We Lost Our Liberty, Not Our Humanity!

How COVID-19-Virus Has Negatively Impacted Prisoners at the Monroe CorrectionS Complex -WSRU.

By Sister “J.Lee” Sutton.



            Prison. I cannot imagine that “in the land of the free, & the home of the brave” that we would have more people incarcerated in this country than in any other around the world.

            Prison. This word has so many meanings. Some say it is described as: a place of darkness, with little light. Some say it is described as: hell on earth. If you’ve never been an unfortunate soul subjected to living inside a Prison, then you cannot truly say you understand what it is like.

            Throughout work history, Prison was a place designed to exact punishment upon the humans who lived inside its walls.

            In the past few years, society has changed its opinion on the use and construction of jails and Prisons. Today, there is a strong moral/ethical movement for change, and the eventual (hopeful) abolishment of the “Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).” One day at a time, we move towards this goal.

            Today, we hear stories of what living inside a Prison was like, for those lucky few who make it out alive.

            Those stories are raw, graphic, and emotional truths as to how human beings are being treated inside Washington State Prisons, and in other Prisons across the disunited State of America. For example, some cells where these humans once lived are described as dark, dank, cold, or too hot, with little to no adequate ventilation, & the meals are similar to eating “dog food.” I guess in today’s America, this somehow humane, and acceptable in the minds of the Captors.

            For some, this has become a nightmare before their eyes. A nightmare that they cannot seem to wake from.

            Today, the injustice system defines Prison as a system of corrections. You may have never heard the statement defining Prison as a “Corrections Center,” etc.. Nothing can be further from the truth. What is the system “correcting?” When it seems as if this system cannot correct itself.

            In Washington State, this system is called the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC).

            We are told that DOC is a trustworthy operation and that its primary goal is the safety and security of its Prisoner population, along with all its facilities. If this author’s experience however (after serving 26 years within the bowels of DOC), a normal day within DOC has its share of challenges and unique circumstances. Truth be told, some of these issues are actually caused by power hungry employees who are taught that Prisoners are not human enough or that Prisoners are all con-artists, liars, two-faced-inhuman-beings that cannot be trusted whatsoever. With this DOC “C.O.R.E.” training, DOC employees immediately pre-judge and distrust Prisoners. They are incorrectly taught that ALL Prisoners lie and are not to be trusted. The illogical theory is that ONLY DOC EMPLOYEES TELL THE TRUTH “ALL THE TIME,” YOU CAN ALWAYS TRUST DOC STAFF.

            As if DOC employees have never lied in their entire lives, or that they are not capable of lying or distorting the truth.

            This unfortunate DOC “C.O.R.E.” training can easily be changed to make it more fair/equal to reality. Yet, there seems to be not a very large movement towards that end.

            Case in point. This DOC created conflict between DOC employees & Prisoners has created an environment of distrust.

            This has also led to an environment of animosity between State agents and Prisoners. One that will not change overnight.

            This author has personally experienced this animosity firsthand. Little-to-nothing is done to “correct” DOC staff misconduct issues. Yes, state agents enforce that a Prisoner must obey and “correct” theirs. A double-standard.

            This type of environment is dangerous. Deep wounds have been created by DOC which will heal in a day or two.

            If all this is not bad enough, now Washington State’s Prisoners and DOC employees are faced with the additional challenge of an invisible virus, which does not discriminate and does not care what type of costumes you wear.

            COVID-19-Virus will pay you a visit if you’re not careful. If you ignore medical professional advice, you may be the next victim of this virus. Social distancing (as directed) is a form, and method used to combat this virus. However, how do you “socially distance” inside an overcrowded Prison? 


            In December of 2019, an outbreak of the respiratory disease associated with a novel coronavirus (new virus) was reported in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, this virus has spread worldwide, some say due to a failure by officials to make immediate reports to the World Health Organization (W.H.O). Some say the W.H.O. knew about it early-on and had failed to pass the information forward to the World so that the rest of the World could protect itself. No matter who is to blame, WE all must face this crisis together.

            On March 11, 2020, the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a PANDEMIC. By this time, it had already spread well-beyond the borders of China due to international travel.

            The first reported death of COVID-19, in this country, was dated February 2020. According to experts, the first reported positive test and eventual death were registered in Washington State. Our own backyard. Thank you, leaders.

            Since then, the number of positive cases and relative deaths have been on the rise. This is expected to continue for some time until we can flatten the curve, as they say. (See, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services Report # 03, dated on: April 2020. This author has  a copy for you if requested through Ed Mead).

            With the virus reported to have spread within the confines of the MONROE CORRECTIONS COMPLEX – WSRU, are we really that surprised that humans “locked-up” would react the way they did?


            On April 08, 2020, at the “camp-facility” outside the main Reformatory walls, numerous “incarcerated individuals” began a disturbance/protest over “living conditions” that they felt were unsafe/unhealthy. It was reported by the families of these Prisoners that they were not being told the truth concerning the extent of the outbreak within the confines of the building they were forced to reside in.

            Because of the contributing factor of “overcrowding” within DOC, and the fact that the obsolete buildings are not designed for social distancing, human beings incarcerated (no matter what for) were forced to interact in close quarters with each other, which caused an “incubator” in the City of Monroe’s Prison.

            Due to this obvious and not disputed fact, numerous human rights organization and attorneys stepped up to offer their help/support. One such law firm is Columbia Legal Services (CLS).  (Phone: 206-464-1122 & 206-382-3399). Attorney Nick B. Straley is the lead attorney in the following civil action: Shyanne Colvin, et al., vs. Jay Inslee, et al., Wash. State Supreme Court, Case NO. 98317-8.

            For context, this litigation began as an “Emergency motion” or “Mandamus action” seeking the immediate release of some “vulnerable Prisoners” at WSRU and at the Washington Corrections Center for female Prisoners. (Purdy).

            This case generated much media attention, especially when local T.V.W. channel began broadcasting the live oral arguments via teleconference.

            Numerous human beings at WSRU had the opportunity to watch these proceedings in the high Court. Especially, your well-known “jailhouse lawyers,” commonly known as “writ-writers.” This broadcast happened on April 23, 2020.

            After the high Court heard arguments from both sides, the Court declined to grant the relief requested.

            This Order from the high Court was decided the same day as the T.V.W. broadcast/oral argument hearing. The Court’s Order found that, “on the record presented, Petitioners (the Prisoners) have not shown that the Respondent’s (State’s) actions constitute deliberate indifference to the Covid-19 risk at DOC facilities” and that “Petitioners have not shown that Respondents are CURRENTLY failing to perform a mandatory, nondiscriminatory duty in addressing the COVID-19 risk at [DOC] facilities.”

            However, this Order did not terminate review. See letter from Deputy Clerk, dated: May 08, 2020.

            This case is still active, and CLS is working hard at finding a way to have the Court Order more releases from Prison, or to move that the Governor and Secretary of DOC do more to release humans from the confines of Prison.

            With all the publicity surrounding this topic and due to the immense amount of litigation going around this county concerning the COVID-19 Virus, this author wanted to speak to a person directly impacted by what DOC has either done or not done in response to this virus outbreak within the confines of WSRU. This person is a well-known “jailhouse lawyer” & this person’s father is on DOC’s Family Counsel, along with this person being connected and in touch with numerous outside organization and prison abolishment groups. This is person is Julian Tarver.


            J.Lee: Greetings Julian. Thank you for taking your time to be interviewed today.

            Julian: Not a problem. It’s an honor to be interviewed. I appreciate all you hard work J.Lee.

            J.Lee: As you know, this COVID-19-Virus is a danger to us all. From your perspective, how has DOC handled it?

            Julian: Not very well. DOC was late in its prevention methods and DOC officials brought the virus to work with them. This, unfortunately, cause d some of “US” to get sick. Some lost their lives over this.

            J.Lee: Your speaking about DOC employee lives or the lives of incarcerated individuals?

            Julian: Both. DOC employees brought it inside the Prison. This exposed “US” to the virus and some of “US” got sick, and some of “US” lost our lives. Also, it has been said that a DOC employee also lost his life while working dor DOC. I believe this DOC employee contracted the virus in society, brought it to work with him, didn’t know he had it, until her was tested. It turned out to be positive. After exposing “US” he went into the hospital and died shortly thereafter.

            J Lee: So, DOC places “US” all at risk to contract it?

            Julian: Absolutely. This cannot be disputed.

            J.Lee: With this unfortunate exposure, how many of “US” at Monroe Prison have been subjected to pain & suffering?

            Julian: the number is substantial. I work alongside the Corrections Ombuds office and I speak to investigators almost every day. They have reports detailing what has happened. If you would like copies of these reports, just phone: E.V. Webb or Joanna Carns @ 360-664-4749. There is also a weekly conference call line, at 360-407-3831. Passcode=821205. Just give them a call, and they can assist you.

            J. Lee: How have you been coping with all of this drama?

            Julian: I have a large support team. My father is on fire to make change happen. He meets with the DOC Family Council every week over the phone. I have close friends, such as yourself, that keep me grounded and focused on positive energy. You help me stay away from negative influences. Along with many outside organizations and human-rights advocates, like “Beyond These Walls,” I have been able to stay positive while living around a bunch of miserable people.

            J. Lee: I suppose then, you are an example for others to follow, as far as how to cope in this negative environment?

            Julian: Yes, you could say that. Most importantly, I have a desire to help those less fortunate than me. 

            J.Lee: Last question for you. If you were to sum-up what DOC’s response to this crisis has been, and place it on a scale of 01-10, 01 (of course being terrible), what would your number on this scale be?

            Julian: My number would be below zero.

J.Lee: Wow! That’s significant. Why so low?

Julian: It’s a combination of things. For one, DOC was late rolling-out its prevention measures, then DOC failed to begin testing its employees early on, before they were allowed into the Prison. This contributed to the employees coming into the facility and exposing all Prisoners to the virus. Then, it’s been reported that multiple Prisoners, and DOC employees were getting sick, and some of them actually lost their lives.

The problems within DOC command structure seems to be getting worse, not better. For example, information is not being passed down properly to line staff. Also, there seems to be a “lack of communication” between duty stations.

Staff morale is low, due to command staff making their subordinate line staff do “multiple overtime shifts” per week.

DOC employees are very tired, stressed to the max, & some of them do not want to come to work.

J.Lee: Wow! So, in your opinion, based on all the facts (that you have been made aware of), DOC is in crisis mode, and it cannot seem to manage its Prisons during this COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

Julian: Yes! Absolutely! DOC is in real trouble. DOC is force to also cut its budget, and furlough workers, due to the crisis. There does not seem to be a way out of this mess, unless drastic measures are taken to protect us all.

J.Lee: Julain. This has been an insightful interview. I wish you all the best, and please stay safe as best you can. Say hello to your Father for me.

Julian: Thanks J.Lee. You as well.

In closing: It is surprising to me, that DOC is allowed to continue to operate, when it seems clear that DOC is in crisis mode, and is failing on every level, and in every department. DOC does not seem to understand that this virus will continue to kill Prisoners, unless DOC Secretary STEPHEN SINCLAIR, & Governor JAY INSLEE do more to Order the immediate release of State Prisoners.

Maybe, this State should shut-down all its Prisons, in order to save lives. Oh. right. That seems to be wishful thinking.

            It is very clear to this author that Prisoners’ lives do not matter to Governor Inslee or to Secretary Sinclair.

            Until ALL INMATE LIVES MATTER, we will never see significant changes made this “correction system.”

            Until ALL INMATE LIVES MATTER, the pain & misery WE ALL FEEL will continue to be unabated. We must ALL WORK TOGETHER to make lasting and real change happen, from Insideout.

            I’m Sister J. Lee Sutton.

Updates from the University of Washington Bothell's Project on Mass Incarceration in Washington State