is publishing the excellent factual articles below on coronavirus in Michigan’s prisons from Efren Paredes, Jr., a heroic juvenile lifer who has been incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections since 1989 and is now 47. He was sentenced to life at the age of 15 for a robbery during which a store proprietor was killed. He was not the shooter or even inside the store.
He heads Juvenile Lifers for Justice, which is campaigning for the release of over 200 juvenile lifers still serving unconstitutional sentences in MDOC despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing mandatory JLWOP.
VOD notes that MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz in the video above endorses the release only of “non-violent” offenders to stem the spread of the Coronavirus in Michigan prisons. This is blatantly cruel and inhuman. NO PRISONER in the MDOC was sentenced to DEATH, although lifers are in effect serving death by incarceration sentences. Hopefully, Michigan lifers and their families will succeed in their campaigns to abolish Life Without Parole. The U.S. is the ONLY country in the world with true LWOP; others allow parole consideration after a term of years.
Paredes’ articles are interspersed with videos from around prisons in the U.S.
also see article April 9, 2020 in Detroit Free Press with extensive information on the current situation in Michigan prisons: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/04/05/coronavirus-spreading-fast-michigan-prisons/2938733001/
MICHIGAN’S POLICIES DO NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE FOLLOWING:
INNOCENT PRISONERS: Private Investigator Scott Lewis, who works for the Michigan Innocence Project, told VOD earlier that he estimates that at least 30 percent of Michigan state prisoners are actually innocent, including those convicted of “violent” offenses. More and more are freed after spending decades in prison, wrongfully convicted.
JUVENILE LIFERS: There are still around 200 juvenile lifers serving unconstitutional sentences in the MDOC. They should be immediately released, eight years after the USSC first outlawed their sentences.
ELDERLY LIFERS: There are elderly and infirm lifers, most susceptible to COVID-19, who should long ago have received compassionate releases.
THOSE HELD AFTER THEIR EARLIEST RELEASE DATES: Parolable lifers and limited-term prisoners are being held far beyond their earliest parole eligibility date. The parole board is notorious for giving flops based solely on the original offense, not evidence of rehabilitation inside. RELEASE THEM!
END MASS INCARCERATION NOW!
Food Services Worker: EMPTY CHOW HALL! Serve individual wrapped meals to prisoners in their cells.
There are currently 159 incarcerated people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in nine different Michigan prisons. Seventeen people have tested positive at the prison where I am located (Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI) which has the third highest number in the state.
Two of the five civilian employees who work in Food Services at Lakeland Correctional Facility, the prison where I am currently housed, have tested positive for COVID-19. One of the employees quit his job after learning of his co-workers’ test results.
The remaining four employees are now denied access to the prison for a period of time. The two employees that were infected must be completely clear of the virus before returning. The other two must be quarantined for two weeks because they were exposed to people who have tested positive for the highly contagious disease.
For nearly two weeks I have been writing and warning about this. I have repeatedly stated that incarcerated people in Michigan prisons should not be eating meals in the Food Services dining hall because it is an incubator for COVID-19.
It is the one place where over 1,300 people are fed their meals three times a day. They sit in close proximity to one another at small tables of four and interact with dozens of people working in Food Services.
Incarcerated people from various housing units throughout the prison work in the Food Services building, and they frequently interact with the Food Services civilian employees throughout the day, often working hours side-by-side with them on the feeding line.
The positive COVID-19 test results of Food Service civilian employees are conclusive evidence that dozens of incarcerated people working in the Food Services building have been exposed to two different people who have tested positive for COVID-19 for days or perhaps weeks.
Though the civilian employees who were exposed to their co-workers who tested positive have been quarantined, none of the incarcerated employees who worked with them were. They continue working in the area and are being allowed to return to their housing units each day to interact with dozens of other people who live around them.
Until the recent incident it has been the practice of the prison to quarantine every housing unit where a person was housed that has tested positive for COVID-19. However, this did not occur with the Food Services building. It continues teeming with traffic.
This disturbing information is exacerbated by a troubling new report released by the National Academy of Sciences, Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases. The report concludes that there is now evidence that COVID-19 can also be transmitted through people talking or breathing.
The National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control previously believed COVID-19 could only be spread through respiratory droplets released during coughing and sneezing, or by people touching infected surfaces and then transferring it to their face.
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) should immediately end the practice of forcing people to eat their meals in the Food Services dining hall to end the continued transmission of COVID-19 in that space for 30 days or until the disease is no longer active in prisons.
If the MDOC continues waiting for a massive outbreak of COVID-19 to occur in that area before acting it will be far too late and result in precious loss of life. Ignoring continued warnings and concerns will also make them complicit in propagating the spread of the highly contagious disease.
The MDOC should require Food Services to begin packing meals in plastic containers for people to pick up and eat in their housing unit. This is commensurate with Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order for businesses who serve food to discontinue dine-in eating to protect people from contracting COVID-19.
The health and safety of incarcerated people cannot be trivialized. They should also not be put at risk by forcing them to sit within two feet of others at their small table, who must remove their masks to eat with nearly 100 other people in the same crowded space. This is simply irresponsible and inhumane.
Please pray for the full recovery of both the incarcerated people and MDOC staff who have contracted COVID-19, and pray for the safety of the thousands of vulnerable others at risk in Michigan prisons o f contracting the deadly contagion.
Inside the COVID-19 Prison Quarantine Cauldron
March 31, 2020== One of the seven other people I share a living space with in the dorm where I am housed had phlegm and a frequent cough, and reported to staff he needed to be seen by Health Care staff. After being evaluated he was administered a test for COVID-19 and placed in solitary confinement awaiting the outcome of the results.
Lakeland Correctional also has a large dormitory housing up to 80 prisoners, where Charles Lewis stayed for 10 years. His fight for freedom succeeded after three years of VOD coverage last year.
The remaining seven people in the dorm (me included) were ordered by housing unit staff to pack all our personal property and move to a quarantine housing unit at 3 a.m. We were told we would remain there pending the outcome of the test results because of potential exposure to COVID-19.
If a person tests positive for the disease the other people who lived close to him in the housing unit are held in a quarantine housing unit for 14 days. During that time their health is evaluated daily by Health Care staff because it can take several days for symptoms to appear if they were infected. If the person tests negative everyone is returned to their regular housing unit shortly thereafter and the quarantine period is ended.
Before I was moved to the quarantine unit that night a nurse took my vitals and asked me if I was experiencing any of a series of COVID-19 related symptoms. Though I indicated that I did not have any symptoms the nurse expressed concern that I had a temperature of 99 degrees. She proceeded to tell me my vitals would be closely monitored twice a day while I remained in the quarantine unit.
People in the quarantine unit are allowed to use the phone and JPay kiosk. All meals are delivered to the unit and no one from the unit is allowed to go to the dining hall for meals. Access to the yard to get fresh air is allowed once per day for a half-hour.
During the time I was in the quarantine unit a second person who lived in the housing unit I was removed from was suspected of becoming infected with COVID-19. As a result seven more people from the housing unit were moved to the quarantine unit pending test results.
The first day my vitals were checked by a nurse in the quarantine unit my temperature was 98 degrees. The second day it was 97 degrees. My blood pressure was 114/73 and my pulse was 62. It was all news I was grateful to hear.
The afternoon of April 1, 2020 I was notified by staff that the test results for the person from my dorm who was tested for COVID-19 returned negative for the disease. I was also told I could pack my property and return to my original housing unit.
Upon returning to the housing unit I learned that yet another person was taken to solitary confinement from the housing unit earlier that morning suspected of contracting COVID-19. More people were also being taken to the quarantine housing unit.
The quarantine experience was disorienting, and filled with concern and restlessness. I felt fatigued, tightness in my chest, and woke up once in a complete sweat. I also found myself beating back recurring thoughts about what the nurse expressed regarding my slightly elevated temperature.
I later realized anxiety was driving these reactions. In response, I increased my deep breathing exercises to regain my center and calm my mind and body, which proved helpful. Overall, I believe the uncertainty and waiting for the COVID-19 test results was the most difficult part of the experience.
It was a relief to hear that the test results for the person from my dorm were negative. However, the harsh reality is there will undoubtedly be many more challenging days ahead trying to avoid contracting the invisible pathogen, as it silently lurks through the prison waiting to indiscriminately attack its next victim.
I waited to share my experience publicly until after being told the COVID-19 test results for the person from my dorm were negative to avoid worrying my family. That’s another tough part of this whole experience; our family and friends have to grapple with all this too and they feel powerless to help us.
Sadly, stories like this will be repeated far too often in the coming days by scores of people. Some will be fortunate to have positive outcomes. But a large number will be devastated by the crushing news of someone close to them succumbing to COVID-19.
This morning I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to begin a new day. I will focus on what lies ahead because I can ill afford to get trapped in the haunting experience of the past few days. There is little room for mistakes right now.
I need to remain healthy and protect myself if I intend to survive this experience long enough to appear at my juvenile lifer resentencing hearing in the coming months, and possibly rejoin my family one day.
Death sentences aren’t lawful in Michigan. But COVID-19 will begin changing that soon as the pandemic continues to fiercely rage. Governor Whitmer can exercise her emergency powers to help prevent it, and many hope that she does before it’s too late
MDOC CORONAVIRUS UPDATE
144 test postive for COVID-19 as of April 1.
Parnall and Macomb Correctional Facilities have more than 38 positives each, the highest number in MDOC.
Lakeland and Huron Valley Women’s Facility have 14 each, the third highest.
On March 22, 2020 the first person in a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) prison tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19). In just thirteen days that number has grown exponentially. As of today 141 people have tested positive, impacting a full one-third of the state’s total number of prisons.
The number of people testing positive for the disease is expected to soar in the coming weeks due to the overcrowded living conditions in Michigan prisons and the rapid attack rate of the deadly contagion.
To help prevent dissemination of misinformation the MDOC is releasing information about the ongoing number of people in its prisons who are testing positive for COVID-19. I will begin sharing updates periodically so members of the public know how people in the prison system are being impacted inside.
The Parnall Correctional Facility currently has the largest number of people in a Michigan prison who have tested positive for COVID-19. The prison with the second largest number is Macomb Correctional Facility. Both prisons have 38+ cases.
Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF), the prison where I am currently housed, and the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility are tied in third place with fourteen people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Hundreds of people at LCF are currently being quarantined in its E-1 and E-2 housing units where people have tested positive for the virus.
Another entire housing unit at the prison of nearly 100 people, A-Unit, has also been placed under quarantine to protect its medically fragile residents out of an abundance of caution for their safety, though no one has yet tested positive in the housing unit.
Unlike most other prisons which have a designated solitary confinement unit with at least 100 available isolation cells, LCF only has eight solitary confinement cells to isolate people in who are infected with COVID-19.
Due to the shortage of solitary confinement cells at LCF staff have no choice but to place the majority of potentially infected people being quarantined together in barracks-style spaces which are fertile for the spread of infection.
The dense population of prisons makes it impossible to practice the CDC social distancing guidelines of keeping people six feet apart to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This reality is resulting in overcrowded prisons quickly becoming a public health nightmare.
Contributing to the problem is that prisons continue feeding incarcerated people in dining halls in a space where people are coming into close contact with one another to stand in line waiting for their meal trays, interacting with people from different housing units, and sitting at small three foot tables together.
People are also being handed their food trays from Food Service workers who are being instructed by staff to repeatedly wear the same one-time use masks constructed of porous cloth material the entire day.
Another problem is that Food Service workers who work together live in a variety of different housing units around the prison. At work in the dining hall they are mingling together throughout the day and interacting with the various people who eat there from different housing units.
It came as little surprise to many that several of the Food Service workers were placed in quarantine and are no longer working because they live in the two main housing units where people have tested positive for COVID-19.
Hundreds of people are filing through the same dining hall at prisons during each meal period, three times a day. Contact tracing will one day reveal it was a huge mistake to continue using the space for people to dine in because the area spawned COVID-19 clusters and fostered their proliferation.
I raised this deeply troubling concern in a previous writing warning how dangerous this is because of the existing evidence that COVID-19 can remain active in the air for up to three hours, according to the CDC and World Health Organization.
At LCF when the first person suspected of having COVID-19 was identified, prison staff told people to begin sitting in the dining hall only two at a table instead of four, to create more distance between them. Although well-intended, it only provided space for three feet between people — the size of the square tables — in contravention with CDC social distancing guidelines and U.S. President’s guidelines to help stop the spread.
A few days later after four people tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison, staff began instructing people to resume sitting four people to a table in the dining hall again. Staff’s stunning reason to resume seating people closer together was because “it’s taking too long to run meal lines if only two people sit at a table.”
Some critics will argue that people can wear the cloth masks they were provided in the dining hall to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The problem with this is that over 100 people at a time must remove their masks to eat their food in the same space. The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 droplets through aerosol transmission is a problem when feeding hundreds of people in the same dining hall all day long regardless of the scenario. When the suggestion was offered to staff to begin putting meals in plastic containers for people to pick up and eat in their housing units instead of in the dining hall — like the Governor has mandated all restaurants in the community to do through Executive Order — it was immediately met with resistance by Food Services staff who remarked, “We don’t have enough supplies to do that.”
On March 28, 2020 staff at LCF passed out one surgical style mask manufactured of porous cloth material to each incarcerated person at the prison to protect them from COVID-19. The masks were produced by Michigan State Industries.
Three days later staff distributed an additional two masks to each person. Though well-intentioned, incarcerated people will be forced to continue reusing these non-medical grade masks when repeatedly coming into contact with COVID-19 day after day until the crisis ends, which will likely be months away.
Health care experts warn of the danger of reusing masks because they continuously capture bacteria from the person who wears it on the inside of the mask. They will also capture highly contagious COVID-19 from anyone who may be infected with it they may come into contact with on the outside of the mask.
Studies show that people who wear masks have a tendency to touch their faces more. Repeatedly placing a mask on their face lulls them into a false sense of security and, in some instances, can even increase their chance of contracting COVID-19.
It is already an established fact that COVID-19 is proliferating in the prison. Repeatedly touching the outside of the mask to put it on, remove it, or adjust it throughout the day increases the likelihood of coming into contact with COVID-19 if it has been captured in the mask, and will increase spread of the contamination.
Masks are to be used once and disposed of — not repeatedly used for days and weeks. This goes for N95 and surgical masks unless there is a way to properly sterilize them between uses. Rewashing masks between every use will require multiple washes throughout the day. With each wash the fabric will become more worn, porous, and less effective as well.
The masks issued to people in Michigan prisons also have no filtration mechanism. While they may limit the passage of large virus droplets between people, they will not prevent small droplets from passing through the fabric used to create the mask.
Prison staff are now being allowed to take their own personal protection equipment (PPE) into prisons. They are overwhelmingly choosing to wear N95 masks, or ones with a carbon filter built into them, because of the widely reported fact that surgical style masks are not effective at protecting people from COVID-19.
There shouldn’t be substandard availability of PPE for people to shield them from COVID-19 because they’re incarcerated. This inhumane practice irresponsibly signals that the MDOC supports rationed care and creates a hierarchy of valuing human life. The optics of this are — though I want to believe are unintended — are deeply troubling. In recent years the MDOC and other state prison systems across the country have experienced difficulty recruiting new hirees to work in their prisons. They also suffer a large turnover rate of people who leave the job once hired.
Prison systems must know that their handling of the COVID-19 crisis will have an enormous impact on their ability to hire and retain employees in the future. They must do everything they possibly can to contain and mitigate spread of the potentially lethal COVID-19.
This means providing both staff and incarcerated people with the PPE necessary to shield themselves from contracting the disease. Failure to do so could not only be disastrous and cost many lives, it will also make it impossible to convince reasonably minded people to endanger their lives to work inside prisons going forward.
I understand this is an unprecedented experience for everyone involved and we are all learning as we go. However, rather than merely dismissing serious concerns and ideas presented that can save lives and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, I urge the MDOC to begin offering them thoughtful consideration.
At the end of the day we are all human whether we are wearing blue and orange or black and gray. We can’t lose sight of that or cut corners on safety with COVID-19. We are inextricably connected, and we are depending on each other now more than ever.
We will be experiencing this hardship together for months to come and it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to nurture an enduring partnership and spirit of cooperation. This isn’t the time for egos and wanting to be right. It’s the time for showing leadership and making reasoned choices supported by scientists and medical experts.
At the moment thankfully I remain healthy and have experienced no COVID-19 symptoms. I continue staying busy reading, writing, and staying focused to the best of my ability. I am also practicing regular deep breathing techniques to strengthen my lungs and dispel bacteria in them.
I am currently rereading a book I read nearly 20 years ago by Deepak Chopra titled “Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.” In it Chopra shares lessons about the body’s amazing intelligence, its ability to heal itself, and how to help it achieve its optimal capacity using Ayurvedic medicine and techniques which have been taught for over 3,000 years.
I encourage you to read my writing “Efrén Paredes, Jr. Coronavirus Message” if you haven’t already done so to learn the reasons I predicted the COVID-19 outbreak would be catastrophic when it entered the prison system before the first person tested positive in a Michigan prison on March 22, 2020. The article can be accessed at http://fb.com/Free.Efren.
I will continue to release additional updates as they become available. In my next writing I plan to share how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting incarcerated people’s mental and emotional health, and stories about day-to-day challenges people are experiencing.
Stay safe and be well.