Become a justice advocate during COVID-19

Amy Lorenzo
Amy Lorenzo graduated from Mercy Corps Northwest LIFE Inside program in 2019. She’s featured here, sitting in a communal eating space in Coffee Creek Correctional facility, where over 1,500 women are currently sharing close quarters.

This moment is unprecedented. Until March 13, 2020, Mercy Corps Northwest’s Prison and Re-entry Services program LIFE Inside has been operating inside Oregon’s only women’s prison for 13 years uninterrupted. Today, we face an interruption that has huge implications on the students in the program.

LIFE Inside is about offering people a new identity – a name rather than inmate, a new tool for their toolbox, and a reminder that there is hope outside of the gates.  We do this through teaching a 32-week business, life skills, job skills course at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. On March 13, the Oregon State Prisons suspended visitor access to all institutions. While we commend any action taken to lessen health risks at the facilities, this sadly meant putting the entire LIFE Inside program on hold. For many incarcerated women and men, our course offers a respite from the day to day life in prison. We also know that the impact of our inability to meet with the 53 women currently enrolled in our courses is greater than a lag in our programming.

No matter how you cut it, living in a communal living space during a statewide quarantine is life-threatening. We must ensure our state and federal decision-makers are remembering the voices of those who are incarcerated during this uncertain and scary time.

Even with no confirmed COVID‑19 cases inside of Oregon’s 14 prisons, and the recent announcement of two free, 5-minute phone calls being offered to each person in prison – this is not enough. Ten free minutes of communication per week is simply not sufficient to meet the basic needs of the incarcerated community. And with your help, this moment can become a movement.

How to support incarcerated people

Here are a few ways you can support people who are incarcerated in Oregon and across the country:

  • Tell your Governor to take action to prevent a prison pandemic – There are 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S. and a daily influx of staff and visitors who come in and out of the facilities. The ‘social distancing’ and self-quarantine practices recommended by the CDC and WHO are nearly impossible to follow in jails and prisons, which risk becoming incubators for this disease and put all of us at risk. Use this website to tell your representatives to take action.
  • Sign a petition for lawmakers to take federal action – The #Cut50 campaign is doing incredible work to ease the suffering that exists in prisons right now. You can make a difference by voicing your concern and evening treatment of inmates across the nation. Sign this petition to make your voice heard for healthcare, fair wages, and basic human rights.
  • Take 10 minutes and stand with women and men who are incarcerated – Women who are incarcerated in Oregon have count twice per day which requires them to be physically counted near their bunks. This happens once in the 11:00 hour and once in the 4:00 hour. We invite you to stand for 10 minutes during these times to pause, reflect, and give thought to those who are currently incarcerated.

To learn more about our work, and how you can give back, reach out to our Prison & Re-Entry Services team at Mercy Corps Northwest. For additional resources on how to support, visit this page from our friends at Oregon Justice Resource Center.

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