Dave Sanders asked Temujin Kensu to describe what it is like on the inside and how COVID-19 has changed their lives. It’s hardly surprising that the average “Joe” is not much concerned for a prisoner’s life under COVID-19 – the thinking being if they lived an honest life they wouldn’t be behind bars. But just consider if you’re wholly innocent and find yourself in that situation. Here’s the perspective of one such individual, Temujin, who under lockdown has plenty of time to think and write:
Dave, You asked me “How’s it going?” Well, our situation is, of course, a little different from the public's. This is hell. We have no "takeout" or DoorDash, no family to safely socialize with or games to play. Many have no radio or TV, no access to books, magazines or access to a library, no means to order online. I'm one of the few with a "library" thanks to family and friends. We can't Skype or Facetime with loved ones and we can't exercise at all, even where all the experts and guidelines say to do so. The food is of such terrible quality that it's compromising our immune systems.
[Editor’s note: One exoneree shared how he discovered some food in a Michigan prison to be in containers marked “Not for human consumption”. Temujin is not exaggerating.] We are separated from loved ones, experience unending inhumane conditions, insufficient nutrients and calorie-short food and lack of hygiene. If not for the pandemic, most would describe what we experience as “torture” but now it is summarily dismissed as a necessary evil.
[Editor's note: It might sound almost trivial when Temujin speaks about no "carry-out". It's the big picture he is drawing. There is a HUGE difference between experiencing something for a day or a few weeks and experiencing it for an indefinite period of time. To illustrate the concept - It is not a big deal to stay in an empty room for a day, but most consider solitary confinement for more than 15 days to be "cruel and unusual punishment" (8th Amendment). We have so much variety in our lives that we can only approach an understanding of the conditions and its effects Temujin is describing for us, and that ability is only possessed by those who want to understand.] Those on the outside see this as a difficult time, but something they can endure for a greater good. But in prison, this pandemic isn't going to "resolve" in a month. Here, they've decided that every time there's a new case, they'll add 14 days. They locked us down initially under the phony pretext of the "flu" and then lied. They implied this was "normal", but the truth is they have never done this, ever.
We are denied access to family and friends, children, husbands, wives, (fiancé’s as in my case), to religious services, mental health care, and needed, urgent medical care (all suspended "indefinitely" according to the MDOC). And we have nothing to do and know we’ve done nothing wrong (besides the reason for coming to prison, which in my case is false). And now we are facing a literal, potential death sentence in front of us. Yes, it’s all a recipe for disaster on every level. As things get worse, the staff get more belligerent and jaded. I'm seeing this every day at an increasing pace. I’m afraid that eventually there will be a "disturbance" or a "riot" which could become very violent. Inmates experience profound stress and anxiety, knowing the disease is ravaging Detroit, where thousands of these men and women’s families live. They are both helpless to assist their loved ones and many are unable to get any information from the outside.
I've been at prisons that "blew up" (like here in 1996). It takes very little to start a riot. Desperate enough, many know they will never go home, some will make a foolish effort and hundreds will follow; not because they are "bad people"; (they haven't tried to escape all these years), but because they will conclude that dying free, even for a moment, is better than dying abandoned, filthy and sick in a prison cell. And those of us who don’t participate in such insanity will also pay for their actions. Here's an ironic but very relevant observation. Over the years, prisoners and their families, as well as staff at all levels, have told me how my case made them "lose any hope of justice or relief". Seeing all the support, the programs, articles, mountains of evidence, the documentary and the incredible people fighting for me and then to see all my appeals denied, discourages others who are actually innocent. They have come to see how very rigged our "justice" (i.e. "just us") system is. I hear near-daily, "If you can't get justice, Kensu, no one can!". I can see the depression and the hopelessness in their eyes. When I run into them years later - "You're still in here?"
What the Governor and MDOC can do: The majority of MDOC prisoners are scheduled to be released at some point and thousands are within a few years of their outdates. They're no more "dangerous" now than they will be then, so why aren't they being released to take the massive burden off the MDOC and the taxpayers? This says nothing of the costs for all those that have the virus and become ill. To the good people who believe in what America and our system are supposed to be, this should bring pain, sorrow, and shame, but also a fiery determination to see all of this changed for the better. Perhaps that's the one thing that this terrible tragedy can do if we let it.
Thanks for asking, Dave.
Temjin Kensu, #189355
Macomb Correctional Facility
34625 26 Mile Rd. Lenox Township, MI 48048