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Years ago, reports revealed that the officers in charge of Guantanamo Bay Prison were abusing terrorist prisoners. The officers were parading them around in their underwear, leaving bright lights on day and night, playing loud music at all hours, among other other dehumanizing acts. There was public outcry as a result.

A small group of people approved of this type of abuse because it was being perpetrated on terrorists. The good and decent Americans, those who uphold the traditional American values that set the United States apart from the rest of the world, overwhelmingly disapproved. The courts and legislature quickly reacted, ensuring these prisoners would no longer be treated in such an inhumane manner. 

In America, each state has its own prison system for offenders who have violated state laws. There is a separate federal prison system for those who have violated federal laws. But when the state prisons violate their own prisoners’ civil rights, one can make an appeal to the feds asking them to step in. In both systems, state and federal, there are policies and standards of practice and laws in place to protect offenders from abuses of power and discrimination. These policies ensure all offenders are treated in a humane way.

Enter 2020, and an unprecedented pandemic. How are the prisons responding to the pandemic and still protecting those residing within their walls from such dehumanization? In short, they are not. Some prisons released prisoners in order to reduce the overall population. The hope was to slow the spread of the virus, and to decrease the overall prison population across the U.S. by 8%. 

If you were one of the president’s buddies, you were definitely getting released. But for the rest of us, we remained where we were, constantly exposed to the virus. CDC claims that prisons are hotspots for COVID-19 and incubators for the virus to spread. All the experts claim that there is no social distancing in prison. If you’ve ever been inside, you know how true this is. 

In Texas there was no rush to let anyone out. It practically took an act of Congress to get the people who had already been granted parole released. Yet the virus entered the prisons and ravaged them, killing over 200 offenders and officers, and infecting thousands. 

When the Government began shutting down the state and enforcing the use of face masks, Texas prison authorities scrambled to implement guidelines on the inside to limit the spread of the virus. We were to wear masks and wash our hands. They posted notices around the facilities limiting the number of people allowed in the dayroom and reminded us to keep 6 feet of distance between us. But don’t we all breathe the same air? It’s impossible to socially distance in here. 

The prison authorities disregarded these policies and laws, instead making up their own ambiguous policies along the way. As a result, many of the prisoners here were exposed, and their sentences became death penalties. According to research from the University of Texas, 190 offenders in the state have already died from the virus. Texas has a 35% higher death rate in its prisons than in other states. The greatest irony is that the officers were the ones to carry the virus into prisons. 

Some Texas prison units are in their second or third quarantine lockdown due to multiple infection waves. What’s the definition of insanity again? 

Where are those good and decent Americans who so quickly denounced the inhumane treatment of terrorists? Why is it acceptable for American citizens to be treated this way? We cannot leave people sitting in locked cells where it’s impossible to escape this invisible, deadly enemy.

The NBA had the decency and common sense to put their players in a bubble to protect their safety. Texas prison officials did not think to do the same with their employees. 

This is one of many outcries that have gone out for Texas prisoners. Dear good and decent American, will you hear us now?

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.

David Jones

David Jones is a writer incarcerated in Texas.