Stories from the Inside: Incarceration in the time of COVID-19.
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic created the unique challenge for the ACLU of Utah to understand the extent and damage caused by virus outbreaks in Utah’s jails and prisons. As a result, we have had to rely on letters from incarcerated individuals inside jails and prisons to tell us and others what is really happening.
The letters published tell the story of Utahns who are too often forgotten. These “Stories from the Inside” are the voices of the people while held by the state. We need to hear their stories.
While pandemic created health and financial insecurity for hundreds of thousands of Utahns, it’s impact has been particularly devastating for incarcerated Utahns and those recently released from jail on community supervision. About 18,000 Utahns are on community supervision through probation or parole. Although not housed in prison or jail, these Utahns are still under the control of the corrections system, and the pandemic has made following the conditions of their release even more difficult to follow. Making a simple mistake like missing a probation appointment or a common struggle like not getting a job can cause someone on community supervision to return to jail. As recently as 2017, almost 80% of people entering Utah prisons were being send back because of a technical violation of their probation or parole.
This letter is from Camy, who is currently incarcerated in Timpanogos Women’s Facility at the Utah State Prison (Draper). Life changed for Camy when the pandemic hit last year, making her life much harder both in and out of prison. Her story shows the relationship between poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and the criminal legal system, and the need to provide support for people who are struggling rather than punishing them with incarceration. Read her story below:
"I speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters here at U.D.C. (Utah Department Corrections). I speak with honor and truth: that I am a current incarcerated individual and a witness to what is happening inside these walls.
I came to prison on a [handwriting unclear, possibly DUI] and am here on a parole violation for absconding. The truth to the word “absconding” is that I lost my job, couldn’t afford to pay for my rent due to COVID which led me to sleeping in my car and shortly, a relapse. I have to admit, I never felt so low as a mother or as a woman. Even though, my honesty with BP&P (Board of Pardons and Parole) wasn’t enough. I had no home, I was using, sleeping in my car in the winter’s freezing cold weather. Every night, I prayed that someone would see me and give a helping hand. For my pride wouldn’t let me as because I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. I also suffer with a mental illness.
I feel strongly that what is happening here at Utah Draper Corrections is in fact “inhumane” Long story short, we are asking for the public’s help; for a movement for parole violators to be heard and set free #LetUsGo…
We feel strongly that inside these walls is in fact infested with virus! 28 people in my Star 1 (Prison Housing Building) tested positive yesterday (2.12.21). Star 2 is infested I believe. Star 3 Maximum Security is full and there will be nowhere left to quarantine. I fear that some will die and that all of us will at some point catch this virus. Who knows who will survive this outbreak! To the families of the loved ones incarcerated, we love you and we ask that you pray for us as each day goes on we suffer. This feels like a “death sentence.” I know that it’s enough to scare me straight, I testify that if I, Camy, make it out alive; I will use this experience as a haunting memory and reminder that I will never come back here. Every night I hear my sisters weep and cry missing their young and loved ones saddens my heart. I too miss my own and pray every night that the Board of Pardons finds it with in their hearts to “let Parole Violators Go.”
To: My brothers and sisters incarcerated everywhere who suffer in this Pandemic. My heart is with you, and so is my voice! Let’s stand together in unison and pray the Board of Pardons hears our cries from the inside to let us Parole Violators Free.
Download Original Letter (PDF)