As COVID-19 surges through the state and tears through its prisons, loved ones of incarcerated people are driving to Harrisburg today, calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to use his reprieve power to immediately release all elderly and medically vulnerable people in prison. Loved ones are also asking the Department of Corrections to require prison staff to wear face masks and be tested for COVID-19. As part of a national caravan for health and social justice, the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign worked with local anti-prison groups like the Human Rights Coalition and the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI) to center the survival of people in prison on this day. The car caravan will circle the state capitol and proceed to the governor’s mansion.
Amid the horror that is the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections right now, Black liberation movement political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz may be one of the best examples of how that horror is playing out for elderly prisoners and their families. Maroon is 77 years old and has been fighting stage 4 colon cancer for over a year. After testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 11, Maroon was held in a gymnasium with 29 other men—and only one toilet to share between them. Meanwhile, he has had blood in his stool, and his urgent surgery for the cancer is now being denied.
The following is excerpted from a letter sent to us a Prison Health News reader, published with his permission.
My name is Josh O’Connor. I’m 20 years old and serving a 22 yr sentence for a crime I committed at 17 years old. I’m Native American and a vegan.
I’m in solitary for a fight I got into and have been here for 4 months and was told I would be forced to stay in solitary confinement for the next 6-8 months. I fear the mental/physical detrimental effects being in solitary confinement for so long and how I may suffer permanent health effects. I have met many inmates who have spent years – 7, 10, and even up to 20 in solitary confinement and you can easily see the adverse/detrimental deterioration of their health. Many have had insufficient brain activity to communicate with others not to mention get a job, and you can see many don’t get enough nutrients, because of the lack of sun/vitamins, which makes us very sick. I hope something will be done soon regarding limiting or abolishing solitary confinement.
Our current health crisis is one that impacts each of us in different ways; it brings to light so many questions and concerns. Often as nurse who is also a human rights activist, I am contacted by family members asking how one can obtain medical information about a loved one who is incarcerated. Typically, this need arrives when the loved one becomes ill. However, getting a Release of Information [ROI] when your loved one is not ill will make it easier to get information if the need occurs.
The process has many steps; and, even if followed correctly, the DOC’s health services may present obstacles that need to be addressed. Determination is crucial!!!
Ideas for support and advocacy during the COVID-19 crisis
By Evelyne Kane and Suzy Subways
It’s challenging enough for loved ones of people in prison: paying for expensive phone calls, trying to advocate for your loved one’s health, keeping your head up through it all. And now we have to deal with this new virus. Here are what we hope will be some helpful ideas and suggestions, which we’ve gathered from people in prison, their loved ones on the outside, and other activists:
CoronavirusInfo to Share with Your Loved One in Prison:
COVID-19 is the name for the new disease spread by the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is very easy to spread from person to person, and transmission can happen in a number of ways, including:
From close contact with another person who has the virus (being within 6 feet of them)
Through contaminated surfaces or objects (the virus can live on many surfaces for hours or even days)
Through contaminated particles in the air (for instance, when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes)
A few days before Christmas, Shaleda and Ervin Busbee sit together in their cozy and well-kept rowhouse in West Philadelphia. From the living room, a lighted Christmas tree ringed with gifts glows softly. Despite the festivity of the season, the Busbees’ spirits are heavy this year as they grieve the loss of their son, Tyrone Briggs, who was killed on November 11, 2019 while incarcerated at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy. His family and legal team allege that his death was caused by excessive use of pepper spray by Mahanoy staff.
On November 11, 2019, Tyrone Briggs died at the age of 29 while incarcerated at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy, a 1,000-cell, all-male, medium-security correctional facility located in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Shortly after, 13 of Mahanoy’s medical and security staff were suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation into Briggs’ death. In apress release, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel promised that “whatever the outcome of this case, we are going to be as transparent as possible, and the DOC will take whatever remedial measures deemed to be necessary.” Despite this promise, additional details about the cause of Briggs’ death have been slow to follow. Reports from other individuals incarcerated at Mahanoy, including a prisonradio.org podcast from Mumia Abu-Jamal, have attributed Briggs’ death to the excessive use of oleoresin capsicum (OC), or “pepper spray.” In accounts from witnesses inside Mahanoy, it is believed that guards responded to an altercation between Briggs and another inmate by spraying the two men with OC. They subsequently tackled Briggs to the ground, held him down, and continued to OC-spray him. Briggs was heard to say, “I can’t breathe,” several times during the incident, and it is believed that these were his last words.Continue reading “Legal Advocates Support Philadelphia Family Seeking Justice for Son Allegedly Killed by Prison Guards”→
An interview with activist and longtime Prison Health News editor Teresa Sullivan
By Suzy Subways
From PHN Issue 40, Summer/Fall 2019
Teresa Sullivan, who has been a vital part of keeping Prison Health News going for the
past ten years, is leaving the editorial collective. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for
her wisdom and guidance over the years, and we are so excited to support her amazing
work in the world moving forward. From teaching classes at Philadelphia FIGHT to her
leadership role in the Positive Women’s Network, a social justice organization of women
living with HI V , T eresa helps so many people grow stronger and smarter . In this interview,
we asked Teresa to tell us more about her work and vision. Continue reading ““There’s People Like Myself and Others Out Here Fighting for You””→
Telemedicine is the exchange of health
information through the use of
electronic communication. Telemedicine often
involves the use of either phone or video
consultation. It is used for diagnosis, treatment,
maintenance, and prevention of diseases and
illness. In order for medical providers to use
telemedicine, they must make the audio and
video encrypted, meaning no one except the
medical team will be able to see what is on the
screen or hear the audio. Telemedicine visits
are not audio or video recorded, but your
medical provider will still document the visit in
a medical record. Continue reading “Some Pros and Cons of Telemedicine”→