On May 2, the day after armed fascist goons protested to “Reopen Ohio” at the Ohio state capital, Cleveland Refuse Fascism caravanned to Marion State Prison in Central Ohio. With a drummer beating a funeral dirge, we placed body bags at the entrance to Marion, symbolizing the blood on the hands of the fascist regime. We raised the demands Trump/Pence #OutNow; Release Everyone Not Convicted of a violent crime; Not Me First, Not America First – HUMANITY FIRST. We united with about 100 people responding the call “Don’t Let Them Die” organized by several prisoners’ rights organizations.
Marion Prison was the focus of protest because nearly 80% of those behind bars there – 2,028 prisoners – have tested positive for COVID-19. The figures are similar for at least one other Ohio prison, Pickaway. 48,000 people are imprisoned in Ohio’s prisons. According to the Columbus Dispatch, 30 prisoners have so far died from COVID-19 statewide.
Marion prison is out in the midst of what very much looks like Trump country – lots of American flags, overwhelmingly white people, huge signs painted on the sides of barns peddling guns and patriotism in red white & blue. Our cars were boldly decorated with our slogans as we drove to the prison. It was interesting that we got some honks in support and thumbs up as well as the anticipated pro-Trump yells.
Most people who came out for the “Don’t Watch Them Die” protest have friends or family inside. About half were Black and half white. We spoke with a lot of them, attempting, and not always managing, to maintain social distance. Some had people in prisons other than Marion. Many were there because an inmate had asked them to come. People voiced tremendous urgency to get word out about unbearable conditions in the prisons. Families are trying to fight for basic sanitation from outside and can get no reliable information from authorities.
The prisons are on lockdown in response to the virus. Some spoke to the fact that prisoners, especially Black prisoners and old prisoners (of which there are many) are especially at risk. The government knows this, and doesn’t care if they die. Some of those things are not new: terrible food, terrible over-crowding, medical care that is a joke in normal times.
But these conditions have taken on a sense of more desperation with the virus. They also seem to be worse. Prisoners are getting only one hot meal a day now. One Instagram post showed a plate of Cheerios covered with gravy, a piece of fish, and 2 biscuits. People are terrified and say they are under death sentence by being there. Prisoners have told people, and posted on social media, that the governor’s claims to have provided PPE and sanitation supplies for prisoners are a lie – they have seen none of them. You can see in social media posts that inmates are wearing masks made from whatever they could get their hands on. The gym was set aside for the relative handful of prisoners who tested negative but some have said that they tested negative and were not moved to the gym. Those who tested positive are getting no particular attention. At least 1,200 Ohio prisoners have sued for early release. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said he does not favor a “wholesale” release of broad categories of Ohio prisoners.
Almost everybody we talked with voiced hatred for Trump. Some identified him as making the virus worse. Many took pictures of the signs on the cars and clearly welcomed our presence. We expect these will get posted on social media and get into the prison. Many took copies of the Refuse Fascism Statement of Conscience, with promises to read it and sign if they agree. The Don’t Watch Them Die protest gathered around the body bags after we had moved away and featured pics of themselves with the body bags – especially Trump=Death – on social media posts. At the protest we found no indication that people were seriously thinking about how to get Trump removed from office. But some were intrigued that we see that as necessary and possible.