By Diane Bukowski

April 28, 2020

For a PDF copy of this article to print out, click 0n

The genocidal purpose of mass incarceration in Michigan and across the U.S., with 70 percent of prisoners Black or others of color, is becoming starkly apparent in Michigan’s prisons. Today the state’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said ‘there is nothing she can safely do’ to release more inmates after half the population at Lakeland Correctional Facility, 787 prisoners, tested positive for the coronavirus, and deaths continue to rise throughout the system.

One prisoner at Lakeland said Whitmer is likely seeking higher office as presidential candidate Joe Biden’s vice-president and doesn’t want to rock the boat, no matter how many prisoners die on her watch.

Prisoners at Macomb CF taking “Chance for Life” re-entry program. Will they really have a chance for life?

Particularly hard hit also are Macomb Correctional Facility, which houses many juvenile lifers awaiting re-sentencings of their unconstitutional life sentences, Parnall, and Huron Valley Women’s prisons.

Two prisoners, Kevin Harrington at Macomb and George Clark at Lakeland, barely escaped the COVID scourge after the Michigan Innocence Clinic and the Wayne County Conviction Integrity got them released after finding they had not committed the murder for which they had been imprisoned since 2002. Private investigator/advocate Scott Lewis has estimated that 30 percent of Michigan prisoners are in fact innocent.

Naykima Hill

Bernice Starks

Efren Paredes, Jr., whose account of the current situation at Lakeland is below, along with 200 juvenile lifers serving unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” life sentences are still awaiting federally-mandated re-sentencings ordered eight years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court.

At Huron Valley Women’s Prison, sued earlier over its abominable conditions, women including Ursula Heard, Sue Farrell, Dawn York, and Ava Cooper have died from COVID-19, while others including Naykima Hill, Bernice Starks, Mary Lemons, Ursula Bolton, Marinda Hudson and Towanda Eppenger are suffering from it.

T. Eppenger

Nikki Keech

A comment on the Facebook page for Women from Huron Valley, Scotts, and Florence Crane prison facilities is here:

Mary Marshall Ellison to Florence crane, Scotts, Huron Valley Womens Facility  Apr 21 ·  · I just spoke to Ursula daughter she said that her mother was in a coma for 2 weeks before they found out and they are so upset and they’re trying to decide what to do keep them in prayer she has 3 sons and a daughter And they just found out yesterday that she was on a ventilator. They r taking Ursula off life support soon cause she is brain dead fought MS FOR A WHILENOW.”

Ursula Heard, passed 4/21/2020 from COVID.

Ricky Rimmer-Bey at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional facility discounted MDOC’s claims that prisoners and staff are practicing “social distancing,” saying it is impossible to do so. He said each guard is required to “shake down” (physically search) five prisoners per shift. He said they do not change gloves between searches, and are bringing the coronavirus in from the outside. He said prisoners must remove the flimsy masks they are given to eat in the chow hall, with people sitting one foot away from each other.

“They have us locking two in a cell,” Rimmer continued. “These cells are the size of an apartment bathroom in the projects. If your cell-mate catches this virus, no matter what you do, you will be infected. So social distancing is a myth and a story to deceive the public, for us living this nightmare know what the real truth is.

Rimmer-Bey and many other MDOC prisoners are serving life terms for “felony murder,” which means they did not commit murder, but were involved in a lesser crime that they did not intend to result in murder. That charge was ruled unconstitutional in 1980 in People v. Aaron, but the ruling was never made retroactive.

Ricky Rimmer-Bey

“State Representative Isaac Robinson, who sadly passed from COVID this month, was fighting for incarcerated people in Michigan, especially pre-Aaron prisoners,” Rimmer-Bey said. “Their sentences and trials were tainted and their sentences have been ruled ‘fundamentally unfair.’ It is also fundamentally unfair to allow these men and women who on the average have served over forty plus years to possibly die with this virus going on in here. These prisoners are in their sixties. We are the best risk because we have aged out of criminal thinking and have already suffered one miscarriage of justice.”

In a second JPay April 24, he reported on the consequences of those policies in a prison that originally had no COVID cases.

“It is reported that 45 new cases have popped up in here, and that the death rate is at 25,” Rimmer wrote. “All they do to so-called test staff that come in here is to take their temp, which shows nothing if one is asymptomatic. This one person can infect five people, that five can go on and infect five apiece. they got two guys now in A-unit under watch. I have high blood pressure and  am 66 years of age. If I catch that mess, I’m through. I don’t fear death, but this is not how I envisioned myself passing, gasping for air, suffering, surrounded by people that give less than nothing for my well-being.”

Pres. candidate Joe Biden with Mich. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Neither supports universal health care, which might have headed off the coronavirus pandemic.

He said there is indeed something Gov. Whitmer can do despite her denials, and called on justice advocates to contact her to demand that she do so.

“The governor can commute sentences of guys that do have life in prison that have served 30, 40 years plus that have aged out of criminal thinking and are not a threat to the community. That’s me and a host of others. One guy just passed [from COVID] two weeks ago, he had been locked up 40-years or more. He’d gotten a parole. The sad thing is that he had to wait to be let out. Wait for what. in the meantime, he caught that mess and is now dead. If a person gets a parole, then what the heck does he have to wait on? Give him a health screening test, get his home placement, then let that person out of here with this pandemic going on.”


by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

April 24, 2020

Efren Paredes was a 15-year old honor student in Berrien County when he was falsely charged with first degree murder in the death of a store proprietor. As a juvenile lifer, he should long ago have been re-sentenced.

It has been a very somber week at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) in Coldwater, Michigan, where nearly 800 incarcerated men have received the heartbreaking news that they have tested positive for COVID-19. LCF outnumbers the prison with the second highest number of those infected by over 600 cases.

As of April 27, 2020 at 9:30 am the number of incarcerated people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is 1,363. This morning five more deaths of incarcerated people in the MDOC was announced from just yesterday bringing the total number of deaths of incarcerated people statewide to 38. LCF now has 13 deaths; five of them have occurred in the past five days.

I am one of the men incarcerated at LCF who has had the misfortune of witnessing up close the devastating impact this experience is having on the lives of scores of vulnerable people struggling to survive daily in the midst of a vicious pathogen storm sweeping through the nation’s prisons.

Lakeland Correctional Facility/WMMT photo

Friday afternoon I was informed by a staff member that I tested negative for COVID-19. I received an uncomfortable nasal swab test for the virus two days earlier. Waiting for the test results was agonizing. I suspected the number of people who would test positive would be extraordinarily high, and the likelihood that I contracted the virus would be as well.

Living in densely populated housing units makes it nearly impossible to mitigate and contain the spread of a lethal disease like COVID-19 which is ten times more contagious than the seasonal flu, according to scientists. In these spaces dozens of people use the same bathrooms, sinks, showers, microwaves, phones, etc. They spend every moment in the housing unit — when awake or sleeping — breathing the same air and exposed to one another’s respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes.

I knew that this, coupled with the fact that the prison kept rebuffing pleas for them to suspend use of the dining hall to feed 1,300 people in a crowded space less than two feet apart, three times a day for weeks, was a recipe for disaster. People were dangerously being exposed to the virus ad nauseam.

Lakeland has 58% of all COVID-19 cases, 34% of deaths in MDOC

Of the total number of COVID-19 tests administered at LCF an astonishing 57% people have tested positive so far. The prison represents 58% of all COVID-19 cases and 34% of the deaths of the entire Michigan prison system. These numbers are the result of robust testing that occurred at the prison last week.

However, these results are deeply flawed.

Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) dorm setting: up to 80 prisoners live in such dorms; no social distancing possible.

The housing units where the least number of people tested positive were from the barracks-style pole barn housing units (i.e., E and F Units). These are the housing units I wrote about for weeks where people had complained that they had been very sick with COVID-19 symptoms, and being repeatedly denied COVID-19 tests and medical care if they didn’t have a fever.

Antibody testing would likely reveal that many of the people who tested negative in these housing units were already infected and recovered. On the one hand it means most people were able to survive. However, on the other hand it means people also suffered who could have received help.

Monday a new study revealed that 70% of the people who contracted COVID-19 and required hospitalization in New York never had a fever. This means it was a grave mistake for medical providers in Michigan prisons to use the absence of a fever as the gold standard to decide whether or not a person should receive a COVID-19 test.

Though I felt an enormous sense of relief to receive my test results I was deeply saddened to learn about the test results many men living in my housing unit and throughout the prison were receiving. It felt as though time had frozen as everyone was waiting at attention with bated breath to hear their fate.

Graduates of LCF’s leader dog training program.

In my housing unit a staff supervisor began walking past a line of men awaiting to be told their test results pointing at them and loudly saying, “You’re positive. You’re moving to housing unit …” and proceeded to tell them where they were being moved to.

The staff member could have simply told each person their results in a lower voice or pointed at a piece of paper at the words “positive” or “negative” and told them what housing unit they were moving to. A number of different ways to deliver the news would have been more dignified.

It was a shameful display of callousness and insensitivity which humiliated the men who were already in a very fragile mental and emotional state as they awaited their test results. It was brutally difficult seeing the immediate looks of fear and dread on their faces as I saw the men hang their heads down, or silently shake their heads back and forth, as they became awash with distress.

I have known many of these men for years and even decades in some cases. Some of us are friends, some of us partner on social justice projects and hosting outside guests to speak at the prison, and I see some of them on visits with their family when my family visits me.

Positive COVID-19 test results are potentially a death sentence.

The connections we share are not something I take lightly because I recognize the inherent dignity of every single person. I also know the brutal difficulty they experience every day struggling to survive isolated from their loved ones behind bars when they aren’t battling a deadly virus.

Seeing their pain and sadness was excruciatingly difficult to observe as I repeatedly heard the staff member echoing the words “You’re positive,” and telling dozens of them where they were moving to. Every time I heard the shouting voice pierce the eery silence in the room I kept thinking, “That could have been me who tested positive.”

In the midst of this we were told by the staff member that people testing positive were being moved to housing units designated for people who tested positive to separate them from the rest of the population to mitigate further spread of the disease. Moving mass numbers of men to various housing units around the prison would not come without its mistakes, however.

Some examples included moving more than one person being assigned to the same bed, people being sent to a housing unit and told to just wait to be assigned a bed because no bed was available at the time, and people being moved multiple times to different housing units before finally being assigned to a bed.

VA nurse displays sign with proper treatment protocols for positive COVID-19 patients and staff. Such measures are not in place in state prisons.

Even more disturbing is that there have also been people who were told they tested positive for COVID-19 and moved into a housing unit designated for people who tested positive for the disease, only to be told days later they actually tested negative. They were then moved out of the housing unit to a housing for people who tested negative.

Sunday several of these men moved into my housing unit which is designated for people who have tested negative. They were there for three or four days before staff discovered the error. Not only were the men exposed to dozens of people knowingly infected with COVID-19 during that time, they are now potentially exposing dozens of people in my housing unit, me included, to the virus as well.

I met one man who tested negative for COVID-19 today who moved to my housing unit after being in a housing unit for men who tested positive for the disease for the past three days who I will refer to as J.S. According to J.S., he has Stage 3 neurofibromatosis which forms tumors inside his body, and he only has one lung. He is also handicapped and uses a walker.

COVID-19 funeral.

J.S. stated he was told by LCF that he tested positive a few days ago. He subsequently called his brother and shared the news with him about the test results. J.S.’s brother immediately burst into tears and told him, “Damn, now I have to bury my baby brother too,” and began looking into making funeral arrangements for him because of his serious underlying medical conditions.

J.S.’s brother told him he had already lost four uncles and an aunt to COVID-19 during the past few weeks, and figured he would be next. His brother and family were placed under this duress only to later be told by his doctor that he was mistakenly provided the wrong information about his COVID-19 test results.

In one housing unit when men were being separated into different housing units based on their test results they were told that all the test results hadn’t returned yet. Despite this, 58 people were being moved to housing units for people with negative results, and 12 were being moved into the housing unit for those testing positive. The 12 people were the ones that had not received their test results back yet.

When two incarcerated men who tested negative approached a staff supervisor asking why the 12 would be moved to a positive unit if they hadn’t tested positive a staff member responded, “It’s a numbers game. I know these 58 guys are negative so I’m going to protect them. I don’t know what’s going on with the other 12 guys. I just have to sacrifice them for the greater good.”

What would have been best for the greater good would have been to leave the 12 men isolated in an area together until they received their test results, not jeopardize their lives by deliberately moving them into housing units for people who had tested positive.

According to a staff member who works at the prison who has been observing this activity, “This place is a complete cluster f*ck right now. It’s a disaster. No one knows what they’re doing.”

Monday morning a man who has lived in my housing unit for the past few months was told he had to move to a housing unit designated for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. He was informed three days earlier when I was that he tested negative for the virus.

Staff since discovered they made a mistake in his case as well. Unfortunately, however, not until after he remained in our housing unit unwittingly shedding virus the past few days and putting dozens of people at risk.

I have also learned there are several men whose COVID-19 tests returned from the lab inconclusive. Those people were dispersed throughout the prison in various housing units as well for a couple days before staff discovered the error and placed them in a separate housing unit and retested them. They will reportedly remain there until the outcome of their test results.

While moving all the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the prison together into the same housing units may sound good on its face, when one unpacks the specifics and examines it granularly it presents a serious set of challenges.

To begin with, placing people infected with COVID-19 together in crowded living areas less than six feet from one another is not a practice that any epidemiologist would recommend. If it was a medically safe practice physicians would be using the practice with members of the public. They’re not.

Secondly, there are going to be people living in the same space at various stages of the virus. Some may be closer to just beginning their recovery, some will be in the middle of it, and then there will be some who may have possibly been near the end.

Placing an elderly person with underlying comorbidities into a sea of 80 people with Coronavirus could increase that person’s viral load to a fatal level. For others, their viral load will increase as well and make it more difficult for them to combat the virus. Some may become trapped in a vicious cycle of infection and the virus may even begin to mutate and become more potent.

Old age in the big house/Photo Al Jazeera

Friday a 79-year-old man from my housing unit who tested positive for COVID-19 learned he was being sent to a housing unit designated for people who have been infected with the disease. As he was leaving he told me, “I hope I die. I can’t keep living like this. I’ve been in here 44 years. They’re gonna kill me sending me over there.”

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading epidemiologist and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there is absolutely no evidence that someone who catches COVID-19 cannot become reinfected. The World Health Organization announced the same conclusion on Saturday.

Sunday as a number of men were moved around the prison I received a number of reports of serious concern. Among them are that only some of the housing units for men who have tested positive for COVID-19 have received therapeutics of any kind.

A couple reported they have received vitamins but others reported that they have not. Before the crisis began LCF administrators told incarcerated people they would also receive Theraflu and Gatorade if they contracted the disease. As of Tuesday, April 28, 2020, no one has reported receiving either.

Sunday morning when men asked an LCF administrator why they hadn’t received any of the three therapeutics mentioned above they were told, “I don’t know, I don’t work for Health Care.” As he began walking away he remarked, “If you have anymore questions let me know, I’ll be around this week.”

Medical staff are also supposed to be conducting temperature and oxygen saturation level checks (or pulse oximetry measurements) twice a day in every housing unit where people have tested positive for COVID-19. Medical staff are going to some of the units once some days and other days they aren’t going at all.

Some people could be experiencing silent hypoxia (i.e., deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching bodily tissues) and, if not properly monitored, their bodies can crash, potentially resulting in severe organ failure or even death.

There are hundreds of cameras throughout the prison that can verify this information for the Governor, Attorney General, Department of Health and Human Services, MDOC Central Office Staff, and the Office of the Legislative Corrections Ombudsman to observe for themselves if they care.

I highly encourage the MDOC to also provide COVID-19 tests to all staff members like they have for incarcerated people at LCF so we can ensure that they are healthy and have not contracted the virus. Statewide 254 staff members have unfortunately contracted the disease. Thirty-one of those staff members work at LCF.

Screening prison staff for COVID

According to one staff member, “They don’t want to test us because they won’t have enough people to work so many people will test positive.”

That’s not a reason to not test staff members. Their health and safety should be paramount, as well as the health and safety of incarcerated people they work around. Without ensuring everyone is free of the disease at the prison there is no way to mitigate or contain its persistent spread.

There will continue to be COVID-19 outbreaks throughout Michigan prisons all over the state until a vaccine is created in 12 to 18 months. Scientists are already predicting a COVID-19 resurgence in the Fall as well that will be more lethal than the current wave of attack.

The bodies of incarcerated people who are fortunate to survive the disease this time around have been seriously compromised. Many will suffer irreversible lung, heart, and kidney damage, and their bodies may not be resilient enough to survive a second wave of infection.

The other thing to remember is that deaths lag behind the number of people identified as having COVID-19. For weeks to come we will continue hearing about incarcerated people succumbing to the virus in Michigan prisons. We still have a long way to go.

Don’t Gov. Whitmer and MDOC officials have the intent to murder, at least by egregious neglect?

I realize there aren’t any panaceas in this crisis. But I also know the MDOC can do much better than this. With the wealth of collective knowledge and public health resources available to them they can make more informed choices that are evidence-based and data driven.

They have to want to do it though. The key here is intent. What does the MDOC really hope to achieve? Does it intend to save lives or let COVID-19 run it’s course and observe the outcome? Both can’t exist at the same time. Human lives should not be part of some nefarious experiment to see how they will respond to a deadly virus untreated.

Many lives are going to be claimed by COVID-19 if serious action is not taken by the MDOC to ensure that medical staff are doing their jobs. Responses by administrators like, “I don’t know what they’re doing, I don’t work for health care” are recklessly irresponsible and a deplorable failure to protect the people in their care.

Every person holding public office including the Governor, the Attorney General, lawmakers, mayors, members of city councils, judges, prosecutors, Sheriffs, and everyone else should know that voters are watching all this play out very closely.

Most families in Black majority cities like Detroit have relatives in the prison system, on probation or parole, or awaiting trial.

Over 100,000 people in Michigan are in prison, jail, on parole, or probation. They each have family members and friends. There are also thousands of formerly incarcerated people who see this and they have loved ones as well. These are only some of the people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

When these citizens step into the voting booth this November and forward they will NOT forget the names of every person seeking public office who silently stood by allowing this human rights tragedy to occur under their watch without intervening because they lacked the courage, political will, or decency to speak out.

Between now and November 3 prison reform advocates across this state will be working diligently every day to identify public office candidates to support our efforts and ensure that the memory of mishandling this crisis is never forgotten. They will also be working to register voters and organize to ensure they each make it to their voting precincts.

Michigan prison reform must happen now. It begins with the Governor exercising her executive authority to immediately commute the sentences of:

* Elderly people with underlying morbidities who could die if they contract COVID-19;

* People who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole when they were juveniles and have been awaiting resentencing for eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled their sentences were unconstitutional in 2012;

* People who have served over 20 years in prison who would not pose a danger to society if released (with priority given to those who have served the most time being released first); and

* Reducing the density in overcrowded prisons by eliminating double-bunking and separating all beds in prison housing units by at least six feet, so incarcerated people can stand a fighting chance of surviving the crisis of future deadly pandemics.

Anyone released could be placed on a tether and placed on release supervision by the Parole Board. The Governor commuting these sentences alone would not result in a single release. It would only give the Parole Board jurisdiction to begin reviewing the cases and grant them the authority to release them.

The Parole Board would use its wealth of resources to determine whether or not each person could be safely released back into the community as it does for thousands of people who are safely released each year. Anyone that does not fit that criteria would remain incarcerated.

Please keep every incarcerated person and prison staff member infected with COVID-19 in your thoughts and prayers — including their family members. We remain hopeful for as many of their full recoveries as possible.

I also ask that you pray for all those who have lost loved ones that have sadly succumbed to the deadly virus, and for the safety of those who have miraculously managed to somehow avoid contracting the disease thus far. #SMPR #AloneTogether #StayHomeStayStrong

(Efrén Paredes, Jr. is a blogger, thought leader, and social justice changemaker. He has been featured in various TV news, radio, and podcast interviews to discuss the COVID-19 crisis in Michigan prisons. His interviews and ongoing series about the crisis can be read at


D.C. and Oakland County Jail COVID-19 Federal Lawsuits by ACLU

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R.A.P.P. Free Our Elders Rally in Albany, N.Y.

New York’s Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) leads the way

Prisons are death camps for lifers; end Life Without Parole

Ricardo Ferrell

By Ricardo Ferrell 

VOD Field Editor

Our country is experiencing one of the worse pandemics in its history, and the death toll is rapidly rising daily. We must address the growing problem of aging people in prisons across America who are slowly deteriorating and dying due to poor health, inadequate medical attention and not being granted well-deserved releases. In Michigan there are hundreds of elderly individuals that have served 35, 40, 45, & 50 + years but still remain in prison despite statistical data. indicating they will likely never reoffend if granted parole.

In states like New York, efforts calling for the release of aging prisoners are getting the attention of many, including State Legislators, the New York Parole Board, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The New York-based organization RAPP (Release Aging People in Prison) founded in 2013 by Jose Saldana has been relentlessly advocating for the release of aging prisoners for several years.

Saldana, who served 38 years behind bars and was granted parole in 2018, hit the ground running, focusing his attention on reaching back to help similarly situated people left behind. RAPP’s efforts include a push to eliminate Life Without Parole (LWOP), which is virtually a death sentence. Many who receive these sort of sentences never see the light of day again on the other side of the fence. Those who are given LWOP, even though not an actual death sentence are still treated as if they have been handed down the death penalty.

The same rings true in other states besides New York, who actually have the death penalty. The death penalty has long been abolished in Michigan since 1847. However, a life sentence basically equates to death by incarceration. Meaning, the Michigan Parole Board’s practice of the ‘Life Means Life’ policy, even if its a parolable life sentence, places all lifers in the same category.

Vermont and Pennsylvania have introduced legislation, that if passed, would abolish Life Without Parole (LWOP) in their states. Criminal Justice Reform advocates like Larry Krasner, Robert Kraft, Michael Rubin, and Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, all came together and called for the release of Robert Williams a/k/a Rapper Meek Mill.

Meek Mill is now auctioning his beloved Rolls Royce Phantom to provide aid in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, along with other celebrities like Kevin Hart (below).

In 2017, Pennsylvania State Senator Sharif Street introduced Senate Bill 942 aimed to end life without parole sentences in his state. In an article written by Ray Downs on March 26, 2018, Street is quoted as saying, “Not all victims of crime want people to die behind bars.” There are similar sentiments by 80% of crime survivors in Michigan, who believe offenders should have their time reduced, if they were to participate in, and complete mandatory programming, i.e., counseling, vocational, academic, and other requirements which are rehabilitative and helps towards offender success.

Members of RAPP rally against prison death camps.

Michigan needs major reforms to its parole board in how it paroles eligible elderly prisoners, so as to reflect fairness and provide meaningful opportunities for release of the growing aging population in its prisons. The large percentage of aging prisoners is needlessly costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars annually. Most of the aging prisoners have serious health issues, e.g., cancer, liver damage, heart disease, diabetes, thyroiditis, high blood pressure, and a number of other chronic care illnesses.

What penological interest could there be to continuously hold elderly, sick, infirmed, and dying people in prison, who don’t pose a risk, threat, nor danger to public safety? In fact, the draconian practice of holding reformed, rehabilitated, and redeemed people in our prisons beyond the need is asinine and spells poor logic on the part of corrections officials.

The Michigan Legislature should introduce measures that could bring forth the reforms needed of the current parole process, which is broken and ineffective. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should step in and enact an Executive Order to release aging people in Michigan’s prisons, especially those suffering from the noted health conditions mentioned above. Doing so, could easily free up monies to help “fix the damn roads,” one of Whitmer’s campaign slogans in 2018.

It would also allocate a portion of the wasteful spending in the corrections budget of $2.2 billion towards repairing the rest of the crumbling infrastructure around the state, cleaning up the water systems of PFAS and other life threatening contaminants.

Less than 1% of the group of aging prisoners recidivates. They almost never commit the same crime that landed them in prison decades ago because they have now aged out of crime. Sadly, the majority of lifers in Michigan and across the U.S., are people of color, who’s life expectancy is less than their counterparts. Let’s seriously look at how Michigan can revamp, reform, and rewrite its parole policies and procedures to be more in line with other states that have done so, resulting in the release of aging people from their prison systems.

Since 2009, Michigan has safely paroled some 428 lifers; none have reoffended by committing the same or similar crimea. This aging group of people who are now in their 60s, 70s & 80s, if released, would likely be more concerned with improving their health rather than rushing to indulge in criminality, wouldn’t you think?

Michigan’s vicious sentencing policies have affected 200 juvenile lifers still serving unconstitutional sentences. Below, one, William Garrison, died this week after his re-sentencing. He was awaiting parole in May, after being incarcerated since the age of 16. The prison he was in, Macomb Correctional Facility, has the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state and houses many juvenile lifers in its Re-Entry Program.

Michigan Juvenile Lifer Who Died Of Coronavirus In Prison Was Weeks Away From Parole (excerpt)

Angie Jackson, Detroit Free Press

April 18, 2020

William Garrison, in photo taken by sister in 2009 during a visit.

William Garrison was due to come home from prison in early May. After nearly 44 years incarcerated, he would be free from a life sentence handed to him as a juvenile.

His sister Yolanda Peterson had prepared a room for him to stay in her Harper Woods home and planned for his parole agent to come see the place. She was brainstorming how, given the coronavirus pandemic, she might help her brother celebrate his 61st birthday at the end of May.

Plans for the future fell apart Monday, when Peterson got word that her brother, [who had tuberculosis as a baby and had a lung removed] had died unexpectedly in prison.

Garrison’s bunkmate found him gasping for air that evening in their two-man cell at Macomb Correctional Facility, according to Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. Staff performed CPR. Garrison was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Gautz said.

A postmortem test confirmed that he was positive for COVID-19.

Peterson said it hurts for her brother to die now after “surviving 44 years in prison,” when his freedom was weeks away. “My brother shouldn’t have died in there like that,” she said Friday evening.

Garrison is one of 17 state prisoners who’ve died of COVID-19 as of Friday.

Prisoners at Macomb CF taking “Chance for Life” re-entry program in earlier days. Many juvenile lifers were there awaiting re-sentencing in Macomb’s Re-Entry Program, but Garrison ended up having no “Chance for Life.”

More than 520 prisoners have tested positive, out of the 805 total prisoners tested as of Friday. The Department of Corrections houses roughly 38,000 prisoners. With relatively high infection rates at a handful of facilities including Macomb — where 78 prisoners were confirmed to have COVID-19 as of Friday — experts have said there are likely many more undetected cases throughout the prison system.

More: Infection rate at Michigan prison exceeds New York, Chicago jail hot spots

Life without parole

Garrison was sentenced to automatic life in prison without parole on a conviction of first-degree murder for a shooting when he was 16 in 1976.

Kim Craighead, (3rd from l) with family members, campaigns for freedom for her husband Michael Calvin and his childhood friend Charles Lewis, both juvenile lifers. They were later re-sentenced and freed after spending time at Macomb’s Re-Entry Facility. Each had spent over 41 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Calvin was not the shooter in a group of several adults who killed a man. Lewis had been the subject of numerous stories in VOD demonstrating his innocence.

He had an opportunity to be resentenced after a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The court ruled that its 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder should be applied retroactively.

Garrison had a [re-sentencing] hearing in December, where his attorney Becky Hahn presented evidence that her client had been rehabilitated and was no longer the troubled individual who entered prison as a teenager.

In court,  Garrison said he was illiterate when he entered prison as a teenager, a result of falling behind in school due to years of hospitalization for tuberculosis, Peterson said. He taught himself to read and write. He studied the law and hoped to help other juvenile lifers upon his release.

“He was a zealous advocate for himself and for other incarcerated persons. He often helped other individuals with their legal matters,” Hahn said.

‘Trying to get free’

A judge in January resentenced Garrison to a term of 40 to 90 years. He’d already served 43 years. The parole board approved his release.

But Garrison declined to parole then. He said he’d rather be discharged from prison than paroled because parole would’ve subjected him to the department’s supervision and restrictions.

Garrison didn’t view parole as freedom. “He was trying to get free,” Peterson said.

Though his new maximum sentence was 90 years, Garrison was eligible to be discharged from prison, without parole, in September because he had been awarded more than 7,000 days of “good time” credits, Gautz said.

He initially planned to remain in prison until then, but that changed when COVID-19 made its way into the prison system, Peterson said. Garrison was again considered for parole in late March and was approved, Gautz said.

A prosecutor has 28 days to appeal the board’s decision to grant parole to a prisoner. In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, MDOC recently began asking prosecutors to waive that 28-day period to expedite release in some cases.

Wayne Co. Pros. Kym Worthy delays waiver response, which could have saved Garrison’s life

Wayne Co Pros. Kym Worthy

Gautz said the department sent a waiver request for Garrison’s case to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office on April 8 and did not hear back before his death five days later.

Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, confirmed that a letter regarding Garrison’s parole was emailed to Prosecutor Kym Worthy. The window to contest his parole would’ve expired May 6. A decision, which would have involved notifying any victims or family members, had not yet been made, Miller said.


Hahn said Garrison’s death is a tragedy.

“I really do think that if he was here, he would want his death to shed light on the dire situation that those others are facing in MDOC,” she said.

Angie Jackson covers the challenges of formerly incarcerated citizens as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, with support from the Hudson-Webber Foundation. Click here to support her work. Contact Angie:; 313-222-1850. Follow her on Twitter: @AngieJackson23

Below is one of Meek Mill’s many rap songs, which explore the effects of poverty, police killings, the CIA importation of drugs to poor, especially Black communities, and mass incarceration.

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Car Caravan fills streets outside Michigan Capitol, calls on Gov. Whitmer to release prisoners endangered by COVID-19

Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI has over400 cases, higher than Cook County Jail, Rikers Island, USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors

Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI

By Malachi Barrett |

April 16, 2020

A caravan of protesters circled Michigan’s Capitol for the second day in a row to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, this time calling her to increase protections for incarcerated residents.

Protesters in roughly 50 vehicles organized by prison reform group Nation Outside  ( drove outside the Capitol while leaders of the protest communicated their message to supporters through an online broadcast.

Troy Rienstra, a board member and outreach director for Nation Outside, said the group is asking Whitmer to implement a series of measures to protect staff and prisoners facing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in state prisons. The first Michigan prison inmate died from the coronavirus on April 4, and the state health department since reported 10 inmates and two staff have died and 472 tested positive for the infectious respiratory disease.

End ‘Truth in Sentencing,” release prisoners on good behavior

Demonstrators called on the governor to suspend Michigan’s Truth in Sentencing Law, which requires MDOC inmates to serve their entire minimum sentence before being considered for parole. Suspending the law could release of 3,000 to 5,000 people who demonstrate good behavior, organizers said.

“We want to make sure that people are taken care of and for those that can be released, that the government would do that expeditiously,” Rienstra said. “It’s not only an act of mercy, but it’s an act of wisdom. They can do it today if they wanted to.”

Protesters want emergency commutations, expedited parole process

Protesters also advocated for Whitmer to grant emergency special commutations, waive the two-year requirement between filing for commutation, expedite the parole process and convene a task force to evaluate other emergency measures. Rienstra said he also wants to expand testing of inmates who are reluctant to report their symptoms.

“We want to address the needs and concerns of both sides because only addressing one can drive a wedge between the two,” Rinestra said. “We’re really concerned about the quiet within the population because that is a signal that there’s potential trouble on the rise.”

Prisons and jails across the country have become COVID-19 hotspots, prompting a $2 billion federal program to fund coronavirus testing and early-release efforts in state prisons and county or local jails. Reinstra said the state should prioritize the early release of non-violent offenders who are close to serving their sentences.

Slop for dinner at Kinross Prison; Efren Paredes Jr., who is at Lakeland Correctional Facility, is calling for meals to be delivered to prisoners to stop spread of COVID-19 in prison chow halls.

Coronavirus quarantine areas have been created in each of the state’s 29 prisons, and the department is working to expand testing and provide more protective masks to inmates and prisoners. MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the state took action before the first case was confirmed on March 10 by ramping up the production of cleaning supplies and implementing various other measures.

A few examples Gautz highlighted include restricting movement at prisons experiencing an outbreak, reducing the size of educational classes and the number of inmates served meals at one time, restricting group fitness activities and increasing sanitation practices.

To minimize the infection risk inside Michigan jails, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order on March 29 allowing counties greater flexibility to release prisoners early. The order also requires screening of all people arriving or departing at corrections facilities, restricts visitations and suspended transfers into state prisons.


Reporter Curt Guyette, with Michigan’s ACLU, interviewed prisoners at Muskegon Correctional Facility, who reported a drastic lack of sufficient soap for hand-washing and other cleaning needs. Story excerpt:

Quentin X Betty, MDOC photo

Despite the desperate need for soap to combat the spread of COVID-19, the MDOC has not increased its weekly ration of two hotel-sized bars, even as the department is urging inmates to wash their hands frequently to protect themselves and others from the virus.

Along with using that soap to hand-wash and shower, some are also using hot soapy water to clean surfaces within their cells. Given all that, those locked up say two small bars do not last much more than a day. Contrary to MDOC policy, when the soap inevitably runs out before the week is up, it is not replaced for free. If individuals have money in their prison account, they can purchase soap from the commissary. Those without money are left to fend for themselves. 

“We are told to frequently wash our hands, and we need to do all the other things we do with it, so when we ask for more soap, no soap is provided,” said Quentin X Betty, who has been housed at Muskegon for just more than a year and serves as the lead representative on the “Warden’s Forum,” a monthly meeting he and others locked up have with the facility’s top officials.

Mr. Betty said the routine has been to receive two rolls of toilet paper and two hotel-sized bars of soap a week. The soap can be used for everything from showering to washing dishes and to cleaning clothes. But soap is definitely running out during this pandemic, he added.


Lansing car caravan demands “Let MI people go”

Reinstra, who served 22 years in jail for an armed robbery conviction before starting a new life as a prison reform activist, expressed optimism that Whitmer and other state officials will be open to the group’s demands. He said activists want to “extend an olive branch” to MDOC officials and start a dialogue with lawmakers.

Ben Roussel, a spokesperson for the event, said organizers wanted to present a stark contrast between their rally and the “Operation Gridlock” rally. Thursday’s event was meant to emulate a funeral procession in observance of inmates who have died, and protesters displayed orange flags with a black cross from their vehicle windows.

Reinstra said protesters were advised to stay in their vehicles and fill their gas tank in their hometown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Protesters didn’t go easy on the governor, claiming her administration has demonstrated “gross neglect of the state’s prison population” in a release. Several vehicles at the protest carried statements like “Gov. Whitmer has power of life and death in her hands,” “prisons are public health disasters” and #LetMIPeopleGo, a social media campaign that spread across Twitter this week.

Demonstrators said incarcerated people are reporting dangerous conditions inside state prisons, including an inability to observe social distancing due to overcrowding, a shortage of cleaning supplies and a failure to quarantine sick inmates.

Gautz said it’s impossible to maintain social distancing in congregate settings 100% of the time, but Whitmer’s orders have ensured prisons aren’t at capacity. He said 700 to 900 inmates are released on parole each month, while no new inmates are coming into state facilities.

“Our prisons are not overcrowded, especially right now,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is also urging Whitmer to release elderly and medically vulnerable people from state prisons. The organization began running television ads in Lansing to spread that message.

“Governor Whitmer knows that reducing the number of people locked behind bars is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and she took a bold and necessary step to release vulnerable people in jails,” said Dave Noble, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “But 40,000 people sitting in state prisons, as well as prison staff, their families, and communities, face the same threats, and their lives are just as important. She can save lives by acting now, but these disturbing reports prove that time is running out.”

The ACLU also highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans in Michigan, who make up 40% of COVID-19 deaths, but only 14% of the state population. Decades of “unresolved systemic racism” caused people of color to be incarcerated and face a higher risk of infection, the organization said.

#StopCOVIDGenocideinPrisonsandJails, #EndMassIncarceration, #LetMIPeopleGo


Nation Outside is calling on supporters to sign petition to Gov. Whitmer at



MLIVE Michigan inmates hide coronavirus symptoms to avoid prison quarantine


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By Diane Bukowski

April 12, 2020, Updated April 13, 2020

The Old Wayne County Jail (Div. 2). Prisoners are demanding that their time there during the COVID-19 pandemic not become a death penalty.

DETROIT — Angry prisoners in the Wayne County Jail rose up on a prison visitation video April 10 (above). They said despite an official claim that only one prisoner out of 900 in the complex of three prisons has the coronavirus, many are sick and dying from it inside crowded, filthy, unsanitized cells.

“We’re not being tested, we’ve got no masks, everybody uses towels,” they reported. “This is cruel and unusual punishment, and we’re innocent until proven guilty. We’re not going to court appearances and not being allowed to see our attorneys.”

Scattering as a seriously ill prisoner staggered down the hall, coughing into his elbow, they said, “The whole time he’s been sick the medical staff ain’t came yet. We’re in Wayne County Division 2. We on a 10-man rock. We got two people in here sick. They ain’t checking us, not testing nobody. I’ve got asthma and there’s all types of medical problems in here, and they throw us in with sick people.”

At the conclusion of the video, they reported, “This is not a burner phone—this is legal.” The mother of one prisoner confirmed that the video was filmed during an official visit. She said guards have since lodged an assault complaint against her son and thrown him in the hole after isolating him for 72 hours. She says he has not been able to call her since, and neither he nor she has up-to-date information on his upcoming court appearances.

Jail officials have responded with threats instead of human concern for the prisoners, even egged on by reporters claiming the prisoners used a contraband cell phone despite their clear indication to the contrary. See the reports below.

Comparison of medical and N95 masks. Jail officials’ claim that N95 masks, which hospitals can’t even obtain, were passed out to prisoners, is questionable.

One Detroiter who asked not to be identified told VOD that police came to his home March 13 as he was returning with his wife and children from the grocery store, stocking up on food and supplies for the COVID-19 epidemic. They had an arrest warrant for outstanding child support, although county officials were allegedly weeding out people with non-felony cases.

He said they held him through March 21, first at Dickerson, then at the Old Wayne County Jail downtown.

“Detroit is out of their minds,” he said. “They weren’t taking people’s temperatures first at Dickerson, despite all this coronavirus. Detroit called Indiana, where I had another warrant, and took me to the old jail downtown for extradition. They’re not taking people’s temperatures there either or isolating them first for three days like Indiana was doing. At the old jail, they put me up on what they called ‘Quarantine Rock’ but it was not really quarantined. There was a guy there who had it, he was sneezing and coughing, and his eyes were all watery and puffy. There were eight of us, all in one cell.”

He said the jail was full of cockroaches, and the tunnel through which prisoners are taken for their court hearings is full of asbestos, mold, and water leaks.

“They don’t wipe the cells down before they throw you in,” he continued. “They’re not giving inmates gloves and masks, they’re wrong as hell,” he said. “Right now since I got out of jail, my wife won’t let me come home because of the kids. I have to stay somewhere else for 14 days. I can’t go home to my own kids, but I understand.”

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon told the Detroit News April 8, “We’ve released everybody we could possibly release without causing a danger component.” The News reported 430 inmates had been released, leaving only 953, those with felony cases or “thought to pose a threat to public safety.”

Sheriff Benny Napoleon

On the jail’s website, Napoleon’s claims are diametrically opposed to those of the prisoners.

“We have taken every step feasible to ensure that employees are protected to the greatest extent possible,” Napoleon says. “Every officer has been issued gloves, n95 masks, face shields, sanitizer wipes, hand sanitizer, Clorox and Lysol spray. Additionally, there are a select number of disposable hazmat suits available. Each of our jail divisions have been sanitized and we have restricted entry into the jails to inmates, employees and attorneys. All employees were offered testing over an eight (8) day period. Upon entry to the jails, everyone is required to have their temperature taken.  Surgical masks have been distributed to inmates.”

Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy listening to top advisors.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement March 20, “We are clearly aware that the safety of the public is also paramount. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working on the issue of administrative release of prisoners non-stop. There are many stakeholders that must be consulted – the Courts, the Sheriff’s Department, the Health Department, Prosecutors Office, a representative of the prisoners and their attorneys from Michigan Legal Services, jail personnel, medical personnel, and others. There are currently just under 100 people that have now been identified for Administrative Release.”

She also said that all prisoners with underlying health conditions were being identified, and assessed for release to facilities that could care for them.

Officials for the Michigan Department of Corrections have also said that before any prisoner is released there, he/she must go through a similarly lengthy and involved assessment. Their families say they hope their loved ones won’t die in the meantime.

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz says outright in the video below that the MDOC will not release prisoners accused of murder, rape or other assaultive crimes.

In 1978, Michigan abolished “good time” credits for prisoners, drastically increasing the total population in the prisoners. Good time was earned through positive behavior in prison and evidence of rehabilitation.

A large percentage of MDOC’s 37,000 prisoners have long passed their earliest parole release date. However, it is common practice for the parole board to keep them based solely on their original offense, not their progress in prison, according to a 2015 report from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (Mi-CAPPS).

“Michigan’s prisoner population has grown from fewer than 7,900 in 1973 to over 43,000,” says the CAPPS report. “Corrections has gone from 1.6 percent of General Fund spending to nearly 20 percent. Today the budget of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is roughly $2 billion.

The report says later, “. . . The Pew Center on the States found that in 2009, Michigan had the longest average length of stay of 35 states studied. Overall, Michigan prisoners served nearly 17 months more than the average. Assaultive offenders served 30 months longer than assaultive offenders nationally. Michigan’s 20-year rate of increase in length of stay far exceeded the growth rate of other states. Researchers can make no connection between increased length of stay and recidivism.”

Meanwhile, several prisoners have provided their own reports on the growth of the COVID-19 surge in Michigan prisons.

VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell

Ricardo Ferrell reported from Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian that 50 prisoners had been transferred there after they tested positive for COVID-19, and placed in a separate building. However, shortly afterwards two prisoners in housed in 4-6 men “cubes” suddenly came down with high fevers and tested positive for COVID. All the occupants of their units were quarantined in segregation. Others have reported that regular transfers from other prisons continue, followed by upspikes in positive COVID cases.

Ferrell sent a copy of an official update given to prisoners by the administration on numbers of COVID cases and deaths throughout MDOC. The report was clearly skewed. It said only 9 cases had been reported at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI, contradicted by the report from Channel 7 above on 100 prisoners testing positive at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI.


by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

April 12, 2020

Efren Paredes, Jr.

Over the weekend during a 24-hour period ambulances visited the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) twelve times to transport people housed at the prison to the hospital who exhibited advanced symptoms of COVID-19.

During the past week dozens of incarcerated people have tested positive for the disease. An even larger number of prisoners have sought medical care for COVID-19 symptoms and been turned away by Health Care staff who have been overwhelmed by requests for help.

According to reports from several people housed in the four pole barn open dorm housing units, many people housed there are experiencing the inability to smell or taste — early symptoms of COVID-19 infiltrate.

They state that when complaining about symptoms of the disease, even if they are experiencing multiple symptoms, unless they have a fever or can’t breathe Health Care staff will not provide them assistance or a COVID-19 test.

Medical assistance, COVID tests repeatedly denied to syptomatic prisoners; quarantined prisoners back in chow hall with hundreds of others

There have been reports about an incarcerated person exhibiting a dry cough, dizziness, and vomiting that was returned to his housing unit after being evaluated by Health Care staff. Another person was repeatedly denied medical assistance until defecating on himself.

Another widespread problem related to Health Care has been with follow-up care they have provided people in 14-day quarantine status who were in close contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Prisoners in Lakeland Correctional Facility yard.

Health Care staff is supposed to check their vitals twice a day for two weeks while they remain in quarantine status, but they have only been doing it for a few days and stopping — buckling from being overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 cases.

According to one incarcerated person a nurse told him, “I have to check vitals 200 times a day on my shift. We can’t keep this up anymore. If you have any symptoms just let us know.” It was the last time his vitals were checked.

People being quarantined were also supposed to have packaged meals delivered to their housing unit so they didn’t go to the dining hall and have contact with hundreds of other people. That, too, was short lived.

After complaints from Food Service staff that it was costing too much to package the food they stopped sending the meals and the quarantined people resumed eating with everyone else in the dining hall, potentially exposing them to COVID-19 if they are infected with it.

These actions have cratered what little remaining confidence many incarcerated people had in the ability of Health Care Services to help them. It has also reinforced their long held beliefs about the inadequate and substandard care they have been subjected to for many years.

Rising tension and frustration among prisoners

The rising tension and frustration is palpable in areas of the prison where large numbers of people are feeling that their health and safety is being ignored, and anecdotally the COVID-19 viral load appears to be silently stalking everyone in its path.

Morale is at an all time low and people are expressing a deep sense of distress and despair, particularly elderly people and those afflicted with morbidities which make them highly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Graduating class of MDOC prisoners. MDOC had recently begun allowing college classes again,

While the prison has suspended all educational classes, religious services, and law library sessions to avoid the danger of people being in close contact, it continues maximizing the gathering of people in the largest available space at the prison (i.e., the dining hall).

The prison remains resistant to providing packaged meals to people rather than feeding them in the crowded dining hall in close proximity to one another, making the cost of meal packaging a priority over saving lives.

Nearly 70 prisoners, 18 staff at LCF have tested positive; 2 prisoners have died during past eight days; only the tip of the iceberg

This brings us to the latest data. LCF now has nearly 70 prisoners and 18 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19. Two incarcerated people have also died of the disease at the prison during the past eight days.

With potentially hundreds of people at the prison infected with COVID-19 the number of people being hospitalized for urgent care is expected to continue surging. So is the number of people who succumb to COVID-19.

There is a need for widespread testing at the prison if the MDOC has any intention to curb the spread of the disease. Sitting idly by as it ravages the prison daily or hoping it will eventually stop is not a strategy.

Experts have been clamoring for weeks about the importance of COVID-19 case identification, isolation, and testing regimes in areas where there are outbreaks. They have also stressed the need for contact tracing. Where these things are ignored or haphazardly utilized the results have proven fatal.

The MDOC is woefully failing in each of these areas. It is waiting far too long to quarantine people who are presenting COVID-19 symptoms and reserving testing only for cases that nearly require hospitalization.

This practice is allowing many potentially infected people to roam freely throughout prisons spreading infection to other prisoners and staff, and creating pockets of pathology. Unlike in society where infected people can self-isolate, incarcerated people don’t have that option.

Over 400 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in prisons across the state and ten of them have died. The number of infected people doubled in just one week.

According to researchers, a single infected person with the disease can infect up to forty other people. If even half that number is true there will be thousands of COVID-19 cases propagated throughout Michigan prisons if mitigation and containment efforts do not rapidly improve.

This moment must be met with a real strategy and courageous, principled leadership if lives are to be saved.

(Efrén Paredes, Jr. is currently incarcerated at the Lakeland Correctional Facility. He is a blogger, thought leader, and social justice changemaker. His ongoing series about the COVID-19 crisis in Michigan prisons can be read at


See Mi-CAPPS report at

Activists including ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, others demand release of prisoners at high risk for COVID-10:

Sign petition to bring back Good Time for Michigan prisoners:

“Correctional Facilities In The Shadow Of COVID-19: Unique Challenges And Proposed Solutions, ” Health Affairs Blog, March 26, 2020. at

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“We have to ensure that we never return to the society that enabled this pandemic to emerge.”

 Glen Ford, BAR Executive Editor

April 9, 2020 

Covid-19 has laid bare a fundamental truth: that capitalist healthcare is a contradiction in terms, since capital – like the killer virus — cares for nothing but reproducing itself.

What some may remember as the Year of the Lost Spring – lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost freedom of movement – may also become the year that the oligarchy and its servants in both corporate parties lost popular permission to dictate the terms of life and death in the United States.

For the second time this century, the economies of the U.S. and Europe are circling the abyss, dragging much of the rest of the planet with them, while China, site of the first large eruption of Covid-19, leads the world in both economic resilience and global mutual aid — and Cuba has stepped forward once again as the champion of medical solidarity.

The superpower that has killed millions in its quest for global supremacy has utterly failed the most basic test of legitimacy at home: the ability to protect its own population. COVID-19 has laid bare a fundamental truth: that capitalist healthcare is a contradiction in terms, since capital – like the killer virus — cares for nothing but reproducing itself.

“The Lords of Capital have been devouring the nation’s protective membrane, leaving the population defenseless against, not only microbes, but every disease of the poor.”

Mike Duggan celebrates sale of DMC to Vanguard Aug. 5, 2013. It is now owned by Tenet Capital. Hundreds of workers have been laid off, services cut back. VOD photo

Above: ER nurses at the Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital conduct sit-down protest about COVID-19 conditions, get fired April 5, 2020. While CEO of the DMC, Mike Duggan (now Mayor of Detroit) sold the ‘non-profit’ to two private, for-profit companies run by New York-based hedge funds.

The U.S. “public” health sector is revealed as a hollowed-out shell, crippled and shrunken by decades of unrelenting privatization at the hands of the oligarch-serving political duopoly. In effect, the Lords of Capital have been devouring the nation’s protective membrane, leaving the population defenseless against, not only microbes, but every disease of the poor — plus opiates and the lethal social pathologies that spawn spectacular and uniquely American mass shootings at schools, churches and shopping malls, and the daily slaughter of Black and brown youth on the streets.

The idiot currently occupying the White House did not create the healthcare crisis, and the people know it. Donald Trump is far too incompetent and unfocused to pull off such a monumental crime, which has been unfolding for decades.

“Democrats have been full partners in stripping the people of public health protections.”

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo

Democrats have been full partners in stripping the people of public health protections – including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the current darling of corporate media, who continues to press for $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts  in his own state even as he poses as the nation’s top virus-slayer. Joe Biden, the not-all-there man who some would like Cuomo to replace as the Democratic presidential nominee, vows to veto Medicare for All  – the first, preliminary step towards a real national health care system — if it ever comes across his White House desk.

Politicians of both parties take their orders from the Lords of Capital. Otherwise, they are demonized and threatened with expulsion from the capitalist duopoly, the only electoral game that is allowed under oligarchic rule – which is why Bernie Sanders will always be a loyal sheep-dog for a party that opposes his old-style Democratic reforms.

New York City is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

In the big cities, it is almost invariably the Democrats that enforce Rich Man’s Rule – many of them Black Democrats, since the other half of the duopoly is the White Man’s Party (GOP). Big labor’s only duopoly option is also the Democrats, a straight-jacket that union hacks have no desire to escape, preferring concubinage (whoring) to conflict with the ruling capitalist class.

The unions that purport to fight for the workers, and Blacks, who are overwhelmingly working class and the most left-leaning ethnicity in the nation, have both been reduced by the duopoly to annexes of the Democratic Party, a fatal embrace. The duopoly serves only one master: Capital. Back when the Democrats were the White Man’s Party and an aging Frederick Douglass made his living as a Republican functionary, the former firebrand declared , “The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the sea around us.”

Just as Douglass’ Republicans eventually sanctioned Jim Crow and the dictatorship of Capital, the Democrats have become bulwarks of an austerity Race to the Bottom that has thrown the working class and its most marginalized components overboard to drown in a sea of declining living standards and disappearing “real” jobs and social supports – and without a national health care system.

Covid-19 has made clear the lunacy of this deal with the devil, and that “nobody will save us, but us.”


Cooperation Jackson, the Mississippi-based  “emerging vehicle for sustainable community development, economic democracy, and community ownership,” last week put out a call for a general strike to begin on May 1st — May Day — and a list of demands “that will transform our broken and inequitable society, and build a new society run by and for us – the working-class, poor, oppressed majority.” (See BAR, April 6, 2020.)


“Despite the asymmetry of power between ourselves on the Left and the organized working-class, and the forces of the right,” says the Call, “we have to do everything we can to intervene. We must stop the worst most deadly version of this pandemic from becoming a reality, and we have to ensure that we never return to the society that enabled this pandemic to emerge and have the impact it is having in the first place. We must do everything that we can to create a new, just, equitable and ecologically regenerative economy.”

Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson

The proposed demands include protection of front-line workers exposed to the virus, and of “other vulnerable communities, including the homeless, migrants, and refugees from discrimination and attack in this time of crisis”; democratization of the means of production, by converting corporations into cooperatives; universal healthcare and basic services (education, childcare, elderly care, water, electricity, internet, etc.); a universal basic income; democratized credit (“Bail out the people, not the corporations and Wall Street”); a “decarbonized economy and Green New Deal; housing as a human right; clean and decommodified water for all; a Debt Jubilee; release of prisoners and closure of jails and prisons; closure of detention centers and reunification of families; shutdown of overseas military bases and cuts in the military budget, with spending transferred to social needs and infrastructure.

Cooperation Jackson spokesman Kali Akuno said nearly 300 activists took part in a conference call on Monday and reached “consensus on doing collective action to support what’s already going on.” Committees were formed to launch and sustain the strike and to put together a national strike fund.

“We’re trying to answer questions of the last 30 years in a few days,” said Akuno. May Day is important, “but we have no illusion that the ‘big one’ will happen on May 1st,” with the epidemic raging and much of the population still on lockdown, “but we’ll keep working towards it to send a clear message that we need a new system.”

The resistance predates Cooperation Jackson’s call. Dr. Abdul Alkalimat, professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, compiled and circulated a list of grassroots labor and social activist actions in the time of plague across the nation and the world [VOD-list is at bottom of this story.]

Lockdown and Beyond

As long as the lockdown continues, activists will have to find novel uses for technology. The Black Is Back Coalition  had planned to hold its annual Electoral School gathering in St. Louis this weekend, April 11 and 12, but will instead conduct the event over the internet. The theme has been changed to “Covid-19 Pandemic: Black People Fight Back ,” with an emphasis on “sellout Negroes in the time of plague,” said coalition chairman Omali Yeshitela.

That’s an apt description of the battle ahead of us. The Democratic Party has for the last four years blamed all of the ills of capitalism — and their own crimes — on the singularly loathsome person of Donald Trump and his imaginary partners in Moscow. Trump has, in effect, been their shield, diverting attention from Democratic complicity in the Race to the Bottom – which is why Hillary Clinton wanted him to be the Republican nominee, and why the Democrats insist he is the only issue in 2020.

Protest at Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit against 2014 bankruptcy takeover of city.

If Trump is the root of all evil, then all that needs to be done is to replace him with a Democrat – leaving intact the system created by both parties at the behest of the ruling class.

But the Covid-19 epidemic would have wrought mass death and economic havoc in the United States no matter which half of the corporate duopoly was in charge,  because both corporate parties have been eagerly dismantling and privatizing the public health sector for two generations. The Covid-19 bailout of banks and corporations under Trump is modeled on the bank and corporate bailout under Obama more than a decade ago. Neither scheme saved anybody but the financial and corporate elite. The First Black President and the Thoroughly Racist President both serve the same masters.

“The Covid-19 epidemic would have wrought mass death and economic havoc in the United States no matter which half of the corporate duopoly was in charge.”

Through its abject obedience to the Democratic Party, the Black Misleadership Class acts as mercenaries for the same oligarchy. They are welcomed into the subservient fold because the Lords of Capital have no problem with ethnic and religious “diversity” in the lower ranks of the power structure (mayors, a few corporate executives, even a compliant Black president), as long as society is structured according to the needs of Capital. Black politics will have to be transformed – not just independent of the Democratic Party, but relentlessly opposed to it – or there is no chance of lifting Black America from the bottom of the racial barrel, much less eliminating the racial hierarchy, altogether.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agreed on U.S. war agenda in Syria, Middle East, Latin America

Bernie Sanders’ final surrender  to the will of his half of the corporate duopoly, was anticlimax. Covid-19 will swell the ranks of dissidents in the party and nation, and Sanders’ concession will remove false hope that a corporate party can fight corporate rule. Sanders played a key role in popularizing the term “socialism,” but also in sanitizing it as compatible with existing power structures. Jeff Bezos and the rest of the obscenely rich are just as deadly if they are more heavily taxed, as they are when they keep most of their money.

A real left must fight for real socialism if the real world is to be saved from the greatest threat to life on Earth: the capitalist ruling classes of the United States and Europe, the historical and unrepentant enslavers of humanity and ravagers of the planet. Real socialism kicks the oligarchy off the commanding heights of the economy so they can no longer inflict unending austerity, war and warming on the planet while the people remain unprotected from the periodic visitation of deadly microbes. It must be a socialism that respects and facilitates the self-determination of Black people and all other oppressed nationalities that demand it – which is the only way that socialism can work in a racist society.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at .


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New Orleans

Workers beginning to revolt

Amazon warehouse workers

GE workers

Uber and Lyft drivers



ICE detainees

Grocery store workers

McDonald’s in LA

Local officials in Georgia


Ivory Coast







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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.

Efren Paredes Jr. with family

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:


Charles Lewis was freed last year after 44 years in prison after a juvenile lifer re-sentencing hearing that took over 3 years. There is abundant evidence of Lewis’ actual innocence,

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!

Marchers occupy Michigan Avenue in Lansing, MI to support the demands of prisoners striking across the U.S., Canada, and Palestine.


Food Services Worker: EMPTY CHOW HALL! Serve individual wrapped meals to prisoners in their cells.

Free Efrén Paredes, Jr.

April 3 at 1:16 PM ·

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.

MDOC Chow hall.

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.

Elderly prisoner lies on bed in Lakeland CF, waiting to die. Many older prisoners are at LCF. Photo: Al Jazeera

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.

Free Efrén Paredes, Jr.

April 3 at 9:34 AM ·

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


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.

Free Efrén Paredes, Jr.

April 1 at 2:55 PM ·

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

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.



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Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy consults with Atty. Michael Dezsi during evidentiary hearing in 2018. The Michigan Supreme Court just ordered the Court of Appeals to conduct factual hearing on his appeal of Judge Timothy Kenny’s denial of his motion for relief from judgment. The COA had denied leave to appeal.



Hitman Vincent Smothers confessed in great detail to murder of Jamal Segars during 2018 evidentiary hearing, waived right to atty.

Newly exposed forensic evidence showed that Judge Timothy Kenny, AP Patrick Muscat lied to jury about type of bullets found in victim

 Gun case against prosecution’s key trial witness was dropped after his testimony 

By Diane Bukowski

 April 4, 2020

NOTE: Related stories and documents will be linked at the bottom of this story shortly.

Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy

DETROIT—“I am so thankful to the Michigan Supreme Court for granting me a new hearing on this murder case,” an exuberant Thelonious ‘Shawn’ Searcy, wrongfully imprisoned since 2005, told VOD. “I am an innocent man.”

The high court remanded Searcy’s case back to the Michigan Court of Appeals March 18, ordering it to consider the case as if leave was granted. In Oct. 2019, a divided COA denied Searcy’s application for leave to appeal his conviction of the murder of Jamal Segars in Sept. 2004. COA Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens dissented.

The panel said only that the “defendant has failed to establish that the trial court erred in denying the motion for relief from judgment.” Searcy’s attorney Michael Dezsi confirmed that a different COA panel will hear the case. Whatever action they take can still be appealed to the MSC.

Astonishingly, the original COA did not analyze extensive new evidence of Searcy’s innocence presented by attorney Michael Dezsi during evidentiary hearings in front of Searcy’s trial judge Timothy Kenny which lasted from January to June of 2018.

These included a detailed confession by hitman Vincent Smothers to the murder, the revelation that both Kenny and trial AP Patrick Muscat lied to the trial jury that the bullets found in the victim’s body were unidentifiable, the buy-off of the prosecution’s key witness, and the failure by DPD officers present at the scene to investigate the own alleged shooting of a civilian passenger in a car they crashed into.

AP Patrick Muscat also prosecuted Davontae Sanford

Judge Timothy Kenny shown in “After the First 48” in 2006, segment “Backyard Murder.”

The hearings exposed in stunning fashion the depth of corruption present in all branches of the County’s Third Circuit Court judicial system and proceeding upward through the appellate courts.

Kenny said after the final hearing that he would rule within two months. But he did not issue his order denying Searcy’s motion for relief from judgment until December, 2018, after he was assured of his promotion to Chief Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit Court.

“The admission made by Vincent Smothers, as it applies to the Segars murder, is not credible,” Kenny wrote. “The forensic evidence, evidence offered by Marzell Black and the City of Detroit memo are equally unconvincing. For these reasons, the defendant fails to meet his burden under MCR 6.502 and People v Johnson and the defendant’s motion for relief from judgment is DENIED.”

Kenny has a great deal of influence in courts throughout Michigan. He is one of several judges who sit on committees of the Michigan Judicial Institute, created in 1977 by the Michigan Supreme Court to provide educational programs and written materials for Michigan judges and court personnel. In Sept. 2016, he was one of five officials participating in an MJI forum on “Juvenile Resentencing under Miller v Alabama And MCL 769.25-25a.”  Eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory juvenile life without parole, over 200 of 363 Michigan juveniles remain incarcerated.

Vincent Smothers begins his testimony regarding the killing of Jamal Segars March 19, 2018.

Kenny proceeded to tell bald-faced lies about the hearing testimony, identifying bullets found in and around Segars’ body and car as .45 caliber bullets from a gun the prosecution had presented at trial as the murder weapon. But a police report from the scene presented during the hearings stated that the bullets and bullet fragments found in Segars’ body and around his car were .40 caliber bullets. Smothers said he used a .40 caliber gun.

“The bullets don’t lie,” Deszi said during the hearings. “When the [trial] jury wanted to know what kind of bullet was in this guy, jurors were lied to and told ‘we couldn’t tell.’ Now we know they COULD tell. It was a .40 caliber bullet, and there were .40 caliber casings all around the car the victim was in.”

In the defense brief filed with the COA March 27, he noted that Smothers’ description of the gun and the bullets’ trajectory were identical with both autopsy and police reports.

Dezsi said, “the jury was lied to in response to a key question asked by the jury during deliberations about the caliber type of bullet that killed the victim.

“. . . the trial court instructed the jury that the bullets taken from the deceased victim were too deformed to determine the caliber,” Dezsi explained. “This was incorrect; a recent reexamination of a mislabeled evidence envelope revealed that it was a .40 caliber bullet that killed Segars which matches up with Smothers’ testimony. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence that a .45 caliber handgun was found in the apartment where Defendant was arrested (months after the murder). Thus, the .45 caliber gun presented at trial as the murder weapon tied to Searcy couldn’t have been gun that killed Segars.”

David Balash testifies May 9, 2018

Testimony at the hearing was that the envelope holding the .40 caliber bullet fragment taken from Segars’ body misidentified it as a 9 mm. bullet casing. Police reports showed that both .45 caliber and 9 mm casings were found ACROSS the street in a store parking lot. Forensics expert David Balash testified that it was not possible to confuse a .40 caliber bullet fragment with a 9 mm. casing.

“The difference is like that between a cherry and a watermelon,” Balash said.

Dezsi noted that Searcy’s case is not based only on newly discovered evidence.

“Standing alone, this newly discovered evidence is more than sufficient to warrant a new trial,” Dezsi wrote. “Additionally, such evidence meets the ‘actual innocence” standard that “it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found [the defendant] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” People v Swain, 288 Mich App 609, 638 (2010)(quoting Schlup v Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 327 (1995); see also House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 536-37 (2006).”

Smothers refused representation during the hearing by Atty. Gabi Silver. Silver had advised him not to testify in the Sanford case.

Dezsi said further, “During the evidentiary hearing, Smothers waived his Fifth Amendment privilege and testified, over the advice of his counsel [Gabi Silver], that he committed the 2004 murder of Jamal Segars during a botched robbery. Smothers provided numerous details of the murder, the crime scene, and even provided details that were heretofore unknown and not part of the record.”

The prosecution claimed that Smothers’ testimony was not reliable, because he had recanted an earlier confession to the Segars murder during an interview with the Michigan State Police with his attorney Silver present. Subsequently, however, beginning in 2015, Smothers submitted numerous written affidavits and a verbal interview conducted by Private Investigator Scott Lewis attesting to the murder.

Smothers testified from the stand that he was told his confession would detract from the case being built to exonerate Davontae Sanford. Sanford was convicted of four 2007 drug-house murders to which Smothers also confessed. He was later freed after a scathing State Police report on the faulty DPD investigation of the case.

Smothers is an admitted hitman serving time for a total of eight murders. Wayne Prosecutor Kym Worthy, known in national publications as an “innocence denier,” still maintains that Sanford was not exonerated because his case was dismissed “without prejudice.”

Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott leave prison in 2018.

Dezsi contends throughout his brief that Judge Kenny substituted his own opinion for  that of a jury, violating numerous court rules and precedents.

That was a key issue in the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling dismissing with prejudice the murder cases against Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott.  The trial judge repeatedly gave his personal opinions on what happened the day the victim was murdered, countering the reports of the victim’s eyewitness son. People v Johnson, 502 Mich 541 (2018)

The MSC entered their final ruling on the Johnson-Kendrick case after Prosecutor Kym Worthy moved to hold the defendants post-exoneration  under a high bail which was granted by Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Donald Knapp, pending her decision on whether to re-try them. Nearly all exonerations Worthy’s Conviction Integrity Unit takes credit for are based on “dismissal without prejudice” rulings by judges, leaving defendants in limbo based on Worthy’s whims.

Dezsi also noted that court officers denied Searcy his rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by withholding and falsifying exculpatory forensic evidence.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Brady v. Maryland has been at the center of a national investigation by USA Today, which revealed that information regarding misconduct by police and other judicial officers was withheld in hundreds of cases in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court order.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has announced that she is looking into 800 cases in which Brady may have been violated, with the potential of throwing them out en masse. Mosby is the prosecutor who charged six Baltimore cops in the death of Freddie Gray, 25, in 2015, an event which caused over a week of wide-scale rebellions in the city,  shutting down even major sporting events. The charges were later thrown out at the federal level.

Dezsi also presented evidence that police and prosecution  bribed the prosecution’s key witness DeAnthony Witcher by dropping a gun charge against him the same day that Searcy was arrested. The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Searcy had mistaken Segars for Witcher.

They are featured as stars on A&E’s “The First 48,” along with Joseph Weekley, the killer of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in 2010. Kenny himself appeared in a 2006 segment of “After the First 48,” called “Backyard Murder.”

DPD Sgt. Dale Collins

Sgt. Michael Russell

Collins has also been implicated in a number of cases involving infamous DPD “jailhouse snitches,” including that of recently exonerated Ramon Ward.

Former DPD Forensic Officer Kevin Reed testified during Searcy’s 2005 trial. VOD earlier reported that Kenny said during the 2019 hearings that he was the judge in the trial of Jarrhod Williams, which resulted in DPD forensic officer Kevin Reed being fired for faulty reports and led to the shutdown of the Detroit crime lab. In an aside, Kenny said during Searcy’s hearing that he never believed the crime lab should have been shut down, but that remark has been deleted from transcripts of the hearing.

It is estimated that at least 147 individuals are still wrongfully incarcerated based on falsified Detroit crime lab testing.

Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dezsi told VOD, “In normal times, we would be entitled to oral argument, but given the backlog and cancellations of oral arguments I don’t know if we will eventually get one or not.”

But he and his client Thelonious Searcy both feel positive that a new COA panel, under orders from the Michigan Supreme Court, will take serious note of the dozens of issues raised in the defense brief. The prosecution has not filed theirs yet. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, AP Jason Williams, standing in for Timothy Chambers, who had just resigned, gave a half-hearted 10 minute argument against Searcy’s motion for a new trial.

Sign at protest supporting Searcy last year.

Above is Vincent Smothers’ audiotaped confession to the murder of Jamal Segars, taken by private investigator Scott Lewis.


Atty. Michael Dezsi’s Brief on Remand to Court of Appeals:

Michigan Supreme Court’s remand of Searcy case to Court of Appeals:

Michigan Court of Appeals denial of Searcy application for leave to appeal:

Judge Timothy Kenny’s order denying Searcy motion for relief from judgment Dec. 3, 2018:

Searcy’s pro se motion for new trial, filed July 22, 2016:

Part one of Searcy brief with Motion:

Part two of  Searcy brief with Motion:






Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono, going. Among ongoing expenses are quarterly HostLab web charges of $360, costs for court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, etc. Please, if you can:



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State Rep. Isaac Robinson was an ardent advocate of environmental justice, especially for residents of Black, brown and poor communities.


Rose Mary Robinson



By Diane Bukowski

March 31, 2020

DETROIT– The outpouring of tributes to Michigan State Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit, Hamtramck), has been massive and unending, coming not only from his constituents and colleagues, but nationally and world-wide. Robinson, 44, died March 29 at Detroit Receiving Hospital of evident complications from COVID-19.

Michigan State Reps. (l) Jewell Jones (D-Inkster) and Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit, Hamtramck) were frequent allies.

Robinson had most recently been campaigning for his constituents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, co-sponsoring with State Rep. Jewell Jones a bill proclaiming a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, evictions, utility shut-offs and other issues.

As this crisis expands, we must take swift action to protect our senior citizen population and those economically impacted,” said State Rep. Isaac Robinson. “We must defend the public health of all people including our most vulnerable residents and low-income families. The working families and students in my district already slammed by excessive car insurance costs are being devastated by the impact of this Pandemic. Every event that is canceled puts the livelihood of my constituents in question. One of my residents texted me that she lives off tips. With a lay-off, she won’t be able to pay all her bills. During this economic meltdown, please join with me in calling on state Reps and Senators to move this legislation quickly.”

VOD had just spoken with several former Michigan prisoners about the explosion of COVID-19 inside the walls. They had planned to contact Rep. Robinson for assistance, due to their worry about those they left behind and reports about unsanitary conditions.

Rep. Isaac Robinson with Abner Hines, now 65, who served 45 years in prison although he killed no one. Rep. Robinson helped him get commutation.

“Rep. Robinson was in my view the apex of what a politician should be—someone who cared about his district and people in general,” said Abner Hines, whose sentence was commuted last year after he spent 45 years in prison.

“Many people are going to miss him, including myself. He proved to be a politician that actually cared about people, especially prisoners in this injustice system. He came to my assistance when I appealed for commutation of my sentence to the governor, and did not hesitate to recommend me.  It’s because of him that I’m free today, and I’m forever grateful for that. Many prisoners who have been represented by his mother attorney Rose Mary Robinson are feeling her pain. Rep. Robinson was a carbon copy of his mother as an advocate for all of us against injustice. God Bless her and the rest of his family.”

Charles Lewis with mother Rosie in 1978 

In 1981, Atty. Rose Mary Robinson won a key appeal for a Pearson evidentiary hearing in the case of Charles Lewis, a Detroit juvenile lifer whose re-sentencing under U.S. Supreme Court orders outlawing mandated juvenile life without parole was covered in great detail by VOD. When Atty. Robinson returned to court to represent Lewis in the hearing, however, then Recorders Court Judge Edward Thomas illegally barred her from further representation.

He replaced her with an attorney who was not familiar with the case, and gave him only a half-hour to meet with Lewis prior to the hearing. Afterwards, the attorney withdrew from the case rather than challenging this miscarriage of justice.

Lewis finally won his freedom last year, in what was clearly a frame-up. VOD had  published more than 40 stories on the initial case,  and subsequent legal travesties visited on him, which many held responsible for the prosecutor’s office finally backing down and letting him go. As Hines says, Isaac Robinson carried on his mother’s legacy.

Rep. Isaac Robinson (center) with former prisoners (l to r) David (Dawud) Clark, Edward (Barca) Sanders, Abner Hines, Rick Jordan (recently passed) and Steve Rucker.

As state co-chair of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign, Robinson stressed the need to replace “establishment Democrats” whose pockets are lined with contributions from banks and corporations, with an unbought leader who would fight for the people, as capitalism-in-crisis intensifies its economic and military wars on them across the globe.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for U.S. President

“Jane and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of State Rep. Isaac Robinson,” Sanders said in a Tweet. “He served as a vice chair for our campaign in Michigan and believed strongly in a fairer future for all. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

Joining Sanders in his message was first-time U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), who is Palestinian-American and one of the original group of four first-time women Representatives of color to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump.

“I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the passing of State Representative Isaac Robinson,” U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) told the Arab-American News. “Isaac cared deeply for the community and his passion to advocate for our most vulnerable is what I will remember the most.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit

“Isaac’s smile and sense of humor brighten any room. When I first met William Isaac Robinson in 2008 as a young activist in southwest Detroit and candidate for state Rep., he was the first to support my work against environmental racism.

“Isaac always showed up for the community and never backed down from fighting for the people. Our community will not be the same without Rep. Robinson. I pray his mother, Rose Mary, and his family find the strength they need during this difficult time.”

Tlaib is also part of the Bernie Sanders campaign for President.

Isaac Robinson, co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign, with other organizers.

Abraham Aiyash, a former candidate for state senate and long-time friend, told the Arab American News that Robinson was an “honorary Arab.”

“Isaac had an extremely unique gift in that he dignified people in every possible way he could when he saw them,” Aiyash told The Arab American News. “For him, it didn’t matter if you were Muslim, Christian, an athiest, if you were black, Bengali or Arab, if you were human, that was enough for him, and he really lived by that radical (code).”

Rep. Isaac Robinson with joyous members of metro Detroit’s Muslim and Arab community. Photo: Arab-American News

“There has never been a greater prince of a man than Isaac,” newly-elected Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said of him. “No one who worked harder or loved his community more. No better person who has walked this earth. My heart is broken.”

Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, wrote on Twitter, “There are few willing to stand against a strong tide when it is right,” “Few who have the moral fortitude to take up a righteous fight that is unpopular. Few whose convictions compel them to speak with the voice of giants through a blistering headwind. Isaac, you will be missed.

Speaker of the Michigan House of RepresentativesLee Chatfield called Robinson “a tremendous friend and colleague.”

“I will remember Isaac as a proud son of Rose Mary, an accomplished attorney, and a talented and effective representative of the people.

“But most of all, I will remember him as a passionate defender of the City of Detroit and the people who lived there. He cared deeply for that city, and his genuine love for its residents shined through in everything he did and in every decision he made,” Chatfield said.

“This will be a difficult night, and we will all miss him for a long time to come. But I hope in time we are all able to remember his enthusiasm, his laughter and the passion with which he lived his life.”

The American Human Rights Council said in a statement, “Rep. Isaac Robinson was a founding member of the AHRC. He was a devoted public servant who served his district and the people of Michigan with honor and selfless dedication.

“He was a tireless fighter and a strong advocate for social justice and equality. Even though he was a man with a sense of humor and an easy smile, he had steely determination. He was a big brother to all who knew him. He never hesitated to give a helping hand to anyone who asked him assistance. He was a straight shooter, and blunt but with utmost respect and professionalism.”

Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, remembered Isaac Robinson with passion. Robinson in his early career was an organizer for the Teamsters Union and always supported the union movement as it was attacked and decimated by the corporations.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield issued the following statement:


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The world is battling the COVID-19 outbreak that the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, which has claimed more than 3,564 lives

By Jim Tankersley

The New York Times

March 31, 2020

WASHINGTON — White House economists published a study last September that warned a pandemic disease could kill a half million Americans and devastate the economy.

It went unheeded inside the administration.

In late February and early March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread from China to the rest of the world, President Trump’s top economic advisers played down the threat the virus posed to the U.S. economy and public health.

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“I don’t think corona is as big a threat as people make it out to be,” the acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Tomas Philipson, told reporters during a Feb. 18 briefing, on the same day that more than a dozen American cruise ship passengers who had contracted the virus were evacuated home. Public health threats did not typically hurt the economy, Mr. Philipson said. He suggested the virus would not be nearly as bad as a normal flu season.

© Melissa Lyttle/Bloomberg “I don’t think corona is as big a threat as people make it out to be,” the acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Tomas Philipson, said in February.

The 2019 study warned otherwise — specifically urging Americans not to conflate the risks of a typical flu and a pandemic. The existence of that warning undermines administration officials’ contentions in recent weeks that no one could have seen the virus damaging the economy as it has. The study was requested by the National Security Council, according to two people familiar with the matter.

One of the authors of the study, who has since left the White House, now says it would make sense for the administration to effectively shut down most economic activity for two to eight months to slow the virus.

News to stay informed. Advice to stay safe. Click here for complete coronavirus coverage from Microsoft News

The coronavirus has spread rapidly through the United States and its economy, killing more than 3,000 Americans and plunging the country into what economists roundly predict will be a deep recession. A mounting number of governors and local officials have effectively shut down large amounts of economic activity and ordered people to stay in their homes in most situations, in hopes of slowing the spread and relieving pressure on hospitals.

Administration officials on Tuesday released public health models that have driven those decisions, including projections of when infection rates might peak nationally and in local areas. Government officials estimated Tuesday that the deadly pathogen could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.

As officials debate when they might begin to reopen the shuttered sectors of the country, it is unclear how the White House is tallying the potential benefits and costs — in dollar figures and human lives — of competing timetables for action.

Asked by Fox News on Sunday about the economic impact and whether the United States was in recession, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to say. “Are we going to have reduced economic activity this quarter? Absolutely,” he said. “I think next quarter, a lot depends on how quickly the curve of the medical situation works.”

The director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, told ABC News on Sunday that “it could be four weeks, it could be eight weeks” before economic activity resumes. “I say that hopefully,” he said, “and I say that prayerfully.”

Outside economists have been pumping out analyses on the optimal length of a shutdown almost daily. One that has been shared with officials inside the White House comes from Anna Scherbina, an author of the 2019 study who is now an economist at Brandeis University and the American Enterprise Institute.

It seeks to determine the optimal length of a national suppression of economic activity, which Ms. Scherbina does not define precisely in the paper. In an interview, she said it would encompass school closures, shutting down many businesses and the sort of stay-at-home orders that many, but not all, states have imposed.

“What it entails is something as drastic as you can get,” Ms. Scherbina said. In the United States right now, she added, “we don’t have it everywhere.”

Ms. Scherbina’s paper evaluates the trade-offs involved in slowing the economy to fight the spread of the virus by, as the paper puts it, “balancing its incremental benefits against the enormous costs the suppression policy imposes on the U.S. economy.”

In a best-case scenario, Ms. Scherbina concludes, a national suppression of economic activity to flatten the infection curve must last at least seven weeks. In a worst case, where the shutdown proves less effective at slowing the rate of new infections, it would be economically optimal to keep the economy shuttered for nearly eight months.

Suppression efforts inflict considerable damage on the economy, reducing activity by about $36 billion per week, the study estimates. Ms. Scherbina said the optimal durations would remain largely unchanged even if the weekly damage was twice that high.

But the efforts would save nearly two million lives when compared with a scenario in which the government did nothing to suppress the economy and the spread of the virus, Ms. Scherbina estimates, because doing nothing would impose a $13 trillion cost to the economy — equal to about two-thirds of the amount of economic activity that the United States was projected to generate this year before the virus struck.

Ms. Scherbina based her estimates on the models she built when she was a senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers and the lead author of the September paper, “Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza Through Vaccine Innovation,” which warned of potentially catastrophic death tolls and economic damage from a pandemic flu in the United States.

“I accumulated all this knowledge, and then coronavirus came up,” Ms. Scherbina said in a telephone interview. “So I thought, I should put it to use.”

The 2019 White House study called for new federal efforts to speed up the time it takes to develop and deploy new vaccines. It did not specifically predict the emergence of the coronavirus — instead, it modeled what would happen if the United States was hit with a pandemic influenza akin to the 1918 Spanish flu or the so-called swine flu of 2009. It projected deaths and economic losses depending on how contagious and deadly the virus turned out to be.

At even the highest rates it modeled, the pandemic flu in the exercise was still less contagious and less deadly than epidemiologists now say the coronavirus could be in the United States. The White House study estimated that a pandemic flu could kill up to half a million Americans and inflict as much as $3.8 trillion in damage on the economy. Those estimates did not account for any economic loss incurred by “healthy people avoiding work out of fear they will be infected by co-workers.”

The study’s top-end damage estimate would have been even larger than $3.8 trillion, Ms. Scherbina said, but the final version of the paper was changed inside the Council of Economic Advisers to discount the economic value assigned to the lives of older Americans. It assigned a value of $12.3 million per life for Americans between the ages of 18 and 49, compared with $5.3 million for those 65 and over.

Council officials said on Tuesday that Mr. Philipson was not available for an interview. He gave no indication this year that the study and its predictions had influenced administration officials in their early response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr. Philipson, whose academic specialty is health economics, was the acting head of the council when the September report was published. He told reporters in late February that the administration was taking a “wait and see” approach before it began any analysis of possible damage to the economy from the virus.

“If you look at the resilience of the economy to a public health threat,” he said, “certainly we have much bigger threats than the coronavirus.” He went on to recite the number of deaths each year from a typical flu strain.

The study published the previous fall had warned against such a comparison. “People may conflate the high expected costs of pandemic flu with the far more common, lower-cost seasonal flu,” the study said. “It is not surprising that people might underappreciate the economic and health risks posed by pandemic flu and not invest in ways to reduce these risks.”

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Volunteers come together in Detroit to give water to locals without it. Photo courtesy We the People of Detroit

 Two weeks after it was announced that water would be restored to cut-off Detroiters, thousands still remain unable to wash their hands at home. 

Michigan Gov. Whitmer lauded for declaring moratorium on water shut-offs, but it lasts only for the duration of the COVID-9 pandemic

VOD: The only real solution to the water, housing, transit, mass incarceration, etc. that have devastated the people of Detroit and across the world is replacement of a crumbling system based on profits for the corporations, not the good of the people.

By Katelyn Kivel


March 27, 2020 7:52 am

Justin Onwenu (LinkedIn photo)

DETROIT, MI — Saturday morning, Justin Onwenu was delivering cases of bottled water to a food pantry in Brightmoor as part of a partnership with We the People of Detroit. He’s been making deliveries like this for a while, and will continue to until water is restored for Detroiters.

Onwenu stressed that he and those he works with are not going door-to-door during the current novel coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, but that the flipside of that is that residents who still don’t have access to water have to go to the churches or food pantries receiving deliveries. Without that water, those Detroiters are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Wayne County is the hardest-hit region in Michigan. The most suffering is happening in Detroit, where there’s already been 850+ cases and 15 deaths.

Bridge reports that coronavirus is hitting Detroit faster than other large cities in the U.S.

Photo courtesy We the People of Detroit


Water Matters in a Crisis

Hand-washing and social distancing are two essential tools in responding to a pandemic. They play a role in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and “flattening the curve”, reducing the number of sick people added to the stressed healthcare system at any one time. But without access to water at home, going to churches or food pantries to get the water Onwenu delivers is necessary. And hand-washing may be a luxury.

Agnes Hitchcock and Detroit’s Call ’em Out have demanded that Mayor Mike Duggan restore $600 million in over-assessed taxes to Detroit homeowners. 

“If you want people to hand wash with soap, then they’ve got to have the water at home to do so,” Michigan Welfare Rights Organization organizer and coalition member Sylvia Orduño told Detour. “We’re on the brink of a serious health outbreak here, because Detroit cannot prepare itself for it.”

The nature of hoarding during the current crisis has made it harder for groups like We the People to get access to cases of water, said Onwenu. As a result of mass panic, many essential supplies like toilet paper and some weirder stuff as reported on social media are being hoarded. That includes bottled water.

It is important to note coronavirus has not been found in drinking water, so tap water is likely just as safe as it was before the pandemic.

VOD editor–Since the regional corporate takeover of the City of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department by the Great Lakes Water Authority in 2014, the water in Detroit and the six surrounding counties has NEVER been safe to drink. See

Lacking access to clean water is a common problem in developing countries during the current pandemic as explained by the Guardian, but it’s also a problem in Detroit. Onwenu’s most recent delivery came almost two weeks after it was announced that water to Detroiters would be restored, but far too many houses still run dry.

Without Water Two Weeks On

Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) announced March 9 that all Detroiters with shut-off water from unpaid bills would have their water restored, and could keep it flowing throughout the coronavirus crisis for $25 per month. Once the crisis ends, Duggan said they could transition to a plan they can afford to end the near six-year water crisis that has been unfolding in Detroit.

See  story below this one for truly comprehensive solution to Detroit’s water crisis, which is a crisis of capitalism:

“About damn time,” tweeted Abdul el-Sayed, former head of the city’s [substitute] health department.  “It’s been 6 yrs since the UN declared Detroit water shutoffs an insult to human rights.”

Protesters at Duggan’s State of the City address on Feb. 11, 2015.

But the scale of the problem was too large to resolve overnight. Over 100,000 Detroiters lost water access over the last six years to these shutoffs. More than 2,500 homes in Detroit still lacked access to water when Owenu headed out into Brightmoor on Saturday.

“We are taking this very seriously,” DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh told Metro Times. “We didn’t have enough data to know that it would take this long.”

Some problems the city faces in restoring water included having to repair infrastructure like meters and plumbing, and for those issues, the city is contracting plumbers to help speed up the process. But another challenge the city faces is trouble actually communicating with residents without water.

“Is there any continued effort to reach those individuals?” City Council president pro tem Mary Sheffield asked. “My concern is that these are still people who are without water and in the midst of a crisis. I’d love to see without a $25 fee that their water be restored. These are people who are still living in these homes who are probably homeless and don’t want to deal with city government.”

Nurses came from Canada to join in massive march against water shut-offs in downtown Detroit 2015.

This doesn’t surprise Onwenu. He cited concerns from undocumented Detroiters as one roadblock he’s seen in getting water restored — residents afraid that their interaction with DWSD would endanger them because of their undocumented status.

He told the Gander that he expected restoration to take another week or two to see water restored based on his interactions with the city, advocates and residents. Which poses a serious problem for pandemic control.

Onwenu is calling on DWSD and Mayor Duggan to have public locations set aside for people in need of water that can be properly monitored and handled by health officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

A National Problem

Water shut-offs are not just happening in Detroit, and are not the only threats to access to clean drinking water. At around the same time as Detroit’s crisis, the infamous Flint Water Crisis was well underway, and it continues to affect both water safety and trust in the government in the city still.

For real source of Flint’s water crisis, which was unbridled corporate greed involving the private Karegnondi Water Authority, see,

Last year, Washington progressives including presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) introduced the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER( Act of 2019.

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna of California.

“Fourteen million U.S. households are struggling to pay for water that too often isn’t even safe to drink,” said Congressman Ro Khanna (D-California) at the time. “Decades of federal underinvestment has left many communities, particularly low-income and minority neighborhoods, with leaky and contaminated water systems. It’s past time that we ensure everyone in this country has access to the most basic human need: clean drinking water.”

Those issues left largely unaddressed on a national level pose the problems present in Detroit to a much, much larger group of Americans. Because of the struggles to keep clean hands and social distance among the water-insecure population, they are both especially vulnerable to the coronavirus and are potential points of risk when it comes to efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Like many issues, the dangers posed by water insecurity are exposed and heightened by the coronavirus crisis. For now, Onwenu is doing what he can to help and will continue to do so until Detroiters have water restored, undaunted by the coronavirus.

If you’d like to donate water to Detroiters, the We the People website has instructions. If you are a Detroiter without water, call 313-386-9727 to make an appointment.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer  announcing state-wide shelter-in-place order.

Related update:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Moratorium on Water Shutoffs:

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a moratorium on water shut-offs across the state March 27, for the duration of the COVID-9 pandemic.

However, she earlier rejected proposals for a permanent end to water shut-offs in Detroit, proposed by the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union.

See the following series of stories by Michigan Radio, detailing those proposals:

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