Those are the words that rattle around inside my skull every time I step away from my cell during this Coronavirus meltdown.
Here in the Great State of Michigan, some might argue that our Governor was a little slow off the mark in getting our state locked down, but even so, I believe she has done a superb job of battling back the pandemic. It’s a different story, however, with the folks running Michigan’s Department of Corrections.
Several men from my unit have tested positive for Coronavirus, but not a single decision concerning my health or welfare is my own. I have no input. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Governor Whitmer has clearly stated she wants us to practice social distancing in her prisons, yet every time I leave my cell, I see convicts sitting around tables playing cards, or dominos, shooting the shit, while the prison guards just stand around twiddling their thumbs, earning their extra $75/day hazard pay on top of the $25/hour (plus benefits) they already earn.
Allowing inmates to mingle like this has to be some form of lunacy. If not, it’s definitely immoral. Maybe even criminal. Which leaves one to wonder: Are they trying to kill us?
Just the other day, a guard was patting down a fellow inmate, after having just patted down 3 prisoners before him, when the inmate politely asked the guard to change his latex gloves, because he was worried about cross contamination. The guard’s response says it all.
“These gloves aren’t for your protection, they’re for mine, so don’t worry about it.”
For the past several weeks, volunteers like myself have been scrubbing our unit with bleach from top to bottom several times a day. However, about a week ago, a new policy was implemented, because the state was worried we might use the bleach for our personal laundry, which isn’t allowed. We were ordered to stop our cleaning efforts and depend solely on our unit porters for cleaning. [Editor: Porters are the prisoners with janitorial duties.] So our lives were officially placed in the hands of men who earn a whopping $8/month.
Social distancing. Social distancing. Social distancing. The Governor and the Michigan Department of Corrections administration keep preaching it. Hell, flyers are plastered all over every wall, support post, or plate glass window. Yet, the guards refuse to practice it or force us to. Just the other day, we had a fire alarm drill, forcing 200 of us to bunch together like a seething school of tuna caught in one of those huge, circular nets out in the middle of the ocean. You know, the kind that tightens and tightly pools the fish together? Doesn’t seem very social-distance-y to me.
When I approached a guard and asked him what the purpose of the fire drill, he informed me that fire alarms were important and had to be maintained. As if the other hundreds of mock fire alarms we’ve had over the years haven’t prepared us enough! As we talked, he kept inching closer to me, within two feet of my face! I kept stepping back to maintain proper distance, but apparently, that offended him.
“Stop stepping back! If you were actually sick, you wouldn’t be here.”
That may or may not be the case, but one thing is for certain: it proved that all those government flyers are bullshit. If I don’t possess the right to step back six feet from a guard, then I’m not able to practice social distancing. And if I disobey him, then there is a chance I might end up with a ticket for inciting a riot. In Michigan, inciting a riot is one of the worst tickets you can receive. Not only will it guarantee you a trip to the hole [solitary], it will get you shipped to a maximum security prison, and most likely earn you an extra few years when you meet with the parole board. So I had to stand there and allow him to berate me within inches of my face. What else could I do?
So much for government flyers. One of the state’s most recent memos informed us that a prisoner had been found dead in his cell a few days earlier, and he was Covid-19 positive. They informed us his death was his own fault, since he never reported his illness. Whoever wrote the memo clearly didn’t work inside a prison because they seemed perplexed as to why the convict chose to hide his illness.
Here in Zombie Land, reporting virus-like symptoms leads to punishment-like treatment by the guards.
First, imagine if the government suddenly ordered you into a quarantine facility, and in doing so, they also seized and “downsized” everything you’ve worked for in your lifetime. That’s what happens. No more house, no more car, no more clothes, etc. Although the small amount of possessions we are allowed to have may seem inconsequential to the average free person, keep in mind that’s all many of us own or ever will own. Wouldn’t you then take a chance, and hide your sickness and pray that you weather the storm?
When a friend of mine was recently taken to the hole for quarantine, he lost everything. The guards threw out all of his food, they busted his $150 footlocker and his $45 Jpay tablet. They also “lost” a pair of his shoes (read, gave away to one of their informants as payment), and misplaced his personal fan. It took him many years of $10/month paychecks to amass all those things. And they were ripped away from him all because his cellmate had a temperature.
And guess what? It turns out both he and his cellmate were not sick after all. They were returned to our unit a few days later, but without their property, which was “lost” forever.
And while he was quarantined in solitary, he was treated like the inmates who were there for punishment. Locked in a cell, 24/7, all alone with nothing to do but talk to himself. Do you have any idea how mentally taxing that is? And because everyone was scared to have any contact with him, he wasn’t even allowed access to books like everyone else housed there. Many fellow inmates have died all alone from quarantining in those dank, lonely cells.
Each time I hear of one my heart breaks for them and their family. I pray that my mother doesn’t someday receive a phone call informing her that I too have suffered such a fate.
So now you see why the inmate found dead never self-reported his symptoms. He was simply too scared. As far as I’m concerned–and I might suffer retaliation for typing these words–the MDOC’s own policy killed him. He was not just a chess piece to be shuffled about on a board. He was a human being who, just like the rest of humanity, deserved compassion and the right to be treated with dignity when sick. I now understand how lepers must have felt when they were ripped from their families and shipped off to be forgotten by society.
The state gives the guards “hazard pay” for coming to work. Considering they are the only way for the Coronavirus to be introduced to our prison, doesn’t that make THEM the true hazard? Where’s my hazard pay for having to be around them? For having their hands touch my body and my bunk, my pillow and everything else in my cell almost every day?
The administration is passing out “morale boosting” cupcakes to all the guards because their job of sitting around not enforcing the social distancing rules is too mentally challenging. Oh, and did I mention they are having a morale boosting dinner for the guards and other staff members as well? And who do you think is cooking these wonderful meals? Yep, inmate slave labor. And of course, just like in the old slave days, these modern slaves will be allowed to eat some leftovers–if there are any.
Yet nothing is done to increase our morale. Everyone here is on edge. We are all scared to death. Some officers, especially the younger ones, can’t sense the tension rising. On some days, it’s like I dwell in a pressure cooker with a leaky seal, yet the guards act as if all is business as usual. Twenty-something-year-old guards scream, yell and antagonize 30, 40, and 50-year-old murderers who have already half-convinced themselves they’re going to die anyway.
Whoever is making the decisions at the top might want to reassess who really needs those morale boosting cupcakes. I’m just saying.
Jerry is serving 40-60 years in prison for second degree murder.
Jerry Metcalf #251141
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer, MI 48446