The message that we wish to demand is protection from this time of crisis. Is it too much for us as convicted criminals to ask for help? Has the world forgotten that we exist?
We have to watch the world suffer and be afraid that our next phone call will go unanswered because they have contracted COVID-19. I had to lead the effort with two others to document why prison officials chose to shakedown our housing unit after the governor said all gatherings of 10 people must be restricted. We are now faced with hindrance and retaliation because we feared for our safety because we lack the faith in the medical contractors that the Maryland Department of Corrections (DOC) hires.
Case Management, social workers, registered nurses, psychologists, warden — everybody who is of importance has to act in an “acting capacity” because this institution holds the most vacancies in the Maryland Division of Corrections. What does it mean to me, who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness? I cry because I’m afraid that administrative officials won’t believe me just because I portray a strong visual.
My health includes my mental health also. My welfare includes my well being. My safety includes the ability to feel that I can unburden myself to those who are tasked with my body. I fight so that my mind can remember the faces of my family without having to look at my photo album.
In this moment I know what it is to have health, safety and welfare. We also smell fear, feces and pepper spray. Who better to protect us than them? Do I make sense when I throw myself at the mercy of the institution? Should I admit that I am powerless without proper guidance? Maybe I should ask the warden’s empty position to intervene on our behalf.
March 30, 2020 — my birthday was yesterday, and I now am 29 years old. Am I receiving the proper treatment when all I wanted to do was escape into an abyss of highs and medication? My day has come, and now I feel forgotten. Yesterday I felt like a person of importance, yet today the mental health registered nurse didn’t ask me how I was doing.
It was my neighbor who spoke with me through the confessional booth, aka the vent. In my medicine cup I receive meds for the voices that call me. In the vents, we go from being friends to becoming therapist and patient. In our cell sits a speaker that has said nothing to me out loud. Yet I think I hear it, so I cover it with tape. I am known as Chris X, cofounder of the New Afrikan Blood Strand. Yet I am still SID#2390623.
I sit on a tier of single cells with individuals who have re-committed the same crime that most of them are currently serving time for. I have not committed a jail house slaughter. Is this setting appropriate for individuals who have verified mental health disorders?
Who counsels the people who have killed in prison to survive? Should they submit request forms saying that they are now ready to talk? Should they not have to worry that homicide and suicide feel like the only option and relief ? Who listens? I know, me! Not them, but me.
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.