COVID-19 & The Writing on the Wall

Multimedia Web Platform
November 24, 2019

COVID-19 & The Writing on the Wall

In the face of COVID-19, DETENTION IS DEATH.
Social distancing is impossible behind bars. Incarcerated people are disproportionately affected by underlying health conditions known to exacerbate COVID-19. They are we—because we are all in this together: a pandemic impacting people over there comes back to harm us out here.

There is no time to waste. Lives are at stake—more than 11 million of them, in prisons around the world. Governments worldwide must advance swift actions to reduce prison and jail populations, and provide reentry support to those returning from detention. Court practices and government policies—especially around drug crime and petty offenses—need to be radically reconsidered. This is not a time for mere Band-Aids and charities; it is a time for systemic change and radical re-imagination of justice.

INN is supporting its global justice partners by being a connective resource via which best practices and responses to the pandemic can be shared and developed. We are amplifying and elevating the work of our partners via our social media outlets and digital projects such as INN-TV, a short film series about global mass incarceration, currently in production. Almost all of our partners do their powerful justice work in punitive social climates where prison reform is not nearly as mainstream as it is in countries like the US, so they need our support now more than ever.

In the face of the pandemic, we have also reconfigured The Writing on the Wall: a shape-shifting, pop-up art installation made from writing by people in prison around the world, in partnership with the acclaimed visual artist Hank Willis Thomas, the nonprofit architecture firm MASS Design Group, the production team Openbox and the creative agency Chemistry Creative. In an effort to center the words of those directly impacted at the heart of the fight for prison reimagining, the installation has been displayed in public spaces as a form of verbal and visual intrusion. Each debut The Writing on the Wall is an event and ongoing campaign, coordinated in collaboration with local justice reform organizations and led by formerly incarcerated community leaders. It has thus far been exhibited in New York City on the High Line park—the most trafficked public park in the world—as well as in Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Miami.

Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we project words from that installation on the walls of impacted cities around the world as a reminder of those who suffer behind bars right now and a memorial to lives lost. They serve as calls to action, monuments of hope and indicators that the isolation we are feeling at this time has been felt tenfold, for much longer, by those whom our world has elected to warehouse away.

1. Get Informed & Join Advocacy Efforts:
-Prison Policy Initiative is tracking examples of agencies taking meaningful steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in detention, and offers justice systems five ways to slow the pandemic:
-INN partner The Bail Project outlines six ways governments can protect their people:
A) Releasing people who are held because they cannot afford a cash bond;
B) utilizing “cite and release” for people charged with misdemeanors;
C) prioritizing release for people in vulnerable demographics;
D) reducing conditions and restrictions around release;
E) protecting meaningful access to counsel and pretrial support; and
F) providing appropriate care and hygiene to those who remain incarcerated.

2. Donate to organizations, including INN partners worldwide, who are advocating and donating supplies:
-US partners with national reach: The Bail Project & JustLeadership USA:
-Donate to particular countries and INN partners by connecting with them via our Platform:

3. Follow INN on social media (@incarcerationnations). Like our posts; repost and circulate them, especially posts showcasing the efforts of our partners worldwide. Help us get the word out about this crisis and demand government response to it, globally.

4. Sign up below for the INN mailing list, to learn more about our global efforts and hear where The Writing on the Wall will appear next.