Photo by  Dimitri Karastelev  on  Unsplash
Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

When the COVID-19 virus was first discovered to be in the United States well over a year ago now, the reaction to this outbreak was relatively adequate, except in Texas. Notwithstanding the government’s inability to slow the progress of this highly-infectious, highly-contagious virus, Texas did little to slow the spread.

Just as it took two years for Texas to adopt the Emancipation Proclamation, brought about by President Abraham Lincoln, at the legislative level, Texas has been slow to react to the COVID-19 virus. Because of the delayed response, Texas counties got hit pretty hard, and officers that work in the prisons spread the virus to the inmates.

It wasn’t until May 2020 that the States of Texas began quarantining people, including inmates. Testing for the virus was also late, and people began to die, both in the free world, and in prisons. That same month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) had inmates make facemasks, which were made out of two lays of cotton material, which is a very breathable material. These inadequate masks did not slow the spread, nor did they prevent an inmate from contracting the virus. Correctional staff, who tested positive, were not required to be quarantined in their homes, nor were they required to utilize face masks right away.

Eventually, TDCJ correctional officers were allowed to buy high-grade facemasks, while the inmates received severely inadequate ones. Correctional officers were given hand sanitizer, but inmates were given nothing in which to sanitize their persons. Once a week, they were given a small amount of bleach, and once every couple of weeks officers would come to the cells and spray sanitizer into the cells. But this did not stop the spread nor did it prevent the contraction of the virus.

When someone was determined to have a fever, officers would quarantine an entire pod or building for fourteen days or more. Despite their best efforts, several inmates on the W.G. McCornnell Unit, located in Beeville, Texas, died. Additionally, several correctional officers, who contracted the virus, also died.

As of the week of March 10, 2021, Texas and other states are acting against the orders of the newly-elected president Joe Biden and have lifted the mitigation restrictions even though people are still contracting the virus and dying from it.

The TDCJ is not lifting the restrictions however. They have decided to keep the restrictions and limit the contact with families, who have not been able to see their incarcerated family members even though there are areas set up for no-contact visits. Both the inmates and their families have suffered. Contact with our families helps with our sanity.

TDCJ said it was going to allow limited visits with inmates for about an hour per week, and they have been placing plastic barriers up on visitation tables in preparation, which will not stop the spread of COVID-19.

As of March 14, two housing areas have been quarantined due to inmates having contracted the virus. I believe that officers are causing the spread.

Now that Texas has lifted the restrictions, it’s not the state that is delayed, but one of its most lucrative agencies.

TDCJ wants to wait until all of the staff and inmates receive the vaccines, which many will not even consider getting because of problems associated with them. Others, including me, hold religious beliefs that any foreign drugs entering the body is a sin.

In past attempts by the staff at the W.G. McConnell Unit to stop the spread of the flu, the senior warden incentivised inmates to get the flu vaccine by allowing them to make a special purchase of items totalling $1,000 in exchange. Those who refused got nothing. This action violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constituition that is supposed to protect individuals from discrimination.

Texas, especially TDCJ, are late as usual in their response to everything that regards law, restriction and the preservation of life.

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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Richard Shafer

Richard Shafer is a writer incarcerated in Texas.