Every day, says Donna Robinson, a bucket of bleachy water is delivered to a ward in Bedford Hills to be used by the sixty women housed there, her own daughter among them. That’s the extent of the supplies they receive to keep their area sanitized from COVID-19.
The women are in bunk beds with no functional ability to practice social distancing. When the virus comes their way, Robinson, an organizer for Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), fears it’s going to spread quickly among inmates and guards alike.
“It’s batshit upside down crazy,” Robinson told hundreds of people during an online forum that RAPP conducted on March 25 to sound the alarm and organize to activate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s clemency powers to “let them go.”
“Here in western New York, when this scourge runs, they’re going to isolate them, put them in solitary,” Robinson said. “If there are deaths in droves, they’re going to have a Portable Mortality Unit; they’re not going to even send them to the hospital.” She added, “These are not garments to be thrown out. These are not garbage. They are human beings.”
According to testimony offered by RAPP to the state legislature in January 2019, there were at the time 10,239 older people in New York State prisons, making up 21 percent of the total prison population.” The group said the number of older people in New York prisons had increased four-fold—from 2,461 people to 10,239 people—over the last twenty-five years.
“They’re terrified,” RAPP Director Jose Hamza Saldana tells The Progressive about this class of highly vulnerable inmates. “They’re going through life in prison and this deadly disease is on its way. It’s coming. I imagine myself right there.” He says people who have not received a death sentence by any court of law should not receive one now due to bureaucratic inertia.
Saldana himself was incarcerated for thirty-eight years and denied parole four times. “For older people, with underlying conditions, all the health experts say that this virus is potentially fatal to you, and it’s a frightening, helpless position to really be in. And that should be shaking our conscience.”
Read the article at The Progressive