During State lockdowns in Florida prisons due to the pandemic, we have consistently received e-mails from Mr. Mark Inch, Secretary of Florida Department of Corrections encouraging us to FIND HOPE and FIND MEANING. The masculinity of these messages can be felt, not really meant for an audience of women which is to be expected since female prisoners are often left out of the loop out of the dialogue and rarely mentioned in any of Mr. Inch’s e-mails even though there are thousands of women in Florida prisons. In fact Mr. Inch never mentioned having toured our facility at Homestead however he mentioned touring Blackwater C.F. and Sumter C.I., Men’s Institutions. But as numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 started to rise in Florida prisons, Mr. Inch’s messages became scarse and basically stopped all together. As Homestead Correctional Institution began to make headlines and numbers rose from 2 to 200 inmates in a matter of days, the Governor down played our grave situation here and said if Mr. Inch directed him to act, he would do so. Currently, Homestead Correctional, a women’s Institution, has 302 inmates with the Coronavirus (that’s half of the inmate population), 35 officers and 2 inmates who succumbed to the virus on June 25, 2020. It is on June 30th, five days later, when we are feeling the pain of the loss of these 2 women and also fearing for our own lives, that Mr. Inch, after 3 months of silence, sends Florida State prisoners an e-mail named FIND A MENTOR. The women of Homestead were appalled at the insensitivity and the inapplicableness of his words. I wrote this letter in response:
To: Mark Inch, Secretary
Florida Department of Corrections
501 S. Calhoun Street
Tallahasse, FL 32399
Good Morning, Mr. Inch,
I, Kenya Hill, DC# X40998, am incarcerated at Homestead Correctional Institution for women, the hardest hit prison in Florida for COVID-19 where 35 officers and 302 inmates have contracted the virus and 2 very vibrant, hopeful female inmates have recently succumbed to this virus. We have been locked down since March before testing of any kind on officers and inmates was conducted and it STILL did not prevent the pandemic from exacting tragic consequences upon us. We are in a state of anxiety and trying to maintain a calm attitude all the while trying to ensure our own safety as inmates in order to not become a statistic, where we have officers who’ve tested negative but are not being consistently tested in order to ensure they are not bringing this virus in and out of this Institution to those of us who’ve tested negative. We have committed crimes and some of us deserve to be here but NONE of us were sentenced to the death penalty. Some inmates, like myself, have done a considerable amount of time in prison and go home soon and after having done all this time in prison, to be faced with trying to stay alive in order to make it back out there to our families is a feeling I do not wish on anyone. The anguish in our family’s voices, the fear that we may not come home and the pain of not being able to make them any promises cannot be adequately expressed with words. So in the midst of this, we receive an e-mail from you about finding a mentor. Though it is eloquently written, it is categorically inapplicable to what we are facing here. It is simply not our reality. We are in Dade County in a COVID-19 war zone. And while you have considered the thought of mentoring, I also humbly ask you, Mr. Inch, to consider requesting the Governor to perform hardship releases for us those of us, like myself who have Clemencies already submitted and pending, release us. Inmates here at Homestead that are parolable who’ve done 25, 30, 35 years and can be released on parole, I ask that you use your authority and influence to assist this in happening. Women that only have 1 or 2 years left, release them. Women that only have 5 years or less can be released on an ankle monitor. Women who can go to work release, re-test them and send them. This is how you can help us, Mr. Inch. So many of us aspire to be law-abiding, contributory citizens who have a wealth of knowledge to offer these young people in society by mentoring them to prevent them from coming to a place like this because the mentoring starts out there to rule this out as an avenue to begin with. I unequivocally do not mean any disrespect in writing this letter. I just want to help you understand the heart of our situation. Thank you for listening, understanding, and considering. Respectfully, Kenya Hill, X40998
Governor DeSantis, Secretary Inch, Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Executive Clemency, Florida Commission on Offender Review, State of Florida….RELEASE US!