Not My Problem. But As Christians, It Is.

by | May 19, 2020 | Billie's Blog, Conference Newsletter, Prison Reform/Death Penalty Task Force

Billie Fidlin

On May 11, AZ Central published the following article:

74 Cases in Arizona Prisons

The Arizona Department of Corrections’ online dashboard said 74 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday. The cases are at these five facilities: 53 in Florence, nine in Marana, six in Tucson, five in Eyman and one in Perryville.

The department had tested 327 inmates, with 216 negative cases and 73 pending out of a total population of 41,327.

Five inmate deaths are under investigation, with one death at Florence determined to be directly or indirectly the result of COVID-19. Four other deaths, three at Florence and one at Tucson are preliminarily attributed to COVID-19. Ten inmates have recovered.

Fifty-nine staff members have self-reported positive for the virus, and 34 have been certified as recovered, the department said.

Both legal and non-legal visitations have been suspended through June 13, at which point the department will reassess. Temporary video visitation will be available to approved visitors and inmates who have visitation privileges, the department announced. Inmates are eligible for one 15-minute video visit per week. Century Link also is giving inmates two additional 15-minute calls for free during each week visitation is restricted.  (Steinbach, 2020)

Many of you know that I teach leadership classes to female inmates housed at Perryville. While my “liberal bleeding heart” as some call me, has always been drawn to help those who have hit hard times, certainly my time at Perryville has taught me much and given me a new perspective. Yet there certainly are facts that all of us have baseline familiarity with.

Not everyone in prison committed a horrific crime such as murder. Think DUI, drug sales, fraud, one too many mistakes that turned felony.

Not everyone in prison is a known threat to society – ie your life or mine. Someone with a history of writing bad checks has nothing to do with me, or you.

Not everyone in prison doesn’t think they should be there. Many understand their mistake and the need to pay their debt to society. They would like to serve their time, and… live to leave.

Not everyone in prison deserves to be there. Mistakes are made and like it or not, there are innocent people housed behind prison walls.

And no one in prison should be trapped to face a deadly virus. Trapped.

Have you been in prison lately? Have you seen a prison lately? I recognize the challenges involved in trying to protect inmates from the virus. Inmates in masks? Social distancing in minimum-security facilities where the beds are bunks and the meals are cafeteria-style? What about access to healthcare – as in, can I PLEASE see a doctor? It’s not as simple as it sounds to have happened. I acknowledge the Department of Corrections has an extremely difficult situation to tackle. Don’t we all – in, or out, of prison. Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV)

I sent the following op-ed in. I haven’t seen it published yet. But I wanted to share it with you. The numbers are dated as this was sent in at the beginning of May, but you have the current numbers above. The message stands as current as ever.

With gratitude to our Governor and citizens, while Arizona has broken hearts over those people we have lost, and prayers for those who remain ill, we can take comfort that we have not suffered the fate of other states such as New York, regarding the COVID-19 virus.

However, within the prison system of the Arizona Department of Corrections, a possible if not inevitable scenario of illness and fatalities is on the horizon. As of April 28th according to Arizona prison officials, 47 cases have been diagnosed as positive for the virus, with 0.46 % of inmates tested. We are beginning to see reports of inmates dying, the first being officially reported on April 27th, the second on April 28th.It is unclear if there have been other deaths, or how many inmates are currently hospitalized. One must wonder how many more are infected, how many less are not being tested, and what is the forecasted risk of an outright pandemicwithin the walls of each of our prisons. This feels like an impending disaster which we could abate. While one recognizes the difficulty of social distancing in the prison setting, we are called upon as people of the common good, to see preventative measures implemented, and soon.

Respectfully I call upon the Governor and the Arizona Department of Corrections to extend intentional and complete care for those who are incarcerated, serving their time as sentenced, and looking forward to re-entry after paying their debt to society.

One cannot build a future if one is dead.

Sources Cited

Steinbach, A. (2020, May 11). Arizona coronavirus update: 11,380 confirmed cases, 542 known deaths as of Monday. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-health/2020/05/11/coronavirus-arizona-update-may-11-11-380-cases-542-deaths/3108190001/

Get information like this in your inbox

Author: Billie K. Fidlin

Billie K. Fidlin is the Director of Outreach & Justice for the Desert Southwest Conference. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and attended Claremont School of Theology for religious studies. Ms. Fidlin currently serves as the President of the Arizona Faith Network in her second term. She is President & Founder of Whisper n Thunder Inc., and sits on various boards including the Justa Center and the Phoenix Police Department's Faith Advisory Council. Her awards include the UM Foundation for Evangelism 2004 Distinguished Evangelist; 2016 Church Women United / United Nations Human Rights Award; 2018 Servant Leader Award AZ Faith Network; 2022 Southern Poverty Law Center Certificate of Recognition; and 2022-23 Class of Who's Who in America.
Share This