Small gathering honors COVID-19-related inmate deaths
Members of the Lompoc Prison Task Force and representatives from Supervisor Joan Hartmann’s and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal’s office gathered at Ryon Memorial Park Sunday to raise awareness of COVID-19 deaths inside Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution.
Love Your Inmate, an organization that supports inmates and their families, collaborated with the task force to plan the event.
“The event is a reminder to those incarcerated at the Lompoc Federal Prison that they are not forgotten and to recognize those seven lives lost due to COVID-19,” Chrissie Rogers, a spokeswoman for Love Your Inmate, told the News-Press prior to the event.
“Today is just to say that we know it’s been a year, but we’re still here. We’re still fighting for you,” Tanya Hyde, Lompoc Prison Task Force member, told the News-Press Sunday.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons recorded over 1,000 COVID-19 cases in the penitentiary and prison and five deaths over the past year.
Five white roses sat on a table Sunday to commemorate the five deceased inmates, and red roses represented family members.
The American Civil Liberties Union investigated the prison complex’s outbreak and alleges that some employees mishandled the outbreak.
Lompoc Prison Task Force members say although the active cases have subsided, they are still worried about the conditions at the prison. The task force has at least 15 members that have a family member in prison.
“We need to make sure that we’re providing them with humane care, COVID or no COVID. But COVID is really, you know, complicated things and making it worse and they’re dying,” Patricia Solorio, task force member and director of grant-making at the Fund for Santa Barbara, told the News-Press.
Family members of prisoners have had limited communication since the outbreak but have heard complaints about a lack of precaution. The task force has tried to receive more information from the Federal Bureau of Prisons but to no avail, members said.
Last year, the Lompoc Prison Task Force organized caravans where participants honked driving past the prison.
The first caravan garnered 150 cars and the second brought around 60, Jane Quandt, task force member and pastor at Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Lompoc, estimated.
“These guys think we don’t ever think about them. So for them to hear us riding by honking, they were deeply moved,” she said.
Organizers arranged for attendees to release balloons Sunday so inmates could have a visual of community support in the sky. They purchased biodegradable balloons, but community members were still concerned.
Hillary Hauser, executive director of nonprofit Heal the Ocean, heard about the balloon release and reached out to the task force Friday. The organization chartered a skywriter to fly overhead with a message to the inmates.
Because of windy weather Sunday, the flyover was scheduled for March 7 between 1 and 1:30 p.m.
Few attended the event Sunday. Ms. Solorio and Ms. Quandt both said they noticed less community concern once the case numbers decreased.
Still, the task force meets twice a week.
“It’s about being able to give these people a voice, because nobody really speaks. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, people are in prison because they’re bad people.’ And they’re human beings, and they have families and loved ones,” Ms. Hyde said.
Ms. Quandt spoke to the group, saying she aims to treat the inmates as neighbors.