Staying inside a tiny prison cell all day, every day, day after day is not easy. Willie Manning likes taking advantage of the little opportunity he gets to go outside for restricted exercise, where he may also find solace in seeing a few blades of grass and looking up at the clouds.

But these are not normal times. As in other parts of the world, Mississippi is suffering from the new corona virus known as COVID-19.

Citizens have been asked to follow new rules to slow the spread of the virus: for instance, they should stay at home as much as possible; stay at least 6 feet away from others; and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. In the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), where Willie is incarcerated, an inmate who died earlier this month was found to have had COVID-19. He had not been on death row. Sadly, the number of cases in the prison is likely to rise sharply.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections states that it has introduced additional measures to protect prisoners and staff in all prisons. But rapper Yo Gotti reminds us that conditions at Parchman have long been very poor:
“These inmates have been subjected to inhumane health and safety risks, and now have to deal with the uncertainty and potential devastation of the coronavirus, too.”

Willie and the other death row inmates have been given soap to allow them to keep their hands free of COVID-19. And, reluctantly, Willie has decided that it is safer at the moment to give up his exercise outside, to reduce the risk of contamination from others.

Our thoughts are with Willie more than ever at this difficult time.

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