Aging In Prison at the Time of the Coronavirus (5:01) Dennis McKeithan

5/17/20
My name is Dennis Solo McKeithan. I'm chairman of project 60, a committee underneath the Gray Panthers organization at SCI Phoenix, which is a senior citizen organization with about 900 members. The main agenda under our organization today is the Aging Out Bill. Time to establish aging out legislation. And right after having a meeting with one of the state legislators, the next week coronavirus took over the world. So that put a slowdown on everything and it brung a new step into, or a new step of adversity, into our struggle. Being that most of the prisoners in the Gray Panthers are over 60 years old, some with one leg, some with one arm, some with one eye. Most with some kind of heart condition, various other pre-existing conditions, that make you even more susceptible to the coronavirus. It has brung a new fear and a new state of anxiety, including to myself, who was in his mid 60s. And after 38 years of sitting in prison I have never seen that type of fear in elderly prisoners as I see today, including myself. The stress alone triggers other illnesses that we already had. And then in that, we are the last thought about or the invisible class in the prison system and maybe even in society. No one is really paying attention or addressing the issues needed here. There’s been no testing. When they first started, they were taking temperatures of blocks that had more than two or three prisoners that had came up positive for the coronavirus. And after 14 days they stopped taking the temperatures. And even though some people had came out negative on the temperatures, they still came—had the virus. The main thing is there's no testing of prisoners or staff. And if staff is not being tested, then they could be walking around with the virus and passing it on and not even knowing it. At the least, all staff working here should be tested to see if they have the coronavirus. That would alleviate the virus coming in here from the outside and that would stop the spread of the virus. We go nowhere. We have no contact with anyone. So how can a virus continue to spread in here unless it’s coming from the outside? Those are the questions that need to be answered. And if we plan to stop the virus in the prison system, then all staff across the state should be tested. And they want to be tested, that’s the - that’s the one thing, they want to be tested. So, as we age in here, we worry about heart attacks, diabetes, falling out, and dying just-- and now we have to worry about the coronavirus. You know, you know, “don't touch that water fountain, you might catch the coronavirus.” Right now, while I sit on the phone, I got a mask on, I got gloves on, I got disinfectant. Because I don't wanna touch anything that anyone else touched. Because, and I said, they could have the virus and don't even know it. And no one is on anything to try to find out how bad the virus really is in the prison system. My only suggestion is that those in a position to contact the DOC or the governor's office find out why there's no testing of the prison officials and other staff members that come in here and go outside every day, at the least. Or why there's no testing of all prisoners over 60 or 70 years old, at the least. You know, I ask for your help, and I anticipate that someone will be concerned enough to make those calls, or send those emails and find out: can we get some kind of testing system started in the state corrections system for staff and for prisoners over 60 years old.
 

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.