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We don’t know for sure how many shivered in the cold for how long because although it’s a federal facility, which is to say, it’s publicly funded, it’s the opposite of public. City officials got access last week, but only after a protest, only after those hands started hammering on those walls and windows in panic.
As he spoke, the light and heat were back on at MDC but nothing Congress has done, or even talks about doing will change the ongoing shame of American lock up. Last year’s slight reforms do nothing to change the reality that the US shuts away 2.2 million people in 3,000 jails and 1,500 state and federal prisons. The government takes charge and promises to care for the people it detains, but there’s no way to check. Total control comes with total lack of accountability. The First Step Act won’t change anything about that, any more than a few more blankets will help the detainees in Brooklyn.
As outraged as New Yorkers claim to be about the behavior of the feds, Mayor Cuomo and the city have not closed Rikers yet, and they’re still committing to building more prisons. Brooklyn organizers fighting for No New Jails say problems of abuse, neglect, and dereliction are endemic to prisons, and MDC's not unique. Federal prisons in Texas have been sued for having no air conditioning. In 2013, Californian inmates went on hunger strike over lack of healthcare and food to eat. We don’t need silence. We need noise. The same ruckus we’d hear if our government ran huge secretive warehouses of dads and daughters and mothers and sons who were rich, or more of them white. The problem’s not the freeze, it’s the incarceration, and our silence.