We wanted to reach out to all of our subscribers and adopters to wish you well and to talk about the impact of Sars-cov-2, also known as Covid-19.
As you already are aware, our whole nation has been temporarily converted into a virtual prison. Some of us have been given status as “essential workers” and others are confined at home, only allowed to go out for essential items. Thank goodness the toilet paper crisis seems to be fading. There are some who feel the response to this crisis is extreme and others who think it isn’t extreme enough. In the grocery stores and on the streets a certain level of distrust and suspicion exists which is unfortunate but a natural consequence of what’s happening right now.
Inmates are especially hard-hit
In-person visits were suspended weeks ago to limit exposure to the virus, leaving phone and video visits the only option to stay connected. Prisoners who are locked down have little to no phone access, and some have no commissary or store deliveries. Some facilities are offering a limited number of free calls, Jpay stamps, video visits and/or videograms – check the website where your loved one is to see if there are any special offers during this time. A specific list of prisons that have reported Covid-19 cases can be found here.
The Federal Prison system has recently announced that it has gone on ‘lock down’ for the next 14 days. Some states, like Washington, have only locked down units where cases have been reported. It seems inevitable that many states will follow the example of the federal system and institute system wide lock downs. If you have seen that phrase used a lot lately, know that it came from prison. And as you are probably also aware, this virus can’t exist in the prison system unless one of the staff brings it in, since outside visitation has been suspended.
What is a Lock Down Like for Inmates?
During a prison lock down, inmates are restricted to their cells. Some prisons allow inmates to come out of their cells for limited times during the day. In Texas, for instance, lock downs typically confine inmates to their cells for 24 hours except for twice-a-week showers. This means they have limited or no access to phones and no access to commissary, where they might buy an extra roll of toilet paper or bar of soap. Hand sanitizer isn’t allowed due to its alcohol content. Forget about gloves and masks. Prisons typically house prisoners in two man cells, with no shower, and there are many units where there are upwards of 50 inmates to a dorm. Dorm dwellers will be bunk restricted during their lock down periods. All inmates except for those in solitary confinement must use a community shower.
Prison is not a place to be sick and it isn’t a safe place when a virulent virus runs through its population. From personal experience I can tell you that everything about the way prisons are run appears designed to increase the risk of contagion. Even in normal times, there is a background hum of distrust which buzzes about gangs, prison staff and often, cleanliness. In an unprecedented crisis like this one, things will be especially stressful.
Because there isn’t much care paid to the environment of our prisons, they are petri dishes that grow quite a few infectious diseases. Staph is rampant in our county jails especially. Administrators assign prisoners responsibility for cleaning, in many states without pay. Thus their incentive to do a thorough job is pretty low. Sometimes prisoners themselves, to combat lack of motivation, will make collections of commissary items to reward janitors for doing a good job. Other times they resort to violence which results in a newly assigned janitor and a whole new set of negotiations. Rarely do the CO’s have the time or inclination to worry about sanitary conditions in prisons. Making sure the janitor keeps the showers in good hygienic condition is about the last thing on his or her list of priorities.
What can you do to help?
If you’re an adopter:
- Check in as often as you can. If you’re sending US postal mail, send a few extra letters.
- If your inmate is having medical issues, advocate for him by calling on-site medical personnel. Usually, a squeaky wheel is required to get prison medical staff in gear. Be persistent but polite.
- If you have the means, send a few books. There’s nothing like reading to pass the time during a lock down.
- Take a look at Inmate Research. This service is run by a former inmate. He provides a free service to send daily TV listings to inmates. For a nominal fee, he sends daily news articles covering their favorite sports teams. It’s a really terrific idea.
- If you pray, pray for your adoptee and his fellow prisoners.
If you’re not an adopter:
- Consider adopting an inmate. If you think you feel isolated at this time, think about how the 2.2 million inmates in this country are feeling. You can be a great blessing in a time of strife.
- Consider sponsoring an inmate for the Independence Program. The Independence Program is a five part business course (Cost: $399) that is designed to help people start a business for under $1000 dollars. Invite friends via social media to chip in and make it a community sponsorship. If you don’t get a bit teary eyed reading the founder’s story, you may have dry eye. The program doesn’t just include books and coursework. Participants get help and feedback from the staff. This is a wonderful idea designed to improve an inmate’s chances of success upon release.
If you’re either:
- Take care of yourself. You are a blessing to us and others. We want you safe and healthy.