DeeperThanWater is a coalition of organizations dedicated to exposing the rampant human rights abuses that prisoners in the United States are subjected to, using the lens of water justice to highlight the toxicity of the carceral state.
On December 9, 2020, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker announced that prisoners were to be included in Phase I of the state’s vaccine rollout plan.
As many of you know, we teamed up with Families for Justice as Healing, the National Council for Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and Black & Pink MA to collect questions from around the country about the new COVID-19 vaccines, including launching a survey to collect questions.
On January 9th, we held a community Town Hall forum on Zoom with nearly 100 community members to hear many of these questions answered by trusted doctors and experts in the field, as well as collect further questions and concerns from free-world family.
As a result, all of these questions were aggregated and put into an FAQ, authored with love by a dozen epidemiologists and physicians, which we will be sending back inside.
We are currently translating the document into multiple languages, which will be uploaded here.
URGENT! If we push the DOC to act NOW we can prevent another COVID19 outbreak at MCI Shirley! Two incarcerated people reported symptoms to the block nurse on Thursday and were ignored. Our two comrades are self-quarantining in their cell for fear of infecting others.
The system-wide testing planned for Thursday, 11/19 is BEYOND the incubation period for COVID19. The DOC must act NOW!
Hi, I’m a concerned [friend/doctor/community member] calling about an emergency. I received a report that two people in Unit F2 displaying COVID19 symptoms requested medical attention and were denied by the block nurse on Thursday. I am very concerned about their health and safety, as I know that prison guards have tested positive at MCI Shirley. Will you ensure
Any and all incarcerated people who report symptoms will receive proper medical attention immediately?
And that these two incarcerated people are tested, provided a daily supply of fresh surgical masks, and treated immediately?
allow them to quarantine without punishment?
if they test positive, that you will conduct contact tracing and test other people who they were in contact with to prevent an outbreak?
Did you call? Please give us a quick report back to help inform next steps!
Thanks to everyone who called for our family at MCI Norfolk!
We have just received confirmation that 2 prisoners
have been denied medical care by a nurse at MCI Shirley.
Both are showing COVID-19 symptoms, and we need your help again.
We’ve just received word that someone at MCI Norfolk is in desperate need of medical attention. The very person sounding this alarm tested positive for COVID19 this morning. Things are deteriorating fast at MCI Norfolk and we need you to act now!
Please call MCI Norfolk at (508) 660-5900.
Hello, I am a [friend/doctor/concerned citizen] calling about an emergency we have been informed is happening inside the prison. We heard that someone who is in the quarantine unit is throwing up violently and is not receiving medical attention. Can you confirm that you provide the medical treatment this person needs, including by taking him to a hospital if necessary?
As we prepare to head into the winter, with no sign of the COVID19 pandemic abating, cracks in the DOC’s public relations facade are becoming wider and more apparent as even their “infection control” strategies lay bare just how little they understand about controlling a pandemic. Outbreak after outbreak within the Massachusetts DOC has shown that what prisoners and health experts have been saying all along: there’s no such thing as a “safe” prison.
“For those of us that have underlying issues, like myself with asthma, its a big risk. And now the food here has no nutritional value to help build a strong immune system. There’s no prevention. It concerns me heavily and I don’t see the administration having proper PPE. The majority are wearing thin masks or nothing. And they aren’t required to be tested, like the incarcerated population is. My life is on the line”
Since that message, MCI-Norfolk has seen 54 prisoners taken out of their cells and “cohorted” with other exposed prisoners. This isn’t how medical isolation works; when they did this at MCI Framingham the spread of infections spiked. Placing those who may have been exposed with those whose exposure is nearly certain increases the likelihood that all involved will be exposed to the virus. Quarantine efforts like this in the past, which treated all exposed parties as already-infected have lead to mass infections.
Perhaps even more astonishingly than their failed quarantine protocol is the fact that prisoners are being “isolated” in a unit that was closed due to black mold, an environmental pathogen that leads to, of all things, respiratory distress.
Recently, despite clear evidence that the most effective mask strategy is the regular distribution of fresh disposable surgical masks, the DOC astonishingly ordered incarcerated people to start producing cloth masks for their own use. Subsequently, in a combination of brutal austerity and deliberate indifference, the DOC has discontinued the distribution of surgical masks in MA DOC facilities. This comes despite a study from the CDC’s infectious disease journal showing that: “During a pandemic, cloth masks may be the only option available; however, they should be used as a last resort when medical masks and respirators are not available” [ pdf ] About this, another of our comrades inside had this to say:
“We are now required to wear cloth masks manufactured by incarcerated people. Its the same cloth that’s used to make our uniforms. I am more comfortable wearing the surgical masks that most people wear outside the prison. But now, the surgical masks are considered contraband.”
Our sources also highlight the importance of noting that surgical mask distribution ceased two weeks ago, coinciding with the rapid spike in infections following the average incubation period. As the population of Norfolk remains largely static, and following on the revelation that a phlebotomist brought the infection into MCI Shirley, it is widely believed that the MCI Norfolk outbreak was caused by a guard who has now been identified.
This outbreak also leads to important questions about the DOC’s adherence to the decision made in SJC 12926 (and general honesty with the public), which required prompt reporting of infections. The ACLU’s Data for Justice COVID19 tracker shows that the DOC has been slow to share data with the outside world as the plotted numbers lag far behind real-world reports.
At the end of the day, decarceration is, and remains, the only answer. This newest outbreak comes on the heels of a historic decision by the American Public Health Association to ratify a statement endorsing abolition as a necessary public health strategy to address the crisis that is incarceration in the United States. This decision comes after months of COVID19 outbreaks across the country that have shown that which epidemiologists always knew: the only way to prevent the widespread loss of life is, and always has been, to send people home to the communities that love them.
HUGE: Just now, the American Public Health Association passed a statement naming carceral systems as a public health issue & recommending moving towards abolition & building just and equitable systems instead of carceral ones. Read the statement here:https://t.co/qVsWykxySc
Last week, officials from MCI Shirley took everything Wayland “X” Coleman owns in retaliation for his ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety of his fellow prisoners.
Anyone who has followed Deeper Than Water for any period of time knows that Wayland is constantly sticking his neck out for people inside while getting moved around from facility to facility; having been shipped from Norfolk to Gardner to Old Colony to Shirley. When, last week, the administration at MCI Shirley confiscated Wayland’s personal belongings, they took every letter, every scrap of paper, every book, his musical equipment and his writing supplies. They even took his typewriter. He’s been given a 30 day notice that his items will be destroyed if they’re not otherwise disposed of, which means he needs folks from the outside to take action urgently.
Over the summer, when Wayland’s Access Corrections tablet battery began to swell to the point of bursting– a known defect in that particular model– the administration used that opportunity to confiscate his tablet saying that “modifying” (which apparently includes removing the battery for a moment to prevent a fire) any item was against DOC policy. Shortly after, he was attacked with chemical weapons for hesitating when they told him he was going to be moved to Old Colony.
We are asking for the following action items to help send the message that Wayland has people outside who love and support him, and that we’re not buying the DOC’s continuous refrain of “just following orders”:
We are asking that people take 5 minutes to send an email to the DOC commissioner and the superintendent of Shirley, demanding that his items be returned.
Prison officials must respond within 10 days to a physical letter, therefore we are asking that people take a moment to write a letter of protest and put it in the mail. Please find a template below. Letters should be addressed and sent to:
Superintendent Michael Rodrigues
P.O. Box 1218
Shirley, MA 01464
If you have some funds to spare, please send Wayland something to read, preferably on abolition. Books can be received from booksellers such as Barnes and Noble or AK Press but not from third party sellers like Amazon. X is a voracious reader, so please no introductory texts. If you’re not sure what to send, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com.
On June 3rd, correctional officers came to Wayland Coleman’s cell wearing riot gear and filled his cell with an unknown gaseous chemical weapon that violently burned his lungs, eyes, and skin. In his first hand account of this brutal and horrifying experience, Wayland writes, “It completely shuts your lungs down and it feels like there’s a hole being burned straight through the middle of your chest… On top of all the pain and suffering your body’s going through on the inside, your skin feels like someone doused you with gas and lit a match.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, severe tear gas poisoning — particularly if the gas was released in an enclosed space, as it was in Wayland’s case — can blind or kill people through chemical burns and respiratory failure. This chemical attack happens in the midst of a pandemic of respiratory infection and in the midst of ongoing uprisings across the U.S. against police brutality. In the last week, a federal prisoner died in New York City after guards sprayed him with pepper spray and an Ohio State graduate died after being tear gassed during a protest in Columbus, Ohio.
Please make a call today to demand that the DOC free Wayland and end the use of chemical weapons and solitary confinement. And stay tuned for action items for the rest of the week!
Superintendent, Old Colony Correctional Center: (508) 279-6761
I am a (friend/concerned community member) calling in response to the human rights violation that happened at NCCI-Gardner on the evening of Wednesday, June 3rd. Correctional officers sprayed Wayland Coleman (W65484) with an unknown chemical weapon before transferring him to solitary confinement at Old Colony Correctional Center. I therefore demand the following actions be taken:
I demand Wayland’s immediate release from solitary confinement.
I demand an end to the use of chemical weapons at Massachusetts correctional facilities, which is a clear violation of human rights and will only hasten the spread of COVID-19 inside Massachusetts prisons
I demand an end to the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts
I demand all Superintendents and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections use every available means to release as many people as possible
If the direct number doesn’t work or doesn’t answer, leave a message. This could be a good sign. Once you’re done, call (508) 279-6000 and ask for ext. 6761, or read the call script to whoever you speak to.
PLEASE REPORT BACK BELOW
Are you a doctor, nurse, social worker, public health worker, or healthcare professional? PLEASE MAKE A CALL TODAY and leave a comment below when you’ve called!
Superintendent, Old Colony Correctional Center: (508) 279-6000 ext. 6761
Hello, I am a (doctor/public health professional/social worker) calling in response to the human rights violation that happened at NCCI-Gardner on the evening of Wednesday, June 3rd. Correctional officers sprayed Wayland Coleman (W65484) with an unknown chemical weapon before transferring him to solitary confinement at Old Colony Correctional Center. As a health professional, I am highly concerned about the use of chemical weapons and solitary confinement in Massachusetts prisons, both of which have serious health implications and will only hasten the spread of COVID-19. I therefore demand the following actions be taken:
1) I demand Wayland’s immediate release from solitary confinement 2) I demand an end to the use of chemical weapons at Massachusetts correctional facilities 3) I demand an end to the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts 4) I demand all Superintendents and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections use every available means to release as many people as possible
Last night at around 10pm correctional officers approach the cell that I’m held captive in solitary confinement in and said I needed to pack up my stuff because I am being shipped out to Old Colony Correctional Center. I told them that I am refusing this unlawful move do to the fact that I have underlying medical issues, The prison they want to transfer me to has had a Covid-19 and coronavirus outbreak. There are no cases here in Gardner, so due to my health, I will respectfully refuse to move to that unsafe place.
They came back to my cell with riot gear on and gassed me.
Yesterday, my brother Adrian went to the State prison in Garder Massachusetts to do a wellness check on me, (his younger brother) seeing that I had already been in solitary confinement for more than 30 days for feeding other prisoners during this pandemic. He was told by on duty sergeant in the lobby that he was trespassing and needed to leave the property immediately as he radioed in some call over his walkie. Adrian then began leaving the property and was immediately approach by another officer with a Gun on his person. Adrian told that officer that he was here for a wellness check on his brother, that officer also told Adrian to leave the property. The officer with the gun, drove a vehicle to follow Adrian off the property.
I finally experienced this new chemical that they’ve developed to spray us with. it’s pretty excruciating. it completely shuts your lungs down and it feels like there’s a hole being burned straight through the middle of your chest. i’ve never coughed so hard in my life. imagine inhaling maybe a half cup of black pepper straight into the lungs, not swallowing but breathing it in through the mouth. the burn and the continuous increase of the pain… that on top of coughing, choking, and spitting up all of the mucus you can handle. the cough is so hard and loud — it’s the hardest cough you’ll ever push out because your body rejects the stuff so violently — and at the end of each violent cough, you’re forced to take a breath in, which causes you to take in another round of gas. your eyes are glued shut because it feels like your eyeballs are being melted into your skull with a torch, so your body doesn’t allow you to open them. on top of all the pain and suffering your body’s going through on the inside, your skin feels like someone doused you with gas and lit a match. that’s what i went through last night.
I don’t understand how that kind of pain works within the so-called rehabilitative environment. it didn’t rehabilitate me or make me respect authority, it just made me angry to see how they wanted to do me harm. i didn’t like the white men in riot gear standing over me, having fun at my expense. but my head’s up, i’m okay and i’m strong. i’m just pissed off.
Yesterday, DOC Commissioner Carol Mici posted a memo in all MA state prisons announcing that people who are incarcerated would be allowed back outside into the yard starting next week. This was one of the 3 demands that incarcerated organizers at NCCI-Gardner put forward as they refused food trays this week and which all of you helped us amplify.
However, two of their demands remain unmet and two people remain in solitary confinement in retaliation for incarcerated people speaking up about the horrible conditions inside, refusing trays, and instead sharing purchased food with one another. One of those people, Jeremy Woodley, is hunger striking until he is returned to the general population. You can read a letter from Jeremy below.
Please take 3 minutes TODAY to call and email Commissioner Carol Mici. Urge her to meet the remaining demands and free our organizers from solitary confinement. We must keep the pressure on. Call script below:
Carol Mici 508-422-3302 firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi, my name is ___. I am calling on behalf of incarcerated people at NCCI-Gardner, who have been refusing food trays for the past week in response to the current lockdown conditions at the prison. In response to this, I demand you to meet these needs immediately:
1) Free them all. 2) Until they are freed, provide healthier, more substantial, and more varied food options. 3) Stop retaliating against incarcerated organizers and return anyone in solitary confinement to the general population.
Can you confirm that these demands will be met in a rapid timeline?
update: as of 5/7, we have been informed that more of our people are being sent to solitary, disciplinary charges being handed out
We just received word that our friend and inside organizer, Wayland “X” Coleman, was thrown in solitary confinement this morning at NCCI-Gardner. The DOC has not yet given a reason why. We suspect it’s connected to the protest happening there now.
Please call the NCCI-Gardner superintendent’s office NOW to demand Wayland be returned to general population. Comment with your conversation below to help us keep track of the DOC response.
Please also email the commissioner by clicking here.
Call: 978-630-6000 ext. 102
Hello, my name is _____. I’m calling on behalf of Wayland Coleman (W65484). I heard that he was thrown into solitary confinement this morning without any reason. Can you tell me why Wayland is in solitary confinement?
(They will likely claim they cannot tell you for security/confidentiality reasons).
Solitary confinement is torture. There is absolutely no reason Wayland, or anyone, should be there. I demand that he be released and returned to the general population immediately. Can you confirm Wayland will be returned to his unit?