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Inmates, Staff Worry About Care as Marion Prison Becomes One of Largest COVID Outbreaks in US

NNPA NEWSWIRE — According to state data that is updated daily, for Marion Correctional, as of May 1, staff members who reported positive results are 175; COVID-19 related staff deaths are 1; staff who have recovered are 98; units in quarantine include the full institution; inmates in quarantine are 430; inmates in isolation are 2016; inmates currently positive for COVID-19 are 2016; probable COVID-19 related deaths are 0; confirmed COVID-19 related deaths are 8; inmates who have pending results are 190; and inmates who have recovered are 69.

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At Marion Correctional Institution, above, 95 percent of inmates have tested positive for coronavirus as of May l. The minimum-to medium-security prison has become the largest-known source of coronavirus infections in the United States, according to the New York Times. Photo provided by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

By Dan Yount, The Cincinnati Herald

The largest-known coronavirus hotspot in the country isn’t in New York or California: it’s the Marion Correctional Institution, an Ohio state prison about 50 miles north of Columbus.

According to state data that is updated daily, for Marion Correctional, as of May 1, staff members who reported positive results are 175; COVID-19 related staff deaths are 1; staff who have recovered are 98; units in quarantine include the full institution; inmates in quarantine are 430; inmates in isolation are 2016; inmates currently positive for COVID-19 are 2016; probable COVID-19 related deaths are 0; confirmed COVID-19 related deaths are 8; inmates who have pending results are 190; and inmates who have recovered are 69.

In the Ohio prison system, as of May 1, 6375 inmates have been tested; 937 tests are pending; 4072 tested positive; and 1906 tested negative.

Thus, more than 95 percent of the population at the minimum- and medium-security facility at Marion have tested positive for COVID-19. Combined, almost 16 percent of Ohio’s total coronavirus cases come from the Marion prison.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that every inmate at Marion and two other prisons be tested. Many of those who tested positive showed no symptoms.

Yet, the situation at Marion is worse than any correctional institution in the country.

Interviews conducted by cleveland.com with inmates and activists reveal a number of reasons they say are to blame, including lags in getting test results, inadequate cleaning, no social-distancing measures, and intense strains on their mental health.

Prisons, by their very nature, are some of the most vulnerable places to infectious outbreaks, as they contain a large group of people forced to remain in close quarters, with limited access to medical care. At Marion, some inmates are assigned to cells, while others are assigned to a dorm – a large room filled with bunk beds for dozens of people.

“There is no social distancing,” said Jonathan White, a 44-year-old Marion inmate from Cincinnati serving 15 years to life for murder, told cleveland.com. “You can’t get away from it.”

Inmate Emrie Smith also spoke to cleveland.com, saying he has been in the gym, where there is no social distancing, and after 8 p.m. there is only one toilet available for about 200 men.

White said prison officials didn’t start moving to isolate sick inmates until the disease spread throughout the population.

However, JoEllen Smith, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Corrections in Columbus, told the Herald preparations to keep the virus out of the prison began in early January. Also, ODOC officials have been conferencing with correctional officials in other states for best practices information during the entire outbreak. Smith provided a comprehensive list of conditions enforced at Marian and other state prisons to reduce the cases of the disease.

“There is so much anxiety about what is going on here with people’s health,” White added. “We view ourselves as an expendable population. So, when you see these types of numbers that are happening to us in prison, it’s almost expected – like, they (the authorities) don’t care.”

When asked why Marion in particular has so many COVID-19 cases — more than the rest of Ohio’s prison system combined — state prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith gave this answer:

“The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has taken an aggressive and unique approach to testing, which includes mass testing of all staff and inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution, the Pickaway Correctional Institution, and the Franklin Medical Center (which is Ohio’s medical facility for inmates),” Smith stated in an email. “Because we are testing everyone – including those who are not showing symptoms – we are getting positive test results on individuals who otherwise would have never been tested because they were asymptomatic.”

Smith stated that after testing, inmates who show symptoms are immediately placed into isolation.

As for cleaning supplies, Smith stated that chemical boxes are delivered daily to each prison area, and the amount of disinfectant has been increased during the coronavirus crisis.

As for mental-health services, Smith stated that the state’s prisons agency offers “a full continuum of mental-health care within our facilities” using social distancing guidelines and proper personal protective equipment.

State prison officials are also developing plans to increase the use of tele-services for mental-health care if necessary, she stated.

Dozens of protestors stood outside Marion Correctional Facility Saturday holding signs to show support for their loved ones inside.

“I’m here fighting for my son’s life,” said Sabrina White, whose son, Richard Williams, has been incarcerated at Marion for over a year now. He has four more years left on his sentence.

In a Marion Star report, “Just recently, we have inmates in here that can’t even walk and breathe because of the virus,” said Austin Cooper, who has served over half of his six-year sentence for aggravated burglary and assault. “Medical just keeps sending them back out here to the camp, talking about they can’t do nothing for them.”

Inmate Jimmy Dzelajlija, who is serving a 17-year sentence for robbery and aggravated robbery in Cuyahoga County, talked to 5 On Your Side investigators by phone about the situation inside Marion Correctional.

He said despite being tested Friday, he has not received the results of his COVID-19 test.

“That’s the aggravating part, they won’t tell us,” said Dzelajlija. “We don’t know with the numbers that high, we don’t know if we’re the ones who have it.”

Numbers from Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction show more than three out of every four inmates in the prison are infected.

“They passed out masks, we have little these little face masks that we wear,” said Dzelajlija. “Really, that’s to be honest, that’s it. We’re supposed to practice social distancing, but it’s impossible. My neighbor is literally three feet away from me, both sides, and behind me. There’s no way to practice social distancing here.”

“The frustration is building and building and building among everybody in here,” he said. “And tempers are flaring up on just the slightest provocation.”

“I saw the numbers and I just broke down bawling,” said Azzurra Crispino in a report in the Marion Star newspaper.

Dr. Amy Acton, the director of Ohio’s Department of Health, echoed that.

“As we know, there is a significant amount of the population who are really being carriers or vectors without even realizing it,” Acton said.

And that’s what scares Crispino. She said even if you don’t care about the health of inmates, the threat of workers contracting the virus and carrying it outside prison walls and into the community is real.

“The virus doesn’t distinguish between why the person is in that facility,” said Crispino. “From the virus’ perspective, they are still eligible hosts.”

It’s why she believes it’s time for the state to seriously look at reducing its prison population to try and slow the spread of the virus.

“This is a human rights travesty and public health crisis,” said Crispino.

Department of Correction Director Chambers-Smith was part of the Governor’s press conference April 30.

“Individuals who test positive are placed in an area of the facility, which is separate from the general population. Also, our comprehensive testing approach of staff and inmates has assisted us in identifying asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive who can now be isolated from others in order to prevent further spread.

DRC’s preparation began for the potential impact of COVID early this year, Smith said. This included tabletop exercises and frequent discussion with counterparts across the county. Director Chambers-Smith presented during a national webinar the best practices in preparation for COVID for correctional facilities.

DRC continues to work closely with the Ohio Department of Health in implementing operational changes as we address the challenges associated with COVID-19, Smith said.

Smith said DRC has taken extensive steps in response to COVID, including but not limited to:

  • Prior to COVID-19, as part of our normal infectious disease control efforts, we routinely offer annual influenza vaccines to all offenders in our prison who wanted one, and especially targeted our at-risk and chronic care caseloads.
  • We have issued numerous communications to our staff and inmates, including education about COVID-19 and reminders to engage in aggressive hand washing and social distancing where possible.
  • The prisons have sanitation crews who frequently disinfect common surfaces with a chemical effective against COVID-19 in line with public health recommendations.
  • We are using technology and other methods to reduce staff and offender gatherings including using tele-conferencing for our new officer training.
  • We implemented a text messaging system for staff to be able to easily check in with their loved ones while they are at work as cell phones are not permitted within the facilities.
  • A family phone number and email address have been established and published to help answer questions about the impact COVID-19 is having on our operations. Individuals can email the DRC atcovid19@odrc.state.oh.us or call 614-728-1142.
  • We have implemented COVID-19 specific health screening for all inmates entering our prisons.
  • Volunteer activities and visiting have been suspended.
  • Only staff and mission critical contractors are permitted into the facilities. Health screenings are in place for staff and contractors who are entering the facilities/offices.
  • Staff and the incarcerated population are permitted to wear protective masks.
  • We have suspended travel for all state employees to only tasks that are mission critical.
  • The director issued an executive order to county jails regarding the screening of inmates before being transferred to our reception centers.
  • Reception inmates will be housed in the same area by date of arrival for a minimum of 5 weeks to monitor them for any symptoms.
  • Inmate work assignments, which are not on state property, have been suspended.
  • Most facilities are serving two meals per day – a hot brunch meal and a hot evening meal. This is being done to ensure we have less movement and less contact to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Commissary prices are being reduced as well to assist residents in being able to purchase food and other goods.
  • State Highway Patrol is providing perimeter security at three facilities.

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FILM: Top 10 Must-See Black documentaries

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Below you will find a list of documentaries, based on the roots of African American culture, compiled by Word in Black partner, The Houston Defender. From “I Am Not Your Negro” to “High on the Hog,” each film offers up the origin stories of our most important activists, artists, athletes and traditions.
The post FILM: Top 10 Must-See Black documentaries first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By The Houston Defender | Word in Black

The AFRO’s October Special Edition is all about the roots of our culture, our family lineage and the return to old ways and traditions. Below you will find a list of documentaries, based on the roots of African American culture, compiled by our Word in Black partner, The Houston Defender. From I Am Not Your Negro to High on the Hog, each film offers up the origin stories of our most important activists, artists, athletes and traditions.

#10: Attica (2021) 

In September 1971, Attica Prison became the location of one of the largest prison riots in US history, taking place just weeks after revolutionary activist George Jackson was murdered by prison guards at Rikers Island, an act that initiated the birth of Black August and the prison reform movement. The constant abject cruelty and inhumane treatment doled out to the incarcerated (who were overwhelmingly Black and Latinx) by Attica guards (all White) created the context. The riot itself, and its aftermath, are something all human beings should be required to reckon with.

#9: Quincy (2018) 

If you’re Black, it literally doesn’t matter when you were born, what generation you’re a part of, or where you’re from. You’ve been impacted by the genius of Quincy Jones. We’ve all been influenced by the genius of Quincy Jones. The music he made, the albums he produced, the artists he developed, the movies he scored, and about a gazillion other things Jones did, means, as I’ve already said, if you’re Black, Quincy has had a hand in your life. Don’t believe me. What Black person do you know who isn’t a Michael Jackson fan, who hasn’t seen The Wiz, or who doesn’t have a family member who worships jazz music? Quincy Jones had his hand in all that and so much more. Directed by one of his daughters, actress Rashida Jones, this doc is most definitely a must see.

#8: Four Little Girls (1997) 

On Sept. 15, 1963, just 18 short days after the much-celebrated March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed by four members of a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated racist group. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, four African American girls between the ages of 11 and 14 who had been attending the church’s Sunday school, were killed in the blast, an act of White domestic terrorism that served as a horrific and sober reminder that Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not enough to end the hold the myth of White supremacy had on so many. Director Spike Lee tells this powerfully compelling and important story as only he can.

#7: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019) 

For generations that came after the Baby Boomers, it’s hard for us to fully fathom how big a star Sam Cooke was. Think of the biggest singer of any generation. That was Sam Cooke in his heyday. And not only was he hyper-talented, but not only did he call some of the biggest names in Black history his personal friends (Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X just to name a few), Cooke was a man of the people. And he was heavily invested in the Civil Rights Movement and an advocate for Black self-determination and Black ownership. Cooke even pulled a “Prince” long before Prince—gaining ownership of his own music, something that was as rare then as it is today. This documentary chronicles Cooke’s life, rise to fame, and eventual end, though his influence never died.

#6: Thunder Soul (2010) 

Here’s a hometown entry. Thunder Soul spotlights the extraordinary alumni from Houston’s storied Kashmere High School Stage Band which the iconic Conrad Johnson led. These alums return home after 35 years to play a tribute concert for the 92-year-old ‘Prof’, their beloved band leader who transformed the schools struggling jazz band into a world-class funk powerhouse in the early 1970s. This one will have you out of your seat and dancing in the streets. Check it out.

#5: Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (2021)  

In this documentary, criminal defense/civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson “draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America.” It’s that simple, and yet that complex. And it goes without saying; it’s a must see.

#4: Jeen-Yuhs (2022) 

No matter where you score on the Love Ye / Hate Ye scale, this 2022 documentary about his rise to superstardom is beyond compelling. I mean, who thinks to chronicle their every move from the moment they start pursuing their dream until they either give up on it or see it to fruition and beyond? Who does that? No one but this negro Kanye. He may be the only human being with an ego big enough to conceive of such a project. And believe me, the scope and scale of this documentary match that galaxy-sized self-obsession brahman has that make him both insanely talented and just plain insane at the same time.

#3: I Am Not Your Negro (2016) 

This documentary by Raoul Peck, director of Exterminate All the Brutes (2021) which made the first list of must-see documentaries, introduced the brilliance and unabashed Black of James Baldwin to a whole new generation. Described as a work that imagines the completion of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House (about Baldwin’s personal reflections on and recollections of three of his personal friends who were killed during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), I Am Not Your Negro is about so much more.

#2: The Last Dance (2020) 

You don’t have to be a basketball fan to get caught up in the chronicling of the last run at an NBA championship by the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls who had been told before the season began that the team would be broken up. The doc not only takes you on that 1996 Bulls’ championship ride, but it also digs deep into the past of players, coaches, and family members, spotlighting triumphs and tragedies that are part of the human story, not just the story of professional athletes.

#1: High on the Hog 

How African American Cuisine Transformed America (2021)

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything that celebrates our history, especially those things that connect us to our African roots and our Pan-African family. This documentary does all that and more. Because the main character is food. Our food. The stuff we grew up on. The meals many of us are eating right now, and never stopped eating since our youth. This beautifully filmed, beautifully narrated piece of art is full of both the familiar and the foreign; or rather, things we’ve come to believe are foreign to us, but are really part of our story and our heritage. And the okra on top? High on the Hog has a powerful H-Town connection. A few, in fact.

This list of documentaries based on the roots of African American culture was compiled by Word In Black.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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Lawsuit Alleges U.S. Government Discriminated Against Black Veterans for Decades

NNPA NEWSWIRE — According to internal VA data obtained by the Washington Post, Black applicants seeking disability benefits were denied 30 percent of the time from 2002 to 2020. White applicants were denied 24 percent of the time.
The post Lawsuit Alleges U.S. Government Discriminated Against Black Veterans for Decades first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Black Information Network | Atlanta Daily World

A new lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alleges that the U.S. government discriminated against Black veterans for decades.

On Monday (November 28), the suit was filed by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) on behalf of Vietnam War veteran Conley Monk Jr, whose applications for education, housing, and disability benefits have been denied since he returned home from the war, per The Hill.

According to the suit, discrimination by the VA has left Black veterans without benefits more frequently than their white counterparts.

Yale’s VLSC said the lawsuit could “provide a legal pathway for Black veterans to seek reparations from the VA.”

“This lawsuit seeks to hold the VA accountable for years of discriminatory conduct,” Adam Henderson, a law student working with the VLSC on the case, said in a statement, per the Hill.

“VA leaders knew, or should have known, that they were administering benefits in a discriminatory manner, yet they failed to address this unlawful bias,” Henderson added. “Mr. Monk — and thousands of Black veterans like him — deserve redress for the harms caused by these negligently administered programs.”

According to internal VA data obtained by the Washington Post, Black applicants seeking disability benefits were denied 30 percent of the time from 2002 to 2020. White applicants were denied 24 percent of the time.

VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said the agency is working to combat “institutional racism.”

“Throughout history, there have been unacceptable disparities in both VA benefits decisions and military discharge status due to racism, which have wrongly left Black veterans without access to VA care and benefits,” Hayes said. “We are actively working to right these wrongs.”

The post U.S. Government Discriminated Against Black Veterans For Decades: Lawsuit appeared first on Atlanta Daily World.

The post Lawsuit Alleges U.S. Government Discriminated Against Black Veterans for Decades first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BOOKS: Jerald LeVon Hoover Blends a Love of Sport & Friendship into New Children’s Book

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Through colorful pictures with vibrant imagery, young readers will easily get drawn into the exciting adventures of Bennett Mayco Wilson’s fictional yet exciting world and learn valuable childhood lessons together, when Bennet gets a basketball as a present from his father on his fourth birthday.
The post BOOKS: Jerald LeVon Hoover Blends a Love of Sport & Friendship into New Children’s Book first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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‘A Basketball Hero is Born’ is a part of The Hero Book Series by Jerald LeVon Hoover, which aims to inspire youth to make a positive change in their communities and the world in general

Widely celebrated African American author, Jerald LeVon Hoover, is once again inspiring young people to make a positive change in their communities with the launch of a new children’s book. Titled A Basketball Hero is Born, the new children’s reading book contains colorful pictures that warm the heart and keep young readers glued to its pages.

The plot follows the exciting adventures of Bennett Mayco Wilson who gets a basketball as a present from his father on his fourth birthday. Affectionately naming the new basketball “Lucky,” the story unfolds as young Bennett tries to take his new best friend everywhere, including the dinner table, to school, and to bed when it is time for sleep.

Jerald L. Hoover

Jerald L. Hoover

Through colorful pictures with vibrant imagery, young readers will easily get drawn into Bennett’s fictional yet exciting world and learn valuable childhood lessons together. Currently available for purchase on Amazon, A Basketball Hero is Born is a part of The Hero Book Series by Jerald LeVon Hoover, which emphasizes instilling a love of sports and friendship in young readers.

About The Author

Jerald L. Hoover is a multi-talented individual with countless accomplishments in the creative, literary, and entertainment worlds. After winning an award for “The Best New Male Writer of the Year” for his fictional novel, My Friend, My Hero Jerald went on to be listed from 1994 – 1996 as a best-selling author among young Black writers in various African American publications. In 1995, he was awarded the Writers Corp Award by then-President Bill Clinton. In 1998, Jerald was inducted into the Mount Vernon Boy’s and Girl’s Club Hall of Fame. Since then, Jerald has won several other awards and is also an in-demand motivational speaker who overcame a childhood speech impediment.

The post BOOKS: Jerald LeVon Hoover Blends a Love of Sport & Friendship into New Children’s Book first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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