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.”

“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””

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”

Immigrants in Texas Want Health, Freedom

by Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 24, Spring 2015

   Immigrants held in two federal Texas facilities run by profit-driven private companies are refusing to tolerate neglect of their health and unsafe conditions. Continue reading “Immigrants in Texas Want Health, Freedom”

Truly Understanding the Connection between HIV and Incarceration

By Laura McTighe

From PHN Issue 24, Spring 2015

   We know that HIV and incarceration overlap. One in seven people with HIV will pass through our prisons and jails this year. But knowing that HIV and incarceration overlap doesn’t tell us why. Understanding why is critical if we are to end AIDS. Continue reading “Truly Understanding the Connection between HIV and Incarceration”

Open Letter to Activists on the Outside

by Sergio Hyland

From PHN Issue 18, Fall 2013

I’m not one of those people who accept the notion that the existence of prisons is inevitable, because if I accept that, I’ll have to accept other associated notions as fact. Like the notion that the thousands of inhumane solitary confinement torture chambers across the nation have to exist. Because I’m on the inside and see the reality of these places, I definitely can’t accept the notion that prisons keep our communities safe! Continue reading “Open Letter to Activists on the Outside”

Fasting for Rights and Dignity: From Guantanamo Bay to California

by Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 18, Fall 2013

From Gandhi’s independence movement in India to women demanding the right to vote, from Cesar Chavez to Irish Republican Army political prisoners, oppressed people have used hunger strikes to show their deep commitment to freedom. This year, two major hunger strikes shook U.S. prisons. Continue reading “Fasting for Rights and Dignity: From Guantanamo Bay to California”

Decarceration: A New Strategy Against Prisons

by Dan Berger

From PHN Issue 16, Spring 2013

We are at the beginning of a new movement against the prison. It works to shrink the prison system by using radical critique, direct action, and practical goals for reducing the reach of imprisonment. I would like to call this a strategy of decarceration. It is the demand to close prisons and reduce policing—but also to open schools and build communities. It is a strategy that takes advantage of political conditions without sacrificing its political vision. Continue reading “Decarceration: A New Strategy Against Prisons”

Recovery from Injustice: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens

by Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 10, Spring 2011

Ronnie Stephens is an HIV outreach advocate and consultant in Austin, Texas. He has been HIV positive for 10 years and a worker in AIDS services for 14 years. His life’s work is with people who are at risk for HIV because of homophobia, racism, and imprisonment. “I try to target the population that I was locked up with,” he explains. Stephens has been in drug recovery for ten years and gives it much of the credit for his survival. But to him, recovery from drugs is only part of the picture. Like preventing HIV and staying out of jail, it goes beyond the individual. Communities have to do this work together.

Q: What do you mean by “recovery from injustice”?

A: A lot of people who do AIDS strategy don’t really get the idea of social injustice. When they talk about substance abuse and prison, I say, well, half of these kids got beat up down there. They beat you up, and [the prison guards] say, “Well that’s because of what you are.” So what do you have to offer our clients coming out? These kids have been abused. Some of them have been raped, some of them have no family to go to. What do you do for those individuals who are coming back into society and don’t have any family to turn to? That’s kind of traumatizing. That hurts. Continue reading “Recovery from Injustice: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens”

“To Help Our People Through This”

Rev. Doris Green on healing communities from the impact of imprisonment and HIV

Reverend Doris Green, founder of Men and Women Prison Ministries and director of community affairs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, has been working with prisoners and their families for decades, and fighting AIDS since the epidemic began. She is organizing a coalition of grassroots community organizations to demand access to condoms in the Illinois state prison system. The condom campaign is a policy demand based on the knowledge that good prison health is good community health. “The people on the inside are the people on the outside,” she says. Rev. Green sees her political advocacy as intimately connected with her counseling work with individuals and small groups, rebuilding the community support networks torn apart by mass imprisonment.

Because of mandatory minimum sentences, discriminatory crack possession sentencing, three-strikes laws and other hallmarks of the “war on drugs,” there are now 10 times as many people in prison than there were 20 years ago. People of African descent represent 56% of those imprisoned for drug offenses but only 14% of illicit drug users. “The disparity makes you think nobody’s committing crimes but African Americans and Hispanics,” Rev. Green says. In the past decade, new policies shut ex-prisoners out of public housing, jobs, and social safety net programs. With so many parents, children, spouses and caregivers removed from the community, the emotional, financial and political support systems of entire communities are disrupted.

Continue reading ““To Help Our People Through This””