By Anika Kear
Honking horns, waving fists and flashing protest signs, activists drove to Portland’s Columbia River Correctional Institute to support prisoners who are frustrated, scared and concerned for their lives.
Just a day before, prisoners at this minimum-security facility staged a mass protest after a guard who was positive for COVID-19 was sent home. This prisoner protest was so forceful, guards locked themselves in their offices for several hours.
A contact on the inside said prisoners were excited and grateful for the support from the honking caravan. Prison guards immediately closed the doors and put the inmates on full lockdown.
Local television KOIN reported on the car caravan organized by Workers World Party-PDX, with help from the International League of Peoples’ Struggle and Jobs with Justice. Founding WWP-PDX branch member Lyn Neeley told KOIN: “Prisoners should be provided with masks, gloves and testing kits.” (See full interview at tinyurl.com/s8ogc8u/.)
As prisoners across the country are starting to test positive for COVID-19, she added, “It’s like a powder keg, Prisoners will be living in a cesspool of coronavirus. They are furious because they are being sentenced to death.”
CRCI had not had a full lockdown for years, but has experienced three full security lockdowns in the last two weeks.
The prison has recently stopped its normal medical triage services for non-COVID19 related issues. Prisoners have gone without soap for two days and been kept in crowded living conditions, putting them at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. They are now pressuring the facility to meet their critical needs.
With support from community members, they recently established the Columbia River Inside Support Senate (CRISS) to communicate their reasonable demands to the guards. These include no limits on soap, paper towels, toilet paper and sanitizing spray; social distancing (6 feet between personal bunk areas); nonpunitive isolation; regular Medical Triage and testing for COVID-19; daily access to phones, mail and mental health services.
The current situation for prisoners nationwide is dire and immediate action is necessary. Portland’s Workers World Party branch demands that prisoners be supplied with PPE immediately, that they have access to testing and treatment, and that social distancing protocols are implemented.
Most importantly, WWP demands the expeditious release of the incarcerated community. Free Them All!