Friday, April 3, 2020

New Blog Posts from Harlan Richards

Release Old Law Prisoners to Ease Overcrowding In Wisconsin Prisons

    H A R L A N   R I C H A R D S

     April 3, 2020

The biggest problem in Wisconsin prisons is the extreme overcrowding which forces hundreds of prisoners to be crowded together where COVID-19 can be quickly and easily transmitted. We need Governor Evers and Parole Chairman Jon Tate to release all the old law prisoners who have shown by their conduct and achievements since coming to prison that they can be safely returned to society.

These prisoners are all old and many of them have health problems. They will be the first to die when COVID-19 comes to the prisons.

I'd like to suggest a phone call campaign to Governor Evers and Chairman Tate. Watching Governor Evers on TV today it looks like he has finally realized the seriousness of the pandemic.

Demand action - an immediate review of all old law prisoners and release within 30 days if they are not a demonstrable risk. If they refuse to act, insist on a valid reason. Go to the news media, try PBS Here and Now, or WPR Kate Archer Kent's morning radio show.

Governor Tony Evers (608)266-1212

Chairman Jon Tate (608)240-7280

A massive phone call campaign can make a difference and save many lives which will be lost if COVID-19 gets into the prison system.

Write to Harlan:
Harlan Richards
Stanley Correctional Institution
100 Corrections Drive
Stanley, WI 54768-6500

Is COVID-19 an April Fool's Joke?

     H A R L A N      R I C H A R D S

April 1, 2020

Judging by the reaction to COVID-19 by the prisoners in Stanley, it isn't really happening. Yesterday Governor Evers asked the federal government for a state-wide disaster declaration. I have referred to the situation inside Stanley prison as "surreal" so many times the word has become meaningless to me.

In horror films, the audience watches actors portraying people living their lives oblivious to the approaching danger. The audience sees the danger and wants to warn the people: "look out!" But it does no good. It is all part of the plot - to make the ensuing devastation more impactful.

That's what it's like in Stanley. The daily news tells of increasing deaths from COVID-19 and the thousands of Wisconsin citizens who have tested positive. Yet here we all are, packed shoulder to shoulder with no social distancing whatsoever. I speak to other prisoners and most of them scoff at the pandemic. Do you remember the great tsunami back in 2008 or 2010 (I don't remember the exact year)? Hundreds of thousands of people died - many of them were standing on beaches looking out to sea wondering where all the water went. Then a 50 foot-tall wave came and washed them all away. That's what I see in Stanley: Prisoners standing on a metaphorical beach waiting for the COVID-19 tsunami to come and wipe them out.

For those few prisoners who do take the pandemic seriously, the prevailing attitude is one of resignation. They know it's going to be a catastrophe of epic proportion but are powerless to stop it from happening and have no way to avoid being one of its casualties.

Prison activists in the free world see the danger to us more clearly than the prisoners do. Yet prison officials and elected officials refuse to act, refuse to admit there's a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are hundreds of high risk (for death from COVID-19) prisoners in Stanley. Many of them are old-law parole eligible prisoners who have been warehoused for over 20 years. These old men would pose no risk to anyone if released and it would help reduce the extreme overcrowding. Why won't the parole commission release us? Nobody cares whether we get released or stay in prison. It would not cause a backlash from the public. In fact, it would benefit the Evers Administration by finally fulfilling a campaign promise to end mass incarceration in Wisconsin.

As I've said countless times before, it is all surreal. Being right and being able to say after it's all over that "I told you so!" does no good whatsoever (assuming that I'm one of the survivors).

We need action now. We need to reduce the prison population and take steps within the prison to effectively isolate the prisoners from the free world. We do not need the farce of applying the free world standards for social distancing to part of the prison while cramming us all together in housing units so crowded we can't get 2 feet of space let alone getting the 6 feet needed for safety. We need prison officials to admit they don't have a clue about how to keep us safe under these conditions. We need massive prison population reduction before the pandemic hits Stanley.

COVID-19 - Like Trying to Stop a Plague of Locusts With a Flyswatter


  H A R L A N     R I C H A R D S

March 25, 2020
Yesterday, prison officials launched their next great anti-COVID-19 initiative.

In every housing unit there is a hot water/ice machine. It has 3 buttons: one each for hot water, ice and filtered water. We are no longer allowed to press the buttons. A dining room worker must now stay at the ice machine for 30 minutes of every hour that the dayroom is open and dispense water and ice while wearing gloves. What possible good is this going to do?

I have previously explained the conditions in the housing units, how we are so crowded together (especially at meal times) that it's impossible to maintain a safe distance. Did I also mention that there are 6 phones for 100 guys and that the phones are in almost constant use whenever the dayroom is open? These phones are sanitized 3 or 4 times a day. The phones never even cool off because someone is always holding the receiver. We also have clip boards where we sign out to leave the building and each one has a pen attached to it - none of which are sanitized. There is one kiosk in the dayroom to access messaging for those who don't have tablets (and which also must be used by everybody for staff messaging and adding money to tablets to pay for songs and emails). It gets sanitized as often as the phones. Ditto for the two microwaves we are allowed to use whenever the dayroom is open. I watch numerous guys sitting 4 to a table playing cards and dominoes with frequent switching off with new guys wanting to play the winner of the previous game.

That is why I use the analogy that it's like trying to stop a plague of locusts with a flyswatter. It is such a useless, futile gesture when all the important, effective actions are being ignored. It is impossible to separate the guys in a wing from each other. They have to isolate each wing from the other wings.

Transfers between housing units is still occurring and prisoners from all the units are still coming to B Building (where chapel, library, hobby, school, etc. is located) for unnecessary functions.

I went to the barber yesterday. The barber shop is a small room (about 8 feet square) with one barber and one chair. While I was there, 2 other prisoners came into the barber shop to talk to the barber. Whatever happened to the 6 foot safety zone? At the same time, the entire gym held 2 guys exercising to the workout video (we are not allowed to use the weight equipment because they don't want to sanitize it between rec periods).

The only way to keep us safe is to not let COVID-19 get into Stanley. Once it does, it will be impossible to prevent it from spreading to the entire prison population. The only way they'll be able to quarantine us is by locking us into our double cells. There won't be any testing done so we won't know if we're being confined with a cellmate who has the virus until after we've been exposed.

The prison population needs to be reduced by half so every prisoner is in a single cell. That's the only way to stop a COVID-19 epidemic in Stanley.

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