by Jagada Chambers
Las Vegas, NV — With the majority of the world living through shelter-in-place conditions in their communities, Nevadan’s currently under the care, custody and control of the Department of Corrections are being plagued by uncertainties.
Empathy and compassion have never been reserved for the hundreds of thousands of citizens that find their way into custody. Society has been trained to accept the criminal justice system is doing its job and those suffering have been the lone architects of their demise.
Society’s mindset with folks in prison is akin to the famous cinematography line in Rocky IV, “if he dies, he dies”.
Before I could fathom how deadly COVID-19 could be, I was humbled to tears that I would not have to endure this crisis in the dungeon. The dungeon is how I reference PRISON after doing a near 2,000-day Department of Corrections stay after being convicted for my first and only time of a criminal act.
The angst and anxiety that society is experiencing is magnified 1,000-fold for our brothers and sisters in custody. As the virus is ravaging the World, leaving no corner untouched, family members behind the bars are coping with the potential reality of a court-ordered sentence to custody, evolving into an infirmary isolation stay ending in death.
We are hearing those fears daily from the inside:
“I get out in 50-days, I ain’t trying to die in here”.
“They just locking all of us up on 23-hour lock down, feeding us in our cells and all.”
“Fuck a free 5-minute phone call, if you got 6-months or less, we should be gone.”
Society has effectively been disengaged with the realities of incarceration. In a crisis of this magnitude, who is going to make sure of the health and well-being of our family members incarcerated?
Be honest, do they even deserve that concern? Or is dying just another layer of misfortune that comes with the territory?
One of the first realities I learned in prison is that just because you have an end of sentence date, or day to be released, does not mean that you are going home. It does not take a life-sentence to die in prison. As in society, death is real and plentiful amongst those in custody. So accepting mortality is a prerequisite to doing time, but anticipating the unavoidable demise through an unseen virus is terrifying and downright inhumane.
From sleeping conditions, constant contact and low airflow inside, COVID-19 is a death sentence for our family members in custody. This state’s constant dependence of punitive measures to right wrongs will unfortunately cost lives of our people, our people who were not handed a death sentence in court.
Immediately down-sizing Nevada’s prison and county lock-up facility populations is the trail to travel.
People with compromised medical conditions, approaching release or clemency and those under 90-days until release could be released from institutions immediately with conditional release supervision. In our County custody institutions, the release of all misdemeanor holds, innocent people awaiting trial and the lowering of bail hearing amounts are immediate steps to be taken to accelerate the de-carceration of the jails and prisons.
During my stay in the penalty box, a staph infection hit the institution.
I had been in prison for more than two years and had a routine established. Over the time of a month several people began displaying some of the most grotesque injuries I had ever seen. Do a simple google-image search of ‘staph infection.'
I was able to see several of the wounds up close, always upper torso and most often on the face or neck area. Each of the dudes were embarrassed, scared and uncertain of the unreliable health care we were forced to depend on. Brown Recluse Spider bites are ugly, venomous looking wounds too. For over a month, that was the word from Administration, “Be careful by windows and on the rec yard there are dangerous spiders on the compound."
It was probably another month and several more infections later before a staph infection was ruled.
What stood out to me was the step-by-step, dorm-by-dorm process of spraying the dormitories. It was probably another month before each dorm was “thoroughly” sprayed racking up countless more infections. No one knew if it was dorm, showers, restrooms, water, cups, trays, dining hall food; you simply didn’t know where the infection was, but the symptoms alone were terrifying enough.
My blueprint was simple.
I stopped speaking to people, I did not go to the chow hall for nearly 6 months (privilege of having financial support) and I would only shower occasionally. An established routine forfeited for fear and panic.
Trauma, shock, and fear can do strange things to the human mind. I truly believe the toxic-trio is the foundation of the unrest we are witnessing in prisons around the country. A system which has consistently proven it simply does not care, will never be expected to treat our people with rationale, empathy, or dignity. Those in prison know all too well not to expect the respect of the people.
When the Coronavirus was wreaking havoc in Asia early on, I remember thinking that thought. I vividly recall thinking, ‘Dear God, this is gonna be terrifying in the prisons’. I was humbled that I would not have to make it through COVID-19 in there. You see so much in prison and emotionally experience much, much, more. It brought back a thought I used to think often and I KNOW our people inside are thinking it now.
“God, Please don’t let me die in Prison.”
Illustration by Micah Bizant.