GRAND RAPIDS CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich — As the coronavirus pandemic expands, many jails and prisons across the state are working to release eligible inmates to prevent further spread of the virus.
Grand Rapids clothing brand, Forgive Everyone Co. is trying to do its part as well by donating a portion of its profits to bail out low-risk, pre-trial inmates in danger.
"If we’re saying 'no,' that those people deserve to stay in there and face this with no resources, no healthcare and complete lack of ability to do any measures of protection, then you’re saying that potentially every single person going into jails right now potentially deserves that death penalty," said Skyler Rich, Owner and Founder of Forgive Everyone Co.
Rich, a senior at Calvin University, started the company in 2018, as a way to help raise awareness and empathy for those who have been incarcerated. On Friday he debuted the shop's "Decarceration" collection, in which 20% of all profits will be donated to the National Bail Fund Network.
"There’s one, central place that’s the COVID19 release bail fund, so we’re going to donate to that and then they’re going to manage how that gets distributed," Rich explained. "These are pretrial detainees. If we stand in a country or we say you’re innocent until proven guilty then these people are all standing innocent."
Rich said the remaining proceeds from the collection will go to fund Forgive Everyone Co.’s advocacy efforts, which include criminal justice reform events, storytelling initiatives, and the development of advocacy materials.
While he has never been incarcerated, Rich said his heart goes out to those behind bars, saying that through his work with former inmates, he knows the dangers they face amid the pandemic.
"It’s incredibly overcrowded, sometimes over 100 beds in one room in some of these mass areas in California, and so it’s really impossible for people to social isolate, social distance or quarantine if it does get in.... Staff is going in and out and so it’s really a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. We’ve already seen it take over Rikers," Rich said.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is urging county and local jails to lower their incarcerated populations. Last weekend, she signed an executive order, giving local officials flexibility to release inmates who are vulnerable to the virus and do not post a threat to public safety.
Within Michigan prisons, the Department of Corrections reports over 200 positive cases of COVID-19 across nine of 29 facilities.
To view Forgive Everyone Co.'s "Decarcerate" collection, click here.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.