This story was written in April 2020
COVID-19. I never thought it would get anywhere close to me or those around me. I’m a strong, healthy male with an excellent immune system who eats right, exercises, and does what is necessary to keep my body operating at peak performance. But if you didn’t know, I’m one of 3,000 plus inmates at a severely infected prison in Texas: The George Beto Unit of Tennessee Colony, Texas.
The unit has been on active quarantine since April 7, 2020, about a week after the first confirmed cases of coronavirus. Before this occurred, the unit was trying to follow Governor Abbot’s dictates with regards to social distancing and limited gatherings, a difficult task when you have large numbers of people living and congregating in an area dayroom the size of a double living room. In addition, the food servers and cooks must work shoulder-to-shoulder without gloves or masks. It is like a heating vent on the ocean floor; bacteria will flock faster than sunlight streaming in from space.
Several wings immediately went on quarantine while the rest of the unit stayed up. Infected individuals were moved to a separate, empty wing. For the next week or so, as the numbers increased, people on my wing began getting moved if they had a fever or reported any conditions to medical.
I am a food service worker who spent two days making sack meals before my wing was officially quarantined. Subsequently, I was exposed multiple times when I took meals to the quarantined wings with neither a mask nor gloves.
Then came my headache. No one said anything about a headache, so I thought it was just another sinus infection, except this time I spent three days laid out with a massive migraine.
My energy level dropped off and my head was stopped up, not to mention I lost both smell and taste. I never ran a fever or felt bad in any other way. It came and went. I suspected it was COVID-19.
It became apparent, however, after speaking with others, that nearly everyone on my wing had displayed the same or similar symptoms. That means that it is a safe bet that all 3,000 plus may have had some form of COVID-19. We have nowhere to go and must rely on each other to get through it together.
Any virus that hits a prison is usually more virulent because we all share the same space, breathe the same air, shower in the same area, eat together, etc. We have nowhere to go and must rely on each other to get through it. But once it passes through us, the wave is pretty much over, as I suspect might be the case here in Texas.
I have been in prison through the 2012 SARS epidemic, Mad Cow Disease, the Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola and Zika. None of them have been as bad as predicted, thought HI-N1 was bad. So too, with the COVID-19.
In the meantime, keep the men and women in our nation’s prison system in your prayers. Another virus might be coming, whether we like it or not.
Jaymes Hargrove is an amateur journalist who seeks to expose the various failings of the carceral system. He can be reached at:
The George Beto Unit
1391 FM 3328
Tennessee Colony, TX 75880
TDCJ # 1618629
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.