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  • Doug Tjapkes

It's hot. And it's hell in prison!

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility. Yogi Berra With all the coverage these days about the proposed new Michigan budget, have you heard anything about air conditioning for state prisons? Me neither. We’re tough on crime in this state. If they hadn’t committed the crime, they wouldn’t be doing the time. And by God, when it’s hot, they can just sweat! Michigan’s 29 state prisons don’t have air conditioning. The news reports of heat waves in the western and eastern sections of our country remind us that it gets hot in the summer. In Michigan, too. And when it does, conditions in our prisoners become unbearable. Courts in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Mississippi have ruled that incarceration in extremely hot or cold temperatures violates the Eighth Amendment. But those rulings had no national impact on air conditioning in prisons. Except for special units, Michigan’s prisons have no AC. Last year we were flooded with complaints, as the high temperature situation became more complicated with all of the COVID issues. But just imagine how terrible it might be if we got hit with some kind of a heat wave like that in other parts of our country. Think about it. We’re not just talking about persons dealing with high temperatures. Many people in prison are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. Some have certain health conditions or medications that make them especially vulnerable. Conditions such as diabetes and obesity can limit people’s ability to regulate their body heat. Old age also increases risk of heat-related illness and problems. More than 30,000 people are living in these Michigan pressure cookers while the rest of us enjoy our AC. And no one is rushing to improve the situation. We contend that refusing to install air conditioning isn’t a matter of cost savings at all. It’s appearing to be tough on crime. Furthermore, it’s our contention that denying air conditioning to incarcerated people is subjecting people to cruel and unusual punishment, and even handing out death sentences. How do you feel? Your state representative and state senator should know. Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. Frederick Buechner

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