Dennis McKethan, SCI phoenix in Pennsylvania. “Another Death by COVID.”
The day I learned that another friend from childhood who was imprisoned at SCI Phoenix has died from COVID. His name was Bruce Knaus. He was about 70 years old and a good human being. He had made commutation and was only waiting for Governor Wolf to sign a paper so he could leave. There are several prisoners who have made computation months ago, but still waiting on the governor to sign the papers. After over 40 something odd years, Bruce died while waiting to go home. He died from COVID.
Pennsylvania talks a good talk, but they are not letting any state prisoners out due to COVID. Most elderly prisoners are in the state prison, not the county. And if you say it is limited to nonviolent offenders, then that would exclude all the elderly prisoners in the state prisons who have been in prison over 20 years. Because even if no violence happened in their crime, meaning no injury, the time itself under law is labeled violent. So a drug dealer who flooded the community with drugs causing death and destruction is considered nonviolent and a prisoner with a burglary is considered a violent offender by law. I am a chairman of the Gray Panthers, a senior citizen organization at SCI Phoenix. And we have members who have been in prison 40 to 50 years from 50 years old to 90 years old. That’s [inaudible] Vietnam War and other wars. One who won two bright stars and other medals in Vietnam. One who lost an eye and became addicted in Vietnam. We have members with one leg living in wheelchairs, devoted themselves to advancing educationally and morally and represent no threat to society. Most just want to die.
On the other side of the wall, smelling the air instead of the odor of a toilet in a cell. Bruce Knaus def brung it all home. How is it that we are locked in ourselves 23 hours a day and prisoners are still dying from COVID? There is no mandatory testing for staff that go in and out of the prison every day or the prisoners that they do take out to work, which gives them contact with the staff. I tell it is mandatory testing because you can’t trace it accurately. This is the third friend that I knew for over 50 years that has died from COVID and when it- when it get close like that, it makes you think this is not a staff problem or inmate problem. This is all our problems. And no matter how avid- no matter how adversary our relationships are, all we have to work together in order to defeat COVID. If we’re not going to test, we’re not going to act or be safe. If we’re not going to keep ourselves clean, the areas we live in clean, nothing’s going to change. Like I said, Bruce’s death brung it home because he was one of the best human beings I ever met and, know, we’re going to miss him. And it’s a shame that Governor Wolf is sitting on commutation papers and people is dying in jail that could be home with their loved ones. Something to think about.