PULSE ENCOUNTER SERIES
There is a national push for the release of prisoners, who could be infected by the coronavirus behind prison walls. The fight in Michigan is garnering attention after a recent report indicated that the virus has spread to four more prisons in the state. For example, an African American inmate William Garrison, just died of the virus days before he was set to be released on parole by the Michigan Department of Corrections after serving 44 years behind bars.
In Detroit, Janice Green, who goes by the name of Jay Love on social media, is leading her own crusade to get the attention of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer so that her 31-year-old son Gerard Haycraft, who was convicted of an unarmed robbery, and currently at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, can be released before he is infected with the virus. Haycraft according to Green was diagnosed with the Crohn’s disease at 15, which according to the National Institutes of Health, “is a chronic idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease which affects any site of the gastrointestinal tract and occasionally extraintestinal organs.” Green maintains that her son is innocent of the crime. She has resorted to publishing daily journals of her phone conversations with Haycraft on Facebook. It remains to be seen if Gov. Whitmer will pick up the proverbial 3 a.m. call from Green and others who are in similar situations.
In this interview with Bankole Thompson, the editor-chief of The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s independent and non-partisan anti-poverty think tank, Green makes a direct appeal to Whitmer to release her son and other Michigan prisoners who are vulnerable including the elderly before they get infected by the deadly virus. Read on.
PULSE: How long has your son Gerard Haycraft being incarcerated?
JANICE GREEN: Gerard has been incarcerated since January 24, 2019.
PULSE: What’s the crime that led him to prison?
JANICE GREEN: Gerard was convicted of a unarmed robbery, and he’s presently at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson MI. Gerard is absolutely innocent. With the help of his new lawyer, Gerard is looking forward to clearing his name of this wrongful conviction through the appeals process.
PULSE: You are concerned that he might be infected by the virus?
JANICE GREEN: Absolutely. I am very concerned about Gerard’s health condition and praying daily that he doesn’t get infected. Gerard’s unit was quarantined on March 8, 2020 due to what was told to me as the flu. On March 10, 2020 was when the governor announced that Michigan had cases of coronavirus. I find it interesting that on April 8, 2020 after a month of being quarantined, Gerard’s unit has individuals sick and confirmed to have COVID-19. My question is how did this happen? Now Gerard called me on this day stating people were being removed from the unit due to coronavirus symptoms. I became very concerned and contacted the Ombudsman immediately. Gerard’s has pre-existing conditions. He suffers from severe Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease compromises the immune system and makes Gerard vulnerable to viruses.
PULSE: Tell us more about his Crohn’s disease.
JANICE GREEN: Yes. Gerard was diagnosed with the Crohn’s disease at 15 years old. He has never been in remission. Gerard’s condition is severe. He has been taking a monthly IV infusion of a medication called Remicade since age 16 to maintain his health. Crohn’s disease causes extreme abdominal pain, uncontrollable diarrhea resulting in weight loss, anemia, and fatigue. Most people with severe Crohn’s disease are often considered malnutrition because they can’t keep anything in their body.
PULSE: What is his medication process for the disease?
JANICE GREEN: Gerard is currently prescribed a medication called Renflexis by the Michigan Department of Correction. Renflexis is supposedly biosimilar to Remicade. This means that Renflexis acts in a similar way to Remicade. Renflexis is administered to Gerard the same through IV. It’s a three hour process. However, he became very sick. Eventually Gerard was prescribed Prednisone in addition to the Renflexis. Prednisone is a steroid that’s use to treat Crohn’s disease to minimize the flare ups that occurs before the next infusion. Gerard’s infusion treatments at MDOC happen every six weeks. Normally when he’s this sick, Gerard’s treatments would occur more like every four weeks. Prednisone is a temporary fix but right now it appears to me that the doctors at MDOC are continuing to give Gerard this medication to keep his weight up and to mask the real issues.
PULSE: Are you very worried now?
JANICE GREEN: Absolutely! Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation of the digestive system, that often results in injuries to the intestines. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that weakens the immune system, which can make him vulnerable to COVID-19. A healthy immune system guards the body against germs, bacteria and viruses. Having a weakened immune system decreases the body’s ability to fight off illnesses. I pray everyday for Gerard. Since being in prison he has been very ill. At one point Gerard lost over 25 pounds due to the subpar healthcare he was given. Gerard was barely walking or eating. I had to contact Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s office for help to get Gerard medical attention. The ombudsman of corrections became involved to help make it possible for Gerard to be seen by a GI specialist (gastroenterologist). So with the not so good experience I have already had with advocating for Gerard’s healthcare since he’s been at Cotton I am very worried.
PULSE: What is he telling you about what is happening behind the prison walls right now with the pandemic?
JANICE GREEN: I talk to Gerard often, more now since the outbreak started at Cotton. In the beginning the staff were separating the sick inmates by quarantining the sick and those who may have been in close contact with them. Gerard would call every time when people were being removed. The facility did give the inmates masks. but the masks aren’t a sense of relief when people are constantly getting sick. Sick people are being removed from the unit due to coronavirus symptoms and not returning. It is very stressful in that environment. Also stress is a trigger that increases Crohn’s disease flare-ups. Gerard is very anxious about what’s going on and so he calls me. He wants to keep me in the know of what’s was going on. I could hear the nervousness in his voice as Gerard explained that he was told by the health staff that he is vulnerable to become sick because of his current health condition. So Gerard and I made a agreement that he can call as often as he needs to. During these calls, we discuss the things that he could do to keep himself safe, like washing his hands often, always wear the mask, keep clean as possible, do deep breathing exercises and drink fluids.
PULSE: Are you aware of any actions the Michigan Department of Corrections has taken to keep prisoners like Gerard and all prisoners safe?
JANICE GREEN: Well, I was told that MDOC implemented social distancing. How is social distancing even possible with 200-300 men in a unit, and 6-8 men in a cube? Allegedly, MDOC has allowed bleach water for cleaning, inmates have masks and they are separated during meal time. No outside visitors, no classes. That’s pretty much all I am aware of. As for the sick and vulnerable inmates, I haven’t heard of anything specifically that MDOC is doing outside of taking temperatures to keep them safe.
PULSE: Have you written to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about the issue?
JANICE GREEN: I have emailed the governor, contacted the Ombudsman, signed petitions….but no real response and no real action as far as I am concerned has taken place.
PULSE: Have you reached out to the Michigan Department of Corrections about the issue?
JANICE GREEN: No not MDOC personally. However, I have contacted the Office of Legislative Corrections Ombudsman about my concerns so he could get the answers to my issues from MDOC.
PULSE: Do you think that prisoners are being ignored in this fight to control the pandemic?
JANICE GREEN: Yes. I feel that our elected officials are not doing enough to stop the spread of coronavirus within the prisons. Honestly, I believe that because it may not be politically comfortable for those who are in power to show support to the prisoners, so they just say nothing. They may talk reform and restorative justice but their actions prove otherwise. Prisons are a petri dish to a pandemic and doing nothing is ethically irresponsible. We need leaders that care more about people and not just focus on their next career move. Inmates lives matter! We are all deserving to a second chance. If only our leaders would care more about accuracy and reliability than they care about retribution they would have more compassion, and would do more to assist those that are incarcerated. Unfortunately, systemic racism and the oppressive culture of our society has created the narrative that those in prison are thrown away people who can’t be rehabilitated. This creates a lack of concern and slowness to react. We must remember not everyone in prison will be there long term. The goal should be that people who are reentering society return better than when they left. Instead, they all are now living in fear that coronavirus will be a death sentence in a state that doesn’t have the death penalty because no one is taking action to do anything. According to data obtained from the governor’s jail task force, Michigan prisons are very overcrowded during a time where there is less crime. It seems like it’s a no brainer that she would start moving people out considering the circumstance. Governor Whitmer stated that she’s committed to reform. So why isn’t she using her executive power to move prisoners out of an overcrowded system that will lessen the opportunity of infected individuals?
PULSE: What would you like to see happen now?
JANICE GREEN: I would like Governor Whitmer to release those who are vulnerable, sick, and elderly so that they will not succumb to infection of coronavirus. I would also like for the governor to begin paroling those who are within one year of their release date by restoring “good time”. For those inmates that can be paroled, who have homes to return to, allow their release. For those inmates without housing, but are up for release, implement emergency housing. It is dangerous to keep holding people inside unnecessarily during this pandemic. Establish reentry services and healthcare for those who are paroled because this will take some of the strain off of the MDOC. I would also like for the governor to reopen one of the numerous closed MDOC facilities and use it as a temporary hospital for all infected COVID-19 inmates to ensure proper healthcare to all so they don’t infect other inmates. Also provide all staff with the 15 minute coronavirus test to ensure no more potential for spread. And of course release Gerard as soon as possible. Visit www.freegerard.com and sign our petition.