“Locked up and locked down.”
For nearly a month now, all prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons, over 40,000 men and women, have been locked down. What does lockdown mean? When I was on death row, all of us were locked down. As the saying went, “23 and one,” or for 23 hours a day with one hour for out of cell exercise in a cage.
After over a decade, it went to “22 and two,” but this lockdown is occasioned by the coronavirus. So meals in the chow hall, visits with family and friends, religious services, classes, prison jobs, all are offline. In the rare occasion a prisoner leaves the cell, he or she wears a paper or cloth face mask. Several states like, New Jersey for example, has followed suit.
And then there are county prisons, where the sheer overcrowding leads to chaos. In Philadelphia County prisons, an estimated 18 people, prisoners have the virus. Then comes Cook County, Illinois, where over 400 men have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s a county joint. For some men and women, being in prison and county jail isn’t just something that resembles death row. For them, it will be a new death row. For that jail cell will be the place they die. Mass incarceration is so much a part of American life that the opposite idea, decarceration, begins to sound crazy. But the truth is it wasn’t always this way. This scourge is the product of neoliberal politics. And if neoliberalism caused this problem, how can it ever solve the problem?
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
[Sound of prison door clanking open.]
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.
[Sound of prison door slamming shut.]