A Call for Help (from Prison During COVID)

A Call for Help (from Prison During COVID) (Photo: "Alcatraz prison cells" by Jumilla licensed under CC BY 2.0)

By Madison Buchanan

This story was originally produced and published by the Appalachian Media Institute.

Even for those of us who are able to follow the CDC guidelines, COVID-19 has brought so much fear, sickness and death. What is the result when people are confined in a place where social distancing is nearly impossible and access to the correct resources is rare? A recent study published by researchers at John Hopkins University found that the COVID case rate for prisoners was 5.5 times higher than the U.S. population rate.

I wanted to hear firsthand what it’s like to be locked-up during this pandemic. Through a mutual friend, I got connected with Jacob Shouse, an inmate at the Greensville Correctional Center, in Jarratt, Virginia earlier this summer.

Listen to the story (above) or read the transcript (below) to follow the conversation.

Automated System: Hello, this is a prepaid debit call from an inmate at the Virginia Department of Corrections, Greensville Correctional and Work Center. To accept this call, press zero. To refuse this call, hang up or press —

This call is from a corrections facility and is subject to monitoring and recording.

Jacob Shouse: Hello?

Madison Buchanan: Hello.

JS: Madison?

MB: Yes, this is Madison. Hi.

JS: Hi, this is Jacob.

MB: I want to thank you so much for helping me out with this and talking to me, it really means a lot.

JS: Yeah, yeah it’s fine. I mean, I’m all about, you know, new friends; new advocates; activists. Anything positive.

MB: So first can you tell me a little bit about your situation, where you are, and what it’s like in there?

JS: Oh yeah, yeah. This is Jacob Shouse … I’m at Greensville Correctional Center, I’m in an actual licensed mental health unit. And, we’re in Jarratt, Virginia. And, there’s the most cases of COVID-19 recorded here at Greensville and at Dillwyn Correctional Center and Haynesville Correctional Center.

NEWS REPORT: The Virginia Department of Corrections reports nearly 3,000 inmates and staff were tested last week at the prison. 192 inmates and 52 staff members had positive results, prior to testing only two inmates had symptoms.

JS: Yeah, I actually wrote a piece about it … I sent it to a bunch of people out there but they wouldn’t let it go out.

MB: So they’re censoring all of your emails?

JS: Yes, yes. Do you want me to read it to you?

MB: Yes, please. Absolutely.

JS: It’s entitled “Mentally Ill Amid a Pandemic of Incarceration, Infection and Helplessness.”

(Reading) This is due to the pandemic subjugation and overall dehumanization of prisoners, while society turns a blind eye. Living amid this COVID-19 pandemic inside the walls, the prison walls, razor-wire plantations, reestablished helplessness in an exacerbated form. Where one’s life takes an obvious backseat to prison bureaucracy, modern-day slavery. Misleading the general public into a false sense of security that their incarcerated loved ones are safe and their well being’s an overarching priority. It’s less like wondering if I’ll get sick and more like wondering when I’ll get sick and if I will even recover safely.

Certainly, many administrative memorandums have been circulating, implementing new daily operational changes under the guise of safety protocols and protective practices. However, I have yet to have access to sanitation chemicals four times a day to sanitize myself, nor allowed to have my ill-fitting sneeze guard washed regularly or exchanged with a new one or any type of appropriate mask, much less. I am constantly subjected to exposure by cross-contamination as prison workers as well as staff are allowed to roam freely throughout all separate housing units from their own where there were positive cases of COVID-19, into other places that there’s been no reported cases.

Automated System: You have one minute remaining.

JS (continues reading): They’ve been allowed in and out of our cells at times, despite some of us in a licensed mental health unit having a single cell. And we are on an egregious lockdown schedule, especially for us prisoners in a licensed mental health unit where extreme isolation exacerbated underlying illnesses. There exists special requirements and guidelines for licensed facilities set forth by state and federal mental health authorities that are not being adhered to. Primarily due to us prisoners being voiceless and utterly helpless under a repressed thumb.

JS: To this day — this was written on June 1st and sent out on June 1st — it’s never gotten to anyone. So they just censored it and blocked it and never told me they did. Did you get that?

(Beeping Starts)

MB: Hello???

Automated System: Thank you for using GTL. (Call gets cut off)

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