Thursday, October 13, 2022

From the Iowa Prison Writing Project


I wanted to describe the environment of USP Tucson, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, every part of this country, and world, has been severely affected by this deadly virus, to include the prisons.


This has been equally difficult for inmates in the prisons, such as here at USP Tucson. We, as inmates, cannot social distance, because prisons put inmates two in a cell, and many of the procedures practiced by the prison have been deplorable. Much of it doesn’t make sense, and is counterproductive to the reasons for the protocol. 


As an example, I want to use the Education Department of USP Tucson, to show how these protocols are hardly effective, because the staff has gotten lazy, or incompetent, in adhering to the COVID-19 protocols.


USP Tucson’s Education Department is made up of a library, a Law Library, several classrooms, staff offices, and a restroom. Normally, all these areas are open, but because of the pandemic, changes had to be made. The 8-seat tables were reduced to 2 spots, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The capacity was reduced to only 2 units at the time. Classrooms were reduced so the prison could practice social distancing…


And the water fountains were turned off…



The Education Department shuts off the water fountains in the hallway, with a notice: “Closed Due to COVID-19 until further notice”. Why? With this decision, no inmate can get any water while they are in the Education Department…isn’t there something wrong about this, where you cannot drink water? 


The tables in the library are marked, “Don’t sit here: skip this seat to maintain social distance”. There are signs all over to remind inmates to keep 6 feet apart. While this sounds legitimate, it isn’t. Let me use myself and my unit, to prove my point:


I live in B2, a dorm with over 100 inmates. We have a modified movement, meaning we are allowed to move around the dorm, WITHOUT social distancing. I can still sit at a table with 3 other guys, or watch television with 10 other guys, all within inches of each other. In the dorms, social distancing does not exist.


Yet, the same dorm can go to the library, and they expect us to practice social distancing. Why? We’re around each other all day, every day. We can sit 4 to a table and play cards in the dorm, but have to be distanced in the library. But, I get it, we’re trying to give the impression that we are practicing social distancing.


Yet in the classroom in Education, the staff does not practice this either. When they call our recreation move, they call a unit, which is two dorms. In this case, B1 and B2. I have been around guys in B2 all day, every day, but not B1, because that is a different dorm. So, social distancing might be appropriate. Yet, in the classroom, the staff tries to crowd the students, which has drawn concern by other inmates. Some are cautious, and insist that the prison practice what they preach. If they are supposed to be socially distant, then don’t cram 20 people in a classroom if you need 15. One inmate I know actually left the classroom, and went to do his work in the library. He was concerned that the staff wasn’t taking social distancing seriously. It actually was hypocritical to demand the inmates go by the rules, but they don’t go by them themselves. 


So we look again at the water fountains: why cut them off, preventing inmates from drinking water? Students of the GED classes, or any inmates for that matter, need to have access to the fountains. Yet, ironically, the inmate bathroom, which is a couple feet from the water fountains, is open for full use.


The inmate bathroom has two sinks, a hand dryer, two urinals, and two toilets…all fully operational. I can go in, use the urinal, use the sink (with NO SOAP), touching everything in there before I leave…and it is not cleaned. But the water fountains are cut off, to prevent the very same thing. 


I can’t get a drink of water from the water fountain, because of COVID-19, but I can go in the bathroom, and cup my hands and get water from one of the sinks…what is the difference? And, is the staff water fountain turned off? I mean, there is no difference between inmates and staff when it comes to COVID. Why cut off the water, when we have access to everything in the bathroom. We touch the urinal, sink, faucet, and everything else in there just as we would touch a water fountain. And, if a person was really cautious, they would push the water fountain button with a shirt, or get a tissue to press the button, that’s all you’re really touching when you get water anyway. 


So, why cut off our water? I can touch everything else in the library, but I can’t get water. How does this make sense? Maybe it just doesn’t. Why would you keep us from drinking water, but have everything else available? It just doesn’t make sense. 


But, that’s how things have been here, a line off a laundry list.