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Like all of you, we are supposed to be quarantined for 14 days after being exposed to the virus. But Texas prison guards come and go on an hourly and daily basis. Also, the prisoners who work within the units carry on, still going to work every day. They are people with jobs such as kitchen staff, laundry, maintenance and many others. This means they work all throughout the units and interact with almost everyone, helping to spread the virus even further amongst us. 

With every new case of coronavirus suspected amongst us or the staff, the prison officials start our fourteen day quarantine over again. They did this three times before Texas prisons placed our unit on permanent lockdown. Still, guards and inmate workers come and go. I believe all 120 or so units in Texas are on permanent lockdown. 

Testing for the coronavirus in Texas prisons, as far as we know, is nonexistent. I have yet to speak to or hear from one person who has been tested. This does not mean they are not testing, but it doesn’t mean they are, either. 

As far as getting sick, Texas prison officials tell us to take care of ourselves. Only if breathing becomes extremely difficult should we send a request through the sick call to see medical staff. This is not an ideal solution for it takes seven to 10 days, sometimes longer,  to see medical staff. 

Another difficult thing for some of us is that we have been without heat for over a month. Only a few days ago, we had four inches of snow on the ground. Night temperatures were in the 20s and 30s with days barely much warmer. Currently, it is in the 70s during the day and in the 40s at night. 

Being on lockdown means we only get to shower every other day. They limit the shower time to 15 minutes, but more often than not we get about five. To add insult to injury, only the first six people to shower each day get hot water. After that, the water is more cold than warm, so you can’t even use the shower to warm up. When you shower with 144 other men, it gets cold fast. 

We had no personal protective equipment (PPE) until April 15. Then, we were given masks made by our very own laundry workers. For two weeks in March, they gave us bleach rags and small bottles of bleach water to clean our own cells. They no longer do this. They will come by and spray bleach water in our dayrooms like they are spraying for roaches. It is crazy to me, seeing as we are on lockdown and no one is allowed to go into the dayroom. It would be better to let us use that bleach water to clean the cells we are stuck in 24/7. In the 12 years I have been in the Texas prison system, this is the only time they have given us anything to clean our cells with. 

Texas does have a commissary where anyone with money on their account can buy coffee, dry food stuffs, stamps, hygiene supplies, etc. Sadly, there is no commissary while we are on lockdown, so not only can we not clean, we can’t even buy coffee or stamps to write home. Texas does not pay their prison workers.

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.

William T. Jacobsen is a writer incarcerated in Texas.