Amerika’s inhumane prisons and a case of the terminally ill left to die alone
by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson
Saying goodbye to Flip
Aug. 25, 2022, was a sad day for many of us here at Virginia’s Nottoway Correctional (sic!) Center. It was the day that Shawn “Flip” Joyner was abruptly transferred to another prison.
Those of us in Nottoway’s general population hadn’t seen Flip for many weeks, because he’d been hospitalized then kept in the prison’s medical department for nearly two months after losing the use of his body’s left side as a result of his terminal brain cancer.
I was able to talk with him for a while the day before he left, when he was taken by wheelchair to the prison’s personal property department to be packed up for the next day’s transfer. Seeing Flip slumped over in a wheelchair partially paralyzed on one side was heart wrenching. Even more saddening was, because of his terminal illness, this was likely our last conversation.
The discovery, treatment and recurrence of Flip’s brain cancer
A year before, during August 2021, Flip was told by doctors, when his terminal brain cancer was first discovered and a tumor was surgically removed, that he would likely not live for more than 8-10 months. He has not only already passed that mark, but has developed a new brain tumor larger than the first one, yet prison officials refuse him a compassionate release.
Flip had actually told me back on April 3, 2022, a couple of days after he learned that a new tumor was discovered, that it was located in a region of his brain where many nerve bundles intersect, and therefore surgery this time would likely cause severe brain damage. So, he didn’t want to risk another operation.
Instead of being sent to another prison flip should have been sent home to his family, since under Virginia law a prisoner who is within three months of projected death is entitled to compassionate release. To make matters worse, his friends at Nottoway were the next closest thing he had around him to family, and he was now being moved away from us.
While he was in the property department being packed up, I was able to run back to the housing unit and summon others whom I knew would like to see him before he left. A number of us rushed back to catch him before he was wheeled back to the medical department. It was a solemn reunion and farewell. Several of us, including Flip, were on the verge of tears. He protested in a sad and low but determined voice that he didn’t want to leave – that we were all like family. We all felt the mournful gravity of what was likely the last time any of us would see him alive.
Meeting Flip and appreciating his humanity
Not long after I arrived at Nottoway in October 2021, I heard about Flip’s terminal condition and his struggles for compassionate release from numerous other prisoners who held him in high regard. I searched him out, determined to lend him what help I could. When we met a few months later and he agreed to accept my help, I went to work enlisting outside supporters, comrades and friends to initiate a campaign for his release. That struggle began in February 2022 and continues.
Flip and I became close. We spent many hours strolling the prison yard talking and bonding over his condition, political discussions, his concern to be with his family including his terminally ill mother, and strategies to build support for his release. Although his suffering and rapid physical and mental deterioration were evident, he never complained and remained upbeat and engaging.
While talking with him, I was always struck by his unwavering humanity and warm personality; and I was also frequently angered by the awareness of how U.S. officials dehumanize communities of color and prisoners who disproportionately come from these communities and reduce us to nameless, faceless statistics and stereotyped caricatures, much as was done to our enslaved ancestors – disregarding the fact that we are living, breathing, feeling human beings and deserve to be recognized and treated as such.
Upping the ante for Flip’s compassionate release
To put it simply, as I’m writing this, Flip is dying. Dying in prison, as his body and brain are ravaged by cancer, subject to the absolute control of people who care nothing about him, and who regard him as little more than a number, a statistic and a subject to be controlled, which is the height of inhumanity and sociopathology.
Flip deserves to live out his last days as a human being, with those whom he loves and who love him: with his ailing mother, his daughter and brother, and in his community – a community that is already marginalized and every day robbed by the system of not only its material resources but also our people (our males in particular), so that few elders remain to give guidance, insight, love and substance to the lives of its younger members.
We must up the ante of the struggle for Flip’s release in particular and against the inhumanity of U.S. mass imprisonment in general. Amerika’s prisons and their enforced conditions of enslavement have in no way resolved the social illnesses and resource-deprivations that plague our communities, but rather exacerbates these problems, while robbing our communities of our males – youth and elders – and our right and capacity to reproduce. This practice – targeting the male population of a marginalized people and preventing their ability to reproduce by isolating them from their women – is the very definition of genocide.
Flip’s case is a reflection of the inhumanity of U.S. imprisonment, especially for already marginalized peoples. Amerika’s is a system designed to forcibly isolate targeted groups from their communities and loved ones, as if social isolation is conducive to rehabilitation.
Let’s help get Shawn “Flip” Joyner free and shine a bright light on the oppressive nature and inhumanity of U.S. prisons!
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1007485, Nottoway CC, 2892 Schutt Rd, Burkeville VA 23922.