More than 200,000 people are serving life sentences in U.S. prisons today, and most of them are locked in state correctional facilities. The vast majority of lifers are people of color, about 30% are people age 55 and older, and an increasing number are women.
I opened my email at 8:30 in the morning and my heart sank.
A “dear subscriber” notification, simple and plain, told me that my client Richard was no longer in Graham Correctional Center because he was deceased. There was no further information, no condolences offered, no way to follow up.
Had I not signed up for these notifications — status updates that are useful when clients are transferred from institution to institution — no one would have told me that he died.
Richard, an affable and religious man who was bombarded by love from family and friends, was 71 when he died. When I met him earlier this year, he had served 37 years of a natural life sentence for robbing a grocery store in Champaign, Illinois, one of hundreds of mostly Black men condemned to die in prison on his third strike.
He never hurt anyone, in that case or in any other.
One month ago, Restore Justice joined advocacy partners in sounding the alarm about the devastating effect COVID-19 could have in Illinois’s prisons.
Nearly 20 percent of our prison population is elderly, and many more incarcerated people are medically vulnerable. They are kept in overcrowded facilities that are not equipped to handle a pandemic.
In about two weeks, the number of confirmed cases among prisoners and staff at Stateville Correctional Center went from one to 131. Currently, 182 Stateville prisoners and staff have tested positive.
We know COVID-19 is in many other prisons throughout the State of Illinois, and we know that the numbers—and the tragedies behind those numbers—will increase as tests become more available in prisons.
With this knowledge, and with a belief that we can engender support and enact change, we are fighting for more people to be released and for better conditions inside facilities.
You’ve made this fight possible. You made phone calls, sent emails, signed petitions, shared our demands on social media, and put pressure on elected officials. We are tremendously grateful for your support and partnership during these scary and trying times.
Our mission continues. Here’s how you can keep working to protect those who are incarcerated.