Jamie Meade, one of our fine correspondents behind bars, was reflecting on a news clip of last weekend. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was marching with protesters. All of this, of course, was in response to the murder of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white cop, all the while protesting, “I can’t breathe.” Those words, said Jamie, were heard around the globe and sparked international protests for reform.
While viewing that march on TV in his Macomb Correctional Facility cell, his thoughts led to a friend right there who claimed he couldn’t breathe. William Garrison had caught the virus while in prison this spring. A couple months back William’s cell mate reported to three Corrections Officers that the man was sick and “could not breathe.”
The Department states that officers rushed in, tried life saving measures, and failed. His bunkie tells a different story…that he was gasping for air, calling out for help, and staff was slow to respond. He died in April. Just 60 years old. Just one month before his scheduled release.
A juvenile lifer able to get resentenced under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, William was ready to begin a new life after spending 44 years behind bars.
Says Jamie: “3 prison staff stood by, failing to help him. William could not breathe. The Michigan Department of Corrections is under the 'Executive Branch' of the government. Isn't William Garrison's death a social injustice?”
Indeed. I would add this: The William Garrison story isn’t unusual.
While we’re seeing and hearing more about police impropriety these days, much of this exposure is happening because of cell phone cameras and body cams. Similar improper activity is going on in our county, state and federal detention facilities, as well, but we don’t hear much about it. No cell phone cameras. No body cams.
ABC news did a major story about Mr. Garrison’s death. The report incorrectly stated that “when the first presumptive cases of COVID-19 were announced in Michigan in early March, corrections officials began scrambling to reduce the state prison population, anticipating that social distancing would be tough to accomplish in packed prison cellblocks.”
The population has been reduced. That big announcement was just made today. Much of this occurred thanks to hard work by the Parole Board, and stopping the intake from county prisons.
The Governor has done nothing. She needs to do more than walk with protesters. Many more Michigan prisoners can and should be released.
It’s not too late.