Cynthia Alvarado spent over 11 years in prison after receiving a life sentence in 2008. She was held without bail and said she was never given a fair opportunity to defend herself.

Alvarado went to purchase drugs with her cousin, and he shot and killed someone. Alvarado was charged with second-degree murder after unknowingly driving a getaway car.

While incarcerated, Alvarado suffered mentally. She was put in solitary confinement for anywhere between two and 300 days. In addition, a correctional officer brutally raped her in a closet, contributing to her mental decline.

“Consider the reality that we are in America,” Alvarado said. “We are innocent until proven guilty. By this is a constitution. Where can you consider the circumstances of a marginalized community? Consider that when you hurt someone without bail before they are convicted, they cannot challenge their conviction, appropriately. We live in America, not in a third-world country.”

Alvarado, who was released from prison in March 2020, was one of several former inmates who spoke at a No215Jail Coalition rally Tuesday afternoon.

No215Jail Coalition released a press release with several prison reform demands: end the use of cash bail; immediate review hearings for every person in detention; immediate release for every person serving a county sentence; lift all detainers for people held on violations of probation and electronic monitoring; remove all youth from the Philadelphia jails, bringing the city in compliance with federal Juvenile Justice Delinquency & Prevention Act; priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine for all those incarcerated; end solitary confinement; unlimited free phone calls; video visits; regular visits; mail supplies; unlimited access to cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment; timely access to necessary health care; unlimited access to counsel; and unlimited out-of-cell time each day.

The organization said many Philadelphia jails are in appalling conditions and have not adequately committed to the safety of incarcerated inmates during the spread of COVID-19.

Many formerly imprisoned people spoke at the rally about their solitary confinement experiences and why the prisons need to end that practice.

Chris Kimmenez is an ordained Baptist minister. He can’t wear keys on his belt anymore. The jingle of the keys triggers memories of being locked in a jail cell.

Standing in front of a replica solitary confinement cell Kimmenez was triggered.

“Now it’s time for some stuff to change. But, first, it’s time for us to begin to look at usage. I sat in one of these for six months, over 25 years ago,” Kimmenez said.”

He is triggered sometimes eating because he was fed through a sliding opening and was rushed, sometimes threatened if he did not finish eating within minutes if he was fed at all.

“This is what we continue to deal with,” Kimmenez said. “This is what we continue to fight for. All we’re asking for is basic human rights. All we’re asking for is to treat us like human beings.”

He said he could not even go into the replica cell although he helped assemble it “because it’s too traumatic 25 years later,” he said.

Lucian Martin spent four months in jail during the pandemic. He went days without a shower, often ran out of sanitary products, and relied on personal belongings.

“I can’t get tissue; I gotta use a sock, Martin said. “I can’t even know when I’m going to eat every day. It’s all different times. I can’t see my family. I can’t clean myself.”

John Thompson spent 37 years behind bars and said that a big part of the problem is the bails set are unfair. He said locking people up and setting high bail limits is helping continue mass incarceration. He said setting $50,000 bail for young people with little to no income may as well be like $2 million.

Thompson also said he did at least 13 years in solitary.

“I might not look like I’m damaged but I am. There are still things about me as a result of being locked in that cage that affects me to this day,” Thompson said. “So then, when you compound that when you think of a youth being placed in their 18 years old, 17 years old, 19 years old, being placed in one of those boxes, what do you think it does to his mind? The trauma that you suffer in there is going to manifest itself in the street when you come home.”

Thompson said all human beings are redeemable and that prisons need to start treating prisoners like human beings.

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