Uplifting Black, Brown, and queer voices across the South—no matter who's in office.
Join us Thursday, August 20 at p.m. EST for a virtual event—Casting Shadows: the prison in our daily lives
Editor's note: All pieces featured in Abolition Week are made possible in conjunction with Exchange for Change, a writing course and letter exchange program for those incarcerated in Florida's prison system.
Marina Bueno: "No end in sight"
This piece is dedicated to Tyra, a friend of the author who passed shortly after this piece was written from complications with COVID-19.
Last night I was told that my friend had to be resuscitated twice. They don't think she will survive the night. It's June 1, we have been on lockdown since March.
Well, some sort of lockdown. At first They merely stopped us from going to recreation together and eating together. They would take one dorm at a time to the 'chow' hall, forgetting that we were not infected and the greatest threat came from the staff members. Rumors flew about which officer came in and was not allowed to leave until They exposed the dorms and were relieved of duty much later. I worked in maintenance and was surprised They were allowing inmates to continue to work closely with staff members.
On Wednesday, April 15, almost a month into this, They began a series of mass movements on the whole compound to segregate everyone based on their work assignment. Bout half the compound was moved around from dorm to dorm for the next two weeks. People who had been living in their assigned areas were uprooted to accommodate this whim which was blamed on Tallahassee. They blame everything on Tallahassee. They were moving people daily, well into the night sometimes. Madness. During this time, the first case was reported.
Rumor has it that a certain officer entered the prison knowing he was symptomatic. They are ordered to do rounds every 15 minutes and search 12 people per shift. During rounds, They touch every door, open every curtain, pat search, and delve into lockers. This practice was not curtailed. Women out of Echo dorm complained of symptoms and were taken to medical and tested. All of them tested positive. They ordered tests from the whole dorm and out of 100 people, 79 inmates tested positive. More than half of the dorm had been moved out and spread around the compound, effectively moving the virus. As a result, They had to truly lock down three more dorms. Tests were ordered for the whole compound. More than 235 inmates tested positive. And today my friend is on a ventilator. We have been on some sort of a lockdown since March 21 with no end in sight.
We are allowed one hour per week outside. We are fed one hot meal and two cold meals a day, bologna, peanut butter, bread and more bread which come at erratic times. They threaten us with quarantine extensions if we ask for Tylenol, They say inmates are masking symptoms. Yet, we have not been retested. What will happen to my friend if They are the only voice she has? Be strong Tyra.
Photos for Abolition Week by Terence Price.
Boudicca: "Arrogance and Hubris"
We watched the inexorable spread of COVID-19 on World News Tonight. Still, it did not make much of an impression on the inmates at Camp Prisoney Land, nor the Department of Corrections for that matter. In late March, I sat waiting for an appointment and overheard an officer being reprimanded for wearing a mask and gloves at work. You see, regardless of the rising infection rate in Miami which skyrocketed from a few hundred to well over 20,000 in just weeks, Tallahassee had not approved staff to wear protective gear until well over a month into the pandemic's arrival in South Florida.
Tallahassee officials declared on the public website through dissemination of propaganda emails, that every effort was being made to protect inmates from COVID-19. These efforts were simply to require all staff members to self-report any symptoms and to stay home if running a fever. No staff member was ordered to take a swab test or had their temperature taken at the front gate before being admitted sans mask. Take a moment to reflect on the honor and veracity of Florida Department of Corrections Officers in the cases of Darren Rainey and Cheryl Weimar. Would you trust these foxes with your chicken coop?
The women here began to sicken, at first just those few whose work assignments gave them near constant exposure to staff supervisors from the outside community, again without masks or gloves on either side. The infected women incubated and interacted with the compound at large for quite some time before being sent to the infirmary and later to the hospital.
In addition, it became evident that officers and other staff were bringing their symptoms with them to work. So goes Tallahassee's reliance on self-reporting versus a scientific swab test. At least one upright and conscientious officer was forcibly removed from the compound. Still, no staff members were tested. Realizing the genie was out of the bottle, a weak effort was made at social distancing, allowing the staff to wear PPE, and keeping the inmates separated by dormitory when eating in the chow hall. Still, people got sick. Medical declared the inmates were not sick enough for observation in the infirmary, though some had fevers of 102. The Chief Health Officer declared the sick would remain in the dorms along with the well. COVID-19 continued surging through the dorms.
Finally, in mid-April masks were issued to inmates and staff were required to wear PPE. The compound was shut down, only those inmates necessary to operations such as kitchen and laundry went to work. Then Tallahassee made an important command decision. All prisons throughout the state were required to move their inmates into dorms according to work assignments. The idea was all of the kitchen workers scattered in various dorms would be housed together, and the same with each department. Except… Tallahassee did not take any consideration for prisons located in COVID-19 hotspots.
Without testing any of the inmates, Tallahassee ordered the moves. What started as a storm turned into a tidal wave. Within two weeks 75 percent of my dorm fell ill. Spreading the infected from dorm to dorm effectively brought COVID-19 to every corner of Camp Prisoney Land. Belatedly we got the nose swab test a week after the shuffle. Only 25 of my 100 person dorm remained non-infected and were removed to the chapel or to the vocational building, where they slept on the floor. Because second swab tests were not ordered after the incubation period, many of the inmates originally considered healthy were incubating. This was an exercise in futility as the allegedly virus-free inmates inexorably fell symptomatic from exposure. No dorm, nor the chapel, nor the vocational building was free of sick inmates.
I became extremely ill and was taken to the infirmary due to respiratory distress. However, I didn't get a bed. Although the 12 beds were empty. I was isolated in a filthy holding cell. A mattress lay in the corner amid clumps of hair and dirt. I decided if they wanted to check on me, the officers and nurses would damn well have to open the door, or at least the flap. With the last of my strength, I dragged the mattress across the cell and flopped it lengthwise across the door. All I could do was collapse on top and drag a blanket over myself.
Which is worse: wondering if you are really sick and they are keeping it from you, or having them shoot you in the fundament three times a day for five days with the expensive antibiotics and putting you on the oxygen tank thereby confirming you are very sick? The nurses would come to the door and open the flap to check I was still breathing. There is some comfort in that action.
Would I have contracted COVID-19 had I been issued a mask early on? If the staff were allowed to wear masks and PPE, could the virus have spread so rapidly here? Would mandatory testing of the staff have resulted in more infected people being removed form contact with vulnerable inmates? Did Tallahassee's action of commingling untested inmates from dorm to dorm cause greater exposure and more infections? Finally, due to the one time swab test, is Tallahassee getting away with under-reporting the number of infections?
I will never know the answers to these questions. I recovered. Birds are singing and the sun is shining. Still, I know inmates who are in the hospital very ill and on ventilators. May the sun shine on you friends.