Back in January, at the Belmont Correctional Institution in Ohio where I reside, COVID-19 cases were surging.
Just like with previous spikes in cases, it once again felt as if the state had no meaningful plans to slow the spread inside the prison.
For most of January, I heard inmates excessively coughing, clearing their throats, sniffling and begging for Halls cough drops. The sounds of sickness became so common, one could swear it was a form of secret communication.
According to my observation, the prison tested for COVID-19 only when a person was being released, on the day of release, or if someone was seriously ill. If a person’s test came back positive, they would be quarantined for two weeks.
At Belmont, all eight housing units mingle freely until a COVID-19 case is detected.
Throughout the pandemic, there has typically been at least one unit quarantined at a given time. The members of that unit dine together or share other spaces on the compound while non-quarantined units are placed in their own cohorts. This arrangement does not make sense to many inmates because, from what I could tell, such measures are not strictly enforced.
Corrections officials also only permitted recreation in the gym for much of the month of January. I heard some staff claim it was too cold for outside recreation, but many of us can clearly recall jogging outside in temperatures much colder.
I thought the idea was to ensure adequate distancing during this pandemic, but evidently the game plan for this Ohio prison was still to cram.
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.