They Are Burying Us Alive In Prison By Raul Dorado

There are many ways to come to prison.

You could have been raised in a segregated high-rise ghetto, removed from mainstream society and cut off from participation in the legal economy. Or you could just have been born black.

If you inhabit a black body, you’re nearly six times more likely than whites to be imprisoned, and if you reside in a brown body, you’re three times more likely to be imprisoned.

Covid-19 came to Stateville, undetected, in the bodies of the prison guards who have direct custody of us.

Prisons are long-term care facilities, but without the actual care. Just over four decades ago, Illinois fell in line behind a national trend to abandon the goal of rehabilitation in favor of punitive sentencing practices.

These practices lay the foundation of today’s overcrowded prisons that have not spared the elderly prisoner population bearing the brunt of Covid-19.

Our group is supporting a bill in the Illinois legislature, SB3233: Earned Discretionary Release.

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Raul Dorado Is An Incarcerated Writer & Co-Founder Of Parole Illinois

We Join The Chorus Urging Governor Pritzker To Ease Housing Based Restrictions

A coalition of 50 local and national criminal justice reform organizations, led by the Chicago 400 Alliance, is calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to ease conviction-based housing restrictions for the duration of the pandemic.

The move would allow people who have completed their sentences to finally leave prison.

“We’ve been working on this issue for years,” said alliance coordinator Laurie Jo Reynolds, “but now it’s a matter of life and death.”

Criminal justice reform organizations are calling on Gov. Pritzker to ease conviction-based housing restrictions so hundreds of people can finally be released.

She is hoping the governor will issue an executive order.

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TOUGH ON CRIME ISN’T WORKING: Letter To The Editor

Responding to recent shootings, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown declared that “violent felons” need to “stay in jail longer.”

If he means that pretrial detainees must be jailed longer, this is unconstitutional. You can’t delay someone’s trial to jail them longer.

If he means that people convicted of violent crimes must stay in prison longer, this is equally ignorant. In Illinois, if someone commits a murder with a gun, he or she faces a minimum 45-year sentence, which the person is unlikely to outlive.

What makes Brown think that increasing that sentence will make a difference?

Brown’s outworn “tough on crime” rhetoric betrays his disregard for the failure of punitive deterrence and the real social needs of marginalized communities. Another police officer, Patrick Skinner, stressed in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “the rhetoric and the tactics and the aggression of war have no place in local police work.”

Yet Brown invokes the same aggressive approach and demonizing labels used by his predecessors and politicians for the past 40 years, which have proved ineffective in preventing crime and disastrous for marginalized communities.

Curiously, Brown hasn’t called for harsher prison sentences for violent police.

People (including those in uniform) need to be held accountable for their actions. But extreme punishment is a failed and racist policy. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and yet our cities have some of the world’s highest crime rates.

Illinois stands out for extreme sentencing laws, which have sent thousands of Illinoisans — over 70% of whom are people of color — to prison for the rest of their lives.

To bolster past politicians’ “toughness,” these people have been permanently torn from their families and communities.

Communities have sent a clear message: no more law enforcement “toughness” or swaggering sound bites. They want real solutions for families who are both victims of violence and caught in cycles of incarceration.

Brown’s burying of these concerns with knee-jerk rhetoric underscores why the Chicago Police Department must be defunded. Plans for shifting resources to social and mental health services and community renewal and for reopening closed schools, all of which have proved to prevent crime, would be much more inspiring.

— Joseph Dole, policy director, and Shari Stone-Mediatore, managing director, Parole Illinois

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STATEVILLE VOICES: A Festival Of Short Plays

In the spring of 2019, through the Northwestern Prison Education Program, playwright and Goodman Artistic Associate, Rebecca Gilman, taught playwriting at the Stateville Correctional Center.

The students embraced their first playwriting class and, for their final projects, each wrote a short play. Ranging from comic to tragic, the plays tackle subjects as unique, original, and inspiring as the men who wrote them.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, we planned to offer three live performances of the Stateville Voices plays: one at the Goodman, one at Kennedy-King College and one at Stateville.

We still intend to present live readings at the Goodman and Kennedy-King once it is safe to do so. We also want to take the plays to Stateville when the prison is no longer on lockdown.

However, given that the population at Stateville has been one of the hardest hit by COVID19 in the country, we felt it was urgent to present a live virtual event featuring some of the Stateville Voices plays as well as a panel discussion looking at what life is like at Stateville at the present moment.

Live on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, July 3 at 5PM.

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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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STATEVILLE EPICENTER OF COVID-19

Demonstrators denounce state’s handling of coronavirus outbreak at Stateville prison.

A procession of about 40 cars made their way around the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill on Friday to protest against how Illinois has handled the novel coronavirus pandemic in prisons.

The demonstrators displayed signs from their cars reading “Free them all” and “empty the jails.”

Rev. Jason Lydon, a Unitarian Universalist minister at the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, described the group of family members, advocates and faith leaders as “people of conscience coming together” to raise awareness of the situation in Illinois prisons and jails. He said the demonstration was an effort to “remind everybody that those inside the prison are not alone.”

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