Colorado recently ended the death penalty, and yet older and medically vulnerable Coloradans are facing a potential death sentence in prisons that have failed to protect them from COVID-19.
A prison sentence should not be a death sentence. Join us to free the elderly and sick from Colorado’s prisons and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Anthony is 84-years-old and has spent 30 years incarcerated. He spends each day terrified of catching COVID-19.
“I fear the way the COVID-19 has ravaged this facility. It has put a great deal of us at-risk adults in harm’s way. For me, this can be a potential death sentence. At my age and with underlying health conditions, this feels like cruel and unusual punishment.”
— Anthony Martinez
Anthony Martinez is an 84-year-old grandfather suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.
Anthony has spent over 30 years behind bars for a series of robberies. He has paid a substantial debt to society for these crimes. With his age and infirmity, no one can argue he is a public safety risk, but he has a substantial risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 if he remains incarcerated. Despite this, his special needs parole application was denied.
Anthony’s niece, Kelly, has a room in her home waiting for him to spend his final years. She says, “Only nine people on the side of the prison where my uncle is currently held are still negative for COVID-19. It’s all around him and it’s only a matter of time before he gets sick. I know my uncle is lonely and isolated. He uses a wheelchair, is hard of hearing and is locked in his cell almost all day. Prison is no place for elderly people. Please, I need my uncle home before he dies.”
In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.
Ronald Johnson is a 62-year-old father and grandfather who has turned his life around in prison after being convicted of non-violent offenses related to substance abuse.
“I spent the first few years of my incarceration blaming my actions on my drug use. As I have grown, and looked into myself, I have come to take responsibility for the choices I made. Once I accepted the harm my role caused others, I actively sought out ways that I could make amends.”
— Ronald Johnson
Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”
Ronald has served 22 years in prison for theft, forgery, fraud and drug possession, and he takes full responsibility for his actions. Amber has seen how her father has changed. She recalls when she was 18, headed to college and heard her father was sentenced to 96 years in prison. She says, “I did not have a lot of respect for him when he was first sentenced. I told him I was so disappointed that his careless actions were going to cause so much suffering for his family. Since I said that, he made a change. He has been sober 15 years and I have witnessed the transformation. Now, I have a dad. I have someone I respect and love. He is a model in the prison, and he will better our community when he is free.”
Ronald has spent decades devoting himself to self-improvement and supporting other incarcerated people. He is an Offender Care Aide who assists incarcerated people with medical disabilities, mentors incarcerated people earning their GED and coordinates the mental health course offered to incarcerated people. He has completed numerous job trainings, courses and programs including Bridges to Life and Thinking for a Change. Ronald has spent over ten years in an incentive unit, which requires him to avoid disciplinary infractions, where he assists staff with maintenance of the facility. He says, “Ten years ago, I never would have believed I would be working with, and alongside, correctional staff. Just as times change, so do people and so have I.”
Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release. Amber says, “When people say “Black Lives Matter”, they mean that our lives are not dispensable. My dad was sentenced to 96 years in prison for a nonviolent offense fueled by addiction and desperation. His incarceration has caused four generations – from his parents who died before seeing their son free to my children growing up without a grandpa – unspeakable pain and trauma. We have lost so much time with him. We just need him safely home.”
Gary is a 58-year-old husband, father and grandfather with severe respiratory problems serving a one-year sentence for drug possession at Sterling, the site of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.
“Being in prison during the pandemic means always feeling afraid. The other day I was literally crying because I didn’t know if I was sick or not. I love my wife and I need to be out there with her to help her as she’s going through this cancer.”
— Gary Winston
Gary Winston is 58 and suffers from severe respiratory problems. While incarcerated in jail, Gary was on oxygen continuously for over a month after his oxygen levels fell dangerously low, and he continues to require two inhalers. He also has a history of cardiac problems and is on medication for high blood pressure. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, where COVID-19 is tearing through the prison. Gary is serving a one-year sentence for drug possession and is eligible for regular parole in one month. Even though he faces the possibility of serious illness or death if he contracts COVID-19, Gary’s request for special needs parole was “deferred.”
Gary has two children and three grandchildren. His wife, Sandra Winston, is desperate for his release. She says, “It feels like he’s in hell and I can’t do anything to help him. The prison is a petri dish and the virus is spreading fast. The man who died in Sterling had upper respiratory problems just like Gary. I don’t want my husband to die. I know he’s not perfect, he’s messed up in the past but these men are human beings. During this pandemic, I don’t understand why we keep nonviolent and medically vulnerable people in prison. It feels like they are cutting out my heart and crushing it.”
Sandra has delayed necessary surgery for her stage-four colon cancer because as long as Gary remains incarcerated, there is no one to help her after she is released from the hospital. She says, “After chemo, sometimes I don’t have the strength to get out of bed. You don’t realize how much you need someone until they leave and my fear is that I might never get him back. As long as he’s stuck in there, I feel like I’m stuck in there with him.”
James Cranfill is a 62 year old grandfather and Navy veteran incarcerated at the Trinidad Correctional Facility. He suffers from chronic inflammatory lung disease, a condition that puts him at grave risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.
Due to his underlying health conditions, James applied for COVID-related Special Needs Parole but, because Governor Polis failed to renew the Executive Order granting the Colorado Department of Corrections the ability to release vulnerable incarcerated people, James remains in prison with no way out.
James has served seven years in prison for robbing a bank. He had no weapon, and no one was hurt. According to news reports, James walked into the bank, handed a piece of paper to the teller demanding money, the teller gave him the money and James left. He was later arrested after being identified in security footage. Though it does not justify his actions, James’ crime was non-violent, and driven by desperation and poverty.
“The crime was not committed with a motive of causing violence or hurting anyone,” said his son Will. “Though it sounds serious, his conviction was for a nonviolent offense. He felt this was the only way to provide for his family. My father is a Navy veteran who has overcome childhood trauma and worked to become a better person. He is a peaceful, loving man who knows what he did was wrong.”
Since his incarceration, James has worked to better himself and the prison community. James is a life-long artist who has painted murals inside several DOC prisons, including one of antelopes grazing inside the psychiatric wing at the Trinidad Correctional Facility. James has also trained for eight weeks in the firefighting program and, following counseling for substance abuse, is proudly sober.
“My dad is a new man,” Will said. “He takes pride in creating beauty inside the DOC and that has given him purpose. He has so much to contribute to our community and our family. We just want him to come home.”
James’ two children, Will and Faith, and two grandchildren, Aspen and Dottie, are eagerly awaiting his release and homecoming. “My dad lives in fear of becoming sick, especially since he has already served so much of his sentence, is medically vulnerable, has grandchildren who need him home and has contributed everything he has to DOC with his art,” said Will. “We all fear that his prison sentence will become a death sentence.”
John is an IT expert and nature enthusiast who requires breathing treatments several times a day, and lives in fear of dying in prison.
“I am a father and grandfather of three. I am scared about what will happen to me if I get COVID-19. I frequently wonder if I will get the chance to get out and meet my three grandchildren and be reunited with my other family members.”
— John Peckham
John Peckham suffers from multiple chronic respiratory problems. He has already been hospitalized due to dangerously low oxygen levels and requires breathing treatments several times a day. In support of John’s release, his doctor wrote, “I do not see how any correctional facility can fully protect him from COVID-19 and infection in his case would have dire consequences for the patient.”
Shortly after his parents’ deaths just months apart, John was evicted from his home. As a result of these emotional, financial and legal difficulties, he made a series of bad decisions. He has served five years for theft and becomes eligible for parole in 2023. According to his close friend Mark, “The fact that he got a twenty-year sentence for a non-violent crime reflects a problem with the criminal justice system. The truth is that in prison, you can’t social distance. If John becomes sick with COVID-19, he has little chance of surviving. That scares me.”
Before his incarceration, John had a good job, a passion for IT and loved spending time in nature. His friends describe him as smart, generous and deeply curious. While in prison, John has received certificates in multiple work training programs. John says, “Prison has humbled me greatly. I am zero risk to the public.” CDOC’s own assessments confirm John does not pose a risk to the public and yet he remains in prison. John’s greatest fear is dying while incarcerated. He says, “If I’m going to go, I would rather go free on the outside than trapped behind these walls.”
Chris is an accomplished artist, dog trainer, community leader and grandmother with severe asthma who is eager to rejoin her family.
Christine Nye, 48, has heart arrhythmia and severe asthma that has required her to use two inhalers since her late 20s. Ms. Nye arrived in prison as a young 20-year-old who had survived a traumatic life. In her nearly three decades behind bars, she has matured greatly and is now a talented artist who has a lead position in the print shop at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF). She has also worked as an Offender Care Aide, helping incarcerated people with disabilities and medical conditions, and as a dog trainer. For many years, she participated in the Shape Up program to encourage juveniles to follow the law. She is currently a student in DWCF’s Culinary Arts Program and serves as Bureau Chief for the Inside Report, a prison newspaper. Ms. Nye participated in the Denver University Prison Arts Initiative’s December 2019 production of “A Christmas Carol,” serving as its scenic designer and technical director. For many years, she has painted murals and helped decorate prison visiting rooms for holiday celebrations to improve the experience of children visiting their incarcerated mothers. Ms. Nye has formally and informally volunteered as a peer mentor for many other women in prison. She has a strong family support system waiting to help her transition home. A devoted daughter, mother, and grandmother, Ms. Nye is more than her worst mistakes. She deserves a chance to be of service to her family and society. She doesn’t deserve to die from COVID-19.
Kevin Taylor is a grandfather, mechanic and ordained minister incarcerated at the Colorado state Penitentiary, where COVID-19 is flaring up.
He suffers from a traumatic brain injury, as well as serious heart conditions which have required multiple surgeries and places him at a heightened risk of serious illness or death if he gets covid-19. Kevin’s family is desperate for his release. “If he gets COVID-19, I don’t know if he would survive with all his underlying medical conditions. I don’t want to lose my son,” says Barbara, Kevin’s mom.
Kevin has served nine years in prison for an assault that he greatly regrets. While under the influence of alcohol, he got involved in an altercation between his daughter and other men after witnessing her being abused by an older man. Barbara says, “He’s not a public safety risk. This happened because he wasn’t thinking straight and it’s a mistake for which he has taken full responsibility. After completing courses for substance abuse, he has been sober for the entirety of his prison sentence. I know this won’t happen again.”
Since incarceration, Kevin has worked to better himself and the prison. He has lived in an incentive unit for seven years, which requires excellent behavior. Kevin is employed full time doing maintenance, plumbing and yardwork in the prison. He also has been entrusted with a gate pass, which means he can leave the prison.
Barbara says, “He has turned his life around. His severe learning disabilities have always made it hard for him and he dropped out of school in eighth grade. Since his incarceration, he has earned his high school diploma and after years of Bible study, is an ordained minister.”
His dad, Al, says, “His passion has always been working with his hands. He has been a mechanic for years and his former boss at Best Auto has said that he will hire him as soon as he is released. Even in prison, whenever something is broken, Kevin is the one they call to fix it.”
Kevin has a close-knit family including four siblings, a daughter and two grandchildren who look forward to welcoming him home. His family describes him as a loving, funny and loyal father and son. Al said, “I can’t describe the stress of having your son in prison. I just don’t want to die before Kevin comes home. I can’t think of anything that would mean more to this family than to have our boy home.”
Barbara says, “He would be a salvation if he came home. We need help with the house and yard and car. He was always the one to help us and it’s been a struggle without him. All I dream about is having my son stand in my living room and being able to put my arms around him and know he’s safe. We are asking for a second chance.”
Marcel is a compassionate, loving father desperate to survive COVID-19 so he can hold his daughter once again.
Marcel has been in Sterling Correctional Facility — site of the state’s 2nd largest COVID-19 outbreak — since February 2020. He is scheduled for release in November, if he makes it out alive. Marcel is medically vulnerable because he has an arachnoid cyst in his head. He is at risk for blindness with this type of cyst and it is unknown how it would react to the virus. Marcel is unable to socially distance in his cell and feels there is not adequate access to medical care. His cellmate was sick and tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, Marcel and others were put in the hole for quarantine. While in the hole, inmates were refused cleaning supplies and the showers were not cleaned in between uses. Marcel stopped using the showers and bathed in the sink for fear of infection. With conditions at Sterling remaining status quo, it’s not a matter of if Marcel catches the virus but when. His mother Michelle is heartsick that Marcel’s daughter, Camblin, may never see her father again. No parent deserves to live with that fear.
Demika is a talented chef, actor and founder of the Women of Influence program, who suffers from severe asthma and deserves a second chance.
Demika Rogers suffers from severe asthma and pre-diabetes which places her at a higher risk of mortality if she contracts COVID-19. Ms. Rogers came to prison as a 25-year-old woman and has since dramatically transformed herself into a leader who works to help others. For more than a decade, she has lived in the incentive unit at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF), which requires her to maintain positive behavior and avoid disciplinary infractions. Ms. Rogers is a talented chef who worked in the culinary department at DWCF for many years. Currently, she works as a dog trainer. She has completed many rehabilitative programs and serves as a facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Program and the founder of Women of Influence, a program that mentors women serving lengthy sentences. Ms. Rogers participated in the Denver University Prison Arts Initiative’s December 2019 production of “A Christmas Carol,” playing the lead role of Scrooge. She received many accolades for her performance, which was seen by several thousand people in multiple performances both within DWCF and in the community. She has proven herself to be responsible and ready to be a contributing member of society. Ms. Rogers doesn’t deserve to die from COVID-19. She deserves a fighting chance.
Michael Kaiser is a 47-year-old husband, father, and recovering addict who is incarcerated at Sterling Correctional Facility for a non-violent offense, even as COVID-19 tears through the prison.
Because of underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, a high BMI and neuropathy in his feet, Michael faces a heightened risk of serious illness or death if he contracts COVID-19. His stepdad, Stephen, says, “Every day, we hear reports about how quickly COVID-19 is spreading in prison. Men with underlying conditions like Michael have already died in Sterling so we worry about him constantly. There is a good chance that if he gets COVID-19, he will die and that terrifies us.”
When Mike was 12 years old, he and a friend were playing in his apartment building, which caught fire. Mike ran into the burning building and rescued his friend but was severely burned. While recovering in the hospital burn unit, he was given morphine. By the time he was released, Mike was addicted to painkillers and has struggled with addiction his entire life. This battle with addiction culminated in his conviction for drug possession with intent to distribute.
Due to his underlying health issues and his incarceration for a nonviolent offense, he was approved for Special Needs Parole in the wake of COVID-19. Yet, he was not released because Governor Polis removed the authority of DOC to release vulnerable incarcerated people. Even as COVID-19 spreads through Sterling, Mike remains in prison.
Stephen said, “Substance abuse and addiction is hurting so many families. But the solution isn’t to throw people away in prison for years. That hurts families even more. It has caused so much pain for my wife and me that he’s serving this long sentence for a non-violent offense and we are robbed of a decade with our son.”
During his six years of incarceration, Mike has turned his life around. He has taken substance abuse courses and has learned the skills he needs to stay sober upon release. He has become a contributor to his prison community. Out of a desire to support his fellow incarcerated people who keep Kosher but had limited food options, he trained to become the only Kosher chef in Sterling. He has a spotless record with no disciplinary infractions.
Stephen said, “When he was first sentenced, he hit this really low point and he was forced to realize that he had messed up his life. I think a lot of people would have given up, but he has always been the most hardworking person I know. He has worked to become sober and is so proud to be free of addiction for the first time in his adult life. He understands that release would be a second chance and a salvation.”
Mike has a wife, two sisters and elderly parents eagerly waiting for his release. His family describe him as an extremely likable, intelligent and hard-working family man who is always willing to help other people. Before his incarceration, he ran a successful gutter company. He has a job lined up, a close support network and remains hopeful about his future upon release.
Stephen said, “At heart, he’s always been a good kid. He didn’t hesitate about running into a burning building. That’s the type of person he is. When we were getting married, our wedding venue fell through. Mike found us a new venue, saved the wedding and walked his mom down the aisle. When we moved into a new house, Mike painted the whole thing and moved us in. He was the one to come by to fix the car, mow the lawn and help around the house. His mom has COPD and is on oxygen 24/7 and I’m disabled with kidney disease. We need him home to care for us.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us feeling powerless, especially families whose loved ones remain at-risk inside Colorado prisons. But there is something that you can do — share your story. One of the most effective ways to change hearts and minds, and urge officials to protect medically vulnerable and elderly people in prisons, is through your personal experiences. By sharing your stories, you will help us better understand what is happening inside Colorado’s prisons and join us in advocating for the safe release of our most vulnerable neighbors. No one deserves to die from COVID-19. Your stories can help save lives.
If you are willing to share your story please email email@example.com
We will use the information you provide to advocate for people who are incarcerated and protect civil liberties for all. Please note: e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org does not offer or guarantee legal representation or advice.