FORGOTTEN PRISON PANDEMIC

In prison, having a cellmate you get along with is a rarity, but for Anthony Ehlers and James Scott, who have been cellmates for nearly five years at Stateville Correctional Center, they were one another’s family.

“He and I were a big odd couple to be best friends,” Ehlers, 48, wrote in a letter about Scott.

“Guys used to make fun of us. We didn’t care. I’m sure it was kind of weird, he was a short, bald, dark-skinned Black guy, and I am tall, and very white. But, we were inseparable.”

In March, when Ehlers felt body aches, a sore throat, dry cough and a loss of smell and taste, he worried he had been infected with COVID-19, and worse, that Scott would get sick too. He was right.

While Ehlers survived the virus, Scott did not.

Raul Dorado, 41, said when he first saw fellow prisoners exhibiting symptoms, the prison was not yet on lockdown.

“I noticed that many more than usual were sick,” wrote Dorado, who has been at Stateville since 2000. “Some said things like, I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s kicking my ass!”

“I feel fragile, like a porcelain plate slipping out of a child’s hand,” wrote Dorado about his mental state. “Disposable, like a bent spork.”

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Laura Dorado Young: Free My Brother!

“I’m more familiar with Zoom. So I said I’ll take this one. Usually my other brother handles Raul’s stuff. But I took the Divide and Conquer approach.”

Name: Laura Dorado Young

Brother: Raul Dorado, Incarcerated at Stateville

Divide and Conquer she did

When I saw Laura at The Zoom Meeting, I was struck by how much she missed her brother. So I reached out to her in the side-comments, where you can chat. I sent her my email. She got back to me right away. Last night, we talked on the phone.

Laura Dorado Young is what you might call a reluctant activist. This isn’t her calling but she loves her brother and so she’ll do whatever she has to do. She has 3 children and more than anything else, she’d like them to actually know their Uncle Raul, in the mundane bliss of the day-in and day-out life the rest of us take for granted in the world beyond prison walls.

The Names Of Her Children: Marcus, Mateo, Maven

Their Ages: 5, 3, 10-Months

“We call him Rulo. But his given name is Raul,” she said. “It took several years, but I would say finally in the last decade or so, because Raul has been incarcerated for 22 years, he really became a leader and advocate for prisoner’s rights.”

As Laura described the evolution of her brother, I was reminded of a book I read called “Just Mercy.” There’s a simple idea running through the book. Here the idea: you are more than the worst thing you have ever done. When Raul Dorado did a dumb thing, he was 19 years old.

People change. 

Circumstances shape us.

“I remember as a little girl,” she said. “We’re first generation Mexican American, our parents immigrated from Mexico. When we were little our parents worked in the factory and it was up to us to get ourselves ready for school. My mom would call me. Wake your brother up! Wake your brother up! Raul would push and fight. I’m not going. I’m not going. You know, I was young. So I wasn’t going to force him. And now, he’s a completely 180 degree different person from growing up.”

In 2001, Raul wasn’t there when his father died in a construction accident. These days, he can only dream about Chile Rellenos, his mother’s famous dish. But we all know dreaming and tasting are two very different things, in much the same way losing your father and gathering together with family to grieve is something you never get back.

I asked Laura where Raul will live when he’s released.

Where He Will Live: Wauconda, Illinois

Who He Will Live With: Graciela Dorado, Mom

“A lot of prisoners, over the years, their families stop contacting them or they stop receiving support. Raul has had unwavering support for 22 years.”

I asked Laura what she missed. It sounds like a big question but love is expressed in the smallness of things we overlook, of things we take for granted, Tamales…

“I miss the sibling rivalry, you know? Rulo has been out of my life since I was 12. It’s just different,” she said. “I miss the small things. It’s the growing up together. It’s the mundane. It’s the putting food on the grill. It’s the talking. You know? I would love for my kids to crawl on his lap and be like, Tio! Tio!”

Raul Dorado is an Incarcerated Leader at Stateville and Board Member of Parole Illinois.

He has underlying health issues which add an undeniable sense of urgency to his release.