Since the painful and traumatic 84-year sentence announced against my son Mickiael in 2019, I have had considerable time to reflect. My son was wrongly alleged to have committed a terrible crime in 2013 against teenager Hadiya Pendleton. An 18-year-old Black man, he was subjected to the Reid interrogation technique which is increasingly viewed as leading to false confessions, particularly from young people.
I view his treatment as a form of torture, much like what the Central Park 5 endured following the same technique.
My primary takeaway after my son was taken away from me? We must look out for one another in the face of overwhelming state and federal power. Those bodies have the power to do good, to help improve people’s lives, but they also hold immense power and capacity for wrongdoing, violence, and harm.
This is clearer than ever in election year 2020 as our communities are being battered by COVID-19 and a federal government that every day makes clear it is unprepared to follow science in fighting back against this new virus.
COVID-19 has reached into Pontiac Correctional Center and hit my son. He is young and fit, but I fear he could die or face lingering medical consequences. When a prison officer stomped the cast off of his broken thumb, he never received adequate treatment. COVID-19 is far more serious.
The prison has quarantined him in a part of the facility previously closed by court order. The conditions are dreadful, lacking fundamental cleanliness and showing signs of rats.
Nurses, unsurprisingly, are afraid to treat the handful of men held with my son. It is clear treatment is not as good as it would be outside the prison. The families of these COVID-19 patients have to stick together because so few are standing with us.
Conditions in US prisons are so grim that the United Nations felt obliged to write President Donald Trump and remind him of his responsibilities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We reiterate that infectious and communicable diseases may spread easily in overcrowded detention facilities due to poor hygiene and sanitation and this may adversely impact on the right to life of detainees.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker also has responsibilities to those imprisoned in Illinois. Right now, the state is failing. My son recently received a letter warning of Legionnaires’ disease in his prison.
This raises profound questions for me about how the state is warehousing prisoners without regard to their health and to their chances for life. How we care for the vulnerable and most disenfranchised among us speaks volumes about the kind of society we are.
We are losing that fight on many fronts — both inside and outside of prisons.
You may or may not care about the wellbeing of my son, but we remain interconnected.
What is happening to prisoners with COVID-19 in Pontiac is not without consequence for the health of our wider community and the kind of communities we seek to build.
It’s better and smarter policy, it seems to me, to look out for everyone than pursue narrow self-interest alone. We have the capacity to lift up more people than our bickering leaders are currently raising up.
Gov. Pritzker should do more to release elderly prisoners and those with pre-existing conditions. He should also be more responsive to community calls to improve the medical treatment of those already suffering from COVID-19 and to pardon all victims of police torture. They are his responsibility.