Patricia Solorio of The Fund for Santa Barbara and Hillary Hauser from Heal the Ocean record the speech by the Rev. Jane Quandt from Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Lompoc during a rally to remind Lompoc federal prison inmates and thier families they’re not forgotten. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Environmental concerns deflated a balloon release and winds grounded a plane towing a banner, but a small rally Sunday afternoon still focused on the message that Lompoc federal prison inmates aren’t forgotten.

The rally, intended to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of the state lockdown due to COVID-19, included speeches along with a chance to write messages of support to Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex inmates.

The Lompoc Prison Task Force in conjunction with Love Your Inmate organized the event held at Ryon Park.

“We want to make sure they are being treated humanely regardless of the fact that they are inmates, whether they are incarcerated justly or unjustly,” said Patricia Solorio, associate director at The Fund for Santa Barbara and chairwoman of the Lompoc Prison Task Force.

Last spring, hundreds of inmates tested positive for the coronavirus, making the Lompoc facilities — the Federal Correctional Institution, the U.S. Penitentiary and Satellite Prison Camps — among the worst outbreaks in the Bureau of Prisons.

Five Lompoc inmates have died due to COVID-19, according to the bureau.

Prison officials have recently started offering vaccines to inmates and staff. So far, 242 out of approximately 2,100 inmates, along with 166 staff members, have been fully innoculated.

On Sunday, Solorio stood near a table with five white roses that she said represented the inmates who did not survive the outbreak and red roses for families members suffering in silence.

White flowers commemorate the five Lompoc federal prison inmates who died from COVID-19 while red flowers honor inmates’ families.

White flowers commemorate the five Lompoc federal prison inmates who died from COVID-19 while red flowers honor inmates’ families. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“We see it as our role as community members to stand up for inmates and their families,” she said.

Staff members of Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann spoke at the gathering. Event organizer Chrissie Rogers from Love Your Inmate could not attend, but a statement was read on her behalf.

“We wanted to share that we stand in solidarity with families and community members to ask for transparency and cooperation from the Lompoc federal prison to ensure safe and humane conditions for the men within the Lompoc prison,” said Alma Hernandez, an aide to Hartmann.

She cited a 36-page report from the Justice Department Inspector General’s Office regarding deficiencies in the prison’s handling of the outbreak.

Several times, Carbajal had reached out with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., seeking information from Bureau of Prisons officials.

“We will continue to advocate for you and to get answers to your concerns,” said Wendy Motta, an aide to Carbajal, adding that families of inmates have provided valuable information about the situation inside the prisons.

The Rev. Jane Quandt, pastor of Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Lompoc, said she considers those incarcerated in the Lompoc federal prisons as neighbors.

“Like many faith traditions, I have been taught that we are called to love our neighbors, so today we’re loving up on them as best as we can,” she said.

“In spite of the wind, in spite of everything that’s made it more difficult today, we extend to them our love, concerns, our humanity, and we want them to know they are not forgotten.”

Quandt said she has continued to work with 12 women since a Noozhawk story last year on the plight of Lompoc inmates and family members desperate for information about them.

“We have not forgotten them today and we pray our community and our society might keep them in our hearts and mind,” she said.

A release of biodegradable balloons had been planned Sunday but organizers called it off days before out of environmental concerns.

The replacement, a plane towing a banner, had to remain on the ground due to high winds in Santa Paula.

With hopes of less windy conditions, plans now call for flying the banner between 1 and 1:30 p.m. March 7.

Heal the Ocean arranged for the plane as an alternative after concerns about the balloon release’s effects.

So-called environmentally friendly balloons require specific conditions to biodegrade and any strings could prove lethal to wildlife, according to Hillary Hauser, executive director of Heal the Ocean.

“The guys in the correctional facility need to be really considered like other citizens are in terms of being protected from this godawful pandemic and the fact incarcerated people are so vulnerable, something’s got to be done,” she said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.