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It has been said in the news and in official reports that Pinellas County Jail (PCJ), along with all other Florida facilities, has been conducting testing and enforcing proper safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic. I am a pre-trial detainee and my experience says differently. 

The only testing PCJ has conducted is a check for a fever when inmates claim symptoms. Not a single other inmate has been given any other testing. No distancing protocol is being enforced, and after a grievance was submitted, the jail responded that they did not have to. In one pod, there are typically four cells of about 18-by-12 feet with six bunks to a room. Twenty-four inmates are confined in one space. The only protocol enforced is to require paper masks outside of our pods and to slap a quarantine sticker on the window for 14 days. The pod is then removed from sick status before a single inmate is checked and tested.

Multiple employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing danger from the outside in. Nurses have tested positive. Even trustees and cooks, the very people that handle food, have tested positive for the virus while working in the kitchen and preparing and transporting food. They neglect proper testing requirements for employees and only take action as a last resort when the damage is done.

During my confinement, I have been placed in a pod no less than 15 feet away from quarantined pods. There is constant traffic that goes between those pods and the normal pods. Employees would take the food and water cart into the sick status pod first and then bring the same cart into the normal pods and serve food and drink.

On another occasion, me and several other inmates were removed from a normal pod and placed into a pod that had just come off of quarantine status before they thoroughly cleaned the pod or tested the inmates that were there under quarantine. They refused to allow us to clean our cell cubicles before we had to go in them. Our safety was disregarded whatsoever. This is but another battle as we pre-trial detainees fight on a daily basis just to be treated like human beings and have our rights respected. 

There is no way to declare these actions as anything other than a wanton disregard for inmate safety. Because the state insists that the presumption of correctness justifies pre-trial detention, I am forced to reside in a facility that cannot even ensure my safety. 

Everyday, I am in fear of my life. Even worse, the courts and the state have used the extraordinary circumstances to suspend the speedy trial clause and public critical court proceedings indefinitely. How is this not cruel and unusual punishment? If we lose our health, our lives in a trial where we’re proven innocent, then what? A simple apology to us and our loved ones, who will suffer permanent damages? 

Just because we are detainees faced with allegations, do we deserve such inhumane treatment? Today, I stand to bring this darkness to the light, as just one of many things that inmates at Pinellas County Jail under the justice system of Florida.

There is no equality or constitutional protection. There are no rights. 

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.

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Devan Graves

Devan Graves is a writer and a pre-trial detainee in Pinellas County Jail in Florida.