With the pandemic ravaging the nation, inmates are facing significant hardship as cases within prisons continue to rise. Prisons are ill-equipped to curtail the spread of the virus. Prisons are not providing masks or proper leave for guards affected by Covid-19. The difficulty of providing quarantine for inmates has further exacerbated the spread of the virus in detention facilities.

Shawanna Vaughn and Assemblyman Jewell Jones organized a rally to demand better treatment of inmates. Honeysuckle spoke with Shawanna Vaughn, the founder of Silent Cry, and Assemblymen Jewell Jones to talk about the rally, the horrid circumstances that inmates are facing and avenues for rectifying the situation. 

Rally at the Gus Harrison Facility in Adrian, Michigan 

Jewell Jones spoke about his collaboration with Shawanna, his participation in the rally, and what it meant to him. 

“I had the pleasure of meeting Shawanna early last year. Since we connected, it’s been all love. I can literally call her my big Sis. When we both received an overwhelming amount of calls and messages from our brothers behind bars and sisters experiencing inhumane treatment and the lack of care from those charged with overseeing them, we had to do something.

Bringing together many individuals from different parts of Michigan and the country at the Gus Harrison Facility in Adrian was a beautiful moment. The residents who lived in the neighborhood surrounding the facility heard us. 

The Governor heard us. Heidi Washington heard us. Some of the brothers on the other side of the fence heard us, thanks to the audio system Trische Duckworth brought for us to use. We were heard that day by everyone who needed to hear us. We must keep the conversation, and action, going.”

Racism and the System of Incarceration

Shawanna Vaugn is passionate about rectifying the system of incarceration and its links to racism. When asked how the system can be rectified, she said, 

“I think if we were to try and change something in the system, just throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t fix anything that’s designed to work this way. It’s not that it’s not working; it is doing exactly what it was set up to do by the people who designed this program. 

It is doing what it is supposed to do, it is creating revenue for rich white, old men as a continuation of slavery. It’s a cash cow. You can’t ask for better treatment or people to do better. It’s fueling not only America but the world’s economy from America.” 

Vaughn on the Biden-Harris Administration

Vaughn is skeptical about whether the new administration will address incarceration-related issues. 

“Kamala Harris might have been the worst thing in the world to happen to California. I don’t believe that she is going to take new policies to Washington. I believe that her apologies were disingenuous. 

They were a day late and a dollar short. We are not commuting sentences, we are not changing laws to bring people home and I don’t believe they are going to do it within their four-year term.” 

Covid-19 and Health Injustice in the Prison System

Having worked with inmates in the past, Vaughn is keenly aware of the challenges they face, particularly due to the pandemic. 

“People’s kidney levels are elevated, people are having seizures. It’s bad because we know that the healthcare system is not adequate for dogs at the ASPCA.

People are not getting true diagnoses or care that is adequate. They don’t even have masks. Prisons even got COVID relief money; where is it going? That’s the question for the people at home to the American taxpayers. 

Where is the money going that the prisons got for COVID relief, and what did they do with it? It could not have been to buy masks, to buy ventilators, to buy face shields, to do anything, to get sanitizing products.” 

She highlighted the vulnerability of prison populations. 

“When people within prison are infected with COVID, they cannot leave. Right now, they are highly vulnerable. Mainstream media, governments, news stations and newspapers do not cover their issues; prisoners are invisible to them.” 

Silent Cries

“At what point do we hear their silent cries, at what point do we start saying humanity over profit. These are somebody’s sons and daughters, these are someone’s parents and this is not humanity.

We care more about the dog in humane society. We will scream when a woman chokes a dog in central park, but we stay silent when we kill humans in prison. This is unacceptable.”