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My COVID-19 Experience on the Inside of Marion Correctional Institution

Written by an MCI inmate in collaboration with Ohio ACLU. For privacy and safety reasons, the name of the inmate will not be disclosed.

It was never a matter of if COVID-19 would infiltrate Marion Correctional Institute, but when. While the state and outside world braced itself for the coronavirus, this administration chose not to take the proper steps early on that would have ensured the safety of its prison population and staff.

Governor DeWine enacted what he thought was the most effective line of defense for the general public by closing dine-in restaurants on March 15 and issuing a stay-at-home order on March 22. Since social distancing in prison is relatively difficult, if not impossible, wearing masks & screening staff should have been the warden’s first line defense against the coronavirus.

But it wasn’t until April 6 that masks were ordered mandatory for staff and inmates. Until then, corrections officers were still not wearing masks or gloves. In fact, just two days before masks were mandatory, there was a pizza party for 2nd shift supervisors in the captain’s office. Later we found out that several of those present tested positive for the virus and had likely already begun spreading it by the time they were confirmed positive.

By this point, more inmates were testing positive every day, and despite knowing the virus was spreading like wildfire, bleach and cleaning chemicals were only sparingly given to some of the living areas upon request. I understand that there is a cleaning supply shortage even on the outside, but lacking ample cleaning supplies in prison is not just dangerous, it can be deadly: since we can’t isolate from one another, cleaning is our primary protection against the virus.

Our inability to distance is worsened by the staff’s constant shuffling of prisoners from one area to the next. From the infirmary to the waiting room to the hallways and the gym, there are beds literally anywhere there is space.

The administration has not provided clear directives to staff, because any attempts they made to isolate negatives from positives have been unsuccessful, resulting only in unnecessary cross contamination

For example, in mid-April, they started moving guys who tested negative into the gym, but they mistakenly also sent guys who had tested positive, which ended up contaminating the whole gym. I can only imagine how many similar mistakes have contributed to the spread.

As this prison administration struggles to cohesively implement a plan to protect staff and inmates, lives hang in the balance. I found out today that another guy died of the virus, and it pains my heart to think that he didn’t have to. He had a terrible cough and was clearly sick, but he waited as long as possible before seeking medical attention for fear of being mistreated or neglected by the medical staff.

Some guys who admit to having symptoms (mild or otherwise) are blatantly ignored or not believed. Others are thrown into the hole (solitary confinement) for “quarantine”, despite the fact that it’s so overcrowded in here that they’re sometimes throwing two guys into the hole together, defeating the entire purpose of using the hole for quarantine.

This makes it seem like having symptoms is a punishment, and is amplified by the fact that those thrown in the hole were kept from communicating with loved ones. They also weren’t given cleaning chemicals, sanitized bedding, or hygiene items, and they received no medical attention beyond having their temperature taken.

A person has to work overtime to not fall victim to the high levels of frustration and stress that come from what’s going on in here. I’ve lived this prison life for 30+ years, and even with everything I’ve learned about how to cope and rise above these things, it still remains a constant challenge.

All of us around the world have to manage this crisis as best we can. It’s not easy for any of us, but it’s especially difficult for those of us behind bars. Governor DeWine was quick to take action to protect the public, but has done little for the thousands of us directly under the state’s care. It is not too late for him to release some of us and, at the very least, ensure we are prepared to continue weathering this storm.