from California authorities to “reopen” their local economy as the coronavirus ebbed in the state. But a major outbreak of COVID-19 at FCI Lompoc, the federal prison there, had skewed the metrics. Santa Barbara resolved its problem by lobbying state officials to exclude prisoners from relevant public health analyses. “It’s a fiction,” says a justice reform advocate. It’s also a scenario likely to be repeated in other counties across the country where prisons are COVID-19 hotspots. Read more...
My mom was by my side the first time I went away. The second time was just too much.
by Daniel McCann, The Marshall Project Life Inside Series
May 21, 2020
"In silence, all I could think about was the time my mom had told me that a broken heart would be her demise. I knew that it would only be a matter of time now before the disappointment I had caused would also make me guilty of murder. My weapon? Heartache."
by Madison Alder
Judges are interpreting the law on the fly as they face an unprecedented spike in requests for “compassionate release” from prison, coming to different conclusions about what can be done in the context of a pandemic. The swell of requests for what’s known as compassionate release come after the passage of a law, written before the Covid-19 outbreak, that made it easier for those requests to be filed with the courts.
by Alex Ortiz
My Suburban Life
"Parole Illinois, a coalition of activists in and out of prison working “toward a more just and humane legal system” organized the demonstration. The group described Stateville as the “epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Illinois carceral system.”
The Rev. Jason Lydon, a Unitarian Universalist minister at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, described the group of family members, advocates and faith leaders as “people of conscience coming together” to raise awareness of the situation in Illinois prisons and jails. He said the demonstration was an effort to “remind everybody that those inside the prison are not alone.”
“We are fighting hard to get them out,” Lydon said. “And to ensure that they have the care that they need.”
by C.J. Ciaramella
"The numbers and dire news stories underscore what civil liberties groups and correctional officer unions have been trying to warn local, state, and federal agencies about since COVID-19 reached the country: that jails and prisons were woefully unprepared to handle an epidemic, and that those institutions would inevitably spread the virus into nearby communities unless drastic measures were taken."
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive