Never mind that he shouldn’t be in a federal prison at all.
Leonard Peltier, the Native American rights activist whom the FBI put behind bars decades ago without any evidence that he committed a crime, tells HuffPost that his facility’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns and failure to provide at least some inmates with booster shots has left him ― and likely others ― unbearably isolated and preparing for death.
Peltier, who is 77 years old and suffers from diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm, said the prison’s intensive coronavirus lockdowns are causing “anxiety and worry” to everyone, even employees. He recounted situations such as having little human contact or phone access for weeks at a time, no access to regular baths or significant meals, and no opportunity to gaze out a window
or breathe fresh air.
Peltier’s facility, a high-security penitentiary in Florida called USP Coleman I, is currently one of 98 federal prisons at a Level 3 COVID-19 operational level, which means its COVID medical isolation rate
is at the highest level. For the facility’s 1,335 inmates, this translates to no contact with other people within the facility and no visitation from anyone externally.
According to Peltier’s attorney, Kevin Sharp, the Coleman facility has been on COVID lockdown since January 11. Since March 2021, it has imposed COVID lockdowns that last for days or even weeks. March 6-15, June 14-30, and December 12-January 4 were among the lengthier periods, according to Sharp.
Peltier claims that constant lockdowns aren’t only emotionally draining. He said that he and others in his cellblock had yet to get their COVID booster dosages. They should have had them by now; the first round of vaccines was given to all federal inmates in May, which means the six-month window for being vaccinated to prevent serious illness or death has gone.
Peltier had his first COVID-19 vaccination shot in January 2021, followed by his second in May 2021, suggesting that he was ready for a booster in November, according to Sharp. According to Sharp, Peltier asks the prison’s medical staff when he and others in his cellblock would receive their booster shots “every time he gets,” and they always say they don’t know.
People who live in prisons are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because to factors such as cramped quarters, insufficient ventilation in aged institutions, and the fact that some prison personnel are not vaccinated. However, the situation becomes untenable when offenders like Peltier are denied human contact for weeks at a time and there are no information on when a COVID-19 immunization booster will be available.
It’s difficult to say how many individuals in the vast federal prison system haven’t had their booster vaccinations. There are now 153,855 inmates detained in federal prisons, with the Federal Bureau of Prisons housing 135,100 of them.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not make statistics about inmates’ booster shot rates public, according to Donald Murphy, a spokesman for the agency. Instead, he directed people to the department’s COVID resource page, which has information on the total number of COVID-19 immunization doses administered to inmates and employees since last year.
“We are not breaking this number down to reflect booster shots only,” he said.
Since the COVID-19 vaccination became available in May, the Bureau of Prisons has received 316,714 doses and delivered 287,681 doses to employees and prisoners, according to its website. These figures include Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose vaccinations, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.
Murphy refused to comment on “anecdotal claims” or “conditions of detention for any individual inmate” at the Coleman facility, citing “anecdotal allegations” and “conditions of confinement for any particular inmate.”
Despite the fact that Peltier has not been provided one and has seen no evidence of it being administered to other inmates on his cellblock, he did note that the Coleman facility “is now giving COVID booster immunizations for detainees.”
Murphy also stated that the Bureau of Prisons follows the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for COVID-19 quarantine and medical isolation protocols.
Peltier made the following statement to HuffPost about the circumstances within Coleman:
COVID has turned Coleman Prison back to the Dark Ages. I remember a time at Marion USP when I was put in solitary for so long, when 72 hours could make you start to forget who you were. I once wrote down who I was on the concrete floor under my bed, so if I forgot, I could read it back to myself. I traded my last cigarette for a pencil. I’d rush to the door when a guard left the meager plate of food, just to see a glimpse of another human being — even if it was one that hated me, it was another human and good for my mind for a minute.
I’m in hell, and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can. I cling to the belief that people are out there doing what they can to change our circumstances in here. The fear and stress are taking a toll on everyone, including the staff. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. The whole institution is on total LOCKDOWN.
In and out of lockdown last year at least meant a shower every third day, a meal beyond a sandwich wet with a little peanut butter — but now with COVID for an excuse, nothing. No phone, no window, no fresh air — no humans to gather — no love ones voice. No relief. Left alone and without attention is like a torture chamber for the sick and old.
Where are our human rights activists? You are hearing from me, and with me, many desperate men and women! They are turning an already harsh environment into an asylum, and for many who did not receive a death penalty, we are now staring down the face of
one! Help me, my brothers and sisters, help me my good friends.
Peltier is America’s longest-serving political prisoner. He’s been behind bars for 45 years for the 1975 murders of two FBI agents during a shootout on a Native American reservation ― something he has long said he didn’t do, even when it meant he could have been paroled if he said he did. His trial was riddled with misconduct and even the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison so long ago is now pleading with President Joe Biden to grant him clemency because he says, federal officials never had evidence that he committed a crime.
His imprisonment has drawn protests from an astounding mix of international human rights leaders including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King. Elected tribal leaders and the National Congress of American Indians have also passed resolutions urging clemency.