Prison Radio
Sergio Hyland

What’s up everybody. It’s Uptown Serg reporting live from SCI Chester.

On Friday, March 19th, prisoners at SCI Chester, including myself, spent the day mourning yet another death of one of our elders, Bobby Sims. Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into a tailspin, this virus was rampid throughout America’s prison system, affecting thousands and killing countless more.

Prison officials have been reluctant to protect prisoners from this deadly onslaught. As a result, we live each and every day on the inside under intense feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear. For the past several months, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections led by Secretary John Wessel has been promoting an agenda of reforms, reportedly rooted in a humane approach for prisoners and our families and communities.

However, this agenda has been all talk and no action. In fact, hours after Bobby Sims died from COVID-19, a prisoner was assaulted by a guard through the use of [inaudible] pepper spray. As a witness to this incident, I can state unequivocally that this prisoner represented no threat to the guard who sprayed him.

In fact, it was the prisoner who did everything in his power to avoid confrontation, including running away from the guard, which led to him being chased down and sprayed in the back of his head. This incident was reminiscent of the many black men, women, and children who was shot in the back and killed by rogue police.

As I witnessed this prisoner running away from the guard while being sprayed in the back, I couldn’t help but to see the same incident being played out in South Carolina when a black man was shot eight times in the back, murdered by a police officer, as he attempted to run to safety. After this guard deployed her pepper spray, she called for reinforcements, even though the already non-existing threat still didn’t exist.

I watched in sadness and anger as dozens of guards swarmed the unit like a pack of bloodthirsty piranhas looking for a piece of flesh to sink their teeth into. And when they realized that there was no threat, that disappointment was obvious. These incidents take place daily on the inside of prison. And it’s a constant reminder to prisoners that our lives have no value as long as we’re behind these ominous concrete walls and iron gates.

Not only are we under attack from a deadly virus, but we’re also under attack by gang members who call themselves correctional officers. And if the police are the largest gang in America, correctional officers are surely the second largest. It amazes me how America, the largest so-called democracy on earth, is so quick to criticize nations such as China and North Korea for their alleged human rights abuses while those very same human rights abuses are being committed against American citizens right here on American soil.

Joe Biden may have been correct to call Vladimir Putin a killer, but Vladimir Putin was also correct to point out that America remains guilty of committing history’s most heinous crime against humanity: slavery. And mass incarceration to date is merely slavery by another name with all of its associated brutality and evils.

The tension on SCI Chester’s housing units is palpable. Most guards lack the mental and emotional maturity necessary to interact with prisoners in a humane manner. And when they experience a meltdown, they resort to tactics of intimidation and violence which places all of our lives at risk.

These issues can’t be remedied through legislation. Prison is a diseased field and can only produce diseased fruit. America as a nation must begin the process of moving past this obsession with retribution. Where has it gotten us thus far? What retributive or utilitarian benefit has prison brought to society? And if we know that it isn’t working, why are we determined to rely upon such a mechanism?

Bobby Sims is one of many lives lost that could have been saved. But still, while we all struggled to survive on the inside, it’s troubling to know that the biggest threat to prisoners are those charged with protecting us.

I’m Uptown Serg. Thank you for listening to me. You can follow me on Instagram @UptownSerg.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.