“They Thought It Was a Joke”: The Outbreak at North Lake

“They were still moving people from other places, like especially California. And then when we tell them what was going on, they thought it was a joke. They would laugh about it. The major told us not to listen to the news. That it wasn’t really happening. […] They didn’t take it seriously. They laughed when we told them they could wear gloves, wear masks.”

No one outside the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan has been able to get official information on COVID-19 diagnoses at the facility since Monday, April 20th, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that nine people incarcerated at North Lake had tested positive, in addition to five guards. A spokesperson for the GEO Group has stopped responding to requests for information.

In a phone call from Monday the 20th, an immigrant incarcerated in the general population at North Lake spoke about the climate of indifference, dishonesty, and extreme negligence that led to the mounting cases of the virus within North Lake’s walls: constant transfers from around the country, well into the period of the Bureau of Prisons’ so-called lockdown, with people being shipped thousands of miles from low-security facilities and ending up in rural Michigan at a prison effectively running as a maximum-security facility or U.S. Penitentiary. Staff members telling incarcerated people not to listen to the news about the pandemic, and laughing at their requests for sanitary measures to keep themselves protected.

The actions of the GEO Group and Warden Donald Emerson have been catastrophic for the safety of everyone at North Lake, for the people of Lake County whose need for jobs GEO has ruthlessly exploited, and far beyond. We will continue to demand answers and to fight for the freedom of people held at this prison, which should never have been built in the first place, and should never have reopened.

#FreeThemAll

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