Six days before the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) shut down its prisons from visitors, I visited with one of our innocent, life-sentenced prisoners. He was recovering from an illness and explained how he was so pleased my visit was today and not two days ago because if I had come then, he would have had to refuse my visit, not being able to get out of his bed. He explained how this illness—he guessed the flu—was making its round inside the prison, sickening so many that the chapel was converted to a makeshift hospital. He insisted on sitting across the visiting room from me, afraid to get me sick. He looked tired and wan, without his usual vigor. He explained how the bunkbeds are so close to each other in his dormitory that he could stretch his arms out to his sides and touch the mattress of his neighbors on either side.
Four days later, the first presumptive COVID-19 case was reported in Louisiana. Since that initial reporting, the safety and health of our imprisoned, innocent clients have been on my mind. It would be a matter of days before COVID-19 made its way into our jails and prisons. Just this Saturday, a medical staffer at the New Orleans jail tested positive for COVID-19. There is no social distancing in jail and prisons. Imprisoned men and women exist in cramped quarters with limited opportunities to wash hands and access competent health care.
Recently, the health care system at Angola was declared unconstitutional. This highly contagious virus will sicken hundreds–if not thousands–of imprisoned individuals, if it is not successfully contained outside of jails and prisons and mitigated once it enters.
During this time of homeschooling, social distancing,and “stay-at-home” orders, there are ACTIONS we can be taking to make a difference. IPNO is not standing idly by, waiting for this storm to pass. We are:
CONTINUING TO SUPPORT OUR INNOCENT IMPRISONED CLIENTS by providing them with soap and other personal hygiene products they desperately need to not get sick and by keeping in close contact with their families to provide updates and relay messages. If you would like to help us protect our clients, donate here and in the message tell us it’s to support our incarcerated clients.
ASSISTING OUR FREED OR EXONERATED CLIENTS to navigate the complicated unemployment system to apply for help as they lose their jobs as employers shutter their small, independent businesses, as well as checking on their mental health and ability to pay bills. If you would like to help us do so, donate here and in the message tell us it’s to support our freed clients.
ADVOCATING FOR A SERIES OF IMMEDIATE PROACTIVE PLANS FROM THE GOVERNOR AND THE DOC to prevent and manage COVID-19 in Louisiana jails and prisons. See the letter here.
URGING OUR ELECTED LEADERS TO UPHOLD TRANSPARENCY of the lawmaking process by extending the legislative recess beyond March 31st so that individuals and communities directly impacted by proposed legislation get a chance to attend hearings and provide their perspectives to legislators before they cast their votes. See the letter here.
IPNO cannot do this critical work without your support.
You can support IPNO and our work by calling and emailing your legislators and the Governor, and demanding that they provide for the health and safety of Louisiana’s incarcerated individuals, continue to recess the Legislature until the public can fully participate in the legislative process, and immediately release prisoners with already commuted or recommended commuted sentences.
You can support IPNO and our clients by writing a letter to them and by donating to IPNO’s client support fund (click “yes” to Is this for our Exoneree Assistance Fund?) so that we can continue to provide soap and other necessities to our clients to protect their health.
If you are able, you can support IPNO by becoming a monthly donor so that our work continues during these uncertain times when the rights and the lives of our most vulnerable among us are threatened and jeopardized.
I hope you and yours remain safe, healthy and well during these challenging days. Take good care of your loved ones, your neighbors and your community.