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(This dispatch was sent to the Prison Journalism Project on June 3)

My mission is to only bring awareness and change in the fight against this horrible virus and to show the flaws of the new procedures that were implemented by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in the beginning of April 2020. At any moment, one vital mistake could set off a cataclysmic outbreak and take many of the lives here at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Below are my bullets of concern:

  • Commonly used surfaces such as microwaves, phones, door handles, stairway railings and ice-machine scoopers are not disinfected nor cleaned daily. More of the focus is targeted at the floors and not the human hand-to-surface areas.
  • Nurses pass out meds from door to door using no gloves and sometimes no masks when they have been working all day or all night in the infirmary which, needless to say, is the focal point for all infections in the prison.
  • Medium security inmates are taken to medical for their appointments and are being restrained through the use of maximum security chain restraints with our wrists cuffed and secured onto a lock around our waists and shackles around our ankles. And, of course, the two guards escorting us from our unit to medical, use no gloves and the restraints are not sanitized at all. Instead, the restraints are then utilized and placed onto the next inmate on the list to go to medical.
  • Medium security inmates are given one hour of recreation outside the cell per day as a whole pod, with the cell doors being kept shut and not opened again until the recreation period is over. Within that period, we inmates have the one hour to shower, cook a meal, make a phone call, and exercise. We are not allowed to utilize the toilet or [carry out] any necessary bodily functions because our cell doors are kept closed, depriving grown men of a natural need and a human hygienic one. We are not even allowed to properly clean our cell with a mop due to the doors being kept closed, both of which are violations of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections operating policies and procedures. Instead, the suggestions given by staff are: “Don’t come out” or “Hold it in until recreation is over” and “If you want to mop your cell, have the orderly pass you the mop” through the “bean hole” food port, where our trays of food are passed through. Either way, if the mop is clean coming in, then it ain’t clean going out and vice versa. This is the same area where all of our three meals are being served.
  • No leisure reading books have been passed out or offered at any time through this confinement period to the medium security inmates. Per the Oklahoma Department of Corrections operating policy and procedures, at the very minimum, segregated or restricted unit inmates are allowed two books a week — and yet, the medium security inmates have not been offered even one book since April 2020.
  • Last — and the most important — of all concerns is that while guards and staff member temperatures are being checked prior to entry into the facility, that does not mean that they don’t have the virus. That just means they don’t have a fever at that present time. We have all seen the experts on the news discuss how long the incubation period takes to infect. So when these guards and staff illegally bring in contraband such as tobacco dip and then that is spit out into the trash can and then inmates dig into that trash to retrieve that “human waste” tobacco dip (which was just in the mouth of another human being, a guard or staff), they bring that waste back to the unit to either smoke or sell. Prior to doing so, that “human waste” is placed into the microwaves, which aren’t disinfected daily to dry it out “some.” These are the same microwaves we other inmates use to cook our food. The tobacco dip is only dried out for a few seconds though and not long enough to kill any viruses that may be on it and — of course — no gloves are used and no cleaning is done. One unhygienic urge of an inmate who doesn’t respect himself or the lives of others are being allowed to endanger the lives of we other inmates who have some sense of self respect for their lives because guards and staff illegally bring in contraband to support their habits. So, I ask you, who are the criminals and who are the guards because it appears to be both parties are committing crimes to me.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Michael A. Rivera is a writer incarcerated in Oklahoma. He says that his family is filled with loving and hard-working citizens, many of whom have served in the Armed Forces. He hopes to one day be reunited with them.