Photo by 538 starmildt2130cs via Depositphotos

Walking on the sidewalk at Everglades Correctional Institution in Florida, you notice a large, clear garbage bag sitting in the grass out in front of a dorm. It is filled with used styrofoam trays and remnants of the oatmeal they delivered for breakfast. 

To an outsider, the sight may not stir a single thought. But for those who live here, this is an indicator that one of the four quads in that dorm is quarantined. 

During the worst days of the pandemic, it was not uncommon to see several bags stacked in a jumbled pile indicating all four quads of a dorm were quarantined. There were about 60 prisoners per quad, and they consumed three meals a day, month after month. Hundreds of white styrofoam trays piled up.

Thousands of Florida prisoners have experienced the COVID-19 quarantine protocol within the past year. Many have experienced it on more than one occasion. Even worse, some have been subjected to it long past the required 14-day period because of “resets,” meaning, if on the 13th day of quarantine someone registers a fever, a reset occurs and another 14 days are added to the quarantine.

Take Juan Portieles, for instance. He experienced extended periods of quarantine since the pandemic quarantines started in Florida. 

During the first instance, he spent 30 days in quarantine after three men were moved out of his quad. “No one ever provided an explanation of what the quarantine was for, or how long it would be, or why the three men were moved,” he said. 

On the 30th day, Portieles registered a fever after seeking treatment for his asthma and was moved to a new quad. This was where he remained quarantined for another 30 days in a two-man cell with another man who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We were only given an hour a day to leave the cell to make phone calls, shower or use the kiosk for email,” he said.  

According to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, the psychological effects of quarantine during the COVID-19 outbreak include post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), anxiety and depression. These triggered responses such as fear, anger, fatigue, diminished work performance and impaired concentration. 

The study confirms what many who are living in prison already know — constantly dealing with quarantines and living each day under the possibility of another is stressful and difficult to handle. 

Those who have been through the experience can pinpoint several aggravating factors: The reduction of daily outdoor recreation to once a week from once or twice a day, and the limitation on our ability to purchase hygiene and food items at the canteen from a few times a week to once a week. 

Another hard reality of quarantine is the lack of communication between prisoners and staff. We don’t know when quarantines start or when they’re projected to end. This is further exacerbated by the fact that they terminate quarantines only on business days. This means that 14 days could turn into 17 days if the quarantine begins on a Friday. 

However, these are just the surface issues. Consider the men who have family flying in from out of state or traveling many hours by car for visitations. Then there are the men who are trying to fight their cases and have to meet legal deadlines, but can’t access the law library to write motions that require hours of research time. Anxiety, anyone? How about some PTSS? 

There is a solution to all this fear, irritability, stress and depression.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance saying incarcerated persons, who are fully vaccinated, do not need to quarantine at intake after they’re transferred or following exposure to a suspected or confirmed contact with COVID-19.

There is no need to keep someone from the recreational yard or their programs. There is no need to keep people from their loved ones, or hinder them in their legal efforts. 

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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Frank Morse

Frank Morse is a self-taught portraitist, writer and public speaker who has been incarcerated since he was 23 years old. He is the president of the Draft Pick’s Gavel Club, an affiliate of Toastmasters International, staff writer for the Endeavor Newsletter, a prison publication at Everglades Correctional Institution, a peer facilitator in the Horizon Faith and Character Program dorm, and facilitator of the Art Expressions Program. He is incarcerated in Florida.