Federal Bureau of Prisons

On March 31, I was asked to to go to the medical department at the United States Penitentiary where I am incarcerated as part of a medical assignment. It was supposed to be a routine, one-minute activity to get my blood pressure checked.

But it turns out that I wasn’t the only on a medical call-out at the same time. When I entered the medical waiting room, there were 33 other inmates packed into the 300 square foot room. We were all there for an hour from about 10 to 11 in the morning. With barely enough space to stand, social distancing was not even remotely a possibility. 

While social distancing is strictly enforced with no exceptions in areas that benefit inmates, such as the indoor recreation area, the leisure library and, most importantly, the law library, the prison does not seem to care too much about implementing the social distancing rules when it benefits them. That puts inmates in some difficulties. The law library, for instance, where legal work can be done, is the same size as the medical waiting room. But only three inmates are allowed at a time. Compare that to the 34 inmates who were packed into the medical waiting room when I arrived for my appointment in March . Needless to say, this constituted a clear violation of the prison’s own rule. 

This incident is only a small event in the entire handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at the United States Penitentiary Tucson. The way the pandemic was handled from the onset in March 2020 can only be described with the word “disaster.” At times, it felt like the actions taken by the prison were actually designed to spread the virus instead of containing it. 

Healthy inmates were moved into cells without proper sanitization only minutes after inmates who were tested COVID positive were taken out of that same cell. Also, COVID-19 positive inmates were moved into COVID-19 free housing units, even though the prison staff knew that there were people housed in those units who didn’t have the virus. 

My medical waiting room experience only adds on to the bigger picture of how poorly COVID-19 has been handled at USP Tucson.

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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Meinrad Kopp

Meinrad Kopp is a writer incarcerated at U.S. Penitentiary Tucson.