Voices from Inside

Saadiq

During this pandemic, Saadiq asks everyone to tell their loved ones, I love you.

Update 4/20/2020

To all of our family, friends, and supporters in the struggle, I would like to personally thank all of you on the behalf of Right 2 Redemption/CADBI, as well as our other brothers and sisters around the state, for the love, care, and support that you have shown all of us on the inside. The “stimulus package” that you all put together has been nothing but a blessing to us and I just wanted to personally let you all know that your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Much love, in solidarity, forever in the struggle,

R2R Co-Chair Donny Saadiq 💪🏾

Shakaboona

The PADOC are criminal negligent in their mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in state prisons. The PADOC are truly incompetent. It is obvious that PADOC Secretary John Wetzel’s COVID-19 Safety Measures for state prisons are a complete failure. How many Incarcerated people have to suffer permanent injury and death from COVID-19 before the public realize this?

We ask the Public to be a Community Watchdog over the PADOC’s Mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic Within Prisons. We demand, among other things, State Congressional Hearings on the PADOC’s Mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic Within Prisons; We demand a PA Department of Health Investigation on the PADOC’s Mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic Within Prisons; We demand Phone/Facetime Services to be immediately provided on GTL tablets that Incarcerated people & their Families may have unobstructed access to Communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown; We demand an Expanded Reprieve Order by Governor Wolf and an Expedited Parole Release by the PA Parole Board Chairman Johnson of medium-risk & low-risk Incarcerated people; and We demand that Incarcerated people whom have suffered injury or death from COVID-19, or their surviving family members, be provided Monetary Compensation from the PADOC for the Incarcerated persons injury or death.

Brian

The effects of COVID-19 present a host of “health” concerns to those confined within carceral facilities. Some of these health concerns are being vigorously addressed and enforced (e.g., those which remain in alignment with the punitive nature of incarceration, such as keeping prisoners locked in their cells for as long of a period of time as possible, as the “go-to” method of mitigating the spread), while other concerns are given lackluster attention, consideration or implementation of policies and procedures reflective of the wide range of plausible and practical penological approaches for appropriate changes needed — with catastrophic results. The difference between being a part of the problem, as opposed to being a part of the solution, BEGINS with acknowledging and understanding that “health” is not narrowly defined by one’s PHYSICAL health. But equally as important, encompasses one’s MENTAL health as well. More importantly, being a conduit and source of solutions requires those with the ability to institute changes, to be as vigilant when it comes to employing instant policies and procedures which may not be in alignment with past Department practices. These are not normal times. Wherefore, we must look to unconventional ways to keep everyone within the Department safe. Both physically AND mentally.

In speaking to numerous prisoners who have tested positive with COVID-19 since March 2020, and having gone through the physical mechanics and protocols set forth by the Department/facility (i.e., medical isolation for 14 days, coupled with an additional 14 days of quarantining within a designated housing unit, not necessarily in the RHU or other solitary confinement area), there are several notable modifications that SHOULD be implemented in order to mitigate the spread into other noninfected areas and housing units within the facility.

Diagnostic (molecular-based and antigen) testing for COVID-19 diagnose active infections, in their own respective ways. A COVID-19 test is needed in order to precisely ascertain whether an individual has become infected with the virus, as well as to determine if the established isolation & quarantining protocols are to be initiated. However, after proceeding through the two separate and distinct 14 day isolation/quarantine periods described above, the individual is then placed back into general population (absent any signs of continuing symptoms). It seems the error in this practice and protocol is that it is only “assumed” that the individual no longer has COVID-19, merely because they are no longer exhibiting symptoms. But isn’t this the definition of being asymptomatic? Infected people who do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 can still spread the virus. Asymptomatic cases are not routinely (if ever) tested in prison, so the prevalence of asymptomatic infection and transmission remains unknown. However, the CDC currently estimates that 40% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic and that asymptomatic individuals are 75% as infectious as symptomatic individuals. (Johns Hopkins, “COVID-19 and the US Criminal Justice System: Evidence for Public Health Measures to Reduce Risk,” October 2020, page 3). It then seems sensible, or at least in the best interest of the health and safety of the prisoners, officers, and staff, that a second COVID-19 test would be administered PRIOR TO the individual being released from quarantine and back into the general population housing unit they were initially housed in.

The lack of widespread COVID-19 testing throughout ALL facilities, seems to be the elephant in the room and rarely highlighted. How can we accurately, with confidence, and proudly boast of having a minimal amount of COVID-19 contagions, when in reality, testing has been nonexistent? Particularly when assessed comparing the amount of tests given, versus the Department’s prison population size. Mitigation, contact tracing, and controlling the virus is largely contingent upon vigorous and widespread TESTING. How can we assess the level of destruction that COVID-19 has, and continues, to ravage upon the Department’s prisons and particularly those housed and working within them, without testing? For example, the state of North Carolina has invested in the safety of health of its state prison system, by mandating that ALL of its prisoners be tested for COVID-19, irrespective of the costs associated with doing so. This is a measure that this Department can/should take a page from North Carolina’s playbook (and other states taking this progressive approach to tackling this deadly disease and save the lives of those whom they are entrusted to keep safe). TESTING is paramount to the safety and security of us all. We must not lose sight of an excerpt in the Department’s long used mission statement: “Care, Custody, and Control.” The emphasis on “CARE” must not always be overshadowed by perceived need for unfettered Custody and Control. There must be an evenhanded balance of them all, in order for there to ever be the result that we envision and pray that we all come out on the other side of this pandemic with the least amount of harm done. One must consider that all harm suffered is not reversible, nor will the effects of such damages necessarily subside regarding the pandemic with the emergence of an available vaccine within the Department. Certainly, a vaccine will NOT cure the indelible imprint left of one’s MENTAL HEALTH.

This is a great segue to yet another compelling concern in which there needs to be IMMEDIATE attention, awareness and ACTION taken. That is, the deteriorating mental health of the Department’s prisoners, caused by the extended lock down brought on as a call to action due to the pandemic and the insufficient access to communication with family, friends and supporters.

The ultimate lockdown of the Department’s facilities, at its core, is clearly understood to be for the safety of its prisoners, officers, and staff. What seems to have become lost in this blind pursuit of “safety” during this pandemic, is not just the PHYSICAL health concerns associated with ensuring social distancing through minimizing cohort sizing and hugely limiting the amount of time permitted out of one’s cell. What appears to be suffering the most from these exaggerated means of providing safety to one’s physical health, is the collateral damage consequentially inflicted upon one’s MENTAL HEALTH as a result thereof.

Respected medical bodies and institutes such as the CDC, the WHO, and Johns Hopkins provide scientific, evidence-based guidance for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within these facilities. Guidance which most, if not all of us, agree with, and certainly follow in order to protect ourselves and others. The same level of attention needs to be given to the ill effects to our mental health, caused by the lack of communication with our loved ones. It is understandable that virtual visiting technology is being utilized to accommodate connecting and having a sense of communication with our families. The problem is the LIMITED ACCESS to such communication.

It is important to put into context for those readers who aren’t aware of the intricacies regarding this matter. The number of ways in which prisoners can communicate and maintain family bonds are very few and constrained at best. They include writing/sending/receiving manual LETTERS (using the USPS); placing CALLS using the facility’s secure phone system (utilizing funds from a prisoner’s account or a prepaid account set up by family/friends through the contracted phone service provider); VISITATION (under normal circumstances prior to COVID-19, they were in-person/contact visiting — which has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, and replaced with virtual visiting); sending/receiving EMAILS (utilizing the contracted vendor to provide this service using the tablets offered for purchase through the prison commissary). Although on its face, this appears to be a free flowing process enabling prisoners all the communication with family they’d want/need. This appearance is illusory at best. The impediment to these seemingly free flowing forms of communication, causing bottlenecked results, is the fact that pursuant to Department policy and/or procedures, we are only permitted ONE visit (virtual or otherwise) per week, per prisoner. (Department Policy DC-ADM 820). We are only permitted ONE 15 minute phone call per day (pursuant to current COVID-19 restructuring of procedures; normally guided by Department Policy DC-ADM 812). We are only permitted to use the kiosks (which literally syncing your tablet to the kiosk is the only way to send/receive emails) when our specified cohorts are scheduled to come out of our cells for recreation (right now, that consists of a group of 4 cells — maximum of 8 prisoners at time — ONE time per day, for 40 minutes per day).

In 2015, the Department entered into a contractual agreement with several prison profiteers Global Tel Link and Securus, to provide services for the purchase of tablets, turnkey kiosk usage, music downloading/purchasing, eBook downloading/purchasing, and phone call, respectively. In March of 2020 the Department utilized virtual visiting via ZOOM, which was then terminated in September 2020 and switched for a far inferior platform (in quality of service and ease of use for family/friends), Polycom. Prior to the pandemic, Department policy regarding visiting was presumably limited in length and frequency to ONE visit per week, per inmate, in order to accommodate spacing/seating availability and to ensure all prisoners have fair accessibility to visiting.

Prior to the pandemic, Department policy regarding inmate phone calls was presumably limited in length and frequency to (generally) TWO 15 minute calls per day, per inmate, in order to accommodate the limited amount of phones available per housing unit, in direct contrast to the overwhelming number of prisoners housed therein — to ensure that all prisoners enjoy equal access to phone usage, without incident. Prior to the pandemic, we were, and remain to be, only allowed to use the kiosk (accessing the digital services contracted through GTL and Connect Network) when we are physically out of our cells. We are locked inside of our (approximately 10′ X 8′) cells for OVER 23 hours, EVERY day!

All of these limitations, barriers, and impediments have been further exacerbated by the lock down caused by COVID-19. As of this writing in early December 2020, we are currently only allowed out of our cells ONE time per day, for 40 minutes. This time period out of our cells is for us to get physical exercise, use the telephone, use the kiosk, take showers, socialize amongst our fellow prisoners within socially distanced spaces, etc. The idea of protecting and safeguarding ones mental health is to “exponentially enhance” the preexisting availability of communication with our families/friends/supporters, to accommodate for the highly stressful, depressing and anxiety-filled days isolated in our cells. Exponentially enhancing the preexisting availability of communication with our families/friends/supporters, particularly during is pandemic, can be very easily done by the Department, if it simply had the desire and penological courage to do so. I use the word courage, because it goes without saying, that anything resembling administrators being soft on prisoners will be met with fierce opposition. Even when those measures are supported by social science and psychological evidence. Criticism will be present regardless. Therefore, the courage to do the right thing even in the face of such criticism is critically needed.

The purpose of this writing is not to merely point out flaws and deficiencies. As pointed out earlier, it’s about being a collective part of creating attainable, measurable, and sustainable SOLUTIONS, and not just complain. The tablets that we currently have (the GTL Inspire 2.0 tablet) has the functionality and capability to allow for telephone calls to be made from the tablets, wirelessly (without compromising, in any way, the identical levels of security and/or control maintained using the antiquated phone system currently employed by the Department — as such wireless use of the telephone from the tablets have been predominantly used in nearly all of the county jails throughout this Commonwealth, not to mention a plethora of other state and federal prison systems around the country. Wherefore, the Department would not be put into a situation where they are tasked at recreating the wheel). It is also important to point out to the public, that contrary to popular belief, the existing telephones in which we place calls to our family/friends, are only 12 to 18 INCHES apart from from one another. Which means that we are literally, shoulder to shoulder while using the phones. Far short of the 6 feet recommended by the CDC for social distancing. Social distancing in prison settings is impossible. By design, prison were never built to be socially distanced, rather, the goal was to fit as many inside as possible. The existing tablets further have the functionality and capability to allow for us to send/receive emails and photos. In order to currently send/receive emails (photos must be sent through Smart Communications in Florida, or a photobook via the Department’s Security Processing Center in Bellefonte), we must use kisoks which are not 6 feet (socially distanced) apart. The existing tablets further have the functionality and capability to allow for us to have video visitations, as there is already an existing camera on the tablet and microphone accessible on the headset sold with the tablet. A prison such as Phoenix, has 3,000+/- prisoners, yet only 12 video visitation booths. This minimal number of visiting booths naturally causes a limitation on the length and frequency of visits. If visiting were done through the tablet, visits could be enhanced in both duration and frequency.

The existing tablets further have the functionality and capability to allow for us to do legal research (an undeniable component to the needs of prisoners) directly on the tablets, rather than physically going to the law library as being our ONLY means of doing so, rather than an option — despite this putting us in close proximity of others, possibly contracting the virus. Some, those who don’t have tablets, and who choose to physically attend the law library to do legal research, could still do so. The existing tablets further have the functionality and capability to help facilities go paperless and automate costly processes, providing a far more streamlined and productive means of doing the normal business associated with prison — without the need for any direct contact, possibly touching documents possibly contaminated by an asymptomatic prisoner/staff. We’d be able to send/receive request slips; add/remove visitors to our active visiting lists; add/remove telephone numbers to our phone lists; submit sick call requests to the medical department; be provided with instant notifications when money is deposited into our accounts from family/friends; place our commissary orders; have instant access to DOC policies, rules and regulations; be provided with instant notifications when family/friends have requested visits; reentry services; educational platforms; amongst a multitude of other things.

The point is that this ALL can be done by simply changing everything to Wi-Fi. This, by the way, does not come without overwhelming fiscal benefit to the Department as well. By REMOVING the bottleneck constraints (policies/procedures) which currently restricts the DURATION and FREQUENCY of telephone calls made, prisoners would naturally make far more calls using their own personal tablets. This in turn, will naturally cause GTL to make more money, while the Department receives larger kickbacks. This simple business concept applies to the higher volume of email usage as well. But the greatest advantage of all, is that the Department has the ability/opportunity to protect the mental health of its prisoners. Need we be reminded that prisoners are too human beings? We are constantly thinking of and worrying about the well being and safety of our family/friends/supporters. The anxiety that is built around these worries, is amplified by the mere fact that we can hardly communicate with them, because we are locked in our cells for over 23 hours a day, all under the guise of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Dependent upon the exact time that our cohort is scheduled to come out of our cells each day, we may not get to speak to family because the time may not align with or be conducive to the work schedules of our families/friends we may be intending to call.

For decades, the Department has been lagging behind when it comes to the advancement in technology, of any kind. We have remained stuck in outdated times, when all other prison systems have advanced, providing for a means for the incarcerated to have better resources available to them and be better equipped to reenter society as productive citizens. Destroying all preconceived ideas regarding recidivism analysis and statistics. By comparison, it was recently reported that West Virginia prisons have offered a new incentive for inmates to behave well: access to the internet on tablet devices. The handheld devices designed specifically for corrections settings, a news release from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said. Officials said they feature a highly secure, customized operating system and wide-ranging access controls. Global Tel Link is providing the tablets at no cost to the taxpayers. The devices will lack a normal web browser, but will offer access to select websites through the secure network. The websites include news, education and career, health and wellness, religion and spirituality, legal and finance and sports and entertainment.

The tablets will give inmates another way to submit requests, file and pursue grievances and order from the facility’s commissary. They have given inmates an opportunity to visit with family and friends. It allows their children to have more contact with them. This has seemed to improve inmate moral overall. (MGN/Pixabay)

Moving the Department’s current technological posture from hard wired to Wi-Fi, would move us leaps and bounds, in many respects. This is by no means a one-all solution to the many changes that the Department should take action towards, but certainly one significant step in taking a stand in protecting the mental health of all its prisoners. We can only hope that these sensible, feasible, practical, attainable, measurable advancements are all within the grasp of the Department’s fingertips. As stated, it simply comes down to the Department having a desire to bring to fruition. Prisoner’s physical health and well being, as well as their mental health concerns desperately need these changes. Families need these changes. Our mental health needs these changes. The Department is implored to take immediate action to make the existing system Wi-Fi, expanding the length and frequency of calls made and virtual visiting to UNLIMITED, by making these functions/services accessible directly from the tablets which are already present within the prisoner’s hands. Prisoners and their families need far more communication with one another. Allow legal research onto the existing platform, paperless and automated prison document processing, educational content, minimal internet access as other prison system use in order to serve as a catalyst and springboard for reentry back into society, while maintaining family ties/bonds.

We are repeatedly told that this lock down (remaining in our cells for extended amounts of time) is not supposed to be punitive in nature, yet all of these restrictions on communication with our families, eerily resembles punishment.

Terrell

Have you ever been in a place where solitude and silence allowed you to see beyond the distractions in life and you end up in a place where new discoveries shape your world view? Well, a few years ago as I sat in a penitentiary cell drowning in the mundaneness of an incarcerated existence, I found myself in one of those spaces. It was one of those anxiety filled evenings where sleep was chained, shackled and held hostage by demons of the past. It was in the crushing blackness of contrition illuminated by the pale glow of a 19′ inch TV. It was in that between-television-seasons time, when nothing was on, causing me to questioned why I continued to spend half my jailhouse checks on the bullshit cable the jail provided. I was bored out of mind surfing from station to station in a fruitless attempt to find something worth watching. Finally after flicking through the stations at least five different times I gave up and resigned myself to watching everyone’s favorite corporate news show, CNN.

Usually on these anxiety filled, sleepless nights I would turn the TV off and employ the timeless trick of counting myself to sleep, but instead of counting sheep, I would count regrets, something I never ran out of. Right before I hit the off button on my remote one of PA’s local politicians, Rick Santorum, fresh on his first presidential campaign trail was on CNN eating up free T.V. time. I paused. After a quarter century of incarceration I was always interested in hearing some new lies falling out of the mouths of the local politicians. After all, in my humble opinion, lies masquerading as political truths are the chief reasons why reform and 2nd chances are such anathemas within the halls of the Pennsylvanian legislature.

For a full hour I half-ass listened while Rick Santorum used the CNN interview as a campaign tool. His voice droned on regurgitating these cliché like catch phrases and conservative talking points: fiscal responsibility, small government, crime, anti-abortion etc. After some time, though, his voice took on this blur-like quality, and my eyelids became heavy. Sleep had finally broken free. But just before it was able to get away clean, three words became distinguishable from the blur, “sanctity of life.” Sleep wasn’t fast enough. I opened my eyes and watched as Rick Santorum, with this made for TV smile that never touched his eyes and the pontification skills of a TV evangelist ranted about the evils of abortion.

Far as I know sanctity means, holiness of life, not innocent life, black life, white life, rich life or poor life, it’s simply life, no additives. It is a term that’s often used in the debate about abortion, so much so that it was never particularly noteworthy, so why would it strike such a chord with me at that moment? Well, prior to his voice becoming a blur and then it coalescing into that subsequent pro-life diatribe, Mr. Santorum was espousing the virtues of state sanctioned murder. Hold the fuck up…Mr. life is sacred, how can you champion the morality of killing people, and then out of the other side of your mouth say life is sacred? This was my thought that I screamed at the T.V. hoping that the interviewer would not let him off the hook with such an obvious contradiction, hoping that he would at least ask a few challenging questions like: what is the value of human life? Are all human lives sacred? Is it just the lives that aren’t black and brown that have value? Is it just the folks who don’t reside behind razor wire fences, and forty foot walls, that are worth saving? Or does your Zip code determine a human beings worth? Of course it was a wasted hope, because for whatever reasons those challenging questions were never asked. But they are important questions nonetheless, especially in light of the Corona Virus Pandemic.

In March of 2020 we found ourselves living in a world where social distancing became the new norm. It was a logical step put in place in an attempt to slow down the spread of the most deadliest disease since the Spanish Flu. So how is it that this logical measure used to minimize risk of infection does not translate behind prison walls. How is six feet of separation possible when you’re confined within a 13×7 cell with another human being for 23hrs and 20 minutes a day? How can you be safe when testing is virtually non existent, and you are subject to the constant exposure to possible asymptomatic people who enter and exit the institution daily. Realistically there are two basic steps that can be taken to effectively reduce the risk of spreading a virus within the confines of a prison, number 1: reduce the population, and number 2: test everyone behind its walls. Anything less than that is a con. In PA, the governor used his power of reprieve making 1800 individuals eligible for release. But don’t be fooled by this shell game. Although 1800 is a lot of people, out of the 50,000 men and women in the PA D.O.C., it’s a paltry number that makes little to no difference in the sardine like confinement of PA prisons.

In the mad dash to incarcerate as many poor people as possible, prison systems throughout the country have morphed into human warehouses bursting at the seams, and now that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic they’ve turned from warehouses to potential mass graves. So the questions that interviewer was supposed to ask Rick Santorum but failed to, I’ll ask you. What is the value of a human life? Are all human lives sacred? Is it just the lives that aren’t black and brown that have value? Is it just the folk who don’t reside behind razor wire fences and forty-foot walls, that are worth saving? Or does your zip code determine your worth? But more importantly than any of that, do you even care?

So as I sit in this cell locked away, stressed out, anxious about each breath that I take of this recycled air, afraid that the next inhalation will be the one that condemns me, worrying about my family and friends and if any more of them will fall victim to this scourge, I constantly ask myself does my life have value? Are any of the 50,000 souls doubled up in PA’s penitentiary cells lives worth saving? Or are these questions better left unanswered making it easier for us to be forgotten, ignored, and rendered voiceless so that if this deadly disease, God forbid, really takes hold, no one will hear our cries, or our labored breaths rattling in our chests–we’ll be just, gone.

And you, well I guess you’ll continue to cloak yourself in the costume of individual responsibility as the humanity of “all other persons” is stripped away. you’ll continue to feel good about being a part of this great experiment, that allows you to throw the first stone and then duck behind a flag of self righteousness. You’ll probably continue to find succor in your prejudices and uninformed judgements. Sleep won’t have to break any chains for you, Mr. and Mrs. He Who Is Without Sin. There will be no need to count regrets, your conscience will rest easy as you wrap yourself in a comforter of cognitive dissonance, because at the end of the day, in your mind, all those “other persons” are getting exactly what they deserve. That is, until it happens to you.

Heather

On March 30th, we started a lockdown that is still in effect and will be for the foreseeable future. In 2018, we were locked down for 12 awful days. This lockdown will make that one look like a cake walk. My roommate and I share a room about 7′ x 12′. We’re allowed out for 45 minutes a day to shower, make a phone call, wash out laundry, check the kiosk, and anything else we need to do outside of the cell. It’s a stressful 45 minutes! I start getting anxiety as our 45 minutes approaches, hoping I don’t forget anything. The most noteworthy thing to me is that it is happening as I grieve the loss of my Mom. Mom died on March 10th. It’s hard enough to grieve in prison, but CV19 has complicated it greatly. No visits with family, no contact with the family I’ve built here. I almost had a zoom visit, but it didn’t connect. I’m still waiting for that visit to get rescheduled. I do the best I can, which for me is writing letters, journaling, calling family and praying. As was the case in 2018, I’m more concerned about my mental health than my physical health. A lockdown will inevitably diminish my physical health, but I’m fighting hard to not allow it to have an impact on my mental state of well being. Maybe having gone through it in 2018 taught me some valuable lessons. These are not the kind of lessons I want to learn! But at the same time, I know this will potentially save lives here. How else do you practice social distancing in a prison? So far, the virus has not come into the facility. I want it to stay that way. All of our older ladies have underlying health issues. Our population is disproportionately afflicted with weakened immune systems. It would be devastating to have the virus inside the fence. We all must do our part. My part is to abide by the terms of the lockdown. And to pray. Prayer is powerful. Other people’s prayers have gotten me through the most difficult times in my life. Praying for those impacted by CV19 is me doing my part.

Update 11/10/21

We made it through the spring and summer with no cases and now we’re in the middle of an outbreak. We have done what we can to keep ourselves safe, but when the officers admit that they don’t wear masks when they’re not at work, and the outside contractors were in our rooms without masks on, we can only do so much to keep ourselves safe.

Human Rights

We are living through a time when people are deciding how to protect themselves from a virus. Some people have been fastidious about keeping themselves and the people in their households safe and other people choose to not allow a virus to dictate how they live their lives. Courts all over the country are evaluating whether or not we as individuals can make those types of decisions during the worst global pandemic in over a century. Living in a prison, however, does not allow us the right to make those types of decisions. The ironic fact of the matter is that I want to protect myself from the virus, but can not do that based on my living situation. I live in a room with a grated door and have no control over the droplets that come into my living space. I have a mask, but no gloves, no disinfectant wipes, no paper towels. I have no way to distance myself from the officer handing me my food and my mail or the other people I live with who share a phone, shower, kiosk and laundry area with me. I can not socially distance myself from my roommate who may or may not practice good health hygiene, who sleeps directly above me on the top bunk. On the outside I could do a much better job keeping myself safe. I could make choices about risk and if I felt an activity was too risky, I could choose to skip it. Here I have no such choices. A lady I live with just tested positive for CV-19. How did she get it? We are mostly lifers in my housing unit. Clearly a staff member or officer brought the virus in and did not maintain safe practices while at work. Now we are all vulnerable to this virus no matter how many personal precautions we take. I wonder what will happen when Pennsylvania has access to a vaccine. Prisoners are as vulnerable a population as nursing home residents. Will we get immediate access to a vaccine? Or will society question our right to protect ourselves? We are human beings and should have the right to maintain our good health.

1. Immediate access to a vaccine as soon as one is available

2. Access to gloves

3. Access to disinfectant wipes

4. Require staff/ officers wear gloves when handling anything that will come in contact with incarcerated persons (meal trays, mail, supplies, etc.)

5. Expansion of Governor Wolf’s reprieve order to immediately release lifers over 65 years of age and all incarcerated persons with compromised immune systems or other serious health issues

6. Sanctions for staff, officers or contractors who refuse to abide by mask mandate

Thomas

“I do have mixed-feelings about sending this to post. Of course, I don’t want to contribute to people’s anxiety but…converting experience into art is what artist do. So.
Much love to everyone-be safe.”
Thomas Schilk’s page

Update from Tom 6/30/2020

Recently, Gov. Wolf’s administration claimed that people are better protected, in prison, from covid than the general public. Also that the mortality rate is 90% higher outside than inside. I believe that both statements are false.

According to the DOC, here at SCI-Phoenix we have had 46+ and, out of that number, 4 dead. That’s about an 8.5% mortality rate. If that’s 90% lower than the mortality rate out there then that rate would be around 76.5%! Of course, we all believe that the infection rate is much higher at Phoenix but because of a lack of testing the mortality rate could be skewed. Yet, its said that the infection rates out there are also grossly underreported. Again, a lack of testing. Either way, men in Phoenix have been much more likely to die if infected than the general population.That alone gives lie to the claim that we are “safer” in prison. Yet, there is more.

It is well documented that social isolation, lack of agency and uncertainty have a deleterious effect on people’s health. For those out there, who have suffered from social distancing, imagine that the area of your confinement has been your bathroom. Then, add to that, another person who may or may not be mentally stable. People here have suffered under such conditions for months and hardly can be said to be safer than those in the larger world. Yes, if the general public were locked in their bathrooms around the clock for months on end, their rates of infection would be lower. Yet, who would rationalise such a solution? And with the concomitant increase in insomnia, anxiety, depression and lowered immunity, it would be hard to convince many that they are somehow better off. We are not safer in prison.

It seems as if we are not safer from a lack of common sense, decency and empathy either.

My heart is with those in The Free People Strike. Your strength, your decency and your compassion is in stark contrast to that of our supposed leaders and is deeply felt.

Love and respect-

Update 12/4/20

Of course, people everywhere are suffering to some degree and, in that sense at least, we are not alone.

Due to an increase of cases here, at Phoenix, we were locked in our cells–their cells, actually–on Nov. 30th. No showers, no phone, no email and no mercy for three days until yesterday when we were finally allowed 45 minutes out to try to do all that we haven’t been allowed since last Sunday. While the stated purpose is to protect the men here and staff, there is a punishing aspect to it that is consistent with the overalls philosophy that has so many men, women and, tragically, children in prisons in the first place. Meanwhile, those who keep introducing the virus into the prison, exclusively staff, come and go as they wish and are financially benefitting from the situation as well. If they test +, they’re home with pay, if they’re cleared to work, there’s plenty of overtime available to soften that blow.

Of course I’m supportive of sick pay and don’t want anyone to suffer from covid or otherwise. Yet, those of us who have no ability to introduce or stop covid from entering the prison, suffer the worse while those who are responsible for it all, benefit the most. Again, this parallels the overall laws, policies and procedures endemic to the CJS on the whole. There is a virus that has long plagued our society and its not covid. Rather, it’s our ability to rationalize treating others how we ourselves would not want to be treated. Yes, everyone would be safer if locked in tiny rooms, yet, who could justify that? Still, that exact solution is unquestionably justified in prisons across this nation. Sadly, I see no vaccine for that particular disease on the near horizon.

Here and elsewhere, it’s going to be a long and dark Winter.

Darla

Update from 1/31/2021

I wanted to share with you that this UNIT that I reside on, “E-UNIT”, was placed on an ENHANCED Quarantine last week… During this period, a woman ended up complaining about “not feeling well”, days AFTER the quarantine was set… She’s been in the infirmary for a few days, and NOW today, around 1:00pm, she was RETURNED back to this Unit!! The Enhanced Quarantine has NOT been lifted, due to the 14 Days NOT being up yet… Reckless ACTIONS such as THIS, is exactly the reason WHY it is NOT SAFE here for ANY of US… NORMALLY, NO MOVES are to be made to a Unit that is under QUARANTINE… That is THEIR “Rules”, yet, they BREAK their own RULES when CONVENIENT for THEM… NOT US… This woman Stated that She was Exposed to Positive Cases while in the infirmary, yet, they made her come BACK here in the middle of a “quarantine”, without Mandating her to undergo a full 14 Days herself, due to her EXPOSURE, all because She doesn’t have a fever??? What about the fact that people can be ASYMPTOMATIC??? It’s a Possibility that she could be, and if that’s the case, they have now brought it over here… This is NOT covid PREVENTION… She left in the middle of a Quarantine, then returned BEFORE it was COMPLETE… She could have caught it, and NOW WE ALL are in jeopardy… This kind of NEGLECT must STOP!! They have Selected areas to place people whom either HAS it, or may have been Exposed, yet, they NEGLECT US by NOT utilizing those areas, CONSISTENTLY… They pick and choose WHEN and WHERE, then they “cover” up their NEGLIGENCE when need be… She also stated that the Woman that passed away, actually passed in the infirmary… Apparently, She came back from the hospital, and was pushing her emergency button for Pain Pills to NO Avail… Then, they LEFT her DEAD-BODY in the room for HOURS!!! This place is Sheer EVIL!! This is CONFIRMATION that just because we are in jail, WE MEAN NOTHING TO THEM…

Update from 9/27/2020

Unfortunately, we were locked down AGAIN, and this time, the UNIT that I’m on had certain Cells/Rooms, that were on “quarantine” status… Usually, they still let us Shower, get on the phone, and utilize the Kiosk machine for sending, and receiving Messages… Not this time… We were REALLY locked down because they had to wait for the COVID test results to come back… With all that said, I have been a little flustered with wondering if in fact anyone here actually had the Corona… I say this because their idea of “COVID Prevention” is absolutely NOT sufficient enough for ANY of us that have to be here…

Update from 11/13/2020

There are so many discrepancies when it comes to the covid “prevention” policies and procedures in a setting like this.. I PERSONALLY was affected by the RISK of being infected, due to having to go to an OUTSIDE facility, (Breast Health Center) and being forced to spend 2 weeks of Quarantine with a female here that went OUT to a totally SEPARATE appointment, in which EITHER of us could have came in contact with covid, then could have EASILY infected one another.. THAT should NOT have been considered covid “prevention” when the “excuse” for housing us TOGETHER was because “we BOTH had outside appointments on the SAME day. (August 24, 2020). There were MULTIPLE VACANT ROOMS AVAILABLE that would have accommodated Us to QUARANTINE in our OWN Space.. It’s bad enough that the officers and staff are BRINGING the virus in this institution, then for the parole violators to be brought in OFF THE STREETS is Absolutely NOT covid “PREVENTION”.. I work in the Kitchen and reside on a unit where on the 1st floor, there’s only ONE phone.. There has been times when I was DENIED the privilege to utilize even 1 of the 2 phone calls that we are ALLOWED to make, due to an officer NOT wanting this unit to utilize the phone after 8:15pm, even after the Administration Building Announced that “ALL UNITS ARE TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE PHONES UNTIL 2100 hours, (9:00pm), due to the PANDEMIC”.. I have been COMPLIANT all through this INJUSTICE, yet, it’s becoming quite TIRESOME when Our FAMILIES are all we have, so to be DENIED ACCESS to them, especially during a State of EMERGENCY is Outrageously WRONG.. I was even MANDATED to Work almost 16 hours, by being told that I will be sent to the Restricted Housing Unit, (R.H.U.-aka- The Hole) if I didn’t COMPLY with staying another work Shift after already COMPLETING My assigned Shift which is (5am to 1pm), and I wake up @ 3am.. This whole ordeal has been interpreted as a “punishment” due to the INCONSISTENCIES when dealing with “PREVENTION”

Update from 1/8/2021

Then with the way the staff are maneuvering when dealing with where to house people, it’s NEGLIGENT, because they are putting people that have had some kind of EXPOSURE in with people whom are NEGATIVE.. Then next thing you know, the one that had the exposure is being “MOVED” out of the cell, when in all actuality, they should have NEVER been made to move in!! This happens within DAYS of them moving in that they move back out.. WHY?? How is this ALLOWED, and how is this LEGAL?? The excuse they use is HIPPA, and we get that part.. The hypocrisy is when they blatantly mix people on covid-free units, knowing that we KNOW where they were housed prior to the move.. I guess that because we are “state property”, we have NO rights to our HEALTH either.. The details that pass out trays are not mandated to wear gloves, and they are assigned to clean the unit TOGETHER, yet all the details are in different cohorts, so that in itself is far from, covid “prevention”.. Right now, I am in a cell with a 69 year old woman, and our toilet has been out of service for 8 days.. Due to the new “saving water” technique, the institution has installed these buttons for flushing that are on a timer, so if you flush twice, it LOCKS for 1 hour.. Well, the sensor has malfunctioned, so the toilet no longer flushes at all.. Now, in order to flush, I have to fill up buckets of water to rid of the waste… This place is HORRIBLE

Mark

My experience so far as a person sentenced to Death by Incarceration (Life without parole) during this pandemic has been miraculously stranger than I would have expected. Knowing that I’m condemned to die in prison some way, somehow, some day, I failed to imagine the possibility of being killed by a virus sweeping the Earth like in a Sci-fi movie. Yes, everyone is susceptible to this virus, free or incarcerated though, sitting here knowing that there’s no social distancing for incarcerated people, and that the medical assistance is almost nonexistent, my slow wait for death has become that much more menacing. I’m constantly sad for the elders that have spent 25, 30, 40, some even over 50 years in prison transforming themselves into extraordinary individuals that would our communities need. Elders that will not make it out of this pandemic because we’ve not yet said as a society that at some point, vengeance, retribution, and hate reaches an end. That at some point, it all defeats the purpose, that at some point, no justice can be found at all. I feel for everyone across this Earth during this trying time, and I hope this brings us all closer as human beings as well as enhances our care for one another.

There is some demands that I believe should be made on behalf of incarcerated people during Covid and suggestions on how precautions could be handled better. I believe that as incarcerated people the decline of our mental health and physical health should be in higher regard when these administrations decide what restrictions will be implemented in these facilities. Locking people in there cells for over 20 hours a day for so called safety reasons due to Covid should be scrutinized and not widely accepted as sufficient procedure to reduce the spread of Covid. We live in a bubble and have no contact with the outside world accept for contact with staff that should be taking the highest level of precautions to prevent any spread of the virus. It should not be accepted that keeping us locked in a cell all day stops the spread of Covid especially where there’s no one infected. It’s almost nine months and my body and mind has suffered due to the extreme stagnation we’re subjected to. There are those who are forced to work but are told that they have missed their allotted few minutes to call their families and take a shower a day when they return to the block. The level of arbitrary punishment being passed as precaution is overwhelming without an end in sight. An affirmation that incarcerated people are human and should be permitted at least 2 hours out of a closet sized space with another full grown individual just to move around and stretch a bit, not only for our physical but mental health as well. 

Darrick

Why Not GTL Wi-Fi?

I do not understand why the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is fighting the advent of the 21st Century so vehemently??? GTL is already integrated into the system. Yet the PADOC refuses to use the secure system that the Federal Bureau of Prisons; NJDOC; DEDOC; Montgomery County Jail; Erie County Jail and many other correctional facilities use. I am speaking of WiFi. GTL has WiFi capabilities that is already a part of their kiosk system. The security and monitoring capability is still the same as we have on the current telephone and email system. By enabling the WiFi via GTL’s kiosk it would allow the tablet to be used for emails and telephone calls. Staff will still be able to securely monitor and control all calls and emails; it will eliminate the spread of germs by reducing the amount of people touching and handling the telephones and kiosk; Prisoners will only be able to contact people on their approved telephone and email list as currently enforced; it would cut down on maintenance repair for the telephones and kiosk; and the convenience of it all will free up staff for other pertinent task. PADOC has embraced the use of ZOOM for video visits. Why not WiFi via GTL’s secured and proven system that PADOC already uses?

Patricia

Update from 12/28/20

You wouldn’t believe what they are doing in here. We all got a Covid test on the 15th, they moved about 30 positives to the adjoining unit (BB), moved about 20 of them over here, end the next day brought 2 more over. Then Sat am, a CO told is the ones packing were negative, & moving to LB. The next morning they started calling a few names, & moved them back to BB. That night a few more. We were freaking out b/c we were thinking we were negative. Sun around 3, my name is called w/about 6 more, back to the unit I was moved from (different room) & in w/someone from BB. So in last month or so, I’ve had about 6 roommates, 2 units & 5 roommates from various units. This after 2 previous massive moves to put people in the same work group rooms! To date, I’ve yet to be told my results from medical. They literally mixed the whole campus up. In this unit there’s at least at least 6 different unit mixes. I swear they’re trying herd immunity. We’re on quarantine now until 29th, 14 days from our Covid test. Problem is, most of us had it in Nov, long past 14 days. 1 airlifted, on vent.

Update from 12/15/20

As far as the Covid thing, I can tell you being on a 23½ hour a day lock down, is not healthy for anyone. That’s what we get put on if anyone “seems” like they might be sick. 30 minutes to shower, use phone, wash out clothes, sink tablet! This is for 72+ hours. If they come back positive, 14 days! Now keep in mind, it’s not like being locked in your home. It’s like being locked in your bathroom, literally, w/a plywood board over your tub. There’s days you don’t shower, until they set up a schedule! And a lot of buildings are recycled air. So, how’s this healthy, physically or mentally? Sometimes I’m scared to send emails with everything, for fear they won’t get to you. But if that starts happening, I’ll write to you! I actually just recently received a questionnaire about treatment in covid. We hate to complain to people “out there,” as we see it on TV, & how darn hard it is on everyone. I’ve heard, rumor, we may be over 40 cases, plus even more in staff! Its changed out “jobs,” if we work. Changed how we move, get meds, eat, everything! Our cage has got smaller. Well, we are going to be going on a quarantine situation again! They called everyone back to the unit yesterday afternoon, then we had a new recorded announcement on the TV last night. It means being out the room 45 minutes a day total, at scheduled times again, for a shower, phone call, kiosk, and to wash clothes! And, we have no control over the times. It will be a rotating schedule. They left out any information about if we’d have any visits or not. But, they did say it would be until February!! Meals on unit, meds on unit, no school or Cosmo, no work (pretty much) except kitchen workers. Once fully implemented, I probably can only sink to receive/send messages once a day, unless someone else can sink it for me during the day. They said it was a State/DOC wide issue. I don’t know what they’ll post on the web site. I don’t know if there are any visits yet, or not, but doubt there will be for long, if there still are any. This is just so bad on everyone mentally. And no one out there cares much, as we are “just an inmate.” But if people watch how unnerving people get out there bring locked in their house, imagine it being just your bathroom! And, no one out there has to do it twice! We did 3 months! I doubt anyone will come out of this the same again. I’m sure we’ll be the last one to get the vaccine, too, as the nursing homes & front line workers need it first. They say by June, everyone will have the opportunity. We’ll all be ready for a mental hospital by then, which this great state doesn’t have anymore!! They closed them & sent all their patients here! They’re drugged pretty much normally in the day to day, but I wonder if they feel this? This just needs to end.

Right now I’d just like people to know that “we,” as “inmates” are very concerned for our families, friends, and all the health care workers we see on television. We actually feel so helpless. I even asked if our sewing factory could take volunteers working on weekends, to make some masks for the nurses and such. There are just so many hands in here, now locked down, that could be helping. But, some citizens get upset if an “inmate” makes something they’ll use. We used to make the small flags that go on veterans graves, until we got complaints inmates made them. My Dad is buried in NC, in a military grave. I don’t think I’d of ever cared “who” made a flag for his grave, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t of either. Maybe it is time for the stigma of inmates to change. We are all in this together.

Darrick

Quarantine/Solitary Confinement Tips

As one who was confined to solitary confinement for more than two decades in a small bathroom with a bed, I know first hand how being deprived of social interaction can cause someone to go stir crazy. For me, there wasn’t any access to ZOOM, social media, Netflix, internet, Candy Crush, Words with Friends or anything of that sort… Still isn’t. Just four walls, some bars, imagination and The CREATOR. I tell you this because I know each and every one of you are stronger and resilient than you can imagine. I got through it by focusing on my relationship with The CREATOR and finding ways to stimulate my mind. I read a lot, learned Spanish, now Hebrew, tapped into my ingenuity which resulted in a patent, and just tried to stay busy with the limited resources available. I am aware that everyone is different, have different interest and different thought patterns. So I urge everyone to utilized every resource at your disposal and play to your particular strength and interest. Do something you never had time to do before. Learn a new language, learn a life saving technique, tap into your creative and artistic side… Who knows, you may invent something society needs or save a life someday??? Step out into your back yard, while maintaining social distancing of course, and soak up some much needed sunlight. But most importantly, if you believe in The CREATOR, work on strengthening your relationship. We will get through this. Let’s all try to come out of this better people than we were before. To all of the doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers and all essential workers that are putting their lives on the line while tirelessly attending to our needs…

Sarita

Update from 12/15/2020

The unit that my unit is connected with is totally shut down that unit had over 50 people and the whole unit is shut completely down with signs on the door Jackie Massey has been in prison over 30 years she was very ill to began with now she is not doing well at all and may have to go to an outside hospital. For a few days I felt sick like headaches, stomach upset but it only lasted a few days and other women have been complaining of similar symptoms but for the most part we are okay. When I think about Jackie I hurt for her because we go way back. Why won’t they let deserving lifers out?

Update from 12/1/2020

I want to express I’m pissed off with the Gov & commutation board blatant, insensitivity to elderly population of lifers who are sick crippled and dying miserably slow under an uncaring & vile prison medical administration. On April 10th the Gov. issued an order of reprieve across Pa. state prisons for non violent offenders & high risk inmates who would be fatally affected if Covid 19 were to rum rampant through the prison so many of our elderly lifers are suffering from chronic illness most live in the infirmary and r hopefully hanging on still waiting for deliverance through the commutation process. The growing # of Covid cases are rising here at Muncy and yet the commutation process is turning in ignorant bliss by the recent denials during the merit reviews of women and men who have spent decades in prison. What happened to the promises made by certain authorities within the DOC who said they believe in second chances? How atrocious it is to inflict false hope into an environment where most people have none my prayers r that those of high authority who are able to override political selfish decisions take a stand of mercy for the sick, deserving redeemed lifers specifically during this pandemic. I plead with legislators and our Gov to remember that we all will one day stand in front of the Most Highest Court of our God & please think deeply on his words James 2:13 judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful Mercy triumphs over judgment.

My roommate was taken to the infirmary she tested positive for the virus she showed no symptoms she was tested on Friday 11-27-20 cause she is leaving soon and it came back positive today so we are on advanced quarantine women are scared one lady was sharing e cigarettes with her and she had the CO call medical to get emergency tested and they told her no one is getting tested unless they show symptoms crazy!!!!! the prison is telling everyone that we need not worry because most of the people here are A symptomatic but if I’m not mistaken they can still infect others we are in a completely open unit sharing bathrooms. It’s sad that with all the rises in death in the prisons they still fail to let eligible elderly sick lifers go bringing in people fresh off the streets just to keep their numbers up!

Update from 5/3/2020

THIS MORNING: This morning I awoke silence flooded my dorm which is usually crammed with multiple expressions of negatively, hopeless agitation filled by sheer boredom as the voices of 60 plus females scream insults at one another. However my escape is the presence of the Lord He is a shield around me. Psalm 3:3. The shield of the Lord can also be referred to the protection we need against this coronavirus. This invisible death that came from out of no where. Suddenly and without mercy it has shut down the nations in fear. But there is One who is merciful and One who is Holy and One who sits at the right hand of the Father who reigns over the earth from his mighty throne. As I read the Book of Joel, the Lord revealed to me the significants of his ancient words to what is happening today. The book of Joel beginning in the first chapter speaks of locust that had completed destroyed the vineyards, trees and fields. Joel 1: 7-10. As I read this the Holy Spirit allowed me to compare it to the devastation that is happening now caused by this virus.

Like the locust in biblical times this virus has swept over the land causing extreme panic and death, people are facing hunger and financial ruin under the cloud of suspicions. Some people may say that this virus started in China. I’ve heard some say that it’s the world’s governments unleashing some sort of population control, others say its germ warfare created in a secret military lab. All of these rumors spread through uneducated guesses have led astray people into panic and prone to violence. Asian Americans are being physically assaulted and scrutinized by ignorant mobs or vigilantes who look for someone or something to blame, even our own President seems clueless. Could it be the answers we seek to give us understanding of this predicament, are already written in the Word of God. Throughout the Bible we read stories of nations who were brought down and annulated by the wrath of God because of wickedness and rebellion. Genesis 6: The Flood, Genesis 19: Sodom and Gomorrah and that’s only scraping the surface. Since the beginning we as human beings have committed many travesties in the sight of God. When we read the Bible the same sins and rebellious natures were committed centuries ago as they are in this present age. The devil does not change the game just the players. However because our Creator is always in control and Merciful, he sometimes allow serious devastation so that we as a people will turn back to him, in repentance and recognize our great need for the Almighty’s help, power and blessings. Some might say, “well why does he have to allow such extreme measures in order to get our attention.” Honestly if we would take a serious look at the world today and then realize how out of control it is. The Bible speaks of it in 2 Timothy Chp 3 godlessness in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud , abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous without self control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasures than loving God. This world is filled with spiritual darkness deception and seduction. Selfishness, egotistical thinking, insatiable desires for power, envy, hate, revenge, filthy language and sexual lust and impurities that have spilled over to the sex trade of our stolen children. Television and entertainment are portraying satanic worship as some sort of game, substance abuse is out of control followed by ungodly relationships. I express these things not to pass judgment on anyone, but to be transparent in my sins and faults and I openly admit that I at one time I had partaken much in most of those behaviors and because of my disobedience here I sit. However in Joel 1:5 our Lord commands us to “Wake up!” Be humble , gather together in prayer, repentance and fasting. Because God has a readiness to turn back his wrath and restore mercy, compassion on people who are humble. THE LORD WILL ANSWER ! THE LORD WILL TAKE PITY ON US! GOD HEARS AND RESPONSES. HE CAN REVERSE PANDEMIC. Haven’t we already seen his mercy and grace through the release of so many prisoners who were condemned to die. God will refresh our world and release his blessings. But we must do our part and turn to him in total praise. This message may not reach everyone, if it doesn’t may God make it clear to you. But for those whom the Lord’s spirit lives within, may your faith be strengthen in these times of difficultly and your hearts healed and know that God is in control. God bless everyone Sarita Miller.

Matthew

Right now this experience is terrible in regards to COVID institutionally. There is no real empathy and what gets titled preventative measures only translates as punitive sanctions imposed, where we are absolutely locked down all day, not checked on at all in some moments and definitely not frequently by medical staff administration and psychologists. Everything seems to resort to I don’t know, it’s not me etc. It’s scary sometimes but all I can do is be my best. I volunteer and work in here to safe guard myself and contemporaries as well as safe with me deep cleaning the pod with bleach and other chemicals, phones, doors and tables, sweeping, mopping scrubbing. I try to always infuse myself in being a part of the solution oppose to just complaining, though I wasn’t trained or formally educated on COVID cleaning I still risk my well being trying to make it safer.

Update 11/22/2020

To everyone this may concern. I was asked to speak or write something brief referencing COVID and the ramifications it has had on prisoners. Anyone who has been to prison can tell you this is not the place to get sick. From broken bones to surgeries I have experienced in prison, surely I ran across some medical staff that were genuinely helpful. I make mention of this to help paint the picture that I am not just writing because I am disturbed by these people and their overall lack of empathy, but I really was spiritually preparing myself for the worst at the initial stages of this pandemic. Things started like this. 

First there was a lock down which had everyone nervous and marveling at the time frame, preparing themselves for a short struggle. Yet I started seeing how this was turning into the removal of certain amenities and liberties. I watched as guards were infuriated by having to prepare and serve food which seemed as though there was a food shortage because the food bags were not fitting for the consumption of no male adult. A sense of urgency for excuses were often given to why we didn’t get a shower or phone call together. If this is supposed to be to save a life then why aren’t the guards cleaning more, being aware of changing gloves, being aware of housing prisoners who contracted COVID away the men that haven’t been exposed or tested positive. I have literally had verbal confrontations with staff about how important it is that I am afforded toilet paper when I have to use the bathroom and their retort was some asinine statement about them not having the proper authority to give it to me.

Encounters like that is what has given me pause and anxiety where I perspire profusely in the pit of the arms because I am often worried about an outbreak and just treated as it is my fault like i did something wrong. I have seen positive COVID cases being really disregarded and even been mixed in with cohorts that don’t have any positive cases. Yet the staff are always mindful of the time for a prisoner to go back in their cells or other things to make this as much as a punitive ordeal as it can possibly be. Since the pandemic there has been a lot of 23 and 1 days. The whole COVID equation is that we lost the ability to get daily fresh air with the current restrictions on the chow hall. The walk from the block to the chow hall is relatively a few hundred feet away still the small liberty of fresh air was removed. one has to try and fathom the fact of  a human being not getting any constant fresh air.

There has been moments where I couldn’t communicate with loved ones because of the hours of the phone calls. no school for real, no psychologists consistently making rounds identifying themselves as mental health care, assisting with individuals that already have in most instances mental health issues, when you have no one to vent to, when the virtual visits specifically now always has a problem for the 45 minutes your allotted. Now they have designated days and times for certain areas of the prison for the visits. The fact was removed that maybe Tuesday at 8:30am wasn’t a good time to virtually be visited by your loved one. Maybe work or other elements hinder this person from that. Exercise is little to none and the attitudes and energy of staff aren’t conducive to teaching manners and emotional support. 

We’ve seen the world having discussions about the negative affects of COVID, about the importance of staying in their homes socially distancing. Now add that with the frustration of being counted amongst hundreds, but personally feeling alone. And just say the word prison and tell me what idea comes to your head when you hear that word used at any time. Now that there is no real movement I never hear guards complain. Before we actually was doing the work in all capacities in the institutions. So we was out and about. Now the staff have learned to circumvent the system to allow them to be able to lay back, essentially milk the clock, and go home. I can deeply consider that feelings of older prisoners or men and woman with health issues. I know their families aren’t feeling content in their hearts knowing that being in prison puts them at great risk. Many should learn what’s really transpiring in prison a place where a stab wound may get youMotrin and a pandemic may get you isolated and confined even more. 

We see the hospitals overwhelmed, essential workers and what I learned is prisons never considered the humane approach on dealing with concerned family members whom have been spoken to very rudely on more then one occasion and in situations weren’t even answered. It’s one thing to treat me as I been treated for decades, but now that the public may hear more stories depicting the version the people seldom get to hear, my goal is to get people aware of this all. We have all these spokesman conveying to the general public about what’s going on institutionally, but who aren’t entertaining the platforms they stand upon with the truth. For some this pandemic was a trip on death row. For some it’s getting us closer to our creator and what’s important, and for others it’s loss, it’s turmoil, it’s constant uneasiness. My name is Matthew Garcia reporting live from behind the walls and fences.

J. Lopez

This is the questions I am asking is the restrictions/punishment for Prisoners worst than the cov-19 Epidemic??? We the Social Justice Communities have research Studies and Data from reputable Universities & Colleges that ones and again shows that the Majority of individuals in Prisons come from Traumatized communities, tormented souls sometimes by the very same bureaucrats that are in positions to keep their knees on the neck of the people they supposed to serve, Mental Health sufferers most of the times undiagnosed for life, Opiates/Drugs Ex-Addicts and members of communities not paid attention to due to the Dehumanization, Systematic Racism & Simplistic Biases of appointed/elected officials when it comes to at Risk communities & Prisoners/Felons and Females and they don’t received the proper attention by the media, the national headlines or the proper agencies and in that case care of the basic Human Rights. Due to the disconnect and out of touch with reality reality from Policymakers and service providers with the people they serve. The reality is that more damage is been implemented to individuals by the commonwealth by just Locking/Punishing people up for 22½ hours a day for months & months, if individuals don’t have a outlet we are Suffering Mental Trauma over over & over again for being treated like we did something bad and don’t know what we did. This is the same reasons we been speaking against solitary confinement; they are punishing us with no violations or offenses of the penal code been committed. Our Mental Heath and our Physical Health is been attack and is deteriorating by being confined to a 8by12 space for 2 people for long periods of times this is a Humans Rights Violation Period. 

My opinion on the operations at SCI Phoenix is that this administration needs to adopt a bubble style atmosphere quarantine the staff coming in and out, rapid tested with results on the spot and on the spot quarantine after a positive, with phone or wrist bands tracers to ensure that they are not bringing the virus inside the way they have been and to make sure they are not violating mitigating restrictions.

Sylvia

As for COVID here we have cases staff and inmates, the mask they give us to wear do not fit our face, so its like we have no mask on, we have people coming in from county jails, my roommate just came from county, I been here 29 years, with underlying medical conditions, I don’t feel this is safe, then we don’t have proper cleaning supplies, we need Lysol, clorox wipes, staff coming in is scary, they don’t want to wait to sanitize the phones and showers between use, I feel lifers, over 60 with underline medical conditions should get commutation try to get the high risk out of here.

Kenneth

Many of the kitchen workers that come back to their cells after working eight hour shifts do not always get a chance to shower, and it’s becoming more frequent. They’re having to endure wearing clothes that have food in/on them from previous days worn. Reason why this can be considered a problem is be cause these same clothes they have worked in, they also wear as leisure clothes. This environment also puts them at risk because it exposes them to other cell blocks where people may have COVID, and they are not able to shower, all this after touching dirty trays. This is occurring due to the fact they are not receiving more than a couple of sets of clothes, but are being asked to work between 5-7 days a week. Not to mention if they have cellmates…

Clinton “Nkechi”

Beware the Trojan Horse

For years there’s been whispers of the DOC wanting to make most of the state prisons in PA a 23 and 1 lockdown. 23 and 1 meaning 23hrs of limited movement and 1hr of controlled recreation. It’s always been written off by us behind these walls and gates as something far fetched. The DOC wouldn’t dare attempt such a venture. Don’t they know what could potentially happen! The endeavor would be so out of the norm, so shocking to the mind and body that incarcerated individuals would resist the practice in any and every way, from mobilizing their loved ones on the outside to physical resistance inside.

Those factors always kept that 23 and 1 in the same realm of ridiculousness as the DOC embracing compassionate values, such as allowing conjugal visits or furloughs again.

But what no one expected was a highly contagious global virus to ravage literally anybody in its space, uprooting all norms, shocking the mind and body, and allowing a path for the unimaginable.

Befitting the powers that be, on a lesser but familiar turf as 9-11 and surveillance, social media and privacy, that old Trojan horse tactic of goodwill seems to be at play. You know, when a gift is wheeled in the midst of battle only to find out that gift is hostile in nature.

Since Covid-19 became a real threat in the DOC, the administration at SCI-Rockview has been inadequate at what’s suppose to be transparent video recordings. These videos usually give the number of new Covid cases in the prison —which is widely underreported, instruct us on cleaning procedures that the prison body themselves no longer take seriously, and inform us on the structural changes being made in the prison. These structural changes has been suffocating with its snatching of space and mobility.

The perimeter around the entire prison has been brought inwards of 10 to 20 feet, and mini yards has been fenced outside of almost every housing unit. The main yard has been reduced in size and at the same time sectioned off in 3 parts. There has been 3 zones established in the prison with each zone equip with newly built medical stations, disallowing as much interaction as possible and further propagating a sense of aloneness. Yet, on emphasize in these recordings that it’s because of Covid that these changes has been implemented while also ensuring us that THESE CHANGES WILL CONTINUE TO FIND THEMSELVES USEFUL when this virus is under control. The, what I call, fork tongued info dumps usually conclude with another attempt at sincerity by reminding us that these changes and efforts are being adopted to protect not only their staff, but us prisoners alike.

Trojan horse! Trojan horse! Trojan horse!

Under the guise of Covid precautions we’re being force feed the false pretense that this institutions swaddling is to protect us. Where if true protection was the objective then those funds that have been used for agents of isolation, would have been used for stronger freedom from worry by instituting regular Covid testing of personnel and prison occupants. It would’ve been used for continuous supply of bleach and other germ killing disinfectants, or maybe used for more qualified individuals to go further, rewrite and honor the initial reprieve that was issued to reduce potential Covid infections in the DOC in the first place.

When I think of a Trojan horse in this situation, I think of the 2018 DOC implementation of Smart Communications mailing restrictions for so-called “staff & inmate protection”. I think of the soon to be new on-tablet phone feature which render motion less needed. I think of the administrations raving of the popularity of video visits that’s the antithesis to warmth and comfort. I think of the trickery used in tandem with this pandemic o …permanently restrict access and movement. And with these factors it’s no longer ridiculous, in my eyes, to believe that 23 and 1 for PA prisons could be the true intent once the Trojan horse is comfortably wheeled into the walls and gates of its perceived enemy.

Why should a 23 and 1 lockdown in the DOC be of concern to society? Simply because human connections can encourage and strengthen good qualities while lack of human connection will do the opposite. No different than an infant who’s constantly bound and denied the progress of their human functions to feel, to express and understand their surroundings, so too is the consequences of an incarcerated morally maturing person who’s being hindered.

With restricting interaction and movement, our natural maturation is stifled in away that we’re less able to connect our feelings, express our experiences, and understand how we interconnect with one another. Contrary to what some may believe, us on the inside are not sitting and plotting on ways to destroy our communities. Many of us recognize our wrongs and try to work though our warp way of thinking by communication and companionship. Only through interaction can we develop companionship in here, and through companionship can we develop unselfish understanding and empathy, and through unselfish understanding and empathy can we develop remorse, and only through remorse can we leave incarceration better people than when we came in.

Without these opportunities and where isolation is apart of the equation, the ripple effect could be high doses of incarcerated individuals returning to their communities in a state of regression, with a sense of aloneness, self centeredness, and carelessness. All of which are ingredients for recidivism.

Any exercising of unnecessary restrictions by the DOC, especially without practicing the alternative, should be frowned upon by our communities, in the name of our communities, and for the sake of our communities.

Ms. Roddy

That same evening the officer called everyone to our doors and announced they were moving us around. She called off over 30 names, including mines to move to another room. We found out, we were being put back in cohorts, as we had been subjected shortly after we found out about covid19 back in March. Now, they want everyone who works in various places in the prison to live in those sections with others who also at the same places. Kitchen workers, sewing factory workers, unit workers, etc. So, each group is identified by a number and can only come out at designated times with that group for 45 minutes, to shower, use the kiosks, and make a phone call, then, you’re in your rooms the rest of the day. All of this is unnecessary, everyone in my unit has been around each other for the whole pandemic, no one has been effected. Whenever anyone has to go to the out side hospital they’re quarantined for 14 days when they return, in a unit for that purpose only. My issue with that is, the officers who goes on these outside trips with the inmates aren’t quarantined.

Felix

Covid has ushered in a new era in ‘corrections’ that has turned the clock back to nineteenth century penitentiary conditions: locked in cells all day only coming out in small groups for periods of minutes, no leaving the cell blocks, no school, no programming, no religious services, no walking to the chow hall, meals brought to the cell. And this isn’t stopping any time soon. Some of it is related to covid, but much of it seems to just be the kind of lockdown and separation they’ve been wanting to do here at Phoenix since we got here but just weren’t able to. My whole thing is this: If we’re going to do time like we’re in the 1800s, then let’s also sentence like back then. The whole thing needs to turn back, not just the conditions inside.

In terms of human rights, everyone has the right to choose to isolate or do whatever is necessary to stay covid-free. In prison, this is simply impossible. I hardly know anyone who hasn’t been infected yet. Fortunately the symptoms are mostly mild. So my number one human right in this context has to be freedom.

Charles Karim

Once the disease was known to be deadly, the state has an obligation to protect us from the deadly virus. It is well known there is no known vaccine for it. At that point, the state prison system had a legal obligation to cease accepting new prisoners from the counties. The action would have protected the 46,000 men and women from being infected.In the mean time. the state could have used national guard to build structure to hold new prisoners. Instead we have processed new  prisoners, at camp hill, and then moving these persons throughout Pennsylvania state prisons. Secondly, once Covid v19 is discovered on a housing unit, there is no testing for the men on the housing unit. The entire housing unit should be tested in order to track the spread of it, so it can be contained in that area.Also have guards who worked on that housing unit. If this is not done we are going to end up with 75% or more of the prison population infected with Covid 19.Once this happens, prisoners who show no signs, carry the virus. The virus will spread even more.

Thirdly, prisoners need to be educated about vaccine. The rumors are already spreading against it. If there is no reduction of the prison population, everything we say about Covid 19 means very little. Human beings are spreading this virus. We were on lockdown three times, each time we had a outbreak, it happened after we received these shipments of human beings from another state prison, Camp Hill!! Twice the bus came from camp hill. It use to be called WHITE HILL WHEN I WAS THERE AS a juvenile. We were so bad, they stopped courting putting children juveniles there and it became an adult prison. Prisoners should not be under a death sentence!

Covid 19 has no limit in its destruction. Men bare sitting cells sick afraid to complain, because they telling the men they will be out in isolation for a long time and may be transferred. The men will refuse further attention to the alleged cold or flu symptoms. They lay in bed wanting to believe it is just a cold. These men are short-term prisoners, some are six months, a year short of going home. those serving long terms, DBI ARE truly serving a death sentence. Covid 19 has medically made DBI fact, not a slick slogan! Twenty percent of the population are Senior citizens. The question and answer can compounded in one breathe. Release this population of women and men.The Executive Order would be in order with the States bragging speeches that Human Beings have the right to Life. It is argued that the state has abrogating its position that all life is sacred. We have stop allowing the state to appear that prisoners have no rights, that the state will respect, even their life. The judge sentenced citizens to a specific sentence. not death. The judge did not have any questioning that this person would die in state custody due to policy and political games. Thus, resentencing for all Pennsylvania persons should be a legal remedy for us.

We live a system that men and women in power hardly never do the right action. Especially, when the remedy is massive justice, to a large number of citizens, who never receive any benefits from democratic capitalism.

The entire machine is operating on that foundation, and unfortunately, the conversation is lost bin security and not substantive fundamental constitutional principles, at least the framers, started off with and discussed in the building of this republic. We have to form arguments bringing them back to the founding father’s concepts.

The state should stop receiving new prisoners.This is killing us.They are bringing the disease from the streets, to the county prison, to the state prisons. We are catching it from guards and new prisoners. How else do we catch it? As long as the state continues to accept these new persons, we are going to continue the out breaks. Each time we have an outbreak, it happens after we get a BUS LOAD OF NEW MEN.

1. REDUCE POPULATION IN EACH PRISON, SO THE DOUBLE CELLING CAN COME DOWN significantly.

2. Persons who have two years left before seeing the parole board, give them early emergency medical release.

3. Parole those who have twenty years or more in prison.

4. Grant a one time Commutation/pardon for Lifers who are 50 or older, who have served twenty five years or. more. Fast track the elderly and those prone to Covid. Parole those in wheelchair bound.

5. Start an earned. time reduction of sentence system that is retroactive. This will instantly provide numbers of people to be eligible for parole.

6.With these various tools to reduce death, disease, and save money, the two people in a cell can come to an end. The state could call this THE GREAT JUBILEE REFERENCE TO THE BIBLE PASSAGE. IT IS EVERY CERTAIN TIME IN HISTORY THE GOVERNMENTS, EMPTY THE PRISONS OUT. FORGIVES ITS CITIZENS THEIR CRIMES AND LIFE STARTS FRESH a new beginning.When will America start a new beginning. As the Pandemic continues, America is starting a New economic and national systems for the country. But nothing changes for the millions who languish in prison and third millions who come into prisons yearly. The failed system of human degradation continues to mold lives into a land of wasted potential, simply BECAUSE we have growth to hate, using the color of law as a hiding place to hurt people.

The solution or part of reducing death and sickness is releasing prisoners. This could be done in various ways. Paroling men and women who are two years away from their parole date. Release elderly men women on petiole. Medical release those who are prone to catching Covid. A 84 year old man died coast week Covid.

Begin paroling persons who have served twenty five years or more. The state ought to strive to reduce the prison population to one Person per cell. As of date if your Cellie had Covid 19. they move him to infirmary but YOU stay in the cell and intermingle with the other people on your housing area! They brought three busload of men from Camp Hill about a month ago, put them on the housing units and my BLOCK JB AND JA BLOCK BREAKS OUT WITH COVID 19. WE ARE LOCKDOWN. We do not need new prisoners. The guards and new prisoners are killing us with this disease. Those of us have been in prison forever, are sitting here literally for others to poison us to death!

Are we going to get vaccine ? Our lockdown causes mental healthcare deterioration, and other ills that come from lack of movement. Most persons sleep all day, watch TV all night. Everyone has gained weight! Men sleep all day simply to avoid thinking about the unknown.Men are ill, but sleeping it off and in denial. All they want to do is come out of lockdown and mingle with each other.This is going to spread it.We are going to remain in lockdown at least year I think. It is the only way to CONTAIN IT. I AM JUST SICK OF HAVING A CELLIE. IT IS inhumane TO LIVE IN A BATHROOM WITH ANOTHER MAN. IT IS NOT EVEN ROOM FOR ONE!

The confinement is just like the hole. The only protection we have is lockdown but so many ilks are produced from confinement especially when older. Older persons must exercise keep blood flowing in the legs to maintain heart rate. Laying down dreaming about prior happy times, will not bring them back into existence. What else does one do in confinement, but dream! Nobody is going to never discuss or tell you the effects of locked in a bathroom with another man. Prison life brings deep Shane and mental problems.

The state could give us free books. Better TV programs on our in-house station. They should also have cable company give us more stations. That would help. They continue to pay us our monthly pay I appreciate that.

Next they should furlough some us home until the covid pandemic is under control. Additionally begin a Population Reduction across the board and reduce a persons parole time if they maintain good behavior .

There has been 1766 covid cases a statewide and confirmed 36 prisoners have died and two staff have died,

This lockdown is depressing, unhealthy, deteriorating.

I am staying safe as I can. I need freedom.

Rell

This is really starting to weigh on me, psychologically, emotionally as well as physically. The weird thing about all of this is, they keep telling us that they are taking these measures to keep us healthy, but the measures that are employed makes us unhealthy, I mean physically unhealthy, I’ll be 52 in two months, I suffer from hypertension and high cholesterol which can be exacerbated by inactivity and stress, since they’ve implemented this lock down in March I had to have my medication increased. The inactivity, and the stress is literally making me sick, which for me can be just as deadly as the virus.

I think the problem is; the first, last and only response to any kind of crisis within the D.O.C. is punitive even when the intention is not. Because our humanity has been systematically diminished those who are charged with keeping us safe never utilize the kind of thought that is required to keep us healthy as well as safeguard our humanity. Because we are the other, there is no incentive to consider anything other than a punitive reaction, there is no thought given to other alternatives that can be used in a crisis not of our making. One of the things that would really help with social distancing would be to allow us to use our tablets to call our loved ones like they do in Montgomery County jail.

Update from 12/15/20

So, these idiots about two weeks ago, during the height of this surge allowed the shop workers back to work. Now the chickens have come home to roost, we went from no cases to at least four all the cases are guys or their cellies who went to work, but those are just the cases they know about. So now we’re back to fifteen minutes a day, showers one day the phone the next. Its been nine months now for the sake of our mental health this has got to end soon!!!

Yahya

While inside of this place, there are times when a person can become overwhelmed with being strong. For some people, strength requires a level of presence void of any peripheral senses. Whatever is to the left or right gives way to what is before them; and whatever is before them is crumbled into a minute by minute view. Within this view, the necessity to ignore hurt and pain blinds one from the reality that they are human, not a robot. During times of lockdown (COVID -19), a person’s strength is challenged. Suddenly, the level of presence that has enabled one to survive doesn’t work too well. While confine to a cell, the wall to the left of a person only gives way to the wall of the right of them; and whatever is before them is no longer a minute by minute view. It then, becomes a month by month, possibly year view, with no clearer vision. And then, an email from a friend arrives. And then another, and another. Instantly, one is reminded that the strength in being human is the ability to feel, to have compassion, and empathize. Thank you for being a friend. Reaching out to us means a lot, and it matters…

Rob

Friends of mine have died from Covid. In prison & out but you know what will never change? How we are treated. We get the lowest & cheapest quality medical care. There is no accountability. We need to work as a team in order to accomplish what we want & need. Our voice can be pretty powerful but we don’t use it as 1. Sec. Wetzel believes locking down is the answer, its proven not to work.” Things could’ve been betters safer, if the doc would have stopped all transfers period. Released the 12,000+ identified for the governors reprieve & gave as many prisoners as possible single cells. My block guard was just guarding a prisoner from sci Smithfield at a hospital in Dubois, Pa. He is dying of Covid. My block guard was with him for 14 days. He came back to the prison workout being tested. He worked for 1 day, now he is out while he is tested & awaits his results.

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