Corona and the New Normal

This post is in collaboration with Prison Writers

by Christine White, Texas:

Over the last couple of months, everything in prison has changed, just like out there in the “free” world. At first, all classes, religious services, and visits from loved ones were cancelled. All officers, staff and rank were told to wear face masks and have their temperature checked before being allowed through the gates. Only one tier was allowed into the day room at a time — meaning either the top or bottom row — so we weren’t all crammed together like we usually are.

Social distancing, however, has always been impossible. At all times.

A week or so into this, we were given a few bars of extra soap for washing our hands. Buckets of bleachy water began arriving in for the SSI’s, (or dorm custodians), to use on our benches, tables, door handles, showers, and so on.

Eventually, all of the inmates were told to wear face masks as well. This ruffled some inmates’ feathers. A few of the fussier women said, “We can’t give the virus to each other because we’re all quarantined. We can only get it from staff or officers; so they should be the ones wearing these hot, annoying masks!” Everyone’s a critic, right?

Before “chow,” every inmate was given a baby wipe or a squirt of hand sanitizer to make sure our hands were clean. And since we could not attend any religious services, the chaplain made sure videos of services were made available to inmates of different faiths. Each faith was assigned a different day of the week.

The phone company, Securus, gave every inmate two free 15 minute calls a week to call our friends and family who are already on our approved calling lists. Since some of our loved ones aren’t able to register their phones, our Major allowed inmates to use her office to call home and check on our loved ones. These calls were limited to 5 minutes and were monitored of course, but what a blessing it was to hear the voice of a family member who you were so

worried about. I was able to call my mom and nearly cried when I heard her voice. She sounded so happy to hear my voice as well, which filled my heart with joy and reassured me that I was still loved. The lady who used the phone before me had not spoken to her family in 10 years. She was a nervous wreck, but she came out a little bit later with tears in her eyes and a big smile on her face. It went well and we were all happy for her.

In mid-June, all of the inmates here at the Hobby Unit in Marlin, Texas were tested for the coronavirus, and remarkably, no one was positive. An entire dorm (or wing) was cleared out so any inmate who tested positive could be moved in and kept separate. This dorm remains empty, which is great news and gives us all hope that things may return to normal soon.

To be honest, I’m actually proud of our medical staff and assistant Warden who were on the front lines, decked out in gloves, masks and paper gowns, overseeing the entire testing process so it was running like a well-oiled machine. They assisted us with swabbing our mouths. They kept everyone six feet apart and they were even, well, sort of kind and patient for once. Whaaaat?

So while all of these new protocols made many inmates anxious and fearful, they also gave us the sense that prison officials were doing what they could to keep us safe.

Inmates are now able to go to Galveston Hospital once more — to see specialists or have vital surgery.

But tragically, the inmates who were granted parole — and should’ve been released by now — are stuck here and have to wait.

My heart hurts for all of the inmates in Texas who are trapped behind bars with their invisible executioner, alone and unable to defend themselves. These men and women weren’t handed their death sentence by a judge, but death came for them anyway. I realize death came for many people this year, people who had done nothing wrong — all over the world — and I’m sorry for it. I feel for their loved ones left to grieve for them. Just as with the loss of someone you love in prison, memories can be all you have to help get you by.

I like what James M. Barrie wrote on the subject…

“God gave us memories so that we may have roses in December.”

Let us no longer hold our loved ones or freedom for granted. We will get past this and thrive again. Americans always do.


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Corona and the New Normal

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Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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