The Parnall Correctional facility, near Jackson (Michigan) can hold about 1,700 people. It appears to be one of the coronavirus hotspots, with an infection rate higher than that of New York City jails and the Cook County jail in Chicago: 10% of prisoners and 21% of staff have tested positive. And the numbers are growing.
Robert C. is currently serving an 11-year sentence there. He writes about the first outbreak that occurred a couple weeks ago. This is his testimonial.
First published on his blog, it has been edited for length and clarity.¶
Not a single inmate has returned from the trip to healthcare
AT FIRST it was just a rumor. A rumor that, deep down, most of us knew was true. The coronavirus had breached the prison walls. Then there were two green duffle bags in the officer’s station. Proof. Then there were five. They might as well be body bags.
Prisoners suspected of having COVID-19 are called over the unit’s unintelligible microphones and told to report to the officer’s desk. They make the trek like dead men walking. Sent to medical to be evaluated. If they meet the symptoms criteria, and the county health official deems it necessary, they are tested. Thrown into a quarantine cell, that until a few days ago was the hole, pending their results. They either come back to the unit with a negative test, or a Corrections Officer (CO) marches to their cell with a crumpled green duffle bag tucked under an arm to fill it with everything they own. As of yesterday, not a single inmate has returned from the trip to healthcare.
That’s just recent protocol. We were infected long before the facility had the tests to prove it. For weeks, before terms like “PPE masks” and “social distancing” were the norm, inmates coughed up and down the galleries, spreading COVID-19 aerosols on keyboards, telephone receivers, and microwaves. And nothing was done. While the news cycles warned of community spread, inmates hacked into their hands and dealt poker or shuffled dominoes.
As the outside world panicked, we licked our fingers clean at the chow hall and sipped coffee from the same cup.
Ignorance is bliss. Or at least it’s indifferent. As long we could deny the cause of our headaches, coughs and fevers, as allergies or bronchitis (both actual excuses I heard) we wouldn’t have a thing to worry about.
Then came the institutional emails. Updates on the COVID-19 outbreak. At first they were just testing the system. Non-committal and general information about keeping us informed. Then there were updates about the preventative measures being taken; the extra soap and cleaning details; none of which actually materialized at our facility. The updates progressed with the spread of the virus. Those of us paying attention could guess the trajectory. They reassured us that there were zero confirmed cases linked to the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Only after the local news revealed that a MDOC employee had tested positive, did they amend the update to say there were no confirmed cases of MDOC inmates infected. An updated update.
Then the dam broke.
Two inmates from my unit tested positive. It was now undeniable. Update: COVID-19 is in the prison system. It went on to say seven inmates had tested positive statewide. It listed the facilities and their confirmed cases. Our facility had four of the seven cases. Of course it did. The numbers continued to grow. The willfully ignorant were surprised. The rest of us, though few in number, were not. It was already too late. It’s amazing how a few digital pixels, arranged in the right order, can turn a world upside down. As the days progress, so do the number of positive tests. “Emergency count. Close your doors.”