Washington corrections center: an interview

Below is an interview between two incarcerated people: the interviewer, AK, is incarcerated at Twin Rivers Unit at the Washington State Reformatory at Monroe. She speaks with JM, who just arrived at Twin Rivers from the Washington Corrections Center at Shelton. WCC is known as the “receiving facility,” because it is where people are held when they are first taken into custody by the state Department of Corrections. JM arrived at Shelton as the pandemic hit, and he describes conditions there–including how the DOC responded to the uprising at WSR against the state’s negligent response to COVID19.

Intro from AK: Today, July 1st, 2020, I sat down for a conversion with JM about his experience in the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton Washington. Shelton is the Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC) receiving facility and thus lacks in many of the privileges and services available in other prisons such as visitation, television, education, and employment.

JM is from Snohomish county and has been out on bail for the last two and a half years fighting his case. He’s served five months on his sentence so far and, assuming he doesn’t lose any good time, has 15 months to go. This is his first incarceration.

On February 3rd he returned to county jail and left for Shelton on February 11th. He arrived at Monroe Correctional Complex Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU) on June 29th, 2020. This is what he had to say.

AK: Tell me about your experience.

JM: I just spent 5 months waiting for transfer. It was rough. It was “normal Shelton” til the Monroe riot happened [April 8, 2020]. At that point I was transferred from R3 to R2 because they made R3 and R5 into quarantine units.

I spent 2-3 months there. I saw a lot of fights. A lot of fights. Three dudes beat up another guy because he was dropping out. They got pepper sprayed by the cops. The power went out at one point. There were drug dogs brought in too.

There was three people to a cell. There’s only two beds so one of us had to sleep on a rug on the floor. There was no proper accommodations for human living. Showers two to three times a week. 45 minutes of rec a day if we’re lucky. No heat. No A/C.

AK: When did you start getting things for covid-19?

JM: We started getting things for covid when I was in R2, about 2 months ago.

AK: What were things like at that point?

JM: They shut down all movements. We ate in our cells. We could only use half the phones in the gym. My cellie had a rotten tooth and he just had to sit there in pain because there was no dentist.

AK: How were things with the staff?

JM: There were a lot of lies by c/o’s [Correctional Officer] and counselors. We would ask “When’s the chain bus?” and they would say “Next week. Next week.” There was 2 months of that. I would ask to use the phone in the dayroom to call my kid. First the counselors and c/o’s would say “yes.” Then not let me use the phone. One counselor told me I would be in Shelton my entire sentence. I was about to freak out then. [long pause]

AK: What are you thinking about right now?

JM: I am so happy to be out of Shelton. It was so bad.
I miss my family. I want to see my kids and my wife.

AK: How are things for you now?

JM: I’m just waiting to see what work release next year will look like.

AK: What really landed for you during this experience?

JM: The fights and sexual assaults I saw were eye opening to me. Is this what I want for my life? Just… The disregard for human respect.

AK: Before you got on the chain bus, did the DOC put you through any special preparations?

JM: They took us out at 4 am. Stripped us out and put us in chains.

AK: Were you given covid-19 tests?

JM: No.

AK: Were you put in isolation or quarantine specific to the chain?

JM: No.

AK: Was there any covid-19 testing or preventative quarantining?

JM: After the Monroe riot happened people coming into Shelton from county got put in quarantine and temperature checks. I don’t know if they got tested for covid.

I overheard conversation about doing the same with people coming from Coyote Ridge [Correctional Center – CRCC] but I don’t know.

AK: How did you learn about the Monroe riot?

JM: The news on the radio. Talking to my wife on the phone. She was all freaked out. The c/o’s and counselors wouldn’t talk about it.

AK: And with you coming to Monroe?

JM: Yeah. I was worried too.

AK: Last question. Were you ever tested for covid-19?

JM: No.

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