EXPO organizer Charlie Gentry remembers sanitation not being on the list of “things to do right” when he was incarcerated. He is rightly horrified now hearing about COVID-19 being found in prisons around the country and now in St. Joseph, Missouri.
EXPO is a newly formed organization spun off by Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU). EXPO is an acronym for EX-incarcerated People Organizing.
“Guards come and go,” Gentry said. “They could have been exposed. Newly incarcerated persons may have been exposed. Our prisons and jails have the potential of being nothing but kill boxes.”
Gentry is referring to the reality of prison. Personal care items, like soap, must be purchased by inmates. Visits to a nurse require a co-pay. No information is readily available as to how often cells and public areas are disinfected.
EXPO leader Traci Stanton speaks directly to the necessity of these releases.
“It is imperative that during this sensitive time that we protect all individuals as best as possible,” Stanton said. “This pandemic has had a profound and drastic effect on our community and could create the same or much worse effect amongst the prison population. An outbreak within these levels of confinement can produce a tragic outcome. It is necessary that we consider measures to ensure the safety of the individuals that are incarcerated hence a mandatory release or an expeditious evacuation.”
The words of Jake Hubbard, another EXPO leader, express his belief in the system’s suppressive malfunctions.
“As we are experiencing, this outbreak has highlighted some glaring weaknesses in our society,” Hubbard said. “There is a lack of sanitation, nourishment and hydration in our prisons. I believe many fathers and mothers will be sentenced to death, because basic human rights have not been met in the State of Missouri and federal correctional facilities.”
The voices of these formerly incarcerated people emerge from the dungeon of their own experiences. That the potential explosion of COVID-19 among those incarcerated in the state of Missouri seem to be substitutionary sacrifices for a system in need of redemption is reprehensible, EXPO stated – action must be taken immediately to stop the willful procession of incarcerated humans as lambs to the slaughter.
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) and EXPO are part of the Gamaliel Network, faith-based community organizations in 16 states, all calling for release from prison and jail of persons over the age of 65, those non-violent inmates with already compromised health conditions, and especially those simply waiting for court because they are too poor to pay a bail or bond.
MCU is a community organization of 40 congregations that puts faith into action by developing leaders who move their congregations, organizations and communities to change public policy for the common good.
EXPO works to end mass incarceration, eliminate all forms of structural discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, and restore formerly incarcerated people to full participation in the life of our communities.