Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Two years ago, we had a COVID-19 outbreak here in Illinois at Stateville Correctional Center (SCC) that lasted for months and months. After being sick for more than a month, I survived. Many guys did not survive. More than 30 men died of COVID-19 here.

You would think things would be different the second time around. But not only are things not different, they are worse.

When more than 100 corrections officers tested positive in late December, they once again began testing everyone in the prison. That resulted in greater than 200 positive tests during the first week. 

What did they do in response to this? Absolutely nothing. The men who tested positive were quarantined in place. These men were allowed to go to the showers with everyone else; they were allowed to continue to go for video visits, using the video machines as everyone else. They also continued to use the same phones as everyone else. 

Our phones here are portable ones that are passed from cell to cell, but we were given no disinfectants or bleach to clean them in between uses. We were not even informed that these men around us tested positive for COVID-19. 

For months we’ve been unable to purchase soap here at Stateville. We have also not gotten toothpaste or deodorant. 

Because of this, more men tested positive for COVID-19 the very next week. I know one man who lives a few doors down from me and works in the inmate commissary. A doctor came and told him that he was off quarantine, which was a surprise to him because he had never been told that he had tested positive in the first place. He had been going to work every day, possibly infecting his co-workers and prison staff.

As the number of positive cases rose, the prison eventually opened F-House — the panopticon — to move guys who had tested COVID-19 positive, but they were still allowing other guys to quarantine in place. I know men who were told they could not go to work because they were in quarantine, yet they were still going for showers and video visits with the rest of us. There has been no consistency in their handling of the outbreak. 

Shortly later, the prison moved men out of F-House because it was a condemned building not fit for people to live in. Instead, they began using E-House, which was not much better. The water does not work in most cells, the toilets don’t work, and the lights don’t work. 

We were tested again on January 15, which was a Saturday. Two days later, me and four other guys were told by a corrections officer (CO) to pack up because we were being moved to E-House. 

A week went by without anyone telling us that we had tested positive. We can guess that we are, but we shouldn’t have had to. 

This is the fourth time I’ve gotten COVID-19. Me and some of the guys here are pretty sick. I’m coughing, my body aches, and I’m finding it difficult to breathe. Others are worse. No one has come by to check on us. No one has come by to offer us Tylenol. 

As I write this, a guy below me is coughing his lungs out. He was coughing so hard earlier that he was retching. We called down to him to see if he was all right, but there was nothing any of us could do. I have a pounding headache, and I could use some cold pills to stop my sinuses from going crazy. The COs tell me there is nothing they can do. 

None of what they are doing aligns with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All of us have made mistakes, but we don’t deserve to be sick, and we don’t deserve to die because of the Illinois Department of Corrections’ indifference. 

We need people to speak up and speak out on our behalf to demand change and demand that we be treated like humans. 

This is the fourth time I have been infected with COVID-19. One of these times, it may actually kill me.

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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Anthony Ehlers

Anthony Ehlers is a writer incarcerated at Stateville Correctional in Illinois. He is a 2022 graduate of the Northwestern Prison Education Program.