I’m Uptown Serg and this is how the prison administration is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic. While the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all of us to adapt to a new normal, things on the inside of prisons continue to get worse. Understanding the severity of this moment in time, there are some prison staff who have been trying to show prisoners humanity, but the vast majority of prison guards have chosen to use this opportunity to exhibit some of the worst forms of inhumanity.
When this crisis began, Secretary of Corrections John Wessel placed many measures in place with the alleged intent to mitigate the virus’ spread throughout the prison system. However, not one of these measures have had anything other than a punitive impact on prisoners and our families and communities. For example, all visits have been suspended until further notice and replaced with one 45 minute Zoom virtual visit per week. Ou access to telephone and emails have been severely restricted. Prison guards have used this opportunity to act as ruthless dictators, ignoring the mental and emotional needs of an already marginalized population.
Now that these restrictions are part of policy, prison guards have taken pleasure in denying prisoners basic human accommodations. And because of their hostility, the environment on the inside is extremely tense as these guards have pit prisoners against each other, keeping us divided and in competition over resources. Daily, we wonder if a spark was soon at night, this powder keg resulting in extreme violence or worse: death. We wake up each day under intolerable stress while these guards continue to provoke us. Sometimes it feels as if they want a violent confrontation to kick off, so they can just justify locking us in for 24 hours a day. The whole world is suffering right now and the response shouldn’t be more control.
This is a time when prisoners need more access, not less: access to our families, to mental health treatment and recreation instead of being punished. As a prisoner, I bear witness to how these punitive policies have only served to destroy family relations was already hang tenuously in the balance and are solely dependent upon whether or not a guard is having a bad day.
Even if you hold the belief that prisoners deserved to be punished. Does that mean that we should have- does that mean that we should have less access to our families and other quality of life services? Why not just give prisoners the death penalty and get it over with? Why does society just turn a blind eye to the abuses that prisoners must endure? Is it because you think we deserve it, or is it because most people are too cowardly to speak out against the status quo?
Yes, if you fight against the status quo, you may be criticized, and you may even suffer great material loss, and yes, if you accept the status quo, you may not be criticized and you may not suffer any green material loss. But when we fail to do what is right, especially in the face of wrong, we suffer a far greater defeat.
We suffer an internal death, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once alluded to when he said that a man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right; a man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice; a man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. I agree with those words, even if it one day brings about my death at the hands of one of these guards, but you all have the power to stop that from happening.
If you support this message, we urge you to call or email the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wessel or Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. Our bodies may still be alive, but the rest of us is dying slowly.
Thank you, my name is Uptown Serg, you can follow me on Instagram @UptownSerg.