Clips of UUPMI Steering Committee Members Monica Cosby and the Rev. Jason Lydon in this news report about yesterday’s decarceration caravan:
"A noisy protest outside Cook County Jail occurred Tuesday as activists demand the release of all 4,500 detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic."
The Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois received this letter through one of our volunteer members:
"Since I've been moved to another unit, there have been multiple guys moved out because of a positive Covid19 test. The gym has been filled with tents to take the guys who are infected with the deadly virus. However, I still hear somebody throwing up each morning and a few people coughing. I wonder if they're too scared to ask for a test or their request has been denied. One inmate said to a nurse that he was having headaches, body aches, running a fever, and lost his senses of smell and taste. She said, "That's just stress; do some art or exercise." All we can do is sit back and watch all the talk on the news. We hear about individuals, first responders, and communities; but little about us. We have no voice, like we do not exist; yet, we are somebody's sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, fathers or mothers. Our lives matter too!
We are getting little information and the small motel-sized bar of Dial soap they gave to each of us is gone. We never got the hand sanitizer the governor promised. We're just sitting ducks and the governor needs to act fast on reviewing elderly incarcerated citizens who pose no threat to society. Right now, society is posing a threat to our lives by having us cluster together waiting on a viral death sentence. I've never been on death row, but I feel like I'm on it right now. There is no phone call in sight for the governor to give us a stay. I wasn't sentenced to die, so why do I feel like I am on the fast track to a death sentence.
We appreciate the governor's passionate words that all inmates placed in outside hospitals will be treated the same as everybody else, but we need action now before we start rolling into the hospital or makeshift hospitals in record numbers. We don't want to die like this. Governor, use your powers for good. We need a miracle that you can look past political backlash and act with compassion to review elderly prisoners, violent or non-violent, and let us live. Human lives are at stake, and we need a fearless leader to break new ground to save us from the threshold of certain death.
We need the governor to show his true humanitarianism to review the most vulnerable people in here to be released from this incubator. We need protection in the worst way. We didn't bring this into the prison, so we need some type of reparation to free us from this death trap. Statistics show the elderly have the lowest recidivism rates, so why keep those who pose the smallest threat to society inside a vulnerable space such as we live in right now? This feels like a death camp and I can't smell the ovens or hear the human screams but I can hear the coughing and nauseating echoes of sickness bounding off the walls in the wee hours of the morning.
Please, Governor, act now!!!"
The Prison Policy Initiative
by Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner
March 24, 2020
'Can it really be true that most people in jail are being held before trial? And how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs? These questions are harder to answer than you might think, because our country’s systems of confinement are so fragmented. The various government agencies involved in the justice system collect a lot of critical data, but it is not designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build, however, it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture."
by Annie Sweeney
March 16, 2020
From Life Inside of the Marshall Project:
by Christopher Blackwell and Arthur Longworth
“I cannot help but linger on the faces of the elderly prisoners and think about how they are unlikely to survive this.”
by Danielle Ivory
New York Times
In jails and prisons across the country, concerns are rising of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. Already, cases have been reported. On Friday, someone who works in a Washington State prison tested positive for the virus, and the day before, the sheriff in Hancock County, Ind., said a staff member at the local jail was being isolated at home after a positive test. On Tuesday night, New York State confirmed that an employee at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility had tested positive.
from the John Howard Association
"With a highly contagious disease infecting people all over the world, there is understandable concern about the presence of the coronavirus in prisons and management of it once exposure has been realized. Having plans for prevention and treatment in place is critical to minimizing the impact of the virus. "
On the morning of March 7, 2020, UUPMI sent a letter to
Rob Jeffreys, Acting Director Illinois Department of Corrections
and Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director Illinois Sheriffs’ Association. The letter addresses concerns over how COVID-19 may affect people who work and live in Illinois prisons and jails. The letter reads:
"Rob Jeffreys, Acting Director
Illinois Department of Corrections
Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director
Illinois Sheriffs’ Association
March 7, 2020
We are writing to express our concern over how COVID-19 may affect people who work and live in Illinois prisons and jails. As Unitarian Universalists, we respect and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We care deeply about the well being of your staff and those incarcerated. This virus knows no distinction between those who are inside and those who are out. We urge you to take urgent action to assure a safe, fair, and humane process to contain the spread of COVID-19 among people in custody.
When COVID-19 enters a facility, it is likely to spread rapidly. We are asking that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and county jails refrain from moving anyone who is infected into solitary confinement or from placing an entire facility on lockdown. We urge you to plan now for placement of people who are ill on medical units, and to immediately hire sufficient medical staff to ensure that understaffing will not result in unnecessary deaths of people in custody.1 We especially hope that people who are ill will not suffer the additional pain of solitary confinement.
Medical teams must be dispatched to jails, prisons, halfway houses, and other locked facilities to assess and treat patients. An outbreak in IDOC facilities may lead to many people failing to come to work due to illness. Physicians on-site must have the authority to dictate necessary changes in facility conditions in order to treat the sick and stem the spread of the illness. We are concerned that if a prison or jail population is infected at a time when the virus is widespread in the larger community, and hospitals are at their limits, the death rate within the facility could be substantial. Many prisoners are elderly or have compromised immune systems.
We are asking that the IDOC and county sheriffs statewide consider immediately ordering a one-time review of all people in custody who are elderly or ill, with an eye toward providing medical furloughs or compassionate release to as many of them as possible. Doing so would not only protect them, but also other incarcerated people, officers and staff by decreasing the strain on resources within the prisons once the virus does hit. Ordering a one- time review does not necessarily mean releasing people now, but the review needs to occur immediately since it cannot be accomplished overnight. Given the overcrowding in some facilities, immediate planning is vital to preventing a humanitarian disaster.
We are grateful to you for your careful consideration of this letter, and confident that your early action will save lives. Moreover, we hope that you communicate your plans with your staff, those incarcerated, and the friends and family connected to these people in your care.
Very truly yours,
Rev. Allison Farnum
Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois
1 See Lippert v. Baldwin, which mandates a staffing plan that addresses the quantity and quality of medical professionals, health care spaces, and medical equipment in each facility."
by Poppy Noor
"Weinstein has reportedly hired an adviser to help him prepare for jail. We spoke to a prison consultant [Christopher Zoukis] to learn more.
Does this line of work leave you conflicted?
It’s ironic that people go to prison for committing crimes, but inside a prison it’s so lawless. People forget that about 95% of American prisoners get out one day. I did an interview once with a host who prided himself for being tough on crime. I said to him: 'Let’s say your future neighbor does 10 years in prison. Do you want him to get a college education in prison? Or do you want him to learn how to brew prison hooch really good while he’s in there?'
When you subject people to very violent and dangerous conditions, that abuse and harm comes back to our communities. Prison often isn’t about correction; it’s about control and repression. It would be nice if it fixed people rather than made them worse."
“The Zo,” prison jargon for The Twilight Zone, was based on a huge archive of letters compiled by the American Prison Writing Archive, a remarkable open-source database invented by Doran Larson, a professor of creative writing at Hamilton College. It is a disturbing study of a struggle between prisoners and their captors, waged not with fists or weapons but with deliberately disorienting rules and impossible tasks. Guards mess with the prisoner’s heads. Those incarcerated try to keep their grip on reality by clinging to details—days until parole, prices of items in the commissary, the minutiae of routine. Guards escalate, inflicting arbitrary transfers or random stints in isolation.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive