The writer is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets online on Zoom on Monday evenings. He was sentenced to serve over two years in Federal Prison for a white collar crime, and is scheduled to report next month. He sent me this prayer letter and asked me to post it on prisonist.org. – Jeff Grant
Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. is the world’s first ministry supporting the white collar criminal justice/economy exiled community. It hosts a White Collar Support Group meeting online on Zoom every Monday at 7:00 pm ET, 6:00 pm CT, 5:00 pm MT, 4:00 pm PT, information here. We will be hosting our 200th consecutive weekly meeting online on Monday, April 13, 2020.
To President Trump, Members of Congress, Surgeon General, Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force & Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,
On behalf of all those who are incarcerated, waiting to report or are in the process of working through the criminal justice system I write this prayer letter to bring a voice to our plight. As I am preparing to report to a federal prison, I believe it’s important that we do whatever I (we) can to advocate for ourselves.
“Early on in this pandemic, we learned that, as with other closed spaces such as cruise ships and nursing homes, the covid-19 coronavirus spread rapidly in Chinese correctional facilities. Now the United States, which leads the world when it comes to incarceration, faces that same challenge.”
The question on the minds of those that have family members in prison or waiting to report is what the government will do to intervene on our behalf. The most common recommendation put forward by the ACLU and other organizations is to reduce the population inside prisons and avoid the reporting of any new inmates unless the circumstances of the crime warrant removal from general population. Prison reform (The First Step Act) was signed into law in 2018 in order to address some of the many issues that have plagued our system for years. Like any change in law the process is slow and the suffering of those who are most affected take much too long to implement.
As the coronavirus continues to spread it has made its way into prisons and reports of infections are increasing daily. There have been numerous reports warning that this was inevitable due to the close proximity of the living quarters, where inmates share bathrooms, laundry and eating areas. As reported in the New York Times “jails experience a daily influx of correctional staff, vendors, health care workers, educators and visitors — all of whom carry viral conditions at the prison back to their homes and communities and return the next day packing the germs from back home. How will we prevent incarcerated people and those who work in these institutions from becoming ill and spreading the virus?” It’s obvious that it is impossible to avoid an outbreak in prisons even during the best of times.
Personal and societal change is difficult to achieve and is generally precipitated by some traumatic event such as COVID-19. This is especially true when it comes to laws that have been baked into our judicial system for many years. This pandemic is a national emergency that affects everyone. For those of us who are desperate to see change it is time that government and those that truly believe in criminal justice reform take immediate action to avoid the growing disaster that is happening in our nation’s prisons. For nonviolent offenders with low risk of recidivism there are other options that must be considered in order to avoid causing further harm. In a letter to Attorney General Barr dated March 20th from Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Congresswomen Karen Bass they demanded answers on a multitude of suggestions that were made in a March 12th letter that would help during this pandemic and have yet to be addressed. “During this national emergency, DOJ should be doing all it can to increase social distancing and decrease movement to prevent further proliferation of COVID-19. This means that the Department must limit the number of inmates being brought into the system”
When we fail to consider all the costs and consequences of our system of mass incarceration, we run the risk of making a bad situation like this even worse. The justification for protecting public safety with imprisonment must be reassessed during this time as public safety will be at even greater danger if we fail to mitigate risks associated with confining too many people in jails, prisons, prison camps and detention facilities during a pandemic.
It is up to us as individuals to make sure our voices are heard and the word spreads faster than the virus itself. We can’t afford to wait for things to get better and allow people to forget what we are going through right now.
A Soon-to-be Federal Inmate