Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

“covid-19” by Prachatai is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

July 14, 2020

Stuck in the Reintegration Housing Unit (RHU),  and I am quite concerned. 

I was told I would be transferred out in just a week.Temperatures outside are rising past 110 degrees. The AC here does not work and we are not getting any answers.

Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health are now conducting weekly updates, televised live on Thursdays, informing us the cases of COVID-19 are getting worse. We can barely use the phones to call family, order food from commissary or enjoy rec to get fresh air away from the closed-in space of an 8-foot-by-15-foot cell. I speak occasionally through the vent with my cell neighbor, Quinton, on what he believes is going on. Just last Friday, our mutual friends were moved to another facility, but it doesn’t seem that the move was planned. 

Lunch has arrived, however, not in the normal brown trays that keep our food nice and warm, but on styrofoam trays. Among this society of Arizona inmates, we know that when food arrives on styrofoam trays, something is up. During my time as a kitchen worker in the COVID-19 pandemic, I know that only new, quarantined inmates who have just arrived at a facility receive styrofoam trays. Now worry and fear linger in my mind. 

There are only 20 cells in A-Pod and 20 cells in B-Pod, but A-Pod only has 6 inmates, including myself. It’s 4:30 p.m. and dinner has not arrived. 

The view of the rec yard from my cell shows an empty yard. 8:30 p.m. and no food. No answers. The cell doors are not opening for meds. 

Now it’s getting worse. A lot of noise and movement in the dayroom. Inmates from various housing units are being moved to RHU. Not just 10 inmates… not 20… but over 30 inmates are being squeezed into the single-man cells. 

What is going on? 

When will dinner come? 

What has happened that has prompted an influx to RHU? 

How long will we be faced with uncertainty?

September 22, 2020: Arrival

Eighty-nine days in quarantine and I’ve finally been informed I will be transferring out to another yard. I’m both nervous and excited that this news has finally come. Nervous because I’ll either be going to South Unit or Cook Unit, hopefully. Or I will have been falsely informed and be shipped off to Meadows or Kingman, both facilities with bad reputations. 

I’m excited because of the great likelihood I’ll be reunited with my best friend Jeremy. Also I will be embarking on a new journey on a new yard with a favorable opportunity, acceptance. Dr. Fischer has been a remarkable support system to lean on, emotionally. His advice throughout the last six-and-a-half months has given me the insight I need to be successful wherever I go. 

I packed up my belongings and headed to intake, awaiting transport. I walked from the Reintegration Housing Unit (RHU) down through the rec yard, handcuffed with the memories I have from the past. The basketball games I had with Austin, walking the track with Rob and Tim, and my first kiss with Sammy. 

Once inside the holding tank in intake, I was strip-searched and informed I’ll be heading to Cook Unit. I was pleased. Transport picked up the others also going to Cook and other facilities and we headed off. I arrived at Cook and saw inmates enjoying rec. I grabbed a mattress and headed to Building 7, where Jeremy lives. My heart was racing.

How will Jeremy respond when he sees me — four years later?

Who else will I see from my past? Has the drama just started?

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.

Chastyn "Nova" Hicks

Chastyn “Nova” Hicks is a writer incarcerated in Arizona. Writing is Chastyn’s passion, and he sees it as his calling. He has been witness to many experiences as an individual who straddles different worlds: gay, straight, Puerto Rican, Latino and Black. He hopes to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves, and to improve the world through his words and his voice. Chastyn wants people to know that they are never alone, he is there to listen and provide hope.