It was as regular of an evening as possible here at the supermax prison I live in. My cellmate and I were smoking a contraband cigarette and counting our blessings.
The Coronavirus had invaded our prison like a thief in the night, and anything that was of any real value was… gone! Vanished! One day, we had all of the necessities that most prisoners in America are afforded — visitation, telephone calls, religious services, commissary and mail — and the next day we went into complete lockdown! NO MOVEMENT! Gone were the days my fellow prisoners were cracking jokes about that fake-ass Coronavirus shit. What began as a practical joke had suddenly turned serious.
Now, it’s Day #137 of the Coronavirus lockdown. We haven’t seen our family members in over four months. The mail was shut down weeks ago after our mailroom staff tested positive.
Big Jim lost his grandmother to Coronavirus three months ago. Since then, we’ve been watching Big Jim slowly lose himself — until last week, when he finally broke and had to be transferred to the mental ward. Mike Mike in 62 cell returned back from the prison hospital five days ago with unlimited dark tales about inmates lying unattended in the hospital’s hallways, dying of the virus. Mike Mike swore on his own mother that he personally witnessed at least ten prisoners take their last breath.
Chris is our resident human rights activist, and he is only making our situation darker. Each morning, he gathers all of the prison’s current positive Coronavirus test results and delivers that data to us like he’s giving a State of the Union presidential address. Yesterday there were 435 active positive prisoners and 36 active positive staff. Today, it’s 758 positive prisoners and 87 positive staff. Seventy prisoners had already died from Coronavirus since the lockdown began!
So, my cellmate and I were having our daily cigarette. It’s a habit we’d just picked up to ward off all of the shocks and strains Coronavirus had unjustly cast onto our lives. The radio station we were listening to broke from its regular programming for a special news report. The mayor of the city where our supermax prison is located had issued another stay-at-home mandate to combat the rising infections in the area. Anyone caught without a mask in public would be arrested.
If there’s a mandatory mask order, how did the guards at my prison become exempt? Very few, if any, guards were wearing masks at our prison.
The shift had changed and now my anxiety was high. Why have our prison administrators been so ill-prepared for this outbreak?
When the new guard came around to do his first prison check, he was wearing a mask, which provided me the relief the nicotine had failed to deliver. But it was only temporary. When the guard stepped into my cell, his words sent me into a downward mental spiral.
“Young man,” the guard said with a Nigerian accent, “Coronavirus is everywhere in here now. Protect yourself or you will die!”
You will die made me think about real death for the first time since this started. I mean, I knew others were dying, but I never thought about death reaching me. This evening was different. For the first time, I thought, “I am going to die from Coronavirus.” No social distancing, no disinfectant to clean my cell, and ill-prepared prison officials spelled doom for me. I’m a sitting duck just waiting for Coronavirus to invade my cell.
The worst part is feeling completely powerless. My mercy lies with the Coronavirus itself, not the prison officials that operate this place. Even if the Coronavirus fails to reach my cell, the damage it has done to my mental state has left me crippled and I’m unsure if I’ll ever return back to my regular self. The lack of therapy services available here will no doubt contribute to my premature death.
Out of all the things I have survived over the two consecutive decades of incarceration, I can’t believe it’s this Coronavirus that’s going to get me in the end.