Prison Log, Twin Rivers Unit (May-June 2020)

This is the third series of letters–what the author calls a “Prison Plague Log”– from someone incarcerated Twin Rivers Unit. The first one is available here; the second one is available here. In this latest series of letters, she describes how the institution has implemented quarantine–but the Department of Corrections is still transferring people from different institutions.

Prison Plague Log #3
We had a stop movement this afternoon with four people taken from our unit to medical to be tested for covid-19.

This evening the c/o’s had a good idea. Let the six people on quarantine in out unit go out on the unit’s front porch of while all of us were at yard. However, they then left the quarantine people out there while we were coming back from yard so literally everyone on the unit walked by them as we came back. So ten out of ten for good thinking, but minus several billion for execution.

The DOC is trying to find a way to reopen education. Their idea is to make a sign up for students who need help then we sit 2 meters (6 feet) apart and do tutoring.

B unit C wing is now on quarantine lockdown. This is the unit I live on, but a different wing. Each near miss is ever so slightly closer and closer. As if covid-19 is calibrating it’s rifle scope and I’m the target.

The way that the DOC is doing quarantine makes no sense. They place a while wing on quarantine at a time, then let everyone on that wing crowd together in the day room of that wing. The reason a whole wing is quarantined at a time is because contact tracing is impossible in a prison setting. By letting everyone out they create a situation where the people on that wing will all give each other whatever disease while still in the stage where they are infectious, but not yet sick. (In DnD this is called the incubation stage of the disease, I’m gonna go ahead and use this term because I can nether pronounce nor spell the more accurate medical term) While there is no reason to keep people locked in their cells for the entire 14 day quarantine period, people should be locked down for the first 4 to 5 days of incubation period so medical can see who is sick and who is not. Then the people without symptoms can be let people out to mingle within their unit with a much lower risk of spreading disease.

I am very frightened by the various states which are coming off lockdown. This will result in massive deaths. I like to read post-apocalyptic fiction. I do not want to live in a post-apocalyptic world. If we take this course no one will be safe from covid-19 until herd immunity is achieved, that is 80% of people have had it. This is not worth it, supporting capitalism is not worth this. If there ever was a time for us to come together and create a thriving gift economic system, now is the time.

We were just issued another bar of soap by the DOC. This one is a “deodorant soap.” It is not antibacterial, which does not help. The main disease that is making the rounds and is causing us to be quarantined in the prison is bronchitis, a bacterial disease.

The 900 people the DOC was supposed to release, have been released. I can’t tell. TRU is as crowded as ever. All the cells are full. B unit has only 3 bunks out of 180 filled.

We haven’t had an incoming chain in over a month. The people who were released had their beds filled by people coming over from MSU and coming out of the IMU.

E unit is now closed. The IMU has three wings being used for isolation.

Today the DOC is wanting us to go back to eating in the chow hall. This is a terrible idea. Currently there are massive covid-19 outbreaks at Coyote Ridge and Airway Heights. This has happened because the DOC as a whole, and about a quarter of us inmates, aren’t taking things seriously.

When we eat in the chow hall there are two precautions. The first is a two people to a table limit. The second is who has to eat in the chow hall alternates between B unit (us), and A unit. We can’t wear masks while eating (duh), and the lay out of the chow hall makes certain seats dangerous because they are in high traffic areas, like next to the door, by the water fountain, and in front of the tray up window. If someone is an asymptomatic carrier and in one of these seats they can easily infect every person who passes by.

We don’t have a choice about eating in the chow hall, at 40 cents and hour, we are not paid enough to be able to buy all our own groceries and the only other alternative is starve.

They need to invest in a sustainable means of feeding all of us in our cells. Currently they use disposable paper and styrofoam “clamshells” of the sort I’m used to seeing at mom and pop burger joints. Instead, they need to use the plastic IMU trays for our food which can be collected in the unit and returned to the kitchen to be washed and disinfected. Which would be both more cost effective and green friendly.

In short, I’m tired of the DOC doing whatever is easiest for them instead of doing what’s right for those of us under their boot heel and for the community at large.

We are receiving over two dozen people from Coyote Ridge Correctional Center (CRCC) on the chain today. CRCC is currently in the midst of a covid-19 outbreak and this is the first incoming chain TRU has received in months.

The WA DOC claims the people who are being transfered spent two weeks in quarantine and have been tested for covid-19 and have two negative tests.

This in no way makes any one here feel safer.

I understand the reason why this is happening, and I agree with the logic. CRCC needs to reduce its population so that the people there can practice social distancing. The problem is they should be letting people out of prison not just shuffling people around. CRCC is having an outbreak because of over crowding. The DOC’s solution is to reduce over crowding there by increasing overcrowding elsewhere. I don’t know if other facilities are also receiving people from CRCC, but I expect they are.

This has a lot of people here freaked out on a whole nother level as well. TRU has the sex offender treatment program and ex-gang member “step down” programs here. CRCC is a highly political (meaning prison politics) facility. So many of the ex-gang members and sex offenders here are worried that the people coming in on the chain are still active gang members. If they are, this will most likely result in a lot of violence.
Interestingly, since we’ve reached the “new normal” violence here has gone way down. I attribute this to c/o’s having been instructed to not do random pat searches and cell searches. They now only do these things when they suspect someone of having contraband. The DOC has always claimed that they have to be super invasive in the way they police incarcerated people for the safety and security of the facility. Yet, it seems the opposite is true. Covid-19 has forced them to rule with a lighter touch and the result has been a safer living environment for us, and a safer working environment for them. 

But I digress.

Having a large number of new people come in all at once is bound to upset the apple cart, whether it is through interpersonal conflict as they settle into TRU or, that which we all fear, the introduction of covid-19 to this facility.

Updates from the University of Washington Bothell's Project on Mass Incarceration in Washington State