Article by Elly Belle at Allure. Excerpt below.
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Advocates working directly on campaigns to end mass incarceration or reform the justice system agree that forcing people who can’t even access sanitizing products themselves to make sanitizer is dehumanizing. It’s an example of how we treat people in prisons like they’re less worth saving or protecting from harm and illness than those on the outside, Monifa Bandele, sitting member of the leadership team for the Movement for Black Lives, and senior vice president at MomsRising.org, which has been organizing around incarceration for years explains. “We’re really outraged that instead of coming out with a plan on how to make sure that the safety and health of incarcerated loved ones is prioritized and extended to them during this pandemic, plans were introduced to exploit them,” says Bandele. “This also just really hits home how mass incarceration, which affects mostly black and brown people in this country, is like an extension of the slave industrial complex,” she adds.
While some see this as a reason to reform the system, others, like Kei Williams, a founding member of Black Lives Matter Global Network and organizer with No New Jails NYC, see it as a reason to end the system altogether. “People should join efforts to help inside and pressure the city to free everyone inside the jails. We need people inside to be able to have contact with their families, not be further isolated,” says Williams.
Those organizing around this aren’t simply criticizing the system or Cuomo without offering solutions and ideas. People like Bandele would like to see immediate emergency contingency plans that can be put in place for the most vulnerable people, like elderly people in prisons. Campaigns like Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) have been pushing Governor Cuomo for years now, meeting with him and executives, to try to secure better care for people in prisons. And because advocates have been working with Cuomo and the New York government to change the way incarcerated people are treated in emergencies, Bandele says it’s all the more disappointing to see a first response like the hand sanitizer fix that Cuomo came up with, exploiting incarcerated people.
While public defenders like Schreibersdorf and advocates with grassroots organizations are spreading information about what’s wrong with using the labor of incarcerated people, organizers who work through initiatives like Survived and Punished New York have taken it upon themselves to raise funds to buy soap for jails and prisons across New York state. Although people in prisons are the ones making hand sanitizer for those of us out here to stay safe, according to groups like these in touch with people on the inside, there’s reportedly a shortage of soap — and prisons are already extremely unhygienic and ripe with germs and unsuitable conditions to begin with, even without a pandemic like coronavirus.
In addition to efforts like this, groups like Color of Change, Worth Rises, VOCAL-NY, RAPP, Parole Preparation Project, and Citizen Action have created a petition on this issue to raise awareness. Trying times like these, when world crises unfold, will truly test our empathy and humanity, and ultimately reveal a lot to us about how privilege in society functions, but this isn’t just about hand sanitizer, Williams reminds us. “This is about real people with real lives.”