Covid-19 is an unprecedented and unpredictable global crisis, a defining moment in our history. This virus has affected everyone, but not equally. The deep structural inequalities in economics, health care systems, prisons, race, class and gender around the world are being exposed with devastating results to the most vulnerable people, particularly women.
The general population at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility was informed about the death of a fellow resident Lulu, on April 29th, 2020. There were 627 women housed there; now one is gone and we mourn for her with her family and friends.
This is a sad time for all of us, especially for me. I did my entire 39 year sentence at Bedford Hills. The women there are my family and dearest friends. I love and care deeply for them and have vowed to fight for their rights and dignity. Most of these women are past the age of 50 and many have poor health issues that are not being addressed properly. Visiting has been suspended indefinitely and phone calls are limited to within an hour time frame along with taking a shower, washing clothing, fixing a meal or going to the kiosk to send an email or download a book. The mess hall has limited food to dispense and the commissary is short on supplies. The women must be so lonely and frightened at this time my heart is broken, especially for the children who haven’t seen their mothers since this began and for the woman in federal prison who was serving a 26-month sentence and died of Covid-19 several weeks after giving birth to her child while on a ventilator.
We knew that this time would come and yet we diligently prayed for a different outcome. Unfortunately, 2 women have succumbed to Covid-19 while detained in prison. Despite the many efforts of Freedom Fighters/Advocacy groups for criminal justice reform and decarceration, who voiced their concerns by submitting letters, petitions, rallying, holding events and forums on Zoom, Facebook and other social media outlets about the safety and vulnerability of incarcerated people, many will die. Since April 26, 2020 there have been 21 positive cases of Covid-19 and 4 recoveries reported at Bedford Hills facility.
Are we so hell bent on punishment that we no longer see that all life is precious? Does being incarcerated now, because of Covid-19, denote a death sentence? We are supposed to be protecting the most vulnerable of society – our elders and those with underlying health issues that make them subsequently at risk of contracting Covid-19.
V-Day is raising funds for our incarcerated sisters at Bedford Hills this Mother’s Day to provide them with care packages of food and essentials to help ease conditions and to let them know we care.
Your donation will provide much needed support and hope for women in these uncertain times. This is an opportunity for all of us to come together, help one another and heal each other even if they are incarcerated.
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Roslyn Smith, V-Day’s Beyond Incarceration Project Manager, has been writing blog posts as part of V-Day’s 2019 Spotlight on Women in Prison, Detention Centers, and Formerly Incarcerated Women.
In her newly expanded blog, Dispatches from Beyond Incarceration, Roz writes an ongoing series about her experiences as a formerly incarcerated women, including short and long dispatches on prison reform and prison abolition, often highlighting news articles around the experiences of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, pieces highlighting what she’s thinking about, what she’s worried about, including interviews with formerly incarcerated women, stories from prison, visions of a world without prison, how violence against women leads to women coming to prison and then the violence they experience there, all the while highlighting important data and facts that shed light on incarceration and our commitment to restorative justice models. You will hear from women whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the prison and detention system on issues as far ranging as: trauma and abuse; shackling; transgender experiences; dignity; health and mental health; experiences of long term inmates; the youth/school to prison pipeline; the experiences of mothers and children navigating the immigration system; higher education in prison; and reentry and technology.