“There is a reason why no name is attached to this letter. The fear of retaliation with solitary confinement and other forms of physical and verbal abuse keep many incarcerated people from speaking out about their experiences. But we will not be silenced.”
The director of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), Patricia A Coyne-Fague, penned an oped on April 24th concerning her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at the ACI. The director mentioned that her statement was important because “those on the outside are understandably scared and worried about their friends and family.” She also stated “the fear and frustration of those with loved ones at the ACI is made worse when misinformation is spread.” As someone incarcerated at ACI’s Medium Security, I believe those insecurities are exacerbated when people in power are the ones responsible for spreading misinformation. Director Coyne-Fague claims she and her staff are “taking precaution for safety” and that we are being treated with respect. I believe her claim is disingenuous and that points of view from the other side of the fence should also be heard.
- Since the second week of March we have been on lockdown nearly 23 hours a day. There have been no visits, no classes or programs, and no work assignments.
- For the first four weeks of the pandemic our meals (mostly bologna and cheese) were delivered to our cells. Correctional officers would routinely throw, slide, and kick our food to the front of our cells. Once normal meals resumed, we were given 3 to 5 minutes to finish our food before being told to leave by officers who wanted more time on their breaks.
- Our recreation schedule stands at 40 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon with time outside for fresh air every three days. Because the schedule is edited according to correctional officers’ discretion, we consistently lose 5 to 10 minutes of recreation daily. Time like that is meaningful when we must decide between showering or calling our loved ones.
- Video visit kiosks installed before the pandemic were finally made accessible on June 16, but the $5 fee for a 20 minute call is prohibitive for many of us and our families.
- Free postage is provided, but since most of our jobs are suspended, many people cannot afford the price of paper and envelopes to take advantage of the free postage.
- While free soap is available, many cannot currently afford other essential hygiene products such as toothpaste.
- Cleaning supplies are diluted and there are not nearly enough available for everyone to properly clean their cells.
- Staff wear masks but frequently take them off or wear them improperly. Masks were handed out to us two months into the pandemic and tests were only administered on June 3rd. There is fear that anyone who tests positive will be placed in solitary confinement.
- Diversion initiatives have the ACI population at a 30 year low, demonstrating that the state has the ability to decarcerate the prison. Further initiatives should be taken to continue this trend during and after the pandemic.
In light of the racial justice protests sweeping the country, the director’s statement that correctional officers at the ACI are “highly professional and compassionate” deserves a rebuttal. With a workforce that lacks diversity, cultural and racial differences are not respected at the ACI. On June 4th a white correctional officer with a history of using excessive force and making disparaging remarks about African-Americans disrespected racial justice protests by taking a knee while other officers laughed and pretended to take pictures. These are not the actions of “professional and compassionate” people.
It is unreasonable to believe that the training correctional officers go through in twelve weeks teaches them anything other than control and policing. Dialogue with officers about any grievance listed here is sometimes met with short-tempered responses intended to intimidate, humiliate, and discourage inmates from seeking recourse. There is a reason why no name is attached to this letter. The fear of retaliation with solitary confinement and other forms of physical and verbal abuse keep many incarcerated people from speaking out about their experiences. But we will not be silenced.
Note: The identity of the person who wrote this has been determined to be someone incarcerated at ACI’s Medium Security. The Providence Journal declined to print this oped.