In this special Beyond Prisons dispatch, Haverford College student and activist Ellis Maxwell shares a conversation they had with their friend Charles Boyd, who is incarcerated at SCI-Phoenix in Pennsylvania.
Maxwell is the co-head of Rethink Incarceration, a group that advocates for the immediate abolition of all prisons. They work toward abolition in Pennsylvania in solidarity with incarcerated people and other organizations.
Maxwell and Boyd met through Rethink Incarceration. Boyd is incarcerated on a death-by-incarceration sentence and has been in prison for over thirty years. During that time, Boyd has worked on projects including the Alternatives to Violence Project, Right to Redemption, and Let’s Circle Up.
Let’s Circle Up was founded by men incarcerated at Graterford – which is now Phoenix – in 2007, and “seeks to build relationships, community, and leaders through experiential, participatory, and collaborative restorative justice education.”
Maxwell and Boyd’s conversation was recorded on March 31, 2020. Since then, the prison has been locked down following the first positive test inside. The administration did not inform prisoners until day fifteen of the quarantine. In early April, a prisoner died from symptoms of COVID-19, which was not announced on the news until Monday, April 13. The administration didn’t – and still to this point has not – announced this death to other prisoners. They only found out through outside news broadcasts.
As of this recording, one unit at SCI-Phoenix is completely quarantined with no present access to phones. The majority of confirmed cases have come from this one unit, so the entire prison is locked down with less than an hour of time for prisoners to be outside of their cells.
In the conversation, Boyd emphasizes the inconsistency and total lack of transparency from the Department of Corrections. He says that “in this crisis who you are, what you do, and how well you deny involvement or outright lie, determines who gets a pass and who doesn’t.”
“What alarms me is that I feel more cut off from society today than I have since I’ve been incarcerated,” Boyd said.
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Music: Jared Ware