UPDATE: Write to Incarcerated Victims of Repression and Keep Calling

UPDATE: REPRESSION AT MCI SHIRLEY

On 8/17, we reported out the story of Officers Chao and Favye (fah-vee) assaulting Jensen Peraza-Rivera and Swanie Burnett, and the following cover up and repression by administrators and staff at MCI Shirley.

Jensen Peraza-Rivera and Swanie Burnett have been transferred to MCI Concord and MCI Norfolk.

This week:

– Continue to make calls
– Write to Jensen and Swanie, who have been transferred out of Shirley
– Constituents of Sen. Eldridge and Rep. Keefe, please DM us on Facebook or Twitter for a specific call script for your electeds

For calls:

Call targets:
1. MCI-Shirley Superintendent: (978) 425-4341, press 2 to dial an extension, then 2 again to reach the medium security prison, then dial ext. 4200
2. Governor Baker: (617) 725-4005
3. Commissioner Carol Mici: (508)-422-3302

Script:

Hello, my name is [ your name] and I am a friend/concerned community member calling on behalf of incarcerated individuals recently assaulted by prison guards at MCI-Shirley and witnesses to that incident. My demands are:

1) Dismiss all witnesses’ and the victim’s disciplinary tickets

2) Drop any legal charges against Jensen and any incarcerated witness or victim

3) Reinstate jobs and single cells to those who did not plead guilty and were sent to solitary confinement

4) Do not re-classify Jensen and Swanie to Souza-Baranowski

5) Relieve Officers Chao and Favye (fah-vee) of duty, and all staff and administrators complicit in the assault and cover up

Please get back to me when these demands have been met.

For letters:

Rules:
– All mail will be photocopied, so don’t include photographs or other items
– No glitter, crayon, marker, colored inks, etc
– Black or blue ink on lined or white paper only
– Sender name on the envelope and in the letter must match

Sample messages:
– Hi my name is __________________
– I heard about the attack you all experienced at Shirley and am writing to express my support for you
– You are not forgotten
– We are fighting for all of you

Make it your own. The goal is just to show we have their backs!

Addresses:
Swanie Burnett, W109897
MCI-Norfolk
P.O. Box 43
Norfolk, MA 02056

Jensen Peraza-Rivera, W115532
MCI-Concord
P.O. Box 9106
Concord, MA 01742

URGENT: Defend incarcerated people at MCI-Shirley!

Last Monday, August 8, two guards attacked Jensen Peraza-Rivera, an incarcerated person at MCI-Shirley. A crowd of 16 other incarcerated people gathered around to bear witness and try to protect Jensen, verbally demanding that the guards get off of his neck. 

The DOC threatened all the witnesses with punishment, claiming that they participated in a “group demonstration.” Witnesses who pled guilty to their disciplinary tickets were allowed to stay in general population, while those who did not were thrown into solitary confinement – along with Jensen, the original victim.

This is chilling, given that the warden ordered his staff to coerce incarcerated people into pleading guilty to cover up staff violence against people in their care.

As of 8/15, all witnesses except Swanie Burnett and Jensen have been released from solitary, but remain at risk of losing their jobs and their housing status (i.e. if any of them had a highly-prized single cell, they are now at risk of being placed in a cell with multiple other people). Both Swanie and Jensen will be transferred to Souza-Baranowski. 

In January this year, 100 prisoners filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Correction in response to guards’ racist, brutal attacks against incarcerated people in this maximum security prison. Our people are being sent into further danger.

Jensen has been in deep distress and possibly unable to contact family throughout his ordeal.

A person should not be punished for getting punched in the face and choked by prison guards! But the DOC is doing so and coercing others into silence, even when video footage shows that the guard initiated the attack. 

Please join us in making three quick calls today, with the following demands that come directly from incarcerated people at MCI-Shirley. Once you’ve called, comment below to let us know how the conversations went!

Call targets

*MCI-Shirley Superintendent: (978) 425-4341, press 2 to dial an extension, then 2 again to reach the medium security prison before dialing ext. 4200.

*Governor Baker: (617) 725-4005

*Commissioner Carol Mici: (508)-422-3302

Call Script

Hello, my name is [your name ] and I am a concerned community member calling on behalf of incarcerated individuals recently assaulted by prison guards at MCI-Shirley and witnesses to that incident. My demands are:

  1. Immediately dismiss all disciplinary reports that were issued to witnesses of the guards’ assault on an incarcerated person, including the tickets of those who pled guilty under duress.
  2. Immediately reinstate the jobs and housing status of all those who refused to plead guilty to fraudulent charges under administrative coercion.
  3. Immediately drop all charges against Swanie Burnett (W109897) and release him from solitary confinement.
  4. Immediately drop all charges against Jensen Peraza-Rivera (W115532), and release him from solitary confinement immediately. 
  5. Relieve of duty any and all administrative personnel at MCI-Shirley who participated in punishing witnesses, and who have failed and are failing to take appropriate action against the malicious and violent misconduct of the prison guards.

Please get back to me when these demands have been met.

End Medical Neglect: Get Anthony Urgent Medical Care

As we continue to hear more and more stories of medical neglect due to Wellpath, the incompetent private medical provider in MA prisons, we’ll be sharing some immediate calls to action. Right now, we’re seeking support for Anthony Serrano, who is incarcerated at MCI-Shirley. He lost 28 pounds over the course of one week from vomiting, nausea, and inability to keep food down. He sought medical care, but instead was thrown into solitary, while Wellpath told him that nothing was wrong. He’s still dizzy and nauseous and in need of urgent care.

We know that the DOC needs to cancel Wellpath’s contract. Until then, join us in demanding that they provide Anthony with the care he needs.

Call the superintendent at MCI-Shirley: (978) 425-4341
You can press 2 to skip the entire intro message.
Press 2 again to dial an extension.
Press 2 a third time to connect to the medium facility.
Superintendent’s Office Ext. 4200 or Ext. 4126
Even if no one answers when you call, leave a message with the script below.

CALL SCRIPT

Hello, my name is [X] and I am a concerned community member calling on behalf of Anthony Serrano, W113379. Anthony has been seeking medical care for over a week, after losing 28 pounds from vomiting and inability to keep any food down. He also has sciatic pain and was seen at Shattuck and recommended a medical mattress and physical therapy, but hasn’t gotten it. 

This is gross medical neglect. To remedy this, I’m demanding that Anthony receive:

  1.  An urgent full evaluation for his gastrointestinal illness at an outside medical facility
  2. A back brace, medical mattress, wheelchair, and physical therapy appointment for his back pain

Will you confirm that Anthony will immediately receive this care?

The No So Well Path: James’s story

The Not So Well Path

James Keown

MCI-Norfolk

I learned that I might be dying almost by accident. A simple sentence buried in more than one hundred pages of documents the DOC had sent my lawyer after denying my petition for medical parole declared that doctors expected me to die within the next three years. That was one year ago.

The pronouncement of my potential fate had been written by a doctor for Wellpath, the $1.6 billion private vendor that contracts to provide health services to prisons and jail. The doctor had alerted several people about my prognosis — the Superintendent where I am housed was told; the DOC Commissioner was told; the administrators at Wellpath were told; however, no one told me.

For more than a decade, I had little contact with the prison medical department. I was fairly healthy when I came to prison, I ate well, and I exercised regularly. I loved to run. I heard horror stories from plenty of people about their experiences with health services, especially after Wellpath took over the department in 2018, so I was thankful that I rarely found myself in need of care from the Health Services Unit (HSU).

That all changed in early 2020 when I noticed an odd weakness in my right leg. It didn’t seem like much. I noticed it mostly when I attempted to stand or sit. The weakness was soon joined by muscle twitching and painful cramps. One morning in mid February I awoke to a cramp in my right thigh so strong that it felt as if the muscle was being unzipped down its center. I submitted my first Sick Call Request Form to the HSU that same day. A Wellpath nurse practitioner responded to my request several days later and said my symptoms were being caused by a small mass that had been discovered the previous November in a lymph node at my pelvis region.


The NP believed that all would be well as soon as they could address the mass. Unfortunately, she could not tell me when it might be addressed because Wellpath had yet to schedule an appointment with an oncologist. Over the next several months, the symptoms in my right leg became more noticeable. The growing weakness in my right leg caused me to stumble regularly, so I was issued a walking cane in May. Wellpath continued to insist that my symptoms would be relieved as soon as the mass was removed.

That July, I finally saw an oncologist at Boston Medical Center (BMC). The doctor who examined me said that the lump in my lymph node was almost certainly a benign fatty mass and that it would be removed using a simple surgery. The doctor also revealed that the symptoms I was now experiencing in both legs and both arms was in no way connected to the mass. He said that he had consulted with another doctor in the department and they felt that I had a potentially serious neurological condition and that I needed to see a neurologist urgently. Two months later, I spoke with a neurologist via telemed. By then, my cane had been replaced by a walker as my symptoms advanced. The neurologist shared that she thought that I may be suffering from motor neuron disease or a similar neuromuscular condition. She said that she needed to see me in-person and was going to request that Wellpath send me to the neurology clinic as soon as possible.


Over the next four months, however, Wellpath refused to schedule an appointment. I was told that the clinic wasn’t accepting appointments because of Covid-19, but the clinic told one of my lawyers that they had repeatedly called the prison asking them to send me. During this same time, Wellpath stopped responding to my Sick Call Request Forms. I submitted more than a dozen forms reporting progressing symptoms that included weakness in my trunk that made it difficult for me to sit upright and weakness in my throat and mouth that made it difficult to eat. I also reported injuries from falls. But for four months, I was totally ignored.

When a Wellpath provider finally saw me in February 2021, I was a shell of myself. I could barely stand, even with the walker. My gait had deteriorated to the point that my right foot would drag across the ground while my left leg would clop hard with each step. Often, my feet would roll or the muscles in my legs would give out causing me to stumble and fall. I spent most of my days in bed because I found it so difficult to sit upright for an extended period of time. I could no longer write effectively with a pen or shave myself. And, I had begun losing weight because I found it so difficult to eat. The Wellpath doctor who evaluated me made an immediate referral that I be seen by neurology and had me transferred to a medical unit in the prison called the Clinical Stabilization Unit, or CSU.

In the CSU, I was one of sixteen patients considered to be the medically most vulnerable. We were crammed together in a small open dorm lined up in rows of four hospital beds apiece. When in bed, my head was about one foot away from the head of the patient in the bed behind mine. My feet were about three feet away from the feet of the patient in the bed in front of mine. And the bed next to mine was only about five feet away from my bed. Two dingy bathrooms, a shower room, nurses station and officers station filled out the rest of the medical unit living area. I was assigned a bed in the middle of the room. The other beds were filled with mostly elderly men — several in their 80s — who rarely left their beds. One patient had advanced dementia and spent his days staring at old game show reruns on his television with no sound and retelling the same few stories over and over again to anyone who would listen. Another patient had survived Covid only to develop a deadly blood infection that he barely survived only to have a toe amputated due to his uncontrolled diabetes. Many of these same patients appeared to be receiving no medical care other than daily medications and occasional vital checks. I thought being placed in the CSU would rescue me from the medical quagmire I had been trapped in over the previous year, but I soon found myself only sinking deeper into the abyss.


I would not see a neurologist for almost four more months and that was only after several letters from a prisoner rights advocacy organization threatened legal action against Wellpath and the DOC. When I did see doctors at BMC, they determined that I indeed was suffering from a progressive neurodegenerative disease. They speculated that it may be ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or a similar disorder. Another three months passed before I saw another neurologist at an ALS clinic who was less certain about the ALS diagnosis, but also appeared to be uncomfortable having a prisoner patient (according to another doctor) and suggested that I see other doctors. Deeper I sunk.


As I write this, it has been five months since I last saw a neurologist and I am unsure when I will next see one. All my symptoms have continued to advance and I have developed new ones. Today, I am wheelchair bound and require special padding and straps to hold me upright. I now require supplemental oxygen throughout the day and a noninvasive ventilator at night to breathe. I am on a highly specialized diet and I have to use a universal cuff to hold my utensils to feed myself. And, it is probable that not too far into the future I will require a feeding tube.


My companions in the CSU are in equal straits. The man with dementia died in February after he suddenly stopped eating and drinking, and, other than a couple of special nurses, no one on the medical staff cared enough to help him. He became so dehydrated that he had to be sent to the emergency room where he experienced organ failure when they attempted to rehydrate him. The man who lost his toe now sleeps most of everyday, as do several other patients… including me.

I still have no diagnosis which means that I am still receiving no real treatment. I am essentially warehoused inside a medical unit that Wellpath has been unable to adequately staff for many months. Since the onset of my symptoms, I have seen four different doctors serving as medical director of the facility, although we have been without one altogether since last November. Nurses seem to come and go almost weekly. And, with each passing month it seems to be more and more difficult to get answers to even basic medical questions.

Wellpath in Massachusetts has collapsed under the weight of its own greed. The company has stripped away every penny possible from the $184.5 million the DOC paid for prisoner healthcare last year. (A $10 million increase from the previous year.) Since the company acquired the contract in 2018, the DOC population has decreased by more than 24%, while healthcare spending soared by more than 30%. All the while, the population has continued to age to the point where Massachusetts now has the oldest prisoner population in America. This combination of factors has created a perfect storm where resources are stretched so thin that Sick Call Request Forms are regularly ignored, medications are not reordered as needed, and specialist appointments are delayed or canceled altogether.


I may be dying — perhaps in fewer than twenty-four months. The fact that I don’t know if that statement is true or not is worse than not being able to walk, to eat, or to breathe. The reason I don’t know the truth about my fate is because Wellpath misdiagnosed my condition for five months, ignored it for four more months, and fumbled from one delayed and uncoordinated appointment after another. My reality is that because of Wellpath, the doctor who may ultimately diagnose my condition is the coroner.

My reality is that because of Wellpath, the doctor who may ultimately diagnose my condition is the coroner.

James Keown

End medical neglect: Yisbert’s story

This is the story of Yisbert Lara, age 39, an incarcerated man at MCI Norfolk.

Yisbert started experiencing severe back pain more than 18 months ago. His experience with Wellpath first began when he was seen by a nurse practitioner who diagnosed him with sciatic nerve damage despite the lack of tests, x-rays, and MRI scans. Yisbert was simply given Tylenol and then sent on his way. 

After this event, Yisbert’s back pain worsened over time. Finding it difficult to walk or sleep, Yisbert complained frequently to the medical staff about his condition. Wellpath personnel changed his prescriptions for pain medication seven times without success. On top of this, Yisbert saw a physical therapist who applied an electro stimulus to his back while restraining his legs, a procedure which provided no pain relief. Then, in late April, Yisbert saw a foot doctor who wanted to inject a shot of cortisone into his back. Lacking a proper diagnosis and information about the procedure and its effects, Yisbert refused the shot.

Since February 2020, Yisbert has submitted 15 sick slips and four grievances to the medical department, each time asking for tests, to get sent out for an MRI, or for any treatment by a doctor that would give him an accurate diagnosis for what had become chronic, debilitating back pain. As a result of his pain, Yisbert walks with a pronounced limp that requires the assistance of a cane and finds it difficult to sleep at night. Yisbert continued to file sick slips and grievances – all of which were repeatedly denied by the Wellpath provider. 

Yisbert’s experience is, sadly, very common and the state hasn’t done anything to improve these conditions. The Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor filed a report that found that the Department of Correction failed to provide timely response to sick calls from incarcerated people. Importantly, this audit occurred before the pandemic, and given the rise in healthcare needs since then, these delays are likely worse now. Even though incarcerated people are legally entitled to file grievances for this and other kinds of medical neglect, those grievances are essentially never acted on by prison officials.

Frustrated and fed up, Yisbert filed a request for medical treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result, Wellpath finally sent him to Boston Medical Center for tests. Yisbert saw a neurosurgeon and was given an MRI that properly diagnosed him with a herniated disc – the answer he was waiting for after more than 18 months of undue suffering and pain. He was then told he would be scheduled for surgery to repair the damage.

 For Yisbert, this sad saga of neglect, inadequate and inept medical care continues, despite his diagnosis, as he is still in pain while he awaits his surgery and continues to have problems with obtaining his pain medication. 

Yisbert Lara’s inadequate and negligent care at the hands of the Wellpath medical provider at MCI Norfolk is just one of several examples that demonstrate how the institution does not provide what one needs to thrive. Instead, Wellpath’s negligence and inhuman treatment perpetuates and deepens harm. In Yisbert’s words:

“I don’t feel I should have been made to beg for my surgery. I should have been sent to a specialist two years ago. Doctors need to be consulted sooner when people complain of serious issues. I was ignored and this shouldn’t happen.”

Yisbert Lara

For more stories of medical neglect:

Loved ones lost to Wellpath’s horrific indifference

End Medical Neglect in Massachusetts Prisons

We’ve heard several stories from folks inside about the horrific healthcare they’ve received, even before the pandemic.

Healthcare in the Massachusetts DOC is at an absolute crisis, and incarcerated organizers want to make sure their voices are heard.

If you have stories of medical neglect in Massachusetts prisons, please let us know by using this secure form or emailing info@deeperthanwater.org directly.


End the Contract with Wellpath, Before I go Blind

By: Ronald Leftwich

Prisons and jails across the US are failing our communities. Countless incarcerated people in the US are receiving negligent medical care from a for-profit company called Wellpath. This corrupt and deeply negligent medical provider – which is owned by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital – was sued at least 1,395 times in federal court between 2008 to 2018. Locally, horror stories about Wellpath’s negligence are being revealed across the country, from California to North Carolina. Recent reports have exposed Wellpath’s egregious health care services in immigration detention centers, as well as the company’s failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks in incarcerated populations. 

Despite Wellpath’s record, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) has contracted with Wellpath to provide medical care for all people incarcerated in state prisons. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, Wellpath has subjected incarcerated people – who are unable to receive care elsewhere – to undue suffering and negative health outcomes.

I know this because I’m incarcerated in a state prison in Massachusetts, and I am going blind.

I suffer from severe glaucoma, an eye disease that causes loss of vision. When treated appropriately, vision loss due to glaucoma can be slowed or stopped. Without proper treatment, this illness can cause complete blindness that is irreversible. Because Massachusetts has hired Wellpath, I fear I am on this path.

[ For more in this series, read: Interview with Shorty Mac ]

In July of 2020, an ophthalmologist at Boston Medical Center, growing alarmed by the progression of my glaucoma, scheduled me for immediate corrective eye surgery to prevent further loss of vision. When September arrived, and I still had not heard from Wellpath about the surgery, I began writing letters to Wellpath, asking about the surgery. For months, I received no response. Finally, in November, I began receiving notices stating that the surgery had been scheduled. Yet, when I saw a Wellpath nurse in December, she looked at my record and told me, “I do not see any mention of surgery of any kind.” She promised me that she would look into the matter and get back to me. Several more months passed and I heard nothing. Frustrated and concerned, I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Corrections asking her to intervene on my behalf and assist me in getting my surgery. I received no response to my letter. 

I then asked a friend in the community to contact the Commissioner’s office. My friend’s call prompted a response and Wellpath finally scheduled my surgery. On June 8th, 2021 – nearly one year after my ophthalmologist called for immediate surgery – I underwent micropulse laser surgery for my glaucoma. 

Many incarcerated people don’t have a friend or family member to advocate on their behalf. I’m not sure my surgery would have ever been scheduled if not for my friend’s call. 

But even after my surgery, I still struggled to get the recovery care I needed. I was refused shades for my windows, even though dark lighting is necessary for recovery. Now, I am waiting on Wellpath to schedule this surgery for my other eye. When I was last brought to an appointment with my ophthalmologist at BMC, she expressed concern at the way Wellpath has continuously pushed back the dates of my appointments.

Due to Wellpath’s negligence, my eyesight has continued to deteriorate in ways that could be prevented by basic treatments. I now take eight prescription medications to control my glaucoma. When I run out of these prescriptions, refilling them is never a certainty. I always let the Wellpath nursing staff know that I need a refill one week prior to running out of these prescriptions. Still, Wellpath rarely refills them on time. Due to this negligence, I often go two to five days without them, despite my best efforts to follow my doctor’s orders. Without consistent access to these medications, I may quickly lose what is left of my vision.  

Sadly, my experience is not unique. There are many cases even more egregious than mine.

This raises many questions. Why has Massachusetts given Wellpath its stamp of approval? Why have they handed responsibility for the health care of thousands of individuals over to a medical provider that is well known for providing negligent care?

If a just and moral society is to be measured by anything, should we not first look to see how that society cares for those who lack the opportunity to care for themselves – those who are sick, elderly, incarcerated or homeless? Should we allow institutions and structures to exist that do not care for these populations, all the while profiting off of them?

Any moral society would call for the immediate removal and abolishment of institutions that did not treat these vulnerable citizens with adequate care and concern. The Massachusetts DOC has an obligation to drop their contract with Wellpath and ensure that incarcerated people in this state receive the medical care they need.

Help us get surveys designed by organizers incarcerated in Massachusetts into the hands of prisoners:


For more in this series, read: Interview with Shorty Mac

Where is the Department of Public Health?

News stories this week have shown the spiraling crisis inside Massachusetts jails, prisons and detention centers. On Sunday, June 21, a prisoner at MCI Norfolk collapsed in the middle of kitchen duty. He was later diagnosed with COVID19. His fellow workers were placed in solitary confinement, as there’s simply no medical infrastructure to support a quarantine.

Yet in all of this, there is a single entity whose responsibility it is to oversee the health of people inside. And frankly, they’ve failed. Last month, immigrant rights organizers demanded an inspection at Bristol County. DPH listened. However, just as with MCI Norfolk, where DPH allowed the water to run brown for over a decade, DPH was inexplicably unable to find anything wrong at Bristol (we are told their inspection report is due out next week).

While we are sympathetic to the overwhelming demand put on the public health community during this pandemic, it is unconscionable to look at what is happening at places like MCI Framingham, MCI Shirley or Bristol County and say that this is acceptable, that is is the best we can do.

Prisoners at hotspots like MCI Framingham and MCI Shirley report guards showing up to work sick, administrators ordering staff to come in anyway. Prisoners are using the same flimsy masks for two weeks at a time. Infirmaries are full. A clause in the MCOFU collective bargaining agreement allows for guards to simply opt out of testing, with no requirements for containment. The virus didn’t come from prisoners. It came from staff, and it’s time DPH acknowledged this.

Building up People not Prisons is asking for help.

Call DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel at (617) 624-5200.


Hello, I’m contacting you about the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in Massachusetts prisons, including the outbreak at Norfolk prison. I know that almost half of women inside Framingham contracted COVID19. I’m aware that guards are not being tested at multiple pirisons. Extensive, inhumane lockdowns and months without visits are punishment; not protection. Our incarcerated community has been forced to endure intense and lasting harm to their physical and mental health. The DOC’s response thus far has been a total moral and public health failure. Please


Commissioner Bharel, I’m concerned about the COVID-19 crisis in Massachusetts jails and prisons, including Bristol County Jail and Norfolk prison. I am asking you to do your utmost to protect our loved ones who are incarcerated. I’m aware the DPH reports don’t capture what our incarcerated community is forced to endure day after day. In order to protect the lives of those who are incarcerated, DPH immediately needs to:

1. Use your moral authority and public health power to urge Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Correction to decarcerate in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19

2. Use statutory powers to implement rigorous, public, and transparent oversight of DOC, especially during the pandemic

3. Issue an injunction against any respiratory irritants, including pepper spray and tear gas, within prisons, jails, or detention centers

4. Ensure all prisoners are given new, clean mask replacements daily

The humanitarian crisis continues. Please use your voice and position of authority to pressure the DOC, Parole Board, and Governor Baker to immediately decarcerate jails and prisons starting with people who are 50 years old and older and all people with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. Thank you. 

Call DPH DOC Commissioner Carol Mici at (508) 422-3302.


Hello, I’m contacting you about the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in Massachusetts prisons, including the outbreak at Norfolk prison. I know that almost half of women inside Framingham contracted COVID19. I’m aware that guards are not being tested at multiple pirisons. Extensive, inhumane lockdowns and months without visits are punishment; not protection. Our incarcerated community has been forced to endure intense and lasting harm to their physical and mental health. The DOC’s response thus far has been a total moral and public health failure. Please change course now. I am asking you to use your power as the Commissioner to approve all people’s medical parole who are 50 years and older and all people with underlying health conditions. Guards must be regularly tested, not just screened, in order to work at any DOC facility. Thank you.

Medical professionals / public health workers

We’re asking folks with medical/public health backgrounds to email DPH, using this template:

Commissioner Bharel,

I’m writing as a [public health professional/healthcare professional] to express deep concern about the COVID-19 crisis at MCI-Norfolk and Bristol County House of Correction. We know there have been recently confirmed COVID-19 cases in both places, and we urge DPH to do your utmost to protect our loved ones who are incarcerated. Forthcoming inspection reports that confirm the DOC narrative that “everything is fine” is outrageous, given what we know to be true from our loved ones inside. In order to protect the lives of those who are incarcerated, DPH immediately needs to:

1. Use your moral authority and public health power to urge Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Correction to decarcerate in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19

2. Develop and implement rigorous, public, and transparent oversight of the DOC’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis

3. Issue an injunction against any respiratory irritants, including pepper spray and tear gas, within prisons, jails, or detention centers

4. Ensure all prisoners are given new, clean mask replacements daily

It is past time to use your voice and your public health authority to pressure the DOC, SJC, Parole Board, and Governor Baker to immediately decarcerate all people, starting with those 50 years old and older and all people with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. 

Sincerely,

There’s more: head over to tinyurl.com/MAweekofaction every week for more things you can do to help our people inside.

Mutual Aid Project Targeted

As most of you already know, one of the initiatives that we’ve been working on in 2019 has been a project that allows people inside to help meet the needs of other incarcerated and detained people through a Patreon subscription service that also publishes media from inside.

So far, we have sent back every penny that we’ve raised (and then some) to make sure that our family inside has what they need. All of these transactions have been recorded on a ledger and all receipts have been saved. Nevertheless, we were informed earlier this week that one of our inside organizers was questioned about the funds and told that the Department considers trafficking drugs to be the only explanation for why someone on the outside would send money to complete strangers.

This is emblematic of why we oppose prisons, detention and policing altogether: to believe in the logic of the carceral system requires us to suspend our love and support for each other, to see our own needs and those of the state as the only needs that matter.

This logic is the foundation of prisons, where prisoners face time in solitary confinement for simply sharing bottled water or toothpaste. Prisoners and detainees are forbidden from corresponding with one another, and when people are paroled, they are forbidden from staying in contact with their loved ones still inside. For many, this means leaving the only family they have left.

When people are released, they are also forbidden from giving their possessions to people still inside. People who recycle radios or fans are accused of theft and given disciplinary tickets. As of 2018, family members with more than one loved one inside are unable to visit, and attempts by prisoners to send money to family are routinely stymied.

It was in the spirit of trying to address this that we created the Solidarity Network platform, and it’s in this spirit that we intend to continue to do so.

Time and again we see that staff are the primary traffickers of drugs into prisons. And yet, the DOC uses the spectre of drugs and drug use to keep families apart and deny prisoners access to their support systems. The DOC uses this spectre to deny prisoners necessary medical treatment and pain management while conducting violent, violating shakedowns and “security” practices against prisoners and their visitors. Many of our inside members have endured recovery from surgery with no more than Tylenol. We see through this.

We ask supporters to be ready to take action should the DOC continue to escalate its intimidation and retaliation against prisoners and their loved ones. We keep us safe and we are all we have.

An inside perspective on the use of pepper spray

Several days ago a dear friend was recounting her terrifying experience of being pepper-sprayed last month while attending a rally outside the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where immigrants are being detained unjustly by ICE.

Many of you will recall how when peaceful demonstrators were attempting to prevent being run over by a crazed guard driving a pickup truck, the crowd was viciously assaulted and pepper-prayed by overzealous guards from that prison. (The guard driving that pickup truck– a Captain– resigned from his job the following day. Why he was not charged with attempted murder, or at least assault with a deadly weapon, is anyone’s guess).

The unprovoked attack resulted in several protesters requiring hospitalization and treatment for broken bones and or/respiratory issues. My friend described how, after already being pepper-sprayed twice in her eyes, nose and mouth, she dropped to the ground and blocked her airways with clothing. The threat of suffocating to death was very real for my friend that evening.

In turn, I began to share my own experiences of being gassed or pepper-sprayed, which is a regular occurrence at MCI Shirley, a medium security prison in central Massachusetts where certain guards carry pepper spray on their belts.

Fights happen regularly at this prison, a number of them in the chow hall during meals. In the year or so since my arrival at this prison there have been no fewer than thirty fights in the chow hall, with at least twenty-five of those resulting in the use of pepper-spray in order to separate the combatants. Once unleashed, usually sprayed in the direction of the persons fighting, the irritant quickly spreads through the atmosphere (in the summers, aided by the fans mounted on the wall), affecting everyone in the chow-hall, staff included. There is no place to go to escape the burning of eyes, noses and throats as all doors are quickly secured. You can taste it in the food, and you either have to eat it or go hungry. 

The use of pepper-spray in Mass prisons is relatively new. I don’t recall it being used at all in my thirty years at MCI Norfolk. And in my three and a half years at MCI Walpole, from 1981 to 1985,  other than in the notorious 10-block, tear-gas was used once in the general prison population to start a near riot (in 1984) when a rookie guard panicked when he mistakenly thought prisoners were taking over the prison while leaving the auditorium during the viewing of a movie.

I’ve seen a lot of fights in my nearly 36 years in prison, and I can tell you that once guards respond to a fight, it is broken up pretty quickly, without the need for mace or pepper-spray. Most guys won’t resist and tussle with guards for fear of being charged with assault and risking more prison time, so they cuff up.

Several months ago two prisoners were fighting in the chow hall not more than ten feet from where I sat and ate. As usual, no weapons were involved and the fight was quickly broken up. As one of the guys was being cuffed, an officer walked right up to that prisoner and blasted him directly in his face with a stream of pepper spray; a full thirty minutes after the fight was over! The poor guy was gasping for air as guards led him away while the rest of us in the area began to choke and rub our eyes.

It wasn’t the first time that that officer has done that, and I’m sure it won’t be his last. It was, and is, completely unjustified, but this is what happens when you allow people – particularly those in law enforcement to carry and use weapons that they don’t know how to use and who become overzealous in their responses to non-threatening situations, just like in Rhode Island, or in Boston at the “Straight Pride” parade.

Greg Diatchenko

NO MORE CAGES

This August 1-6th, the American Correctional Association will descend on the city of Boston for their annual Congress of Correction. The ACA annual conference is a massive gathering with thousands of participants from correctional officers to prison profiteers.

This year, the ACA is presenting an award to none other than J. David Donahue, the Sr. Vice President of GEO Group. In addition to being one of the largest private prison companies on the planet, is currently leading the charge to expand the immigrant detention and separation apparatus as much as possible. As part of GEO Group, Donahue is also focused on exporting the American neoliberal prison system to the rest of the world. Last year, in response to increased ICE raids and detentions, Donahue and his staff reported that they were “very pleased” with the exponential rise in prisoners and detainees seen in the wake of the Trump administration. 

Also in attendance will be corporations from all over the world from weapons manufacturers to groups like JPay, whose tablet interfaces are currently being pushed to replace in-person visits, extracting even more money from families and destroying the bonds that hold people together. This isn’t an aberration, this is their business plan.

In a time when all cages are overflowing with our loved ones, we owe it to ourselves and our communities to say: #NOMORECAGES

 

There will be events planned throughout the week that the ACA is occupying our city. For now, please help turn up as many people as possible to march on the conference itself on August 4th.