US: Dispatches on resistance to the pandemic inside prison walls

Car protest outside a prison

It’s been nearly two weeks since we sat down to collect the stories of how COVID-19 has torn through the US prison system and how resistance has been raging on both the inside and the outside. In that time, several states have begun to talk about “reopening” their economies as they push the lie that the curve is about to flatten. Meanwhile, inside prisons, jails, and detention centers the infection rate has continued to double as the horrors of worsening conditions and lack of care continue to mount.

COVID As You Are

Across the federal prison population, we have seen a dramatic increase in cases throughout the more than 100 facilities. As of April 21st, there have been 540 federal prisoners and 323 staff who have tested positive for COVID-19. Officially, 23 people have died while being held in federal custody, however, that number is likely much higher as many people inside hide flu-like symptoms in order to avoid the draconian segregation techniques that the DOC is touting as care and testing inside facilitates at every level is so limited.

In FCI Butner, a federal facility in North Carolina, one man took his chances and escaped. With 18 months left on a 5 year sentence, Richard R. Cephas, told reporters from an undisclosed location, “I signed up for a jail sentence, not a death sentence.” Cephas fled the federal facility after 9 other people inside tested positive for COVID-19, putting him and others with compromised immune systems at great risk. Cephas’ fear mirrors what prison abolitionists and prisoners themselves have been articulating since this pandemic began: that it’s hopeless to socially distance inside prison and the conditions that people are routinely made to endure make staying healthy impossible.

Put the Pedal to the Metal

A conglomeration of community groups in Louisiana have filed a lawsuit to halt the transfers of COVID-19 positive prisoners to Camp J facility in the Angola prison complex. The notorious isolation unit referred to as “the dungeon” which was closed in 2018 due to failing infrastructure has now been reopened to house Louisiana prisoners with COVID-19 where they lack adequate medical care like ventilators or doctors and is 25 miles from the nearest hospital.

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