by Wanda Sabir
We remember McCoy Tyner, pianist and wonderful soul, Bill Withers and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We also remember Madam CJ Walker – don’t miss the Netflix Seriess
Maafa – Covid-19
I say Maafa – Covid-19 because if we aren’t careful we are going to allow this virus to take too many of our people either physically, emotionally or psychologically. Our elders are being denied visits with family as they are confined to their rooms. The sick are also isolated – no visitors. In hospice families are not allowed access to their loved ones as in the past – one can’t spend the night or visit whenever one likes. Sister Sadie Williams’s son Dan died in late March and she hadn’t been able to visit him because of Covid-19. His children did, but not his mom.
Covid-19 meets CDRC: ‘We are HUMAN,’ plead women prisoners
California Coalition for Women Prisoners is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and many of the women I met when I was going in visiting are free now – some released in time to die. However, there are many women who are still inside. Convicted as children, these women are not eligible for the legislation over the past decade that guaranteed juvenile offenders parole dates. Supposedly, there are no juveniles serving life sentences, yet that is not true. Women who are in their 30s now were convicted as children, some as young as 14 or 15.
Life without Possibility of Parole or LWOP means even if you are dying, you will not get out. At Central California Women’s Facility in the Central Valley, Chowchilla, where the water is polluted and no one who can afford to buy their water drinks it, the air is not much better. A nurse came down with the virus and all the other staff who came in contact with her were self-quarantined along with one prisoner. Yet, how do incarcerated people quarantine in a crowded facility?
Friday, March 27, a day Californians and New Yorkers petitioned legislators to release people locked behind bars, Gov. Newsom signed to parole 27 prisoners. These parole requests were from January-December 2019, quite a few persons incarcerated as youth for 30-40 years. Most were men, none released for humanitarian reasons like those prisoners who are dying with not much time to live.
Patricia Wright was not one of the persons released last week. After being recommended for release during the last administration under Gov. Brown, Ms. Wright, who has had fourth stage cancer since she was in Northern California at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), now at the California Institute for Women (CIW) for a number of years, the cancer is now in her liver. She has had a double mastectomy and brain surgery for tumors. I remember visiting her at CCWF and how she’d get out of her bed into her wheelchair and meet with the visiting team. Wearing lipstick, a pretty scarf during those visits when her hair had fallen out from chemo, she was always cheerful and optimistic.
We never thought she would still be behind bars.
Her sister has started another petition. Please call the governor’s office and ask him to release Patricia Wright. Prison is no place for a woman as sick as she is especially with a Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus is on everyone’s mind, especially those of us who cannot put six feet between ourselves and the next person, those who do not have masks or gloves and disinfectant to wipe hard surfaces in common areas – I am speaking of those persons in prison and jail. I have been corresponding with several women for many years in California and recently the letters have become more urgent as women are afraid of what the pandemic means to their overall health and safety. The rules change daily as first the women have one hour of exercise a day and free calls to family twice a week to no time out of the cell – medications brought to them and menu changes – dinner was sandwiches Saturday, April 4.
After reading her email, I had to call my friend’s aunt to tell her that she would not be in touch anymore because of the “no phone calls.” I am happy some of the women have tablets so they can write and do their homework. And that for those who do not have tablets, the mailroom is still open. The fear is the guards will stop coming to work and there will be no one to run the prison; the women will just be locked in their cells without food and other supplies like toilet tissue, sanitary napkins, soap. Guards were taking the paper supplies from prison orderlies who supplied the bathrooms and did the cleaning.
Obviously, paper goods stockpiling was not just a “free” world phenomena. However, we are not talking Charmin or Scott towels. When the paper goods started disappearing, women prisoners began to worry about having enough food on hand just in case administrators disappeared and they were on their own, so there was also a dash for canteen products, just in case.
Now with movement limited or stopped, I wonder how prisoners support themselves when they can’t work. Has the state made plans to take care of the needs of all the prisoners given this new situation? Are they going to get a stipend to take care of their needs? No one has addressed this yet. In the “free” world, we have unemployment benefits, which cover self-employment. Something needs to be in place for those people behind bars.
Back to Patricia Wright, who is dying – when one reviews her case, which was trumped up from the beginning, she should never have been locked up in the first place. From Schwarzenegger to Brown to now Newsom, her appeals for clemency have been denied. If she had had OJ Simpson’s money, the Los Angeles County DA, police and corrupt judges would not have had a case. From recanted statements to lost evidence to missing and manufactured documents, Patricia, who is blind, should be home with her family these final days of her life. Convicted 17 years after the event occurred, that she was the target of police department persecution for a conviction is one more nail in the coffin called justice. The Innocence Project has taken her case. Read about her case in the 2007 issue of “Justice Denied” and also in the October 2011 Bay View.
With vulnerable and elderly prisoners at the top of the list for release, we want the public to send letters to Gov. Newsom and to the Parole Board to have Patricia Wright’s LWOP commuted to Life with … so she can be released, if such hoops still need to be jumped through.
She wrote me tonight and said she wasn’t feeling well. Her sister Chantel told me that the chemotherapy that Patricia (68 now) has to leave the prison to go to a nearby hospital is really painful. It burns inside her veins.
The blind, terminally ill woman with third stage breast and ovarian cancer also has asthma, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, thyroid gland disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, degenerative disease of the back, chronic recurrent migraine headaches and chronic venous edema of the lower extremities.
Patricia Wright, inmate number W79941, walks with the assistance of a cane and wheelchair and she is definitely not a threat to society. She is a rehabilitated devout Christian woman, with an excellent behavior record. Patricia has a commutation request, number COM 457-11 pending before Gov. Gavin Newsom. The California Constitution gives Gov. Newsom executive power to commute Patricia Wright’s sentence. Please sign her petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to commute Patricia Wright’s sentence to Life with the Possibility of Parole so Patricia can get her wish to go home and serve God with her family. The petition is on Change.org.
I got this letter from another woman prisoner in California Friday, April 3, who, though younger than Patricia, is also very sick:
“I was in the clinic yesterday at 8:00 in the morning, when I saw an ambulance and immediately knew something was really wrong. I saw the inmate porters had masks on and I have one so I put it on. When I went to lab, I saw everyone was putting masks on and [I was] worried but trying to stay calm.
“The nurse who took my blood asked me if I was high risk. She told me she was high risk and that she has been asked why she continues to work. She told me ‘Someone has to do it, right.’ I started crying because [there are] people like her who continue to put their lives on the line to save others. I thanked her from my heart. I started crying, because I felt the fear and concern the world is in. She tried to comfort me with her words and gave me two Purell hand sanitizer wipes saying, ‘Here, take these. You might need them.’
“Just that gesture alone, that simple act of humanity, her own fear trying to be minimized by being kind to me. I realized I was trying to calm my own by crying in front of this stranger who understood my concern being that I’m high risk medical.
“Later staff that have known me told me a nurse came in to 805 who tested positive. That they played cameras back and the other nurses that were around her were told to not come back (to self-quarantine). And that one inmate was quarantined. She was a nurse that’s training and I think on her first day.
“All this made me realize even more so the ugly reality of being in here while this virus has no mercy. I’m so scared for the world, but even more so for myself and everyone who is incarcerated. I can’t give or get the social distance needed. I’m high risk medical heart, kidney, asthma, COPD, with other medical that they are trying to figure out.
“Medical in here is not prepared for something like this. We don’t have the space to social distance, they don’t have the equipment or staff to deal with something of this magnitude. Look at the care we got before this virus.
“We are not getting the proper cleaning supplies. We need the same like what people are using out there: Lysol, bleach, paper towels etc.
“WE ARE HUMAN!!!
“I’m scared. It’s not if the virus is going to come in here; it’s when. The fact is it will. I can’t get on a cellphone and FaceTime my family to be comforted. I wasn’t sentenced to die in prison. The US Supreme Court said no death sentence to a juvenile offender and right now I feel like I’m being sentenced to death under the conditions I’m being made to live in. I won’t qualify for any releases they offer. I’m serving juvenile life without which says my life is not worth releasing.
“I’m so frustrated and scared and really I’m not the only one; just some suffer in silence. Yesterday they went around announcing that everyone with two months or less will be paroled by next week. That is helping none with the overcrowding. We are still at eight to a room that was made for four. I’ll write with more updates and whatever they give us. Stay safe.”
Visit California Coalition for Women Prisoners to learn how you can help the more vulnerable women behind bars get out. Visit womenprisoners.org.
To stay up to date on Covid-19 in prisons and jails globally, visit https://covid19behindbars.com/.
Also read cases from the Civil Litigation Clearinghouse, at https://clearinghouse.net/results.php?searchSpecialCollection=62.
The Marshall Project is tracking articles about Covid-19 across the judicial system.
The Bay View is tracking advocacy initiatives, especially on freeing prisoners and housing the unhoused.
Learn more about teens convicted as adults, at https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/California-once-sent-thousands-of-juveniles-to-14480958.php and https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/They-killed-as-teens-and-went-to-San-Quentin-14483850.php.
Bill Withers (July 4, 1938-April 4, 2020) is going to be missed. With songs that spoke to what matters in life like his grandmother who’d been born in slavery, optimism, and the fact that if we plan on surviving as a species we’re going to have to learn to “lean on each other.”
His song “Lean on Me” should be America’s new national anthem. Perhaps this is the Covid-19 lesson, how interdependent the biological systems, visible and hidden, are. A germ – matter so tiny yet sturdy, it has brought nations to their collective knees while halting life as we know it.
Free people are on house arrest and those arrested – freed. Those unhoused, sheltered, starving fed, penniless given alms. Sounds biblical, like one of those Hollywood film scenarios popular at this time of year. With Lent, Feb. 26-April 9, overlapping Passover, April 8 – April 16, and Ramadan, April 23-May 23, coming in a close third, perhaps all things happen in their proper season?
“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
“Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show
“You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
“If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
“If you just call me (call me)
If you need a friend (call me)”
The old normal was not working, so this new normal is an opportunity to get closer to each other in ways that matter – talking on the phone, using other electronic devices to deepen relationships. To “socialize at a distance” is not the same as “social distancing.” If you notice, Gov. Newsom stopped staying the latter after he was corrected in his second or third press conference.
Change the language, change the impact on behavior. Stay emotionally connected to your kinship group(s). Find creative ways to be together. Just imagine we are living in one of Octavia Butler’s dystopias. Blackness is indestructible, but we have to be smart and safe. Wear the masks when you feel your safety is compromised, that is, six feet is not consistently possible like while shopping, at work.
Shelter in place except for essential tasks like shopping or work or caretaking. African Diaspora people are having trouble getting with the physical distancing; however, it is necessary. Make sure you take mental health breaks from all the technology, especially information. Do not watch the news and read the paper all day long. Also, with Zoom and other cyber realities – control it, not the reverse, it you. Remember to turn off that screen and electrical device– take a break and get some sunshine. Go for a walk or bike ride. Paint, draw, sew, be creative.
Biased medical practice
In Charles M. Blow’s op ed in the April 1, 2020, New York Times, “Pre-existing health conditions leave one group particularly vulnerable,” the author reflects on the persistence of racial inequity in medicine. There was a reason why African ancestors in America built Black hospitals. At the end of segregation, these hospitals might have closed, but the care did not follow when all the great Black doctors went to white institutions where Black patients, no matter how wealthy, received poor care.
Is there any wonder why Black folks still distrust the American medical system? Today, in the midst of a global pandemic Black folks are being refused care, like the Nigerian college student in Kalamazoo who died late March after trying to get a test 3X and was sent home misdiagnosed after he presented with all the symptoms: fever, shortness of breath etc.
My friend’s daughter, seen at a clinic in Oakland, was not tested last week when she had flu-like symptoms. She was first sent home from Kaiser Oakland and then from La Clinica de la Raza to perhaps infect her parents and children and husband. Why are providers so stingy with the test? Her mother had to drive the next day from Vallejo to Hayward for a test. There are too many people in their home to just sit and wait. Why aren’t Black people offered tests? Why can’t all people take the test if that will make them feel safer and more comfortable?
I heard from my therapist that the government is now going to started making home tests available. The question is to whom? I also heard Gov. Newsom say that Stanford now has a Covid-19 blood test. He also owned the state’s slow and inadequate response, from protective gear for providers to the test and analysis of results.
Since when is the US government endowed with the right to limit health care access to a free people? Even slaves or imprisoned persons have the right to wellness and should have access to all the care options free people have.
If I have healthcare coverage and even if I do not, I have a right to treatment, and I have a say over what happens to my body. It is my body. In a Town Hall Tele Meeting with Barbara Lee on April 2, she said that currently a report giving the racial demographics is being developed. In this article, the writer talks about treatment in NOLA and other Southern cities and states where Black people are not responding well to treatment and dying. Many of the men he mentions are young and have other medical conditions like diabetes and/or HIV or hypertension. With predictions about how many people will die and prescriptions that tell people to “socially distance” and “isolate” rather than “physically distance” or “socialize at a distance,” we are seeing fear generated as we settle into this new norm.
All of a sudden, when we call a person nowadays, they actually pick up and want to talk. We need to cherish this moment and never return to a time when we were too busy chasing waterfalls to show that we care. Love is all that matters … on the eve of the anniversary of the killing of Dr. King, April 4, 1968.
‘Still Bill’ film and interview with co-director
“Still Bill” (2007) directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlast, is available on YouTube. I interviewed Damani 10 years ago when the film screened at the Oakland International Film Festival and then had a theatrical release in San Francisco. I hosted a special tribute for Bill Withers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Saturday, April 4.
National Poetry Month on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show
On Friday, April 3, I hosted a two-hour National Poetry Month kick off with 20 poets, among them three poet laureates. We also remember the legacy of Rev. Dr. King with poetry and music. Visit https://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2020/04/wandas-picks-radio-show-tribute-to-dr.html. Each Friday in April, at 9:30 a.m. PT, we will feature poets and their poetry.
Melanin Magic Series on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show
Also on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, I am curating shows that speak to survival strategies for people of African Descent. I call the programs Melanin Magic Sessions. We have had four thus far and continue Wednesday, April 8.
There is a series of Virtual African American Townhall Series which looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the psyche, the pocket book, education and legal rights. Panelists or facilitators address these areas with an opportunity for a conversation with the audience at the end. It is practical and we leave with tools and there is an opportunity for follow-up. These folks do not talk at us; they are working with us so we can have a healthy response to this phenomenon, Covid-19. I have Wanda Whitaker on Wanda’s Picks Radio show April 1 to talk about the series. Visit https://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2020/04/01/wandas-picks-radio-show.
The Virtual African American Townhall Series continues each Thursday in April, on April 9, 16 and 23, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. PT. It’s free on Zoom, but you have to register. My suggestion is to register for all of them at once. The limit is 100 and if you want to catch it live, register in advance. I found the information useful and practical and the presenters really engaging. Go to Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/covid-19-crisis-a-virtual-african-american-town-hall-series-tickets-101345123994.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.