April 2020 Conn. prison (Kay McAuliffe)By KAY MAY

On April 23, more than 40 people gathered in idling cars for a vigil outside the entrance to Northern C.I., the supermax prison that is currently housing the majority of COVID-positive people in Department of Corrections custody. Hosted by Stop Solitary CT and supported by family members of incarcerated people, the 20 cars pulled to the side of the road, displaying decorated windows and signs showing family photos and the hashtag “#FreeThemAll.”

The demands described by Stop Solitary CT included the immediate release of as many people in custody as possible, a moratorium on new admissions into jails and prisons, and evidence-based, humane and rights-affirming measures to protect the health and wellbeing of people behind walls. This event followed an action the previous Sunday at the Governor’s Mansion and a demonstration earlier on April 23 at York Correctional Institute in Niantic, Conn., demanding the release of incarcerated women.

The vigil began with a local minister’s prayer calling for the governor to be just and let people be free to go home to families that are willing to provide the safety and support missing from state facilities. Soon to speak were family members who shared their stories regarding loved ones trapped in inhumane conditions, being forced to shower with shackles on after being locked in a shared room for 23 hours.

Family members described the lack of medical attention received by their loved ones before the COVID-19 pandemic and lamented that these discrepancies have become even more extreme during the crisis. The group of Stop Solitary CT activists and family members chanted at a scattered line of prison officers, “Let them live!” and “Show some humanity, show some decency!”

As the vigil came to a close and cars were pulling away, each driver sounded their horn in unison. The honking echoed out over the enclosed hills and lasted as the procession moved down the length of Taylor Road past each police-blocked entrance to the supermax prison. Some workers on the side of the road, dressed in reflective yellow jackets, waved to the blaring motorcade.

Stop Solitary CT released a statement ahead of the vigil: “In light of even more evidence discussed in an open letter from Yale Medical Faculty (released 4/21) and a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (released 4/22) from Allard K. Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, it is clear that Governor Lamont’s failure to respond to Covid-19 in prisons will almost certainly result in preventable death.”

Stop Solitary CT has co-authored an open letter asking Governor Lamont to release prisoners and provide disease-specific health interventions in the prison system. Additional authors to this open letter are Global Health Justice Partnership, Connecticut Bail Fund, The Katal Center for Health, Equality, and Justice, Sex Workers and Allies Network, ACLU CT, and Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School. This open letter is endorsed by 90 additional organizations and signed by more than 1600 individuals and counting.

Photo by Kay May / Socialist Resurgence