This is Dennis Solo McKeithan at SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, PA.
For a year and a half we suffered under the restrictions due to COVID and that was understood. We were told if 70% of the prisoners took the vaccine, things will get back to normal contact visits, programs and activities.
As usual, this never happened. 80% of the inmate population got vaccinated, but nothing has returned to normal. Visits have become a tool of oppression and harassment to the families and the prisoners. It is particularly so for the elderly. For 75 years normal contact visits meant that any approved person on your visiting list can come visit you any day of the week, during the visiting hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening five visits a month.
This has never been a problem. Now they are misusing COVID and stated that our approved that visitors now must go online and register to visit us on a particular day at a particular time. If your visitor is not here at the beginning of those three hour time periods, your time still runs on off.
We have always had sandwiches and drinks and snacks and the vending machines. Now they say there will be nothing in the vending machines that you and your visitor can get a cup of water from the water fountain. Only 12 inmates can be in the visiting room at a time. Most times it is only six or seven in there with their guests that big visitation room meant to hold hundreds they just sit in empty.
Your family has to keep going online until given a date. I received the date on August the 27th all the way back in June. And they were told that that was the earliest available one. Before they could just get in the car and drive up and visit. For older prisoners, this is particularly taxing because they have day good days and bad days, for if they intended to visit on Tuesday, but didn’t feel well they could just come up on Wednesday. There was no going online and making a particular day.
Most recently, I had a death in the family and my family wanted to come up the next day to console me, you know, thinking that I was going to take it hard because I liked the family member that had passed away so much, but they couldn’t come up because of this new procedure.
This has nothing to do with COVID. We are vaccinated. Our families are vaccinated. We wear masks. Our families wear masks. It is important that the families and friends of those incarcerated in Pennsylvania contact the governor and the department of corrections and ask that normal contact visiting to then be reinstated.
You know, many of us are elderly as, as our visitors and do not know how much longer we will have to see each other. Many of the older guests that come visit prisoners, they don’t know much about social media, so going online as a hardship for them. I have family members that still have the same rotary phone that they had in 1970.
They don’t go online. They don’t go on Facebook. And those are the things that was not considered most of the visits since these new rules has started are younger inmates and the same inmates because older inmates do not know nor does their families, how to deal with social media.
We have 500 inmates in the yard together, but you’re saying we can only have 12 inmates in the visitor room. That makes no sense. Then when we try to get back to some sense of normalcy with our families, to build family units, it seems as though they’re creating rules under the guise of COVID to destroy family units.
I appreciate your listening and I look forward to any support that we can get to bring back normal visits to the Pennsylvania state prison system.