Prison Radio

Dear Friend,

Every person below is someone’s father, brother, or mother. They died alone. Struggling for breath.  PA Dept. of Corrections (DOC) has changed its policy and will now only report the 1st Death from COVID in each prison. 

John Wetzel head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, is burying the names of the victims and the statistics with the bodies. Gone from the PA DOC website are daily infection totals and deaths. It is not a haphazard data entry mistake, the excuse the Inquirer Editorial board attributed to the PADOC in an editorial today.  In fact, it is deliberate. They are not reporting all inmate deaths while falsifying statistics. 

When asked for an explanation the PA DOC spokesperson said today, “We do a news release to announce the first death with Covid at a facility[State Prison], not each death with COVID.” And with this policy, they wipe the rapidly mounting death tolls out of the press releases. 

In addition to cooking the books and burying statistics, Wetzel and his PR team have the nerve to keep quoting old news, self-lauding statements in their releases, insisting that  “We are one of the six best prison systems in the country” in terms of per capita death rates. They are quoting November numbers; not the daily mounting December death tolls they are hiding. 

Reports from our correspondents tell a dramatically different story.  

“A staff member, the block counselor who had symptoms was allowed to work for days after his positive test… ten prisoners and an unknown number of staff members have tested positive. There is a killer at SCI Phoenix and it’s COVID-19.” Osiris, Ronald Gibson, SCI Phoenix

SCI Phoenix, is the newest and most expensive prison in Pennsylvania, and there the conditions of confinement are already unbearable as they face a ravaging wave of infections. For weeks now there has been no heat in many of the cells throughout the building. Our correspondents report weeks of  “freezing temperatures: as recently as yesterday, no air is coming out of the vents.”

We need complete transparency and the only way to get that is to amplify the voices of prisoners and the work of journalists on the inside and the outside.

SCI Phoenix prisoners are navigating an outbreak of COVID-19 in the midst of a bitter winter. Freezing in barren cells is a ubiquitous and notorious form of torture in prisons. The anguish caused by nights in bitter cold haunts each and every one of our correspondents. In Santa Clara County Jail, Amarillo Texas, here in Collegeville Pennsylvania, in ICE detention centers at the Mexico/U.S. border, and in the H-Blocks where the Hunger Strikers resisted in Ireland, cold is used to deliberately inflict pain. Our loved ones are shivering, and often locked down after exposure. The idea that solitary confinement is now used as a safety policy underscores the oppressive and monstrous rationale for the prison industrial complex.

As correspondent Ronald Gibson explains, “Administration is now taking a wait and see approach. They wait and see if we get sick, or die.”

Constant confinement has not halted the spread of the virus. Correspondent Dennis Solo Mckeithan explains why, “Locking us up 23 hours a day is not going to prevent anything, if you got staff running in and out of here, bringing COVID in and out of here.” In many cases, staff refuse to wear masks (either at all or properly), get tested, and practice safer protocols.  

We know from the debacle at San Quentin last summer, that cell blocks with zero inmate interaction watched the virus leap from block to block – because staff were assigned across the prison. We understand what PA DOC is doing, and we must stop them. 

Ronald Gibson explains what is needed:

“We need your help. We need you to call Superintendent Jamie Sorber: [610-409-7890] First of all, we need the administration to enforce their COVID policy daily…Second, we need contact tracing done with staff, and also testing and quarantine when appropriate. Lastly, we need to be assured that infected death row prisoners will get the appropriate treatment, and not just stuck into another cell on a different block.”

The pandemic has made it more clear than ever that public health, public policy and human decency requires the inclusion of voices from inside in the public debate. Please join us in making that possible by donating to our year-end campaign. We only exist because of your support. Without it we could not expose these DOC lies and cruelties, we could not stand with Solo and Ronald and the others. Thank you for your support in this work – together our solidarity is beautiful.

When We Fight, We Win!

Meghan Dayton, Noelle Hanrahan, P.I. J.D.
Prison Radio