Today, on Martin Luther King Day, many of us remember the life and legacy of a man who changed the course of history. Scrolling through our feeds, one can get swept up in the social media chatter and the ubiquitous MLK quotes.

MLK fought for equality, he went to jail, and he was assassinated. The declaration of MLK Day as a public holiday was a contentious issue. While MLK day is a day of tribute, while our gestures remain performative, so the stain of racism will continue to embed itself in the fabric of this country.

This is why, on this day, rather than quoting MLK, we choose to honor his legacy by recognizing that slavery never ended, that it lives and breathes through incarceration, racial profiling, and gun violence. Capital and bigotry form the basis for injustice and suppression. Hence, the prison system lines the pockets of those in power while continuing to subjugate and Black and Brown populations.

Honeysuckle has worked extensively with Shawanna Vaughn, the founder of Silent Cry. Silent Cry is an organization dedicated to assisting those affected by incarceration and highlighting the perpetuation of injustices that continue to this day.

Shawanna Vaugn has been in contact with Quentin Jones. Quentin is an inmate who has recently contracted COVID-19 while in prison. This message from him details his experience of incarceration during the ongoing pandemic. This message alone is enough to understand the damage and inhumane treatment that inmates are facing today.

A Message from Inmate Quentin Jones

It has been almost one year since the state of the world drastically changed. As a man that has spent the last twenty-two years incarcerated in eleven different prisons, my worst fear has always been dying in prison. The current pandemic coupled with the Michigan Department of Corrections negligent and inadequate handling of the COVID-19 outbreak has intensified my fear, causing me a great deal of anxiety.

For eight months I lived in fear everyday as I watched multiple outbreaks occur at the facility. Many different protocols were put in place. From the outside looking in, it would appear that the MDOC was doing all that they could to stop the spread of COVID-19. The reality is those protocols were only there to protect them in case of future litigation. The administration’s goal wasn’t to stop the spread of COVID-19 but, as I later learned, to see to it that we all contracted the virus.

On November 29 2020 my fear became a reality when I was informed that my weekly COVID-19 test came back positive. I was not seen by a nurse or given any information. Initially, I was not even given the actual results. I was just informed of my positive result by a staff member who was not a healthy care employee. The lack of communication with the health care staff caused me an even greater deal of anxiety.

Shortly, after being informed that I tested positive, I started experiencing symptoms. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I started experiencing hot and cold flashes, headaches, and my whole body hurt. This went on for a week; I did not receive treatment from anyone in health services during this time.

Here I am, alone in a gloomy concrete cage feeling like my worst fear is becoming a reality. For eight months, I’d been watching the death toll steadily rise, and all I could think about was how COVID-19 was disproportionately killing Black and brown people, especially those with underlying health issues.

I’ve been battling hypertension for the last twelve years, and it’s one of the underlying health issues that has contributed to the rising death toll. I was suffering physically and mentally. I relayed to Ms. Shawanna Vaughn, the founder of Silent Cry Inc. and prison advocate, how the administration at Gus Harrison all but made sure that we contracted the virus.

From transferring recently infected prisoners into the facility to moving uninfected prisoners to units with infected prisoners to positive staff members working for two to three days until their results came back, it was inevitable that we all contracted the virus.

After hearing how we were being treated, Ms. Vaughn decided to take action. On December 11, 2020, Ms. Vaughn-Silent Cry, Inc. Founder- and a group of Michigan citizens held a peaceful protest outside of the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility to bring awareness to the department’s negligent and inadequate handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

At the time of the protest, Gus Harrison was classified as an outbreak facility by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. All three level 2 housing units were designated as Covid units and were under quarantine. The morning of the protest at 11:05 a.m. two officers and a Sergeant busted in my cell handcuffed me, and escorted me to segregation.

The look in their eyes and their overall demeanor let me know two things. The administration was angry, and they were serious. I was taken to a caged corner which is used as a holding space in segregation. I was left with my hands cuffed tight behind my back for two hours. After two hours ADW Tanner pulled me into an office in segregation, and we had a one-on-one conversation. It was during this conversation that my suspicions were confirmed.

During our conversation, Deputy Tanner said to me, “The quicker you all get the virus, the quicker we can go back to normal.” The Deputy told me that I wasn’t in trouble, but after our conversation I was placed in segregation cell 13.

Later that day I was reviewed for a notice of intent to classify to administrative segregation. The NOI alleged that I was actively participating in an organized protest/demonstration at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility. The NOI gave them the right to hold me in segregation.

Normally, a NOI is written so the administration can have time to investigate an alleged incident. In this case, I was being punished because I knew Ms. Vaughn. The administration was retaliating against Ms. Vaughn through me. Out of fear for my life, I went on a hunger strike.

On Monday, December 14, I was reviewed on a Creating a Disturbance misconduct. This is a class 2 misconduct that doesn’t warrant me to be held in segregation, but they claimed that due to the threat to the safety of the facility they decided to elevate the misconduct to a class 1 which would justify them placing me in segregation.

The misconduct alleged that I helped organize the protest. On Thursday, December 17, I was found not guilty of the misconduct. Normally, when one is found not guilty of the misconduct that they’re placed in segregation for, they are released. In my case, I was held in segregation for six days after being found not guilty without a misconduct or a notice for intent written on me. I was informed that the warden said that I was not being released. This clear act of retaliation was a violation of my 8th amendment constitutional right protecting me from cruel and unusual punishment.

On Wednesday, December 23, I was transferred to Lakeland Correctional. For 12 days, I was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The psychological trauma weighs heavy on me. Since I was released from segregation, I’ve had problems sleeping and I’ve been battling paranoia, depression, and anxiety. All of this while still fighting COVID-19. The MDOC may feel like my life doesn’t matter, but it does. No matter what crime one has been convicted of one doesn’t deserve to die.