fresh voices from the front lines of change







Photo credit: Monroe County Sheriff / Twitter / cc

In May, Citizen Action of New York, part of the People's Action national network of grassroots groups, learned of a man being held in indefinite detention because of COVID-19. We asked him if he would be willing to share his story. He agreed. We hope his words, shared here for the first time, bring attention to the countless people being held in jails, prisons, and detention centers during this pandemic. Church has now been in Monroe County Jail for over 200 days.

- Ravi Mangla, Citizen Action of New York

I’ve been in Monroe County Jail on a probation violation for 174 days now. I expected, based on my probation officer's words, that I’d be “held overnight.” Because of the pandemic, overnight turned into missing eight family birthdays and the same number of holidays.

The jail has had to alter policies, cancel or suspend certain things like visits and religious services. Without visits, we no longer have the luxury of seeing our friends and families, or even the opportunity to leave the unit for an hour or two. I’ve grown incredibly sick of the color beige--the color that gave up.

The first time my court date got pushed I was okay with it; the second time I got a little irritated. By the third time it was getting almost unbearable. Right now I’m a “ghost in the system” - no release date, no court date. I haven’t even been sentenced.

My entire unit had a two-week-long quarantine, even though no one in our unit was exposed to the virus. Personally, I feel “safe enough,” but there are others with respiratory or age concerns who do not.

The general mood is somewhere between depressed frustration and irritated anxiety, largely caused by all the uncertainty and the haphazard operation of the facility. We’re starting to feel like caged dogs. I’m sharing space with a couple dozen other people, but not being able to see my friends anymore has had a sad effect on me. I’m not used to being away from my friends for so long. It’s especially hard because I don’t know when I’m going home.

My physical health hasn’t declined very much (aside from the extra weight I’ve put on). My mental health is a different story though. I have a pre-existing mental health condition, and I’m not allowed to have the medication I’m used to taking at home. Therefore, I have to take a regimen of different medications to make up for it, but still suffer most of my ordinary symptoms.

While I’ve been in here, I’ve read over two dozen books, written a lot of letters, drawn 150 cartoons, played tons of spades and solitaire, burned through batteries listening to my radio and started leading a Bible study. But I miss going outside, riding my bike and exploring. I miss fresh air and colors! Most of all, I miss my mom and dad, and the family I’ve built up in the past couple of years--my circle of loving, supportive friends.

I want people to know that I’m so much more than the sum of my past mistakes. I’m an artist, bicyclist, improv actor, trained EMT, firefighter, a son, a brother, and a friend. I’d give you my shirt if I saw you in need.

The situation I’m in is only temporary but, boy, is it emotionally taxing, especially considering I could be stuck here for a month or a year or more. My case is non-essential.

Citizen Action of New York received this letter on June 25th. Church has now been in Monroe County Jail for over 200 days.

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