“Our community members behind bars are extremely vulnerable because we can’t see what’s happening to them. The state thinks that this is a license to abuse them and that if we can’t see what’s happening we don’t remember or care… our loved ones are not disposable or forgotten!”
“I haven’t been able to see my children in over six months,” said the incarcerated mother from her small prison cell at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston. “I don’t know if they remember me or even if they miss me at this point. I know I surely miss them.” She worries out loud about her safety in prison during this pandemic. Can she keep her cell clean? Is adequate testing happening?
She feels fear, but also feels pain of isolation. With visitation shut down due to the pandemic and a 23 hour lockdown, meaning prisoners are allowed to leave there cell for one hour each day for showers or to go outside. And those one hour excursions are less than that, because guards often let you out 15 minutes late and hustle you back to your cell 15 minutes early.
“I’m losing my mind,” said the incarcerated mother from her cell. “I’m hurt. I’m sad. I’m sick.” She calls out to God. But receives no answer.
She finds a letter in her cell. It contains photos of her children.Though the letter says there are seven photos enclosed, there are only three in the envelope. Four of the pictures have been confiscated with no explanation as to why.
More than anything, she needs human contact. Instead, she is visited by a pair of prison guards who toss her cell, who empty her papers onto the floor while threatening her with violence if she resists in the smallest way. Just out of cruelty they confiscate her television on a pretext, telling her she might be able to get it back in a week. She is left devastated and alone…
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Formerly incarcerated people, families of incarcerated people, and accomplices are rallied outside the Providence City Hall Thursday afternoon in solidarity with those currently incarcerated in Rhode Island prisons. Organizers with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)’s Behind the Walls Committee, a committee made up of formerly incarcerated people and the loved ones of incarcerated people; Black and Pink; Formerly Incarcerated Union; Never Again Action Rhode Island, and community members as part of the RI COVID Response: Decarcerate NOW campaign built a prison cell out of plastic piping and plywood.
It was on this set that Suzette Cook played the incarcerated mother in the play above. The play was meant to draw attention to the campaign’s demand for protections for people incarcerated at the ACI, including an end to 23+ hour lockdowns in cells; access to adequate PPE and sanitation supplies; restoration of programming; and free access to video visitation during COVID shutdowns.
Organizers are also demanding that the state take steps towards prison abolition, including reducing the numbers of prisoners in their custody, starting immediately with releasing medically vulnerable individuals and granting parole to eligible individuals and those over 50; defunding prisons and police in this year’s city and state budgets; and long-term divestment from prisons and investment in community resources.
“Our community members behind bars are extremely vulnerable because we can’t see what’s happening to them,” write organizers. “The state thinks that this is a license to abuse them and that if we can’t see what’s happening we don’t remember or care… our loved ones are not disposable or forgotten!”
“The struggle is real,” said DARE organizer Terri Wright. “Racism is real. Police Brutality is real. The prison business is real. It’s time to abolish systems of oppression. Come join us in this fight for change and equality.”
To follow the campaign, you can follow the facebook page, RI COVID Response: Decarcerate NOW and text “RESPONSE” to 94502.
Following the short play, community members were invited to speak on the effects that incarceration has had on them and their families when they or a family member suffers incarceration.