Louisiana Activists Launch National Coalition to Demand Controlled Evacuations of Prisons During the Pandemic

By Suzy Subways

A national coalition led by the Working Group Against COVID-19 Death Chambers is forming to fight for controlled evacuations of incarcerated people—and it needs you. 

For the past year, loved ones of incarcerated people and other activists have pressured states to release large numbers of people from prisons in order to prevent massive loss of life. But very few people have been released, and as a result of prison conditions, one in five incarcerated people have gotten COVID-19. According to the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, at least 2,368 incarcerated people have died in the U.S. from the virus so far. 

Continue reading “Louisiana Activists Launch National Coalition to Demand Controlled Evacuations of Prisons During the Pandemic”

Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll

by Suzy Subways

As COVID-19 surges through the state and tears through its prisons, loved ones of incarcerated people are driving to Harrisburg today, calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to use his reprieve power to immediately release all elderly and medically vulnerable people in prison. Loved ones are also asking the Department of Corrections to require prison staff to wear face masks and be tested for COVID-19. As part of a national caravan for health and social justice, the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign worked with local anti-prison groups like the Human Rights Coalition and the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI) to center the survival of people in prison on this day. The car caravan will circle the state capitol and proceed to the governor’s mansion.

Amid the horror that is the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections right now, Black liberation movement political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz may be one of the best examples of how that horror is playing out for elderly prisoners and their families. Maroon is 77 years old and has been fighting stage 4 colon cancer for over a year. After testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 11, Maroon was held in a gymnasium with 29 other men—and only one toilet to share between them. Meanwhile, he has had blood in his stool, and his urgent surgery for the cancer is now being denied. 

Continue reading “Aging Black Liberation Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz, Bedridden with COVID-19 and Cancer, Shows Us Why PA Must #FreeEmAll”

How to Obtain/Secure a Medical Release of Information for an Incarcerated Individual in PA State Prison

By Elaine Selan, RN, MSN

Our current health crisis is one that impacts each of us in different ways; it brings to light so many questions and concerns.  Often as nurse who is also a human rights activist, I am contacted by family members asking how one can obtain medical information about a loved one who is incarcerated.  Typically, this need arrives when the loved one becomes ill.  However, getting a Release of Information [ROI] when your loved one is not ill will make it easier to get information if the need occurs.

The process has many steps; and, even if followed correctly, the DOC’s health services may present obstacles that need to be addressed.  Determination is crucial!!! 

Continue reading “How to Obtain/Secure a Medical Release of Information for an Incarcerated Individual in PA State Prison”

When There’s a Pandemic and Your Loved One Is in Prison

Ideas for support and advocacy during the COVID-19 crisis 

By Evelyne Kane and Suzy Subways

It’s challenging enough for loved ones of people in prison: paying for expensive phone calls, trying to advocate for your loved one’s health, keeping your head up through it all. And now we have to deal with this new virus. Here are what we hope will be some helpful ideas and suggestions, which we’ve gathered from people in prison, their loved ones on the outside, and other activists:

Coronavirus Info to Share with Your Loved One in Prison:

COVID-19 is the name for the new disease spread by the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is very easy to spread from person to person, and transmission can happen in a number of ways, including:

  • From close contact with another person who has the virus (being within 6 feet of them)
  • Through contaminated surfaces or objects (the virus can live on many surfaces for hours or even days)
  • Through contaminated particles in the air (for instance, when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes)

Continue reading “When There’s a Pandemic and Your Loved One Is in Prison”

“My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers

By Evelyne Kane

Online exclusive for Prison Health News

A few days before Christmas, Shaleda and Ervin Busbee sit together in their cozy and well-kept rowhouse in West Philadelphia. From the living room, a lighted Christmas tree ringed with gifts glows softly. Despite the festivity of the season, the Busbees’ spirits are heavy this year as they grieve the loss of their son, Tyrone Briggs, who was killed on November 11, 2019 while incarcerated at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy. His family and legal team allege that his death was caused by excessive use of pepper spray by Mahanoy staff.

Continue reading ““My Heart Is Broken in Pieces”: Family Grieves Son Lost to Excessive Force from Corrections Officers”

Legal Advocates Support Philadelphia Family Seeking Justice for Son Allegedly Killed by Prison Guards

By Evelyne Kane

Online exclusive for Prison Health News

On November 11, 2019, Tyrone Briggs died at the age of 29 while incarcerated at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy, a 1,000-cell, all-male, medium-security correctional facility located in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Shortly after, 13 of Mahanoy’s medical and security staff were suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation into Briggs’ death. In a press release, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel promised that “whatever the outcome of this case, we are going to be as transparent as possible, and the DOC will take whatever remedial measures deemed to be necessary.” Despite this promise, additional details about the cause of Briggs’ death have been slow to follow. Reports from other individuals incarcerated at Mahanoy, including a prisonradio.org podcast from Mumia Abu-Jamal, have attributed Briggs’ death to the excessive use of oleoresin capsicum (OC), or “pepper spray.” In accounts from witnesses inside Mahanoy, it is believed that guards responded to an altercation between Briggs and another inmate by spraying the two men with OC. They subsequently tackled Briggs to the ground, held him down, and continued to OC-spray him. Briggs was heard to say, “I can’t breathe,” several times during the incident, and it is believed that these were his last words. Continue reading “Legal Advocates Support Philadelphia Family Seeking Justice for Son Allegedly Killed by Prison Guards”

Second issue of Turn It Up! prison health magazine now available

Our sister publication, Turn It Up! Staying Strong Inside, has just released its second issue! This is a beautiful, detailed and comprehensive resource for people in prison about how to survive, thrive and advocate for their health. Turn It Up! is published by the SERO Project.

You can read it online here and order a copy for your loved one in prison here.

Visit TheBody for a wonderful interview with the editors.

New Mail Rules in Pennsylvania May Spread Nationwide

By Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 38, Fall 2018

On September 5th, after a 12-day lockdown of all 25 prisons in the state, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) made drastic permanent changes to mail and visits. The DOC claimed that dozens of guards had been exposed to synthetic drugs, and that the lockdown and new restrictions were intended to protect them. But no tests showed that the drugs were in the sick officers’ bodies. Toxicology experts and the medical directors of the hospital emergency rooms where the guards were taken told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the guards’ symptoms were consistent with anxiety. They called it a “mass psychogenic illness” — anxiety symptoms that can happen when groups of people share a contagious fear of being exposed to something, even though they haven’t been. No mailroom staff reported getting sick. Continue reading “New Mail Rules in Pennsylvania May Spread Nationwide”

Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams

By Elisabeth Long

From PHN Issue 34, Fall 2017

“Money kept them in. Black love got them out.”

— Pat Hussain, Co-founder of Southerners on New Ground

This August, activists bailed out 51 Black women, queer and trans folks across the South as part of the Black August Bail Out organized by Southerners on New Ground (SONG). SONG is a Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people in the South. The Black August Bail Out is a continuation of bail outs happening around the country that began with the Mama’s Day Bail Out in May. Organizers found people to bail out in several ways, such as using public records requests and allying with public defenders. They met with women inside to ask their permission to bail them out and to find out what their needs might be after being released. In addition to bail, donated funds were used to provide short-term housing, healthcare, transportation, drug treatment, mental health care and other support services to people the activists bailed out. Continue reading “Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams”

When Someone on the Outside Has Your Back

by Theresa Shoatz and Suzy Subways

From PHN Issue 33, Summer 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to get medical care when you need it behind the walls. For readers who have family, friends or a partner on the outside to help, here are some suggestions for them to try. You may want to clip this article and send it to them. Continue reading “When Someone on the Outside Has Your Back”