In my mind, this can be a campaign of information and education, not persuasion. We already have inmate liaison committees, which were established after the Attica uprising. A handful of prisoners elected by the population meet periodically with administrators to discuss the population’s gripes, then deliver the responses back to their peers. Mr. Mailey said that D.O.C.C.S. is currently taking steps to encourage vaccination, including producing a video featuring incarcerated people who have been vaccinated.
In the meantime, we deserve more transparency from the D.O.C.C.S. and the state health officials. We want to know what privileges will return for those of us who agree to be vaccinated. For example, before the pandemic, we were allowed contact and conjugal visits. Clarifying how these privileges will resume will surely incentivize more people to get the vaccine.
When I think about spreading good information in prison, Lawrence Bartley comes to mind. He and I served time together in Sing Sing, before I was transferred to Sullivan last year. In 2018, after 27 years, he got out and was hired by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the criminal justice system. (I’m a contributor.) Right away, he saw a need: Incarcerated people had no way to read the Marshall Project’s journalism.
So Lawrence founded News Inside, a print magazine that today reaches hundreds of prisons and jails around the country. It consists of selected articles from the Marshall Project that Lawrence feels people in prison must read, including information about vaccines.
I recently showed Cheech the new issue of News Inside. After reading it and reflecting a bit more, Cheech decided that taking the vaccine is the responsible thing to do — both for him and for society. But at the same time, he resents that the parole board didn’t think he was good enough for that society. Even so, he said, “When it comes, I’ll take it.”
But when the Johnson & Johnson vaccinations did arrive in Sullivan on the last Friday in April, carried by a crew of D.O.C.C.S. nurses, who set up stations in the facility gym, Cheech’s cell didn’t open.
I found myself on a long line with my peers in green. When someone asked the corrections officer if he took the vaccine, he shook his head. “It’s not tested enough,” he said, “It’s the flu.” (Mr. Mailey said: “The department has no comment on a conversation that may or may not have occurred.”)