In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic currently raging through the jail, prison and detention centers of this country, Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Band, Chippewa Nation), an Indigenous leader and political prisoner, has issued a cry for help.
Peltier, 77 years old, who has been imprisoned for 45 years, was reported as having tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 28. The prison had previously refused to give him the booster shot. (Huffington Post, January 28).
Peltier is currently incarcerated in a high-security federal penitentiary in Florida, USP Coleman I, along with 1,334 other people. The prison is in lockdown because of the pandemic, which means no contact with other people within the facility and no visitation from anyone externally.
In an online statement in the Jan. 23 HuffPost, Peltier urges the prison abolition movement and human rights activists to expose the brutality and inhumanity of the current lockdown of incarcerated people during COVID-19. His plea echoes the voices of many people behind the walls:
COVID has turned Coleman Prison back to the Dark Ages. I remember a time at Marion USP when I was put in solitary for so long — when 72 hours could make you start to forget who you were — I once wrote down who I was on the concrete floor under my bed, so if I forgot, I could read it back to myself. I traded my last cigarette for a pencil. I’d rush to the door when a guard left the meager plate of food, just to see a glimpse of another human being — Even if it was one that hated me, it was another human and good for my mind for a minute.
I’m in hell, and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can. I cling to the belief that people are out there doing what they can to change our circumstances in here. The fear and stress are taking a toll on everyone, including the staff. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. The whole institution is on total LOCKDOWN.
In and out of lockdown last year at least meant a shower every third day, a meal beyond a sandwich wet with a little peanut butter — but now with COVID for an excuse, nothing. No phone, no window, no fresh air — no humans to gather — no loved ones’ voices. No relief. Left alone and without attention is like a torture chamber for the sick and old.
Where are our human rights activists? You are hearing from me, and with me, many desperate men and women! They are turning an already harsh environment into an asylum, and for many who did not receive a death penalty, we are now staring down the face of one! Help me, my brothers and sisters, help me, my good friends. (tinyurl.com/2p996aa2)
Peltier, a leader of the American Indian Movement, participated in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1973. In 1975, he was framed for the shooting death of two FBI agents. The agents and one Native American lay dead after an armed attack on the reservation by more than 150 federal agents, vigilantes and local police.
Peltier was convicted for the deaths of the two agents but had no physical evidence against him. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Leonard Peltier must be freed now!
There is a new international petition campaign to win Peltier’s freedom due to his COVID-19 infection. There is also a campaign to demand immediate clemency from President Joe Biden. Reach the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee here: whoisleonardpeltier.info/. To sign the petition: tinyurl.com/2p9xpfzz/.