US’s longest-serving political prisoner Leonard Peltier says prison is ‘torture chamber’ amid Covid lockdowns

Leonard Peltier describes the loneliness of lockdown as similar to “staring down the face” of a death penalty

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 01 February 2022 20:05
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America’s longest-serving political prisoner Leonard Peltier has said that prison has become a “torture chamber” as Covid-19 lockdowns have turned “an already harsh environment into an asylum”.

The Native American activist, who has spent more than four decades behind bars for a crime he says he didn’t commit, told HuffPost that the pandemic has pushed life inside “back to the Dark Ages” and that the “fear and stress” is taking its toll on both inmates and staff.

“COVID has turned Coleman Prison back to the Dark Ages,” he said.

“I’m in hell, and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can. I cling to the belief that people are out there doing what they can to change our circumstances in here.

“The fear and stress are taking a toll on everyone, including the staff. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. The whole institution is on total lockdown.”

Peltier, who is 77 years old and has various health conditions, described the loneliness of being locked down with “no phone, no window, no fresh air — no humans to gather — no love ones voice” as similar to “staring down the face” of a death penalty.

“In and out of lockdown last year at least meant a shower every third day, a meal beyond a sandwich wet with a little peanut butter — but now with COVID for an excuse, nothing,” he said.

“No phone, no window, no fresh air — no humans to gather — no love ones voice. No relief. Left alone and without attention is like a torture chamber for the sick and old.”

He added: “They are turning an already harsh environment into an asylum, and for many who did not receive a death penalty, we are now staring down the face of one!

“Help me, my brothers and sisters, help me my good friends.”

Peltier’s attorney Kevin Sharp also told HuffPost that the 77-year-old has also not been given his Covid-19 booster shot.

This is despite him being due to get the inoculation in November and given the higher transmission rates within the prison population putting him at greater risk.

Peltier is behind bars at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, a high security prison in Florida.

The facility is currently under the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions across the federal prison system, meaning inmates are banned from having any contact with each other and from having visits from people in the outside world.

A Federal Bureau of Prisons’ spokesperson told The Independent they would not comment on “anecdotal allegations, or, for privacy, safety, and security reasons provide information about conditions of confinement for any particular inmate”.

However, they insisted Coleman prison “is currently administering COVID booster vaccinations for inmates”.

Peltier has been behind bars for the last 44 years after being convicted of murdering two FBI agents in a gunfight on the Native American Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota back in 1975.

The case has long been marred by controversy and many believe he was wrongly convicted.

A key eyewitness later recanted her sworn statement, saying the FBI threatened her, and claims surfaced of evidence tampering by prosecutors.

For the last four decades, Peltier has maintained his innocence even at the cost of losing a chance at parole.

Many human rights activists have campaigned for his release over the years including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis.

In November, it came to light that one of the prosecutors who helped send Peltier to prison now also believes he was wrongly convicted.

Former prosecutor James Reynolds sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to commute Peltier’s sentence, saying that the government did not have evidence “to prove that Mr Peltier personally committed any offence”.

“I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars,” wrote Mr Reynolds.

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