Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

North Carolina tries to put on a public face of caring about the welfare of its prisoners, but in reality the opposite is true.

It took a lawsuit and a court order to finally get them to test for COVID-19 statewide. Even then, here at a prison that holds 300 people they only tested 159, stating the others had been exposed and therefore tested earlier when our unit had an active outbreak. 

Somehow not one of the 159 tested en masse came back positive, or so they said, and North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) began transferring new people into this unit. At the same time, they had us on block-by-block quarantine and modified yard, or outside recreational time. 

We eat one block at a time and get an hour to an hour and a half of yard time per day on a rotating schedule. You’re only allowed out with the block you’re housed in.

We are told to social-distance in the yard, but we’re piled on top of each other for 22.5 hours per day inside the block. Bunks are located two to three feet apart, and when watching TV in the dayroom we are more like six inches apart, not even one foot. But told to remain six feet apart outside. What a farce!

We have had zero access to medical needs and no appointments for anything at all besides seeing the unit nurse for sick calls. Even then, we have been told nothing can be done until after the pandemic is under control. Yet new untested or poorly tested people can be shipped in to potentially expose us to a new round of positives.

I had to pull out my own tooth that broke in my mouth with the nerve exposed and hanging from the half still in my gum because no one was being taken to dental. Such a move could have paralyzed my face, but the alternative was an infected jaw and constant pain.

Couple that with being an openly LGBTQI+ prisoner. I am usually singled out for unwanted attention by staff. Or the reverse: I’m completely ignored.

NCDPS started releasing inmates early to combat COVID-19 overcrowding and, although I meet all the criteria for early release, I have been told I will not be considered at all. One reason given was that I have no in-state parole plan, but every time I attempt to submit one I’m told it’s too early to accept.

Yet I watched people with fewer qualifications get released and placed in transitional housing by the NCDPS. One guard said straight up, “But those people were not damn faggots!”

Being a queer person of color in prison in the North Carolina mountains is its own hazard. Being an over-50 diabetic with a history of asthma and bronchitis during COVID-19 is a potential disaster. Being all that, and a “damn Yankee,” let’s just say I sleep with one eye open, when or if I sleep at all.

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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Divine K. Sexton

Divine K. Sexton identifies as a pansexual gender-nonconforming person of color (GNC-POC) who was formerly incarcerated in North Carolina.