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.