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Lost a loved one twice: first in jail, then in Covid

The call was usually made on Sunday.

Hank Warner of Huntington Beach, California, said the familiar area code popped up on the phone, telling him that his brother was on the other side of the phone.

He picked up to hear a woman asking if Mr. Warner would accept a collect call from San Quentin State Prison, California. The brothers then talk about their lives for 15 minutes and, in the case of the football season, the San Francisco 49ers.

When the phone stopped coming in June, 59-year-old Warner wondered what had happened. However, calls to his prison continued to be forwarded to the same dead-end voicemail.

“I knew something was wrong by not hearing anything,” he said.

In July, someone in prison called him and said his brother Eric Warner was hospitalized. Later that month, another phone call from San Quentin reported that 57-year-old Eric died on July 25 after being infected with the coronavirus during a surge in infections that broke through prisons last year. It was.

For many who lost someone in Covid-19, sadness is exacerbated by the constant reminders of a pandemic that is still dying at a record pace. And for those whose loved ones have been infected in correctional facilities, the loss is further compounded by inhuman imprisonment bureaucracy and the stigma of criminal conviction.

Hank Warner was saddened by Eric, who had been imprisoned for manslaughter.

“I know it’s hard to sympathize with people who have committed crimes like my brother did,” he said. “But I also believe that there is a level of forgiveness that we all have to exercise in every step of our lives and in the relationships we have.”

Hank and Eric Warner didn’t always get along. The elder was surrounded by a strait, and the younger one was in trouble forever. However, they approached through a regular phone call during Eric’s imprisonment. “I really saw this change in my brother,” Hank said. “He was helping other prisoners. He was becoming a role model.”

Adamu Chan, the organizer of the #StopSanQuentinOutbreak coalition released from prison in October, knew Eric Warner and called him “one of the elders in the community.” According to Mr. Chan, his loss was difficult to handle.

“When you’re inside and experiencing these things, I don’t know if you have the space to handle it,” said Chan, 44. “I think I’ve been out so much of that sadness has returned to me, and I feel guilty for many survivors.”

Forty-eight-year-old Anthony Ehrers regretted the possibility of handing the coronavirus to his best friend and cellmate James Scott at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.

Scott, 58, was hospitalized for several weeks before Ellers learned from a prison officer that his friend had died on April 20. “I remember being alone in my cell. I just went to bed and sobbed against the wall,” Ehrers said through a monitored messaging service.

“We have to hide our sadness here,” he added. “This is not a good place.”

Mr. Chan used poetry and movies to commemorate the men who were dying around him.

“Prisons are very important about the separation of being separated from the family and from society,” he said. “Art and imagination can be very powerful tools to get out of the place.”

Elizabeth Joiner, 37, in Allendale Prison, Georgia, creates pencil portraits of the deceased so she doesn’t have to remember them on a mugshot.

“Mugshots are one of the most inhuman aspects of imprisonment,” she said. “This is a photo document of a lifelong error. Isn’t it enough for these people to be dehumanized in life? Do I also have to die and dehumanize them?”

The United States imprisons per capita more than any other country. Those disproportionate numbers are blacks and Hispanics — two groups that have also been hit hard by the pandemic.

At this crossroads of personal loss and structural inequality, families know the heartache of losing someone twice. Once imprisoned, and once forever a virus.

Inesblue, 65, from Baltimore lost his brother, Anthony Blue, 63, in May. He was imprisoned at the Roxbury Correctional Facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, for a crime he said he had not committed.

credit…Blue family photo

“It’s difficult for me because I was closest to him,” Blue said. “We mainly talked about what we experienced as a kid. It seems we got the raw end of the stick.”

Mr Blue was fighting to reveal his name. His lawyer, Stanley Reed, said his conviction was on the verge of being dismissed early last year.

Ready to fight his mental illness and take care of his younger brother, who was blinded in captivity, Blue made a room at home and bought a new set of quilts and curtains.

However, Mr. Blue became ill in April and was hospitalized. In a video chat, Mr. Blue could say he was in terrible pain. She felt guilty about asking him to keep fighting.

He died on May 6th.

“I feel like he has failed many times,” she said. “He gave up himself because he felt he would never be free.”

Many facilities have limited visit times as the crowds have turned prisons into coronavirus hotspots. The family did their best to stay in touch through monitored messaging services, blurry video chat, or clipped phone calls.

Kenosha Hines, 43, last embraced his father Carlos Ridley at the Pickaway Correctional Facility in Orient, Ohio, in a white-walled visitor room that smelled like a sandwich.

credit…Kenosha Hines

She once brought her two sons. Ridley, 69, entertained them with stories, jokes, and martial arts lessons.

He was fighting to exonerate himself using DNA evidence. However, his health suddenly deteriorated in April, which Hines noticed in a video call.

“He barely could keep his head up,” she said. “We couldn’t speak for a long time. The video was so irregular that I could hardly hear him saying.”

On May 5, a prison officer called to tell her that her father had been taken to the hospital. That night she saw him die in a video chat. She wondered why he wasn’t hospitalized earlier.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I can’t even put it into words. He was almost everywhere in my life, and how did this go?”

Joelen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Rehabilitation and Correction Department, said Ridley had “quickly identified, evaluated, and treated” medical needs.

She added, “Covid-19 presents unique challenges in congregational environments such as prisons, and impacts, including the loss of eight staff and more than 100 imprisoned adults, are difficult for both staff and prisoners. It was. “

Tiffany Fortney, 46, from Prescott, Arizona, dropped contact with her father Scott Cutting in April.

Her repeated calls to a federal prison on Terminal Island, San Pedro, California, where he was imprisoned, provided little frustrating information. So she started her Twitter account and created her first tweet on May 4th.

“He’s dying in the hospital, so no one can give us information about his condition,” she says. I have written, Especially to anyone. “He went in for a short time for a small crime, but now he’s paying for it in his life.”

Five days later, Cutting, 70, who seems to be able to get along with anyone, often makes fun of her daughter on the phone every day, and died on Covid-19 on a mission to participate in her singing performances as much as possible. I did. ..

The pain of losing him like that was terrible, Mr Fortney said. Sadness spread to his family, and a few months after his father died, Fortney died of his brother Scott Cutting Jr., 50, by suicide.

“People look down on their families as if we did something wrong,” she said. “I don’t stop loving my family just because I did something my family shouldn’t do. I want more people to see it.”

Tracking Covid-19 deaths in correctional facilities can be difficult. Prisons do not uniformly record deaths, and obituaries often stumble upon references to imprisonment.

Lack of visibility helps spread the virus, Ehrers said. “Here, men who shouldn’t die will die from this,” he added. “And the only thing that changes things is whether people speak up.”

An online monument called Mourning Our Losses collects details about people who died of the virus while in prison. So far, this website has Eric Warner, Mr. I have memories of Blue and about 160 others.

“There was no room for sadness that a loved one died inside,” said Page Dukes, a writer and activist working on the project. “The sadness was greatly deprived of this idea that those in prison had more Covid than others, and deserved to die in Covid.”

The memorial service includes officers and medical staff who worked in prisons. We agree with the fact that congestion and unsanitary conditions are also dangerous to employees and can accelerate the spread of the virus to the surrounding area.

“Crime and conviction have nothing to do with the Covid epidemic here,” Ehlers said. “It’s an equal opportunity killer.”

To honor the human race of the dead, the monument does not mention criminal convictions.

“People who aren’t familiar with the criminal system often forget a few things about those who are imprisoned,” said Joiner, a portrait painter on the website. “That is, we are people first and foremost.”

Ehrers, who wrote Scott’s memorial service, said he knew that his compliments could be shunned because both men were convicted of murder. But he was also worried that if he didn’t talk about his sadness, and about his friends, no one else would talk.

“We are all more than our crimes,” Ehrers said. “We are fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, cousins, and friends. We are also important to people.”

Lost a loved one twice: first in jail, then in Covid

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