When COVID-19 hit everybody was watching the news. We all saw the spread, then the deaths that followed. The prison here seemed to be on standby for like two months before we, “the inmates,” were issued ONE! just one, mask. Then, a week later we were issued another, 2nd! mask. Soon after, we were told that our dayroom privileges would be broken up and we would have a lot less time out of our cells.
If I figure right, there’s about 640 inmates in here and no more than about 70 staff, including C.O.s and medical staff that rotate throughout the prison. When a staff member was infected, that caused there to be less movement for all inmates to try to ensure the virus didn’t make it back on the units. I can say for a fact that things had been going well and us inmates, us CONVICTS, had mostly been staying safe. We have been keeping things clean and wiping things down every five minutes, washing hands, and fist bumps rather than an open hand. (You might have a few that still want to open-hand shake, but naw I’m good with the fist bump, homie!)
So everybody and everything had been on the up and up so far, all the way up until like early September, when the first two inmates tested positive. This set off a small spread, with two more testing positive afterward. Then, in October, I went through some symptoms and lost my sense of smell, so I asked to be seen by medical staff, and I explained my symptoms and concerns. I was tested and immediately placed in a small separate part of the prison they reserve for county inmates. When I entered this area, there was only the four known positive cases, and my test results hadn’t come back. But I was still placed with those four inmates.
I was told that quarantine would be for two weeks, then medical staff said they would need to test negative twice before being released back into population. I was there for about three weeks as I watched them fill cell after cell with unexplained cases. Up to 18 people were told they tested positive for COVID, and then a week ago those 18 were told there were 47 more cases, and those people were going to be moved into one of the units.
Since the first cases, there are two full pods that are holding “possible” positive cases—because again, we aren’t told shit—and there is a third pod being set up to hold more possible cases. Yet, in that time the first four positives got their required two negative tests back. So after a month or more, they were cleared to return to population. It’s kind of a merry-go-round, and we aren’t told too much about it.
What we do know is that there is one officer who was infected who started this whole thing that affected everyone. It started with a cell search, and he had NO MASK, NO GLOVES, and of course the first two who were infected had no clue this guy was COVID positive. They started feeling sick within days of that search and from there it spread through the pod. Part of the problem was results taking a while to come back and in the meantime the virus was spreading, and another problem was people were starting to feel sick but not reporting the symptoms to medical staff right away.
Some people said they would “tough it out,” but they ain’t no toughing it out–it’s spreading all over. I lost my sense of smell, which is not uncommon for me because I have asthma, but I reported it anyway. I took a COVID test right then, but I was never told if I was positive for COVID! They just moved me to the quarantine area in “county.” I still have never received any paper that confirmed a positive test. They moved me “just to be safe.” They were telling people they were positive when they were not, and moved them into cells with people who were positive. Just to be safe? It just made sure there would be more positives. Krazy, huh?
It’s hard to say, but it seems they might not know what they are doing. The whole prison is affected and that’s cause their lack of handling things properly for us. To this day we have still only received two masks. When I’ve been asking for a mask they say there is a shortage on masks and they may be getting some soon. That has yet to come.
They are stuffing people in a little can, waiting to see the outcome. Two showers, one phone, no mail going out but mail coming in. If we were doing really bad, then there might be a chance we can be seen by an outside doctor, which is almost what you want though not really, but if you doing OK then they just say we’ll be alright.
So, now there’s more testing and we get our temperature checked twice a day, but it has been rough not really knowing if we’re positive or not and what that might mean. Some of us believe we’re just being placed here in quarantine because maybe a cellmate tested positive or we’ve been around a positive tester. In quarantine, we don’t receive enough cleaning stuff, PPE, masks, etc., and we receive trays from the kitchen instead of the one-use trays we were getting before the numbers grew. It’s been a headache and stressor dealing with this COVID shit in prison!
But I am trying to remain strong and mentally fit to be able to battle through these times and join the fight and keep on fighting.
*The writer is currently incarcerated in New Mexico.