“Mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living” -Mother Jones

Friends, family members, and supporters of prisoners held in Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) cages staged a mass funeral for the 94 people who have died of COVID-19 behind bars since March to draw attention to the MDOC’s callous and lethal response to the novel coronavirus.

Participants drove in procession to MDOC Director Heidi Washington’s East Lansing home and placed memorial tombstones by the road as a public marker of the deaths caused by the state’s handling of the pandemic behind bars.

As of December 8, 2020, there have been over twelve thousand positive cases and 94 reported deaths throughout Michigan prisons. It is nearly certain that the actual number of COVID deaths is higher, since the official numbers reflect a .7% death rate, lower than any other known population sample. Currently, multiple prison facilities–Marquette, Egeler, parts of Chippewa, and Central Michigan, among others–are on lockdown due to outbreaks.

Since March, prisoners and free world people alike have demanded compassionate release, sentence commutation, and pardons for all prisoners, especially those who are immunocompromised, elderly, or pregnant. Both Governor Whitmer and MDOC Director Heidi Washington have rejected these calls, claiming instead that it is enough to make PPE and cleaning supplies available to prisoners. Yet public health experts and prisoner advocates repeatedly warned that these methods would be ineffective at containing the spread of COVID inside prisons. The current wave of outbreaks across MDOC facilities is proof that these warnings were prescient.

Prisoners have organized to demand better supplies, release, and expedited parole, but many have faced retaliation from MDOC officials. Some have been punished with solitary confinement, for example, while others have been transferred to other MDOC facilities. These transfers have only served to accelerate the spread of COVID throughout the prison system.

This funeral procession will honor the completely preventable deaths orchestrated by the MDOC through neglect and a lack of compassion. As free world people, we lift up the voices of prisoners inside the MDOC and insist that prisoners’ lives matter.

Despite the number of car caravans (around Huron Valley Correctional Facility, North Lake Correctional Facility, and Central Michigan Correctional Facility), phone zaps, letter writing campaigns, and petitions, the MDOC refuses to even consider compassionate release and decarceration.

This funeral procession honored the completely preventable deaths orchestrated by the MDOC through neglect and a lack of compassion. As prisoners have organized to demand better supplies, release, and expedited parole, many of these organizers were not only punished with exposure to COVID but punished through transfers between MDOC facilities — transfers which also continued the spread of COVID. As free world people, we lift up the voices from inside the MDOC, and call on Governor Whitmer to commute sentences and offer compassionate release, and decarcerate to save lives!

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