Louisiana Activists Launch National Coalition to Demand Controlled Evacuations of Prisons During the Pandemic

By Suzy Subways

A national coalition led by the Working Group Against COVID-19 Death Chambers is forming to fight for controlled evacuations of incarcerated people—and it needs you. 

For the past year, loved ones of incarcerated people and other activists have pressured states to release large numbers of people from prisons in order to prevent massive loss of life. But very few people have been released, and as a result of prison conditions, one in five incarcerated people have gotten COVID-19. According to the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, at least 2,368 incarcerated people have died in the U.S. from the virus so far. 

Belinda Parker-Brown

Belinda Parker-Brown, CEO and co-founder of Louisiana United International, Inc. (LUI), is working to stop this. Through LUI’s Enforce the 8th initiative, Parker-Brown aspires to shape a national narrative that maximizes our chances of adequately protecting U.S. detainees, inmates, and prisoners from exposure to COVID-19. She has assembled a Working Group Against COVID-19 Death Chambers. The lead manager of the working group, Dr. Zena Crenshaw-Logal, a prominent human rights defender, is currently reaching out to activists in other states to talk about which strategies are working and can be tried in new places without reinventing the wheel. 

Dr. Zena Crenshaw-Logal emphasizes that every state governor has the power to carry out a controlled evacuation of their state’s prisons—they don’t need the approval of the courts or legislature. She points out that holding people in prison at avoidable risk of COVID-19 is not just unconstitutional, it’s fairly considered a criminal offense—a crime of state battery, assault, and a crime against humanity. She proposes that governors and appropriate federal officials be held responsible for the suffering and death. 

But first, she proposes that advocates in each state mimic what LUI has done in Louisiana: Put together a panel of experts who can oversee a state-of-the-art decarceration formula for their state and establish where people can go when they are released from prison. “We want to make sure this is done right,” Crenshaw-Logal says, “by people who have been working on this issue in the community.” She explains that LUI has created a proposal that activists in other states can use as a template to argue for these government contracts in their state. 

The Working Group Against COVID-19 Death Chambers runs the Enforce the 8th initiative, which references the U.S. 8th Amendment prohibiting cruel and usual punishment. To get everyone coordinated and mutually supporting each other as much as possible, coalition participants will have access to free online training, central calendaring, and social networking. In this coalition, activists from different states can share strategies for successfully winning reductions to prison populations. 

Part of the challenge will be to shape the national narrative, Parker-Brown says, as major media have not been covering this issue, let alone covering it in a way that lays the groundwork for the actions that are needed in order to save lives. 

“The concept of governors using their evacuation powers is not part of the national narrative,” she says. “Everyone who’s out there fighting should make this part of their platform. If we don’t say it, the major media will dictate the narrative.”

Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll

by Suzy Subways

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. 

Continue reading “Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll”

“My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers

By Evelyne Kane

Online exclusive for Prison Health News

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.

Continue reading ““My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers”

Legal Advocates Support Philadelphia Family Seeking Justice for Son Allegedly Killed by Prison Guards

By Evelyne Kane

Online exclusive for Prison Health News

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 a press 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”

“There’s People Like Myself and Others Out Here Fighting for You”

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””

Second issue of Turn It Up! prison health magazine now available

Our sister publication, Turn It Up! Staying Strong Inside, has just released its second issue! This is a beautiful, detailed and comprehensive resource for people in prison about how to survive, thrive and advocate for their health. Turn It Up! is published by the SERO Project.

You can read it online here and order a copy for your loved one in prison here.

Visit TheBody for a wonderful interview with the editors.

Colorectal Cancer Occurring Earlier

by Darrell L. Taylor

From PHN Issue 34, Fall 2017

In the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), inmates are not screened for colorectal cancer until the age of 50, regardless of what ethnic group one may belong to. It has been established that people of African origin are at higher risk than other ethnic groups and therefore should be screened at an earlier age, especially if there is a family history. Finding and removing polyps on the inner wall of the colon or rectum can prevent colorectal cancer. Continue reading “Colorectal Cancer Occurring Earlier”

Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams

By Elisabeth Long

From PHN Issue 34, Fall 2017

“Money kept them in. Black love got them out.”

— Pat Hussain, Co-founder of Southerners on New Ground

This August, activists bailed out 51 Black women, queer and trans folks across the South as part of the Black August Bail Out organized by Southerners on New Ground (SONG). SONG is a Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people in the South. The Black August Bail Out is a continuation of bail outs happening around the country that began with the Mama’s Day Bail Out in May. Organizers found people to bail out in several ways, such as using public records requests and allying with public defenders. They met with women inside to ask their permission to bail them out and to find out what their needs might be after being released. In addition to bail, donated funds were used to provide short-term housing, healthcare, transportation, drug treatment, mental health care and other support services to people the activists bailed out. Continue reading “Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams”

Polluted Prisons: When the building you live in is bad for your health

by Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 32, Spring 2017

Flint, Michigan residents and Native Americans at Standing Rock, North Dakota are demanding that their drinking water be protected from chemical poisons. The world has begun to hear their words: “Water is Life.” People in prison are speaking up too. Continue reading “Polluted Prisons: When the building you live in is bad for your health”

How to Organize a Memorial or Celebration

by Lisa Strawn

From PHN Issue 30, Fall 2016

I’m writing to give people in prison advice on how to put together a memorial or celebration. In June, I put together a Celebration of Life for the Orlando shooting victims at the facility where I’m housed. Continue reading “How to Organize a Memorial or Celebration”