Earlier this week I joined a conference call for the purpose of holding vigil and praying for a man who was lying, near death, in an ICU in the Chicago suburbs. Each of us on the call had gotten to know this man within the confines of a maximum-security prison; he was a student in a graduate-level degree program preparing incarcerated men for ministry. Now, having contracted COVID-19, he was facing death alone; the virus and his incarcerated status kept his community at a distance.
At the time I’m writing this the man is still alive. Pray for him, please.
In addition to the grief I felt on that call I also felt anger. After all, it’s been known that this virus would be especially devastating to those confined to prisons. Social distancing and additional anti-bacterial cleaning are not options in these places. We knew, in other words, that barring a change in policy, many incarcerated people would become sick and die.
In a way, our willingness to allow these men and women to risk death is emblematic of our criminal justice system. As authors like and have shown, this is a system that disproportionately prosecutes, imprisons, and surveils people of color, and especially African American and Latino men. We know this - and if we don’t, it’s a purposeful ignorance - and we accept it as a reasonable cost paid for a certain way of life.