A Rastafarian holy woman compared the Westmoreland County Prison to a Nazi concentration camp while complaining to the county prison board on Monday.
Indigo Freemanvibe, who claims to be a spiritual leader within the Rastafarian sect, contends that she has been subjected to civil rights violations by jail guards who have demanded she remove her head wrap before entering the prison to visit her husband.
“There should be an investigation of these things,” Freemanvibe said. “The inhumane treatment is unnecessary and unacceptable on any level.”
Freemanvibe’s husband, Elias Velasquez, 39, of Pittsburgh, has been an inmate at the jail since August, awaiting trial on burglary and theft charges. Velasquez is accused of stealing more than $6,300 worth of jewelry from the Jeannette home of an 88-year-old woman. His trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Velasquez is a native of the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, she said.
The accusations raised by Freemanvibe revolve around the treatment she and her husband receive from jail guards and Warden John Walton during weekly visits.
She alleged that her husband has been denied a special diet required by his religious beliefs. She also claimed the staff has subjected him to racial epithets and has refused to allow him to have visits from his family.
Rasta, or the Rastafari movement, is a religion that believes that Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, is the messiah. The name comes from Ras (duke or chief) Tafari Makonnen, the pre-coronation name of Selassie. The movement emerged in Jamaica in the early 1930s. Many believers follow dietary laws explained in the Old Testament of the Bible, comparable to vegetarian or vegan diets.
Freemanvibe said she has been subjected to discriminatory treatment and that her car was searched while it was parked outside the jail.
“My husband has been treated like a mass murderer. I want people of this county to recognize that everybody here is a human being. Nobody deserves to be mistreated,” she told the prison board.
Walton denied the allegations. He said that, because so few Rastafarians have been incarcerated at the county jail, local officials tailored their policies in dealing with Velasquez in the same manner in which the state prison system handles inmates from that religious sect.
“Me and my staff have put in more time with her than any other visitor,” Walton said. “I finally told her to go ahead and sue us, we checked with our attorney.”
Freemanvibe said she has no immediate plans to file a lawsuit.