Guest Contributor: Dorothy Maraglino
Hours Into Being a Refugee Due to Covid
Hours into being an inmate refugee due to the mismanagement of Covid by CDCR. Around noon we were notified that we would need to relocate. To relocate we were given several clear trash bags to put all of our possessions in. Over the next four hours we packed and waited. Around 3:45pm, plastic bins on wheels were brought to our doors. My 7 roommates and I were allowed to share 5 of these bins. This included the possessions of 2 women who have been in prison for over 30 years and 1 that has been in prison for over 25 years, our televisions, and mattresses. Needless to say, it was a lot of stuff. I wrote a letter to the people moving into our room. It introduced ourselves and explained why the room was special to us. I then ask them to respect the room and not damage it. Last eviction by the administration led to rooms that were immaculate being basically destroyed by the new occupants.
Once we were packed, we were told that we could not move yet because it was time for institutional count time. Every inmate in the facility is counted at certain times and 4:30pm is one of them. We sat on the bench in the day room. At 5pm, the first of the inmate refugees began to pull their carts out of the building and in a caravan began to approach their new home that the administration is calling temporary.
Almost as soon as we got into the building, the alarm sounded for a medical emergency. We sat on the floor and waited. We could hear residents of the new unit get upset yet resign themselves to being disrupted by the influx of over 40 inmates. Before the alarm was over, word reached us that one of the rooms in the hall had a positive Covid case. Still those who were not positive were told that despite their Covid exposure they would be rehoused in the new unit. There were a number of women who were forced from their beds because those of us with medical issues are required to be housed on bottom bunks. These women lost their beds because of this mismanagement.
Some rooms were more welcoming than others. I was very grateful that the room I was housed in was very welcoming and the person who lost their bed was not too upset. As we began to unpack the word came that there were more positive cases in this new building. The girls who were Covid free and had moved from our building were forced to move into a room with an active Covid case. This should not have surprised us because for a month we have had staff visibly sick, telling the administration and medical staff they were sick, who were forced to come to work. This exposed whole units with hundreds of inmates to Covid. The reason given was staff shortages and that they are doing the best they can.
Our relocation and refugee status was based on a decision by the administration to move almost 200 reception inmates who have not been medically cleared to join the general population in rehabilitation programming units. They knew if they attempted to uproot inmates from the general population dorms again, there would be rioting, broken windows, and worse. The solution was to uproot inmates who have proven they will be obedient and compliant. Inmates whose freedom depends on being discipline free. The inmates who behave and do what they are supposed to can be victimized in silence for the sake of not having any bad acts held against them in the courts or by a parole board panel.
Today we were also notified that inmates needed by the institution to perform tasks will be given a rapid Covid test before their shift and then sent to work. This includes inmates in quarantined units who have been exposed to Covid. Now we get to sit back and watch Covid spread to every inmate so that the prison industry authority can have their laborers back at work for pennies an hour. There are also areas of the prison such as kitchens, plant operations, and clerks that the prison depends on to maintain its daily operations. So in these cases, despite Covid exposure or sick staff, they must go to work or receive a disciplinary write up for refusing. The other news was that quarantines for some were shortened to accommodate the institutional need. The logic was a person was sick before they tested, so it’s okay to let them off quarantine early since they must be past their contagious phase. If all of these decisions make sense why is there the need to even quarantine inmates at all? Let everyone who is sick stay in their rooms with the roommates they have exposed. Once no one in the room tests positive for 14 days, let them resume their daily program. This will accomplish the same thing without the displacement that the inmates were promised will not happen again, yet we’re living through.
The administration ignores the health of the few staff we still have left to run the prison. They uproot law abiding inmates and displace them. Since they are not housed with the same people they have been with, inmate refugees and those who took them in are all at a higher risk of exposure to Covid. Throughout this latest outbreak, units who were quarantined still went to appointments, halls mixed, and exposure was spread throughout the facility. The high risk medical such as my former roommates who have asthma and COPD and myself with asthma and Lupus are subjected to the mismanagement of a pandemic with no power to have any say in our housing, health care, lack of precautions, or adequate staff which would allow staff who are obviously sick to not work and expose others.
So it’s almost midnight and I sit in a foreign room grateful for those who are being gracious about their lives being disrupted. I worry for those who were placed in less hospitable rooms. I worry for the exposures that I know I have been subjected to these last few weeks. Now we wait for Wednesday to be tested again and see what outlandish approach the administration will find to address the fresh wave of infected inmates whose lives are in their hands.
To read more of Dorothy’s work, view her other guest contribution blog posts: A Day in My Box, Homesick in Prison, A New Approach to Crime Prevention, and Prison Society. Dorothy’s work can also be found in Solitary Watch’s “Voices from Solitary” series and the Prison Journalism Project.
Dorothy Maraglino’s book, “My Inside Voice” is now available on Amazon!