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 💪🏾
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.
Update from 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 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-
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.