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What About Prisoners?

In just 4 months Covid-19 has infiltrated every state and major U.S. city. Unemployment is higher than anytime since the 1930’s. Businessmen from Mom + Pop businesses to major corporations are going under, global trade is crippled. Travel sports and entertainment industries are mostly shut down with some reopening slowly. Psychological, social, and political strains of the Corona Virus, though not easily measured, are palpable products of a medical and economic nightmare.

Submitted to Enough 14. Written by Randy Watterson.

Psychiatric journals are churning out articles on suicide and mental heath problems triggered by fear, financial ruin, and social isolation. A striking number of recent overdoses and suicides have been linked to social disruption across the country. Prisons, jails, and detention facilities have become host to the Corona Virus and every person incarcerated therein has become vulnerable. More than 19 cases of Covid-19 were reported at Pasquotank C.I. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina with nearly 490 inmates and prison staff infected at the Neuse Prison.

N.C. Governor Roy Coopers repressive and inhumane response seconded by Secretary of Correction Erik Hooks was cutting all prisoner visitation, increasing the use of solitary confinement, cutting all educational programs and instituting lockdowns while decreasing medical staff. These measures have not only drastically decreased the quality of our lives but have put each of us at grave risk of death during this pandemic. Our panic stricken government is only concerned with the safety of its state workers, police, jail, and prison employees as is evidenced by the lack of Covid-19 testing of the incarcerated community by contrast to all the mandatory testing of it’s employees. Additionally, while citizens suffer unprecedented unemployment, and the state has hired more police, jail, and prison personnel and allowed its employees to capitalize and profit off societies misery by paying its employees time and a half to double time for overtime. Right now, we need aid, we need resources, and we need health care, not more policing!

Our cell blocks are not being sanitized weekly or even monthly with Clorox. We have only been provided with one face mask in 4 months, two free, 5-minute phone calls per week and have not been provided any shaving equipment for 3 months to maintain hygienic health. In the wake of the pandemic and visitation restrictions, there have been multiple reports of prisoner suicides with the most recent at Pasquotank C.I. by a young Latino Man who was only 22 years old. Statistically and U.S. wide there have been thousands of reports of overdose, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide related deaths as the result of no access to mental health or rehabilitation services due to public lockdowns across the country.

Right now, America is on an emotional rollercoaster reeling from the los of order. As the economy slowly reopens, people are venturing out of the safety of their homes desperate for companionship and many are finding the new normal of wearing face masks disgruntling, in that the covering of the face hides facial expression which is 50% of all human communication resulting in the elevation of voice and in many cases, misinterpretation of information. AS a result, scientists say people may be getting mixed signals. This new normal that society is learning to navigate as the result of the Corona virus and social isolation is only 1% of the reality prisoners have been dealing with from the beginning of his/her sentence to the expiration of that sentence.

In a sense, prisoners are in constant quarantine from their families and the public. Their phone calls are all monitored and recorded, and their mail is censored limiting what they can read or write and to whom. This censorship hypothetically puts them in the psychological and emotional frame of mind or position analogous to that of one infected with the Corona virus. Like Lepers of the sick, prisoners’ conditions or confinement are suppressed by mainstream media, prison administrators and the same government issuing its stay at home orders to the public. There is no transparency in our jails, federal, and state prisons. The policy makers of these monasteries of debilitation intentionally keep the public out, and the incarcerated within, infected with anxiety fear, and depression, uncertainty, confusion, and violence in order to manufacture a stew of recidivism and revolving doors in order to maintain the status quo of federal and state job security for its employees.

Societies new normal of fear or death, lack of a medical antidote, frustration, anger, and isolation are but a few of the perpetual agonizing daily reality of a typical human being that is being held captive in an American prison. Everyday someone in a U.S. prison is raped, robbed, bullied, stabbed, or killed while the media and prison officials turn a blind eye. All we are learning in between the oppression we face between violent gangs and fascists is hatred and resentment toward all authority. “Get money, spend money, step on your neighbor, screw the world. Be tough or die with the weak, take what you can, give nothing back!” Prisoners live under different political systems than the public. In our world, aggression is our new normal. Being in prison is like being kissed by death. There is an air of unspoken violence that runs through inmates, a vibe not felt by outsiders, but as real and powerful to me as the current running through my blood. I have been in here for 12 years now for a crime I did not commit, and there is something about being locked up for so long that reaches out to you in a mental way. It is like an ancient evil that crawls up form from the fetid rottenness of it and gets into your mind and blood.

As prisoners, we are forced to live on the edge of fear and constant non-stop violence while being groomed and subconsciously preprogrammed for crime, self-hatred, racism, and greed. By living amongst violent gangs who get their false power by aggressive neo-American capitalism. On that note, it is time for prisoners and the public to wake up during this ongoing pandemic and pay attention to politics and policies that are being created by our government. It is time to rethink our laws and all of this senseless over sentencing and how the men, women, and children are being treated behind bars.

We have got to get the 13th amendment repealed and reclaim our God given human rights to be treated equal and recognize the incarcerated disingenuous as “persons” opposed to “slaves” because everyone in the public at large are only one beer, one bad break up, one silly fight, one false accusation, or one curious and isolated mistake from being torn from the loving arms of your families and thrown into one of these cold desperate apathetic dungeons and being brutalized by torture of solitary confinement, and quarantined from society for years, fed bad food, little to no health or dental care and socially isolated through harsh censorship policies. In prison, the smallest incident can result in being sprayed with red hot tear gas, beaten black and blue with fists, boots, and Billy sticks, shock shield, tasers, suppression of information or communication with family, legal counsel and the media.

Brutal five on one beatings from 300LB fascists in full riot gear, chained to cold steel bed naked for days, or exposure to hepatitis, T.B., AIDS or the Corona virus. And this is it! This is where we are today, in the 21st century in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and what we as humans have become.

In NC, its prison administration is not concerned with rehabilitation and any public statement by our governor Roy Cooper or his secretary of correction Erik Hooks to the contrary is specious at best. Like most rural backwoods dirty South policy and rule over us with an iron fist and are only concerned with punishment. WE aren’t even allowed to purchase JP4 players to help us cope with the idleness during the uncertainty of this pandemic. We aren’t allowed to purchase electronic notebooks or have access to video visitation, a law library or email through Corrlinks. Despite billions of dollars being handed down to our state.

Our daily activities in close custody consist of 3 meals a day inside of our cellblocks, 45 minutes to an hour of outside recreation two to three times a week depending on whether Pasquotank CI prison staff feel like it, and that’s it. Many of us busy our time studying law, social justice, wring home, and organizing underground with the few politically conscious prisoners whose minds aren’t bogged up with the euphoria of drugs. I myself spend most of my time trying to counter the ill-informed public belief that all prisoners are violent animals resulting from government created journalism.

Despite popular belief, there are brilliant men, women, and children behind bars. Philosophers (Keith Malik Washington), artists (Kevin Rashad Johnson, Joseph Stewart), musicians (Little Boosie), attorneys (myself paralegal), doctors, spiritual gurus, poets, anthropological and sociological geniuses. Yet these talents are wasted and go unrecognized as we are made invisible by prison administrators and their harsh censorship polices created to keep us silenced!

But I say we will not be silenced!!! We are facing a disease that is more destructive than bubonic plague, and prisoners need to take this seriously because no one knows if this is the beginning of the end. But I can tell you that we will be the first to be last, to get any help. I have wondered if I will ever see my family again and any prisoner reading this should be equally frightened and concerned.

According to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of infectious disease research and policy at the University of Minnesota, the initial wave of outbreaks in cities such as New York, where 1 in 5 people have been infected, represent a fraction of the illness and death yet to come. Osterholm during an interview with USA Today stated, “this damn virus is going to keep going until it infects everybody it possibly can” and “it surely won’t slow down until it hits 60 to 70% of the population…” If Covid-19 retreats only to return in the Fall, the number of cases could peak and overwhelm hospitals that must deal with cases of the flu and respiratory illnesses. “It’s the big peak that’s really going to do us in” he said. “As much pain and suffering, death, and economic disruption we’ve had, there’s been 5 to 20% of the population infected…that’s a long way to go to get to 60 or 70%.”

There were more that 100,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million confirmed novel Corona virus cases in the U.S. at noon on Friday May 29, 2020 according to the John Hopkins University data tracker. Mst states are easing stay at home orders through patchwork measures that vary from one to another. Georgia began opening in late April amid national criticism, allowing tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and hair and nail salons to open with restrictions. California and North Carolina have taken a slower phased approach with NC in phase 2 allowing some essential retailers and manufacturers considered low risk to resume operations at 50% capacity.

Governors worry about the economic harm social distancing measures have caused with shattered businesses and the growing ranks of jobless Americans. But what about prisoners? What is going to happen to those of us with sentences in excess of 10 to 20 years if this virus does claim 70% of the population of our country? What happens if our economic system collapses and there is no money to feed the public, let alone prisoners? Will we be locked in our cells? Will government euthanize those of us who are in federal prisons and maximum-security state prisons?

Someone needs to file a FOIA to find out what the protocol is for state of emergency situations such as the one we are facing. Those of us who are politically conscious need to start organizing on the inside and on the outside and be prepared to face whatever horrors our federal and state government are preparing to perpetuate upon us. If you want to live, I suggest to the incarcerated brothers and sisters to start posing these questions now by preparing for the uncertainty of our future.

I further suggest that as prisoners we start organizing today with our families and outside human rights supporters and move up our prisoners human rights movement through inside and outside demonstrations demanding an immediate repeal of all 85% mandatory minimum laws and demand that our federal and state governments establish fair and immediate swift release laws for everyone in the name of humanity. Even Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries are releasing their prisoners as well as negotiating the release of terrorists through exchange negotiations with the U.S. and other countries. Therefore, I call upon all political prisoners, gang leaders, inside organizers, outside prison abolitionists, civil rights activists, and the black and white panther parties to rise up like never before and demand our right to live and be free. No one deserves to die in a cage or in chains! Lastly, I’d like to call upon the chapters of the ABC federation in all 50 states to immediately organize outside demonstrations in front of prisons demanding our release just as the ABC Durham and ABC Blueridge are doing in NC. If you would like to organize with us in solidarity or help in any way with donations, or cards of support and encouragement, please send it to C/O John Roberts, p.o. box 15401 Durham, NC 27704, (919) 907-1484 or email andyyoung@riseup.net .

In solidarity until every cage in empty,

Randy A. Watterson, #0427985

527 Commerce Drive

Elizabeth City, NC

Proud member of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, member of IWOL, and inside organizer for ABC Durham and the prisoner human rights movement



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