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‘It’s a death trap:’ Angola inmate put in isolation for organizing against COVID-19

Liberation Graphic: Quierza Lewis (family photo used with permission); public domain image of Angola Prison.

In response  to the COVID-19 pandemic, Quierza Lewis began organizing as inmates were dying, guards were without protective equipment and social distancing an impossibility in an overcrowded prison — especially Angola the largest maximum-security prison in the United States.

Since his email communications with outside organizers were discovered by officials, Quierza has been placed in administrative segregation–solitary. Two other inmates who were also in communication with the same activist were not targeted by the prison system.

When the prison system moved to place Quierza in solitary in May there were already eight COVID-19 deaths among inmates with life sentences in Angola.

Tanisha Lewis, Quierza’s older sister, told Liberation News: “The calls are not going to stop, they’re going to progress. We are 100 percent behind him.” Tanisha is following in the footsteps of her mother who had been Quierza’s biggest advocate prior to her death in 2014.

“Anywhere my mother thought we should go to meet with someone to help Quierza we would be there. Until the good Lord takes my last breath away I’m going to be fighting for him 100 percent,” committed Tanisha.

“Quierza is a very strong person. They tried to break him several times for three years he was in Camp J. That’s like the worst in Angola Prison,” Tanisha Lewis added. “ They really tried to break him but he has a lot of courage.

“When he first went to prison he was angry, very angry. Then he started to read; he wanted to understand the law to make conditions better for the inmates,” Tanisha explained.

Quierza’s family and activists on the outside have been pushing for his release from solitary.

But there’s more to know about Quierza’s case. Quierza Lewis, of Minden, Louisiana, is the only person from Webster Parish, a rural Parish east of Shreveport, to be serving a life sentence on a drug charge.

Quierza was also convicted prior to the passage of Amendment 2 which ended the use of non-unanimous verdicts in felony convictions. He was not convicted by an unanimous  jury– and was among the 1500 inmates impacted by the 2020 Ramos decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these convictions by a non-unaminous jury unconstitutional.

“It’s the continuation of slavery, it really is,“ explained Tanisha. “He already have a life sentence, it’s like double locking him up.”

Prison officials still have not made it clear why Quierza is being held in solitary although it has been said that organizing and information-gathering efforts are cause to believe that he was organizing to “incite a riot.”

Quierza had been an email correspondence with activist Michaela Higgins regarding the rights and possible peaceful actions inmates could take to be safe during the pandemic.

Tanisha: “I told them y’all are locking him up on a so-called terroristic threat. I said he was only trying to get legal advice on what to do about their living conditions and safety during the pandemic.”

Quierza has struggled with asthma throughout his life and has been denied medications in the past and is still being denied medication and medical attention.

Higgins says that the GoFundMe campaign as well as the petition are going to continue on as well as looking to appeal to the governor.

“Because of COVID, you know, many are at risk due to pre-existing conditions. They can’t afford medical care in there. It’s just crazy to me that prisoners have to pay for their own medical care,” said activist Michaela Higgins.

Just as essential workers are struggling for personal protective equipment and safe working conditions so those behind bars are fighting for the same to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tanisha told prison officials: “My brother doesn’t have a voice. But I am his voice.”

All of our voices together against the horrendous conditions of prisoners will certainly be deafening. #FreedomQuierzaLewis !

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