Never mind that Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 45 years based on no evidence that he committed a crime.
In recent weeks, the 77-year-old Native American rights activist has pleaded for help amid isolating COVID-19 lockdowns, repeatedly requested a booster shot without success, tested positive for COVID and then spent 10 days in quarantine to recover.
Now Peltier says he understands why many inmates aren’t reporting their illnesses and potential COVID infections to staff at all: The conditions in the prison’s so-called medical unit are so bad that people are opting to tough out COVID and other sicknesses on their own instead of enduring the appalling conditions of quarantine.
“Pure torture,” Peltier said of his experience in quarantine, in a statement provided Wednesday by his attorney, Kevin Sharp.
Sharp said he spoke to Peltier last Thursday, just after he was released from the medical unit, which was actually just another cell. There was no “meaningful medical check” during his 10 days in quarantine, according to Peltier. Instead, people periodically came into the cell and took his temperature. Nobody was using an oximeter or doing any other kind of medical evaluation consistent with COVID care.
Peltier said his cell was very cold, and even though the Federal Bureau of Prisons officially relayed that his symptoms were mild, in fact he was having chest pain, stomach pain, pain in his joints and a severe headache.
For food, Peltier said, he was given bread and peanut butter pouches the entire time. He initially wasn’t given any utensils to put the peanut butter on the bread, and, because of his bad teeth, he struggled to open the pouches to eat what little was there. After eight days, he said, he was given a spoon to spread the peanut butter on bread.
Access to drinking water was perhaps the most disturbing situation. Peltier said there was a sink in his cell, and he was told that was where to get water. But he had to drink the water with his hands for several days because no one would give him a cup, and the water was “yellow and rusty looking,” as Peltier put it. On day four, he was given a cup, so he then would let the hot water run and catch it in the cup, wait for it to cool and for the sediment to settle to the bottom of the cup, and then drink only the water from the top of the cup.
On the upside, Peltier said, he was finally given a COVID booster shot on Feb. 15, just as he was leaving quarantine after testing positive for COVID.
Randilee Giamusso, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, declined to comment on “anecdotal allegations” and said the agency is proud of the way it takes care of inmates. She said nothing about the conditions described by Peltier.
“The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) takes pride in protecting and securing individuals entrusted in our custody, as well as maintaining the safety of correctional staff and the community,” Giamusso said in a statement. “We make every effort to ensure the physical safety of inmates confined to our facilities through a controlled environment that is secure and humane.”
HuffPost also asked whether Peltier, who has diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm, is being considered for release under a policy authorized by the Justice Department “to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prisons” as part of the government’s response to the COVID pandemic.
Giamusso responded with boilerplate language about how that policy works.
“All inmates in BOP custody are reviewed to identify those who are vulnerable, eligible, and appropriate for transfer to a Residential Reentry Center (RRC) or Home Confinement under the CARES Act,” she said. “Inmates who are not eligible for community confinement under these provisions may be reconsidered if there is a change in status that qualifies them for re-review. In addition, if the Warden determines there is a need to refer an inmate for placement in the community due to COVID-19 risk factors who is outside of the criteria, they may forward the referral to the Home Confinement Committee (HCC) in Central Office for further review.”
“Beyond this, we have no additional information to provide.”
Native American rights activist Leonard Peltier has been prison for 45 years based on no evidence of committing a crime. Now 77, he’s reeling from appalling COVID care in prison.
CLIFF SCHIAPPA/Associated Press
Peltier has been in prison for decades after the FBI and a U.S. attorney’s office charged him in the 1975 murders of two FBI agents during a shootout on a Native American reservation ― something he has long said he didn’t do, even when it could have meant parole if he’d said he did. His trial was riddled with misconduct, and even the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison so long ago is now pleading with President Joe Biden to grant him clemency because, he said, federal officials never had evidence that Peltier committed a crime.
At least two U.S. senators, several members of Congress and dozens of Native American state legislators have recently urged Biden to release Peltier.
A White House spokesperson told HuffPost earlier this month that the White House is aware of the push for Peltier’s release. That’s about all they said.
“As many of you know, President Biden has a process for considering all requests for pardon or commutation, which is run through our White House Counsel’s Office,” said the spokesperson. “I don’t have more to share on Mr. Peltier’s request at this time.”
Peltier is continuing to serve out two consecutive life sentences.