This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.
A year ago, when the news started airing stories about COVID-19 and how bad things could become, I thought, this cannot be good for any one in or out of prison. As the months passed, movement in the facility was restricted, visiting was canceled! Then came the worst news, COVID-19 outbreak within the facility.
Overnight things changed into a scene from a sci-fi movie. The whole place was flooded with nursing staff wearing gowns, masks, face shields. No movement out of our cells for inmates. We were afforded a shower every 72 hours. Our vitals were checked daily and we were COVID tested weekly. But how could this have happened?
Me, I do not exit my cell for any reason since the whole outbreak started. When my doors opened for a shower, I declined the privilege so that my door can be closed promptly. I do not have a cellmate and since my conviction six years ago I’ve battled depression, anxiety, and at times panic attacks.
I figured I wouldn’t get sick if I stayed in my cell and for weeks I only had two views out of my cell, what I saw on TV and what I could see out of my cell door window. The first was filled with news stories of hospitalizations and a mounting death toll. The second, all I could see is nurses and staff members in full PPE testing people and moving those who tested positive.
I know for a fact that prison is not a safe place. As an inmate, you are not safe from violence, abusive authority, or illness. Many times you have no choice but to defend yourself from things that are out of your control. And after any attack of a physical nature, illness included, you will be punished for defending yourself. That’s just prison life.
During a world pandemic, you don’t stand a chance as a prisoner. It’s like standing in the middle of the road, watching a truck moving towards you and the only thing you can do is hope the impact doesn’t kill you, but you can’t move.
After a few weeks living in constant fear, looking out my cell door window watching this truck loaded with a dose of COVID-19 headed my way, it hit me. I got sick. At first I told myself it was something I ate because I only had a stomachache. But then my whole body hurt and I knew I was sick.
All the information I know about symptoms or effects of COVID-19 are what I see on TV. Asking staff any questions regarding what is going on or what to expect results in the same answer: “We don’t know, hang tight.” Television only shows hospitalizations and death rate. Not knowing and being kept in the dark about anything will make any situation more frightful, especially when it involves personal health.
I didn’t ask questions or advise anyone that I was not feeling well. I just sat there and allowed the virus to consume me. Besides there’s nothing that can be done. There is no cure. By the time I contracted the virus, I was so sad and tired from what I saw on TV. Every time I saw a person on TV crying at the loss of a parent or loved one I felt a pain in my gut and sadness in my heart. Emotionally I felt the pain of all of those images and stories.