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.
An update from our friend in WSRU in WA DOC – read his post Preparing for Quarantine that he wrote just before being moved. Today he was moved back to general population.
I’m doing great physically. I developed a sore throat (which became a slight cough) and rolling chills for a couple days. Otherwise, I didn’t have any breathing issues, didn’t lose my sense of smell or taste, no headaches, cramps, or other issues.
The section of the IMU I was housed for 7 days was actually comfy. It was spacious, had a 21″ flat screen with cable and a remote, the best mattress I’ve slept on in prison, and I got showers, clothes (t-shirt, boxers, socks, towel, and rag) and phones every other day.
But IMU living wasn’t so good for other guys elsewhere in the hole. One guy said he didn’t get a shower for 5 days. An elderly man tested positive, fell and hit his head and died in IMU. Another didn’t get medical treatment to change his colostomy bag for 6 hours and developed extreme stomach pains. The bag was used after he caught COVID-19. They didn’t get clean bedding or hepastat cleaner. They didn’t have TVs or electric outlets.
Five other guys were were lost after being housed in 3 Seg with probation violators. They reported black mold, freezing cold showers, being given 2 ounces of disinfectant (in a Dixie cup) to clean their cells for two weeks. One guy filed a medical emergency grievance for complications with COPD and asthma (needing inhalers) and staff returned it to him saying it didn’t constitute an emergency. A memo said the water was unsafe. So, they were given 1.05 pints of bottled water every 8 or more hours.
Two of the guys in 3 Seg tested positive, weren’t tracked, and were mistakenly transferred to A/B units and infected guys there.
Yeah, I’m in the gym with about 100+ guys living on cots. There’s some chairs and tables. It’s loud throughout the day, hard to sleep, and a pain to use one of two phones, which can take as long as 1.5 hours.
We don’t have WiFi, but I’m able to send and receive messages because there’s a section of the gym that has one bar of reception. We don’t have enough clothes so we’re hand washing our clothing and linen. Since we all tested positive, virtually everyone is NOT wearing a mask.
We have these portable Royal Restrooms (w/ nonpotable water) outside for showers and bathroom. They’re decent but some are tight on space. Some have half showers. We can watch one of about 20 DVD movies (on 3 TVs) and regular Cable TV (on 2 TVs).
One morbidly obese guy doesn’t have any extra clothing. He sleeps on the floor because the cot doesn’t support his weight. And numerous guys are being kept in the gym beyond the 20 days claimed by prison staff and prison medical staff. One guy was quarantined for 23 days.
These living conditions are cruel and inhumane. Many IMU and 3 Seg staff are apathetic to guys and ignore them, feed them lies and don’t follow through, and treat them like they’re being sanctioned for disciplinary reasons. This is in direct conflict with DOC’s memo that we’re not supposed to be treated like those for disciplinary reasons. But I say that they shouldn’t be treated that way anyway.
After being diligent in my mask wearing, hand washing, and other precautionary measures, I still caught COVID-19. I sent the WSRU superintendent a letter identifying 5 breaches in protection against COVID-19 and provided solutions to remedying them.
1. The showers are where guys de-mask and talk from stall to stall, infecting one another. A shower schedule is needed that limits showers to one person at a time.
2. The unit vents blow air further than 6 ft. and there are no barriers, especially because guys are not regularly monitored or told to put their masks on.
3. The open cell bars need plastic on them to prevent cell-to-cell spreading when guys stand at their cell bars and yell to other guys in other cells. Their airborne saliva transfers to neighboring cells of unmasked guys.
4. The TTY and Jpay video visit kiosks are where guys pull their masks off to talk while other guys stand in the area.
5. Porters are instructed to deliver ice and other things to unmasked guys locked in their cells, risking cross contamination.
WSRU and IMU administration, medical, and other staff have mismanaged the pandemic with flagrant negligence.
Note: Jacob and a number of other prisoners at WSRU in WA DOC were escorted to quarantine (we believe on 1/10/21) after testing inconclusive or positive for covid-19. We will not be able to hear from him until he has tested negative twice, and is out of quarantine. Preparing for quarantine is a misnomer. Nobody is prepared, including prison officials.
January 8, 2021
According to the WSRU grapevine, my unit (D) is being tested again today. But the spooky tension that permeates the unit is when staff come to inform guys that they tested positive or inconclusive and are going to quarantine. One guy likened the moment to his sentencing hearing, and another openly admitted on the tier, “I’m scared as hell. I ain’t gonna lie.” Even for those who don’t admit they’re scared, they’re deeply concerned about how COVID-19 will affect them.
Since December 1, 2020, over 4,000 incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, and the numbers continue to rise. The last headcount for C-Unit (across from D-Unit) was 59, which is nearly a quarter of its 193-man capacity. Positive and inconclusive tests are turning C-Unit into a ghost town! Proportionally, D-Unit has fared much better with fewer cases.
And believe me, most guys have realized that quarantine is essentially purgatory because until the whole unit produces two negative tests, another two-week round of quarantine will be imposed — indefinitely. They recently opened up the gym to house positives and inconclusives. And last anyone heard, no makeshift showers are set up.
The situation is unnerving all the way around for guys, especially because there’s no Wi-Fi access or phones in the gym. The one positive (no pun intended) is we’re allowed to pack one paper bag of our belongings (e.g., our Jpay media tablet, food, hygiene products, socks, phone book, Education-issued laptops, etc.) to take with us.
So, in anticipation of going to quarantine, guys are taking preparatory steps to make their quarantine stay as comfy as possible.
For example, I downloaded various movies to my Jpay media tablet (while I have Wi-Fi!), I created a list of everything I plan to take with me and have it all ready to be packed in a paper bag. And in the event that I’m taken to quarantine, I pre-wrote the following message and saved it as an email draft. I’ll send it before I’m taken.
Note, if you receive the following w/o any preamble, it won’t be a drill. I WILL be heading to quarantine…
IMPORTANT: Quarantine and Communication
Family and friends,
I’m sending you this message because I’m about to be escorted to the quarantine unit after testing inconclusive and positive for COVID-19. Since phones and Wi-Fi (meaning, no emails) aren’t available in the quarantine unit, you won’t hear from me for a few weeks or longer. But I still have envelopes!
Keep me and the guys with me in your prayers.
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.