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.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive