To show support for inmates who experienced the COVID-19 pandemic behind bars, the Lompoc Prison Task Force and the organization Love Your Inmate coordinated a flyover Saturday at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution.
Organizers from Love Your Inmate gathered with family members of imprisoned persons on Saturday to watch as a small plane towed a banner that said, “FCC Prisoners You Are Not Forgotten.”
Inmates watched as the plane flew overhead, filling them with a sense of love and support, Chrissie Rogers, a spokesperson for Love Your Inmate, said in an email Monday to the News-Press.
“Many of the men witnessed the flyover from either the windows of their cells or (while) outside,” Ms. Rogers said. “This flyover has been the discussion since Saturday. I immediately began to get emails from a few of the men full of thanks and appreciation. Some expressed how they felt the love and support, and others expressed how it made them feel alive again.”
One family member of an inmate, Nicole Fears of Atlanta, attended the flyover event on Saturday and told Ms. Rodgers that she felt “chills” as the plane flew overhead.
“For that moment, I thought the men of Lompoc will truly know they are not forgotten,” Ms. Fears said.
During the pandemic, more than 1,000 Lompoc inmates contracted COVID-19, and four died from the virus, according to data from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Early on in the pandemic, the prison’s COVID-19 cases accounted for more than 65% of the county’s cases, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the prison led to a class action lawsuit from the ACLU. The suit is still active.
The original event to support inmates was scheduled as a balloon release in February, but environmental group Heal The Ocean raised objections about the long-term effects of the balloons on Lompoc’s landscape and nearby shores. The group, which acts as an environmental watchdog in Santa Barbara County, advocates reducing plastic waste and pollution in the ocean.
Balloons, even if they are biodegradable, can end up stuck in trees and in the ocean. This can harm birds and other wildlife who ingest the plastic or become strangled by the balloon strings, Hillary Hauser, president and executive director of Heal The Ocean, told the News-Press.
To remedy this concern, the nonprofit chartered a plane from a skywriting company to fly a banner over the prison.
“We always, no matter what the situation is, try to come up with a solution rather than just saying, ‘No, you can’t do that,” Hillary Hauser, president and executive director of HTO, told the News-Press.
Though renting a plane is a pricey alternative, Ms. Hauser said it was worth it to reduce the risk of environmental harm.
“That’s how much we care about not having balloons drifting in the ocean and into the landscape and hurting wildlife.”