Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

RCW 72.09.010 – Legislative intent. It is the intent of the legislature to establish a comprehensive system of corrections for convicted law violators within the state of Washington to accomplish the following objectives. […]
(5)(a) Avoiding idleness. Idleness is not only wasteful but destructive to the individual and to the community.

Today the administration at MCC notified the incarcerated population that a “staff appreciation” event will be held on May 31, 2022. At the same time as this notice was being disbursed, the Twin Rivers Unit Associate Superintendent was going around the institution with a bowl full of popsicles and handing them out to staff.

The incarcerated population at MCC is furious by this shameless demonstration of “atta-boy” behavior — and here’s why:

While this event occurs, MCC prisoners will be locked down from 10:30 a.m until 2:30 p.m. Staff will be eating BBQ while we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

To be fair, staff have gone through a lot during covid. With Gov. Inslee’s vaccine mandate causing major staff shortages, many MCC staff worked four double shifts a week for months. In addition, DOC struggles to keep new hires because it is simply an agency that doesn’t know how to be humane — either to employees or prisoners.

Whereas staff suffering at MCC has ended, the horrors of covid isolation for prisoners has never lessened — and in fact continues to worsen under the free hand administrators have to cause harm — all under the covid umbrella.

At Twin Rivers Unit the prisoners in both medium custody units have been removed from their jobs in all Correctional Industries operations besides the kitchen. This results in them being stuck in the housing unit all day. Milling around. Doing nothing.

Recreation has dwindled from four to six hours every day, down to a meager two hours — which is cancelled several times a week for a variety of reasons. Going to the yard on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings has disappeared completely.

Volunteer programs no longer exist. Twin Rivers used to have religious programs for all faith groups every single day of the week. Self-betterment programs such as Bridges to Life, Defy Ventures, Bridges to HOPE, Toastmasters, and recovery groups like AA/NA and Celebrate Recovery.

All gone.

Draconian covid protocols are imposed and aggressively enforced. Masks on at all times, maintain six-foot distance … completely ignoring the space limitations that do not allow “social distancing” — and the fact that we are sheltering in place when in our “wings.”

Visitation has been decimated — from four days a week for seven hours a day, down to three, 3- hour visits a month. We can drink bottled water now — but masks remain on with no eating food or kissing our loved ones. The argument against eating? Our masks would be down for too long.

MCC administrators must have found magic masks for the staff appreciation event — because surely they won’t be allowed to unmask and eat around one another. Ha.

Since March of 2020 this has gone on for us. During the covid outbreak that began in November when three maintenance staff infected their inmate work crews, MCC prisoners went weeks eating food that wasn’t fit for a dog. Many went weeks without a clean change of clothing. All were locked down for over a month. Over 400 positive cases and DOC never gave out a single cough drop.

Nobody has ever offered anything that resembles an apology to the prisoners at MCC. Certainly we’re not having a BBQ to acknowledge the way we continue to suffer. Our daily lives are fear. When will they take visits? When will they lock us in again?

I appreciate staff — and I only hope that they “drink the kool-aid” during their BBQ. Or was it in the popsicles?

Preparing for Quarantine

Preparing for Quarantine

Note: Jacob and a number of other prisoners at WSRU in WA DOC were escorted to quarantine (we believe on 1/10/21) after testing inconclusive or positive for covid-19. We will not be able to hear from him until he has tested negative twice, and is out of quarantine. Preparing for quarantine is a misnomer. Nobody is prepared, including prison officials.

January 8, 2021

According to the WSRU grapevine, my unit (D) is being tested again today. But the spooky tension that permeates the unit is when staff come to inform guys that they tested positive or inconclusive and are going to quarantine. One guy likened the moment to his sentencing hearing, and another openly admitted on the tier, “I’m scared as hell. I ain’t gonna lie.” Even for those who don’t admit they’re scared, they’re deeply concerned about how COVID-19 will affect them.

Since December 1, 2020, over 4,000 incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, and the numbers continue to rise. The last headcount for C-Unit (across from D-Unit) was 59, which is nearly a quarter of its 193-man capacity. Positive and inconclusive tests are turning C-Unit into a ghost town! Proportionally, D-Unit has fared much better with fewer cases.

And believe me, most guys have realized that quarantine is essentially purgatory because until the whole unit produces two negative tests, another two-week round of quarantine will be imposed — indefinitely. They recently opened up the gym to house positives and inconclusives. And last anyone heard, no makeshift showers are set up.

The situation is unnerving all the way around for guys, especially because there’s no Wi-Fi access or phones in the gym. The one positive (no pun intended) is we’re allowed to pack one paper bag of our belongings (e.g., our Jpay media tablet, food, hygiene products, socks, phone book, Education-issued laptops, etc.) to take with us.

So, in anticipation of going to quarantine, guys are taking preparatory steps to make their quarantine stay as comfy as possible.

For example, I downloaded various movies to my Jpay media tablet (while I have Wi-Fi!), I created a list of everything I plan to take with me and have it all ready to be packed in a paper bag. And in the event that I’m taken to quarantine, I pre-wrote the following message and saved it as an email draft. I’ll send it before I’m taken.

Note, if you receive the following w/o any preamble, it won’t be a drill. I WILL be heading to quarantine…
________________________

IMPORTANT: Quarantine and Communication

[Date]

Family and friends,

I’m sending you this message because I’m about to be escorted to the quarantine unit after testing inconclusive and positive for COVID-19. Since phones and Wi-Fi (meaning, no emails) aren’t available in the quarantine unit, you won’t hear from me for a few weeks or longer. But I still have envelopes!

Keep me and the guys with me in your prayers.
________________________

Jacob Schmitt – Empowering the Imprisoned: A Journey of Love

Jacob Schmitt – Empowering the Imprisoned: A Journey of Love

Our friend Jack Erdie produces and hosts a podcast called Plague Talk. The July 18, 2020 episode features Melissa’s husband Jacob Schmitt, interviewed from prison in Washington state.
Jacob Ivan Schmitt has spent most of his life locked up. Now he works to bring positive empowerment to the incarcerated and to thoroughly prepare them for “outside” thinking and successful reentry and community reintegration.
 

 

His is a story of the power of love and of dreaming being the bars that bind us. Even when we discuss the misery and losses for the incarcerated during Covid 19 lockdown squared, his vision is unwaveringly of internal and external freedom, autonomy, success and love.

 
Prisoners and the Importance of Positive Human Touch by Natalie Korman

Prisoners and the Importance of Positive Human Touch by Natalie Korman

Research has shown that physical human touch, particularly positive and supportive touch, is necessary for a healthy emotional state. While many people may be familiar with babies needing to be held and cuddled to develop healthily, humans in general must also receive and give positive physical contact to maintain a healthy emotional state.

Many adults, even those with numerous family and friends may be lacking in positive physical contact. However, incarcerated people are not just among the most socially isolated in our society, they are physically isolated — specifically, isolated from positive human touch.

While it may be common knowledge that violence — including sexual violence — occurs in prison, the gravity of the issue may not be as widely considered. Whether at the hands of their fellow inmates or of prison staff, incarcerated people may only know for years what it’s like to be touched by people who either have no interest in their wellbeing or outright wish them harm or death.

Some prisoners may be lucky enough to enjoy the spontaneous, positive touch of fellow inmates who are also friends. However, when some nonviolent touch occurs  it may be calculated and particular. Friends or allies may shake hands or even embrace. But every moment of physical contact may be measured in some way to initiate or preserve alliances, or break them, in order to maintain the inmate’s status or survival in prison. And if inmates do engage in nonviolent, consensual sexual activities with each other, it is always illicit, per prison rules.

Incarcerated people are, of course, also denied the ability to touch their loved ones: their family and friends. While some prisoners can touch visitors, if they have visitors at all, some are separated by thick glass. Others still might find visiting hours cruelly unaccommodating. Additionally, highly invasive strip searches are standard procedure before and after a prisoner receives a vist. Millions of opportunities for positive physical contact are poisoned or vanish altogether as soon as a person enters prison.

Shrinking visiting hours and poor opportunities for communication plague inmates and their families. Private companies provide prisons with services for phone calls, video calls, and email (at a profit) and there is growing concern that these extremely expensive digital and phone connections are replacing in-person visiting at some facilities, further distancing prisoners from positive human touch.

While many prisoners may have the dogged support from and frequent contact with family and friends, there are many who do not. Some prisoners, for a variety of reasons, receive few or no letters, phone calls or visits. This can have a devastating effect on the person in prison.

Solving the issue of the lack of positive human touch and supportive human contact for people incarcerated in the United States is a matter of a greater scope than this post can address. But there are ways individuals and institutions can support prisoners within the current context of incarceration even as organizers and activists resist against a system that so thoroughly dehumanizes millions of people.

Writing to a prisoner, for example, is one of the easiest ways to give support. Receiving their calls, sending supplies and books, or visiting them in person is vital to any given prisoner, too. But a letter is usually the easiest way for someone on the outside to reach in. And while letters cannot replace face-to-face contact or ease the lack of positive touch prisoners face, letters can provide an emotional lifeline to someone in dire need of one.

Adopt an Inmate facilitates the connection between incarcerated individuals and the people who wish to lend their support. AI is always looking for compassionate people who want to be there for someone who may have no one else on the outside. Submit this form to start the process.


Natalie Korman is a poet, writer, and editor living in Northern California. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Heliotropics (dancing girl press). In 2017, after being introduced to Adopt an Inmate by a former classmate, Natalie began correspondences with two people through the organization; both are now meaningful friendships. In the spirit of Adopt an Inmate, Natalie believes ongoing healing from institutional and interpersonal harm is a necessary part of the struggle for a more just and peaceful world.