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Prison is not a good place — any type of confinement is never good, even in the best of times — but in times of a pandemic, such as COVID-19, it is a total nightmare. I am a federal inmate housed at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) Miami, and can honestly say this is not a preferred place to serve time. 

We are currently on lockdown —  something the administration refers to as a modified movement, but is, in fact, lockdown. We have been confined to our cells since early March. At first we were only released for one hour or less on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to shower, use the phone, check e-mails and clean. In mid June, Tuesdays and Thursdays were added to our out-of-cell schedule. We do not have out-of-cell time on Saturdays or Sundays, which means no showers, phone or e-mail. Things are bad but I suppose it could be worse, and they possibly will become worse. 

At this institution we are not advised as to how many inmates have contracted COVID-19, but I have learned through outside media that several staff members at FDC Miami have tested positive for the virus. Given this statistic I assume many inmates also have the virus. I do not have knowledge of any inmate at FDC Miami being tested for COVID-19, nor do other inmates in this housing unit. Medical is lacking at best. If you’re sick, you’re required to submit a request for sick call, and then it can be weeks or even months before you are examined by anyone, usually a physician’s assistant and not a real doctor. Many times a person will be over their sickness before they are seen by anyone. If an inmate is unlucky and becomes infected with the virus, and the case is bad, the inmate has a good chance of not being seen by anyone before they die. It is said that in an effort to detect the virus early, medical staff are making rounds and checking temperatures, but medical has made no rounds in housing units. 

I was sick in March and submitted an electronic request for sick call, and when I had not been seen by anyone 12 days later, I submitted another request. Then, seven days later, I submitted a written request, and I still was not seen by anyone, medical or otherwise. Finally — several days later — I advised the unit officer that I was not feeling well, and he contacted medical and I was seen the following day. 

I quickly learned that the medical staff will check for fever, and if the patient has no fever at that time, they assume the patient is not sick and prescribe the universal cure — ibuprofen — or nothing at all. Deadlines are not met and the majority of requests to staff are not even answered, but again the inmate is expected to follow all procedures and meet all deadlines. We live by rules that would be considered a double standard in the free world. Making things even worse is that we have very low morale during these times, not knowing if the end could be near for ourselves or people near us. We are advancing into the fourth month since visits were suspended, and inmates have not seen their families or loved ones. 

When and if an inmate is able to contact someone on the phone, it is for five minutes only, and that is a short period of time to try to communicate peacefully and without being disturbed. At most times the phone lines are long, and there is total disrespect for others who would also like to use the phone. Tempers flare and trouble is always near. You can use e-mail as the alternative, but time is short and lines are long, and if you are not a decent typist, not much gets said. 

It is difficult to separate everyone, and there is almost always someone within six feet of you. Inmates are given masks to wear, but some wear them and some do not. With the massive amount of time we all now spend in cells, we need for the air to work properly for fresh air, and to have warm water for sanitation, but sometimes things do not work as they should. On occasion we are given cleaning materials, but not consistently enough. But that is prison life — we play, we pay.

The prison population in the U.S. is the highest in the world, and prison is considered a business by some. Most prisons are overpopulated and living conditions, all things considered, are very poor. Many activists are calling for a reduction in the number of people who are imprisoned, while authorities and prosecutors seem to be working to increase the length of sentences and incarcerate even more people. 

For a time we were in total lockdown due to outside protests by free citizens over police brutality and the irrational killing of minorities by police around the country. We as inmates have no control over outside activity, yet we pay the price. The total lockdown was short lived, but we still are on lockdown however you look at it — even if the authorities call it “enhanced modified movement.” The modified movement at this institution lasted only a couple weeks before, but once again, we were placed back on total lockdown without explanation as to why. 

And to make matters worse, when officers or people in authority are asked about the status of coronavirus within the institution, they refuse to answer, or they simply say, “No one here has the virus.” This is untrue, at best. 

Maybe most within the prison systems will live to look back on the dreadful times. The weeks and months ahead will tell the story.

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.

Gregory Bart Nation is a writer incarcerated in Florida. He has written and published two books while incarcerated: “The Sound of the Hounds” and “The Thrill of the Chase.”