Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Appreciation for Popsicles and Apathy

Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

RCW 72.09.010 – Legislative intent. It is the intent of the legislature to establish a comprehensive system of corrections for convicted law violators within the state of Washington to accomplish the following objectives. […]
(5)(a) Avoiding idleness. Idleness is not only wasteful but destructive to the individual and to the community.

Today the administration at MCC notified the incarcerated population that a “staff appreciation” event will be held on May 31, 2022. At the same time as this notice was being disbursed, the Twin Rivers Unit Associate Superintendent was going around the institution with a bowl full of popsicles and handing them out to staff.

The incarcerated population at MCC is furious by this shameless demonstration of “atta-boy” behavior — and here’s why:

While this event occurs, MCC prisoners will be locked down from 10:30 a.m until 2:30 p.m. Staff will be eating BBQ while we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

To be fair, staff have gone through a lot during covid. With Gov. Inslee’s vaccine mandate causing major staff shortages, many MCC staff worked four double shifts a week for months. In addition, DOC struggles to keep new hires because it is simply an agency that doesn’t know how to be humane — either to employees or prisoners.

Whereas staff suffering at MCC has ended, the horrors of covid isolation for prisoners has never lessened — and in fact continues to worsen under the free hand administrators have to cause harm — all under the covid umbrella.

At Twin Rivers Unit the prisoners in both medium custody units have been removed from their jobs in all Correctional Industries operations besides the kitchen. This results in them being stuck in the housing unit all day. Milling around. Doing nothing.

Recreation has dwindled from four to six hours every day, down to a meager two hours — which is cancelled several times a week for a variety of reasons. Going to the yard on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings has disappeared completely.

Volunteer programs no longer exist. Twin Rivers used to have religious programs for all faith groups every single day of the week. Self-betterment programs such as Bridges to Life, Defy Ventures, Bridges to HOPE, Toastmasters, and recovery groups like AA/NA and Celebrate Recovery.

All gone.

Draconian covid protocols are imposed and aggressively enforced. Masks on at all times, maintain six-foot distance … completely ignoring the space limitations that do not allow “social distancing” — and the fact that we are sheltering in place when in our “wings.”

Visitation has been decimated — from four days a week for seven hours a day, down to three, 3- hour visits a month. We can drink bottled water now — but masks remain on with no eating food or kissing our loved ones. The argument against eating? Our masks would be down for too long.

MCC administrators must have found magic masks for the staff appreciation event — because surely they won’t be allowed to unmask and eat around one another. Ha.

Since March of 2020 this has gone on for us. During the covid outbreak that began in November when three maintenance staff infected their inmate work crews, MCC prisoners went weeks eating food that wasn’t fit for a dog. Many went weeks without a clean change of clothing. All were locked down for over a month. Over 400 positive cases and DOC never gave out a single cough drop.

Nobody has ever offered anything that resembles an apology to the prisoners at MCC. Certainly we’re not having a BBQ to acknowledge the way we continue to suffer. Our daily lives are fear. When will they take visits? When will they lock us in again?

I appreciate staff — and I only hope that they “drink the kool-aid” during their BBQ. Or was it in the popsicles?

Correctional Industries: Valuing Profits Instead of Lives

Correctional Industries: Valuing Profits Instead of Lives

For those of you that do not know what Correctional Industries (“CI”) is, I’ll give you a brief explanation. If you’re a member of the community or legislature, CI is touted as a saver of money and savior for the thousands of men and women within the Washington State Department of Corrections. CI is supposed to provide services at a reduced price, with improved quality, and the benefit of training incarcerated people with marketable job skills.

The reality is that CI is none of those things. Every operation CI takes over has a dramatic dip in quality (whether it is food, laundry, commissary, or textiles and manufacturing), a dramatic rise in costs (for taxpayers), and offers virtually nothing in the way of marketable job skills that would provide a sustainable wage after release.

For the purpose of this conversation I want to focus on CI and the operation here at Twin Rivers Unit where they operate the kitchen that provides food to the prisoner population. At this point, everyone in America knows about COVID (and my having written that word in this email will now cause this message to be flagged and screened before being sent out — which may take as long as two weeks), and the risks involved with having close contact with someone who has the virus.

For anyone associated with prison, we all know that staff are the ones who will bring the virus into this environment and infect us. Also known by anyone associated with prison is that (1) we receive horrifyingly deficient medical care at the best of times, and (2) when believed to have COVID, we are sent to be housed in the hole — where staff are abusive and treat us inhumanely.

In many ways DOC has been amazing about COVID. I have not been pat searched for months, nor has my cell been searched. Even so, staff do not social distance — even when yelling at us: “SIX FEET!!” They sit in the offices and remove their masks, eating, drinking, talking — coughing and sneezing. They sit maskless while sorting our mail — which they then wear their masks while handing out…even though the virus can remain on paper for over 24 hours.

But the most egregious show of disregard for our lives has been demonstrated by Correctional Industries. Amidst this pandemic, with everything that we know about the spread of COVID — and the risk that outside personnel pose for the prisoners within — CI has had officers pat searching every prisoner who leaves the chow hall after working their shift. Without a change of gloves, one prisoner after the next.

Only to discover that one of those officers has tested positive for COVID. Now, we have 121 prisoners on quarantine — many aged and with with underlying health conditions that increase their chances of death if they contract COVID.

With this act, Correctional Industries has shown themselves (as both an agency and the individuals who operate it) to be the monster we have long known them to be. In order to prevent the possible theft of an onion, or maybe some cheese, CI has been having prisoners pat searched for months — and finally our greatest fear is realized: That person is COVID positive.

The mail Gestapo will almost definitely stop this message from going out — there will be an attempt to silence my voice and censor this information. Nonetheless, when you do read these words, please consider them when and if you hear DOC telling you how well they’re protecting us. An onion has more value than our lives.