When my friends and I locked our bodies to a coal Barge on the Kanawha River, we found ourselves in a place of great visibility. We were immediately noticed and photographed and our story and message spread through newspapers, on twitter, and all over the internet.
That same day, we entered South Central Regional Jail in Kanawha County, WV, where those held are almost invisible. I believe that jail is always inhumane–a poor way to resolve social conflict but an excellent way for those in power to repress dissenting people groups. I was still surprised, though, at the appalling conditions in this overcrowded state jail. When we arrived at the jail, Rebecca and I were ushered into an approximately 15’ x 12’ holding cell which already held about twelve other women. We had to step gingerly over prone bodies to make it to the concrete bench on the edge of the cell. The jail was chill and we were exhausted, but without blankets all we could do was cling to each other to keep warm. Normally, inmates are only in holding for a few hours until they are processed and sent to pods where they have access to beds, a phone, and space to walk around during the day. The women curled up on the floor of our holding cell, however, had been there for days; some had not even been allowed to make a phone call to let someone know where they were and how to bail them out. Under a constant fluorescent light, the cell hung heavy with a temporal disorientation and a despair of ever being seen or heard.
The body count swelled our second day to 17. With too few mattresses and not enough space on the floor to stretch out, most women curled up in a small space and lay still in the constant dim light as hours stretched into days. Please of any kind were ignored by all guards. Our cell went for about 8 hours without toilet paper and one woman lay listless and burning up as her blood sugar spiked. Though we all called for her to be brought her insulin, we were ignored for hours on end as her condition worsened.
The United States Government incarcerates more of its population–about one out of every 100 adults–than any nation on Earth. This nation contains about 5% of the world’s population, but almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners.1 Many of us, particularly those of us with a lot of class and racial privilege, still need to wake up to the ways that the U.S. uses its penal system to repress its people. Especially because our campaign has a lot to do with unjust laws and unjust enforcement, we want to acknowledge the horror inherent in the “criminal justice” system and show that we’re paying attention to the suffering and social damage that it causes.
What I would ask of you all is that you would call the south central regional jail (304-558-1336) and tell them that if they have over a dozen people in a holding cell for days, they have too many people. Tell them that you think that it is unacceptable for them to hold anyone under such miserable conditions and that they need to be providing everyone with the medical care that they need and that their doctors have prescribed. Call and let them know we’re paying attention.
Pictured: The newest member of RAMPS