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General News    H4'ed 7/20/20

Overcrowding in Ventress Prison During Pandemic, March-July, 2020 (Full Version: Parts 1 & 2)

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First published in The Hard Times Review

(Author's note: Incarcerated sources are kept confidential to protect their safety and privacy. Each prisoner is identified by a randomly chosen letter.)

"When Obama was President, there was still some people put in place to deal with" research and preparedness for pandemics, says a prisoner identified as "G," who has been incarcerated in Alabama for nearly four straight decades.

"But when Trump was made President, he fired all them. So, that's why [coronavirus] got a chance to spread like it did, because we didn't have nobody to really stop it," says G.

Interviewing with HTR in the beginning of April, G (currently in Ventress Prison) discusses living conditions and overcrowding, and the newly dangerous implications of these problems during the pandemic.

G observes that there are "more youngsters in prison now than when I first came," referring mainly to prisoners in their 20's and late teens. "When I first came down here, you didn't have that many youngsters in prison."

He notes that the rising number of young people in prison throughout his sentence has been part of a larger, consistent trend over the decades: a steadily increasing prison population overall, prisoners of all ages, pushing Ventess and many other prisons in Alabama and throughout the country well over their designed capacity.

G suspects that increased punishment for nonviolent drug offenses in the 1980's and 90's, continuing still, also explains the overcrowding of American and Alabama prisons, and the rise in the number of younger prisoners.

The prison population has "always been large" since G got to prison in the early 80's, but it's much larger now, "and it's going to keep on getting larger as long as they don't let nobody out," he predicts.

"One of the biggest problems is that they've got a lot of older guys that [are] still in prison, and should've been let out of prison, and they won't let them out, because of the public " They're scared to let a lot of older guys out that's been locked up a long time, because - I guess - people are scared they'll mess up and come back. But - you know - you can't tell a man how to live his life once he gets out," says G.

"Again, like, a lot of these young guys - you know - they got three or four life sentences, and stuff like that. So, they're going to be here for a while," he notes. "So, why not let us old cats out? You know? Let us come on out there and live our life," he asks.

"But," he reiterates, "like I said, they're trying to please the public, man. But see, the public needs to be more involved in what's going inside the prison system, too. The public needs people like you, that's already out there, to get more involved. Ya'll need to put this stuff on Facebook, and let these folks know: Man, once the coronavirus - if that stuff comes through here, it'll kill all of us. You know?" (Pause)

"What about us?" he asks. "You know what I'm saying? What about us? We deserve to get out, too. We deserve to be free."

G elaborates on how coronavirus hitting the prison could impact him directly. "Like me, I'm a diabetic. I just found out," he says.

"It'd come down on me as quick as, or quicker, than anybody," he explains. "So, I'm just hoping I got a strong enough immune system to fight it off. But there's diabetics, people with heart disease, high blood pressure, stuff like that. You know? You got a lot of inmates in here that need to be let out, man, because they ain't going to be able to - their bodies ain't going to be able to withstand it. A lot of these guys, man, are 70 years old, got canes and wheelchairs and stuff. They deserve to be let out, man."

As of this writing in July, Alabama has not been releasing and has no clear plan to release Alabama Prisoners for reasons related to coronavirus, not even older people or people incarcerated on nonviolent charges.

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Matthew Vernon Whalan is a writer and contributing editor for Hard Times Review. His work has appeared in The Alabama Political Reporter, New York Journal of Books, The Brattleboro Reformer, Scheer Post, The Manchester Journal, The Commons, The (more...)

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