A Meal

Written by Jacob Schmitt

I had fallen so far from what I wanted in life that I was prepared to do anything to gain acceptance and approval. What I ended up with was 30 years in prison — having never shed a drop of blood in my life. For many, that is where the story would end, but for me — that’s where it began. I can be a good person whether I am in prison or not. The truly beautiful thing about this realization is that its true for all of us. Every man and woman incarcerated has the ability to be in prison without allowing prison to be in us. Granted, it takes courage and commitment to stand in the face of an environment as inherently negative as prison and say: I will be more than this. But we can do it.

January 28, 2022

There are just over 800 prisoners at the Twin Rivers Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex, a medium custody institution located in a semi-rural area northeast of Seattle, Washington. The prison has four living units: A, B, C, and D, and each unit has three “wings” (A, B, and C) all with a lower and an upper tier.

On the morning of Friday January 21st, 2022, a man named Chandler M. was locked into his cell (on “quarantine status”) at TRU/B-Unit C-Wing (“C-Wing”) in order to undergo a symptoms test out of concern that he might have contracted c/vid.

Also on Friday January 21st, 2022, the Secretary of DOC Cheryl Strange put out a letter to families of the incarcerated that said, in part, “I know some of you have concerns about food and water getting to your loved ones at regularly scheduled times. In some cases, and some locations, meals are taking much longer to serve. Everyone in the facility is being given the opportunity to eat every meal.” Mr. M. had no knowledge of this promise from Secretary Strange — but it would be one that DOC fulfilled for him.

On Monday January 24th, 2022, while helping pass out commissary to the people in C-Wing, I took two very small bags to Mr. M’s cell. I would later discover that they contained Tylenol and other OTC products — no food items like chips, meat, rice, ramen noodles, or coffee. Just medications.

As I waited for the officer in the control booth to press the button that would unlock Mr. M’s door, I found out that his door lock was broken and could only be opened manually with a key. So I told him to slide his key under the door (yes, we have keys to our cells — like I said: this is medium custody) so I could unlock it for him. For some reason he balked and since I couldn’t understand him, I became impatient and moved on to give commissary to the next person on quarantine.

I was done in just a few minutes, and decided to go back and speak with Mr. M. Because he is very awkward socially I try and make extra efforts to connect with him — and it was a good thing that I did.

Mr. M. had not been allowed out of his cell with the other quarantined prisoners to shower and use the phone for the entire three days that he’d been locked down. He had also been fed one time in those three days — but as promised by Secretary Strange: he had the opportunity to eat his (one) meal.

Readers: please know that I promptly went out and read the acting unit supervisor, sergeant, and officers the riot act over Mr. M’s maltreatment.

Their response? “He should have said something.” Typical blame shifting by an abusive authority figure. What was he supposed to say — and to whom? All of our inquiries are met with either “I don’t know” or “that’s up to Incident Command.” More correctly called “Idiot Central,” I think.

They also told me repeatedly that he had never been on quarantine. Oops. His mistake — but with a broken door lock he couldn’t come out and he really has no friends that would say: “Hey! I haven’t seen Chandler today — let’s go find him!”

I was able to give him some food right away, and then was overjoyed to unlock his cell for him and let him out just before lunch on the 24th.

By noon Mr. M had been locked back into his cell. I stormed over and demanded to know why — “I’m not cleared to be out yet” is what he told me.

Huh. I guess he was on quarantine and not in his cell just because he didn’t have someone unlock his door. Looks like the blame-shifting didn’t hold up after all.

Mr. M is off quarantine now and moved into a cell that doesn’t have a broken lock — which I should add he was never supposed to be left in anyway.

But he did get the chance to eat his meal.

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