‘Prisons Are No Place for a Pandemic:’ Advocates Fight to Free Their Loved Ones

Women of color are fearful about the Covid-19 outbreak within the system

Victoria Law
ZORA
Published in
6 min readApr 29, 2020

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A photo of handcuffs being uncuffed on a person’s hand.
Photo: Chanin Wardkhian/Getty Images

Theresa is currently isolating alone in her Harlem apartment. Because Theresa has asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), thus making her more vulnerable to Covid-19, her adult daughters bring her groceries and other necessities from the outside world.

Theresa’s 65-year-old husband Morris is serving his 15th year of a 40-year prison sentence at Green Haven Correctional Facility, one of New York’s 52 state prisons. He too has underlying health issues — asthma, diabetes, and kidney problems. There are 18 people at Green Haven who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Unlike Theresa, Morris cannot self-isolate or practice social distancing. (Theresa asked that the couple only be identified by their first names to protect their privacy and prevent staff retaliation.)

Every day, Morris must leave his cell and walk to the prison’s medical unit where a nurse dispenses his medications. Sometimes medical staff wear masks and gloves; sometimes they do not. For two weeks, Morris chose to forego his medications rather than risk the coronavirus exposure until Theresa convinced him to take that risk.

But that’s not the only possible exposure. Each time he calls, Morris must stand in the unit’s common area to use one of the communal phones. Each phone is used by several dozen other men before and after him. The phones are not disinfected after each use.

Some days Theresa worries that her husband won’t make it home alive. But she’s refusing to give up — and she’s fighting to change the laws so that he, and many others, have the chance to come home.

As Covid-19 spreads throughout prisons nationwide, those like Theresa have been advocating for their loved ones’ releases. Some are working to pass laws to allow their loved ones the opportunity to be released early. Others are demanding that governors exercise their powers of clemency, or a lessening of a prison sentence, and let their loved ones go. The rest are fighting in courts.

As of April 20, 211 people incarcerated in New York’s state prisons have tested positive

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Victoria Law
ZORA
Writer for

Victoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars.