Stevie Wilson is an abolitionist organizer currently incarcerated in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). While writing with him over the past month about contributing to our next issue, the entry of Covid-19 into the prison system swiftly overtook our conversation. We share here some of his correspondence and urgent demands.
The DOC continues to impose more and more restrictions on prisoners while turning away from the glaring fact the the only way the virus will get in is via their officers and staff. There is no other way in. But what has the DOC done to mitigate the chances that prisoners are infected by DOC employees? Nothing. Currently, the common high touch areas, areas both prisoners and officers frequently touch, are not being cleaned. Officers and staff are not required to wear gloves as they touch our food and property. They exit and enter every day, possibly caring the virus inside, but the DOC has not instituted any changes to protect prisoners.
The protocols that have been enacted all target prisoner to prisoner contact. We cannot catch it from one another! Someone from the outside has to bring it inside first. Those people are freely walking around and touching everything without gloves. This leads me to the conclusion that the DOC has conceded that the virus is going to get inside.
The problem with this is that the DOC does not have the capacity to deal with the virus once it gets inside. They don't have the equipment, the beds, but most important, they don't have the real concern for prison health and safety. What we need is a real plan to protect prisoner from infection. Currently, there is none. Social distancing in prison is a joke. How can we practice social distancing when another person sleeps three feet away from you? Most prisoners are double celled. How do they practice social distancing? The DOC is just waiting for a disaster to occur. They want to be able to say they did their best to protect us. But they haven't. The DOC's employees are the greatest threat to prisoner health right now. What are they doing to protect us from this threat?
Currently our demands center on two things:
Releasing prisoners, especially those with compromised immune systems and the elderly (over 50). Also, we hold that all pretrial detainees who have been entered into bail should be released. They are being held due to poverty. Lastly, those with clemency and parole petitions should have their decisions and releases expedited. Healthcare inside is notoriously negligent. While all of us are vulnerable, certain populations face more vulnerability. They should be prioritized for release.
Prevention measures should be taken that mitigate the chances of prisoner becoming infected. Most important, the DOC needs to enact measures that protect prisoners from being infected by their employees. The only way we will become infected is if the staff brings COVID19 inside. Proactive steps need to be taken to diminish, if not to eliminate, the chances of this occurring. Currently, little is being done to prevent DOC staff from infecting prisoners.
We are fundraising for toiletries and cleaning supplies. The DOC does not provide these items for us. We need help boosting this fundraiser. Any assistance will be appreciated. A bar of soap costs .90. Prisoners make .19 an hour and 25% of it is automatically deducted for fines and court costs. And now, people are not able to work due to restrictions on movement inside. A little help will go a long way.