Original submission by the author

The world is going through some exceptionally difficult and trying times at the moment, with the outbreak of COVID-19 being front and center. The coronavirus was presented as a potential problem to us all in late 2019. Donald Trump and other world leaders did not treat the situation as seriously as they should have. Therefore, we are all suffering the consequences.

Being incarcerated and away from loved ones is hard enough as is. So with an active and deadly pandemic taking place, it adds to our everyday stressors in more ways than one. It was very eerie to watch everything unfold on the news. We observed the number of cases increase by the hour, as well as the fatalities. We felt as if we were on the outside looking in.

Nevertheless, when we called home and were told by our families and friends about major department stores being depleted of everyday necessities, it really made us realize how serious the situation is, which affects us all. I personally was filled with ever stronger feelings of regret due to my decisions taking me away from my family during a time like this. I feel very helpless and hopeless at times and I can only pray that those closest to me remain safe and healthy. We can only watch leaders of other states step up and release people from prison. We see how the nation is dealing with the horrendous economic crisis that is trickling down to our financial situations.

Here at Taycheedah, we were growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of precautions put in place when it all began. Then, when preventative measures were put in place, it felt more like an additional punishment. Our visits are suspended, as well as movements, phone usage and access to the kiosk systems. However, the surfaces of the phone and kiosk can easily be disinfected. Contact with our families is extremely important, especially now.

According to my sources, in June of 2019, the whole facility was placed under lockdown for more than a week due to several physical fights. During that time, all movements and phone usage was suspended. All meals were consumed within the inmates living quarters and not in the designated dining hall.

Yet, once the coronavirus became a full blown pandemic and social distancing was put in place, it was not being practiced here. Restaurants were ordered to close but in order for us to receive our provided meals, we had to go to the dining hall and be seated very closely to other inmates. I personally wrote the warden, Sarah Cooper, twice in hopes of at least having the option to receive meals in our rooms to no avail, she never replied.

Staff have only recently begun to wear facial mask and gloves even though two sergeants told me themselves that they had contracted and gotten over the virus before any “precautions” were put in place. I am glad that they survived, but I am truly disturbed about all the inmates, myself included, put at risk and not properly protected. Our families are temporarily prohibited from seeing us, but staff who leave here daily and interact with the world and return to interact with us inmates were not practicing the proper precautions the world was ordered to. As prisoners, we already deal with feelings of being forgotten and outcast by society. Watching the Department of Corrections openly treat us as if we didn’t deserve to be protected greatly increased those feelings, validated them even.

We are not our mistakes! We may only be prisoners and numbers to this corrupt Justice system, but we are daughters, sisters and mothers to our families! We deserve to be treated with respect and humanity! We deserve to be listened to when our lives are at stake like everyone else’s on Earth!

It wasn’t until May 29 that this facility was officially tested and placed under a 14-day quarantine due to someone testing positive. We can only shower every other day and even with the heat reaching nearly 100 degrees, we are not allowed to get filtered water or a sufficient amount of ice. We are told to drink the water from our sink that is connected to our toilets.

I personally don’t consume tap water even when I am not incarcerated and am completely flabbergasted that our filtered water system is not to be used unless we are workers. The surface of the machine can also be easily disinfected, with the inmates (workers) being the disinfectors. I am not sure what difference it would make to the staff if we stayed hydrated on clean water. We have no cooling systems and some people don’t own fans. This is dangerous. Only maintenance workers who have to cut grass in 90 degree weather while wearing a facial mask are allowed to get fresh air. How is this logical? It’s extremely distressing!

We are all too aware of how scary this is for everyone. We are watching the world as we know it change. Drastically. We are also watching people and communities come together. Looking at people united no matter race, age, religion, sexual preference or gender has helped us be more grateful even in our current circumstances. We are taking notice to the human race putting their lives on the line for others. Seeing people join together in the efforts of keeping people fed, healthy and entertained allow us to see the world in a brighter light. It’s not so bad afterall. The sad part is that it usually takes drastic and devastating situations to bring people together. To show or remind people how short life is and help us understand what is really important. Hopefully we can maintain this sense of community. We can only watch to see what happens next.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Clea Bowden

Clea Bowden is an African-American writer incarcerated at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. She feels it is extremely important to allow people in her situation, as well as those who are a part of their support systems, to be heard.