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An Incarcerated Person is Vulnerable, whether Guilty or Innocent

Dec 9th, 2020 | Category: Peer Voices

Second, inmates are housed in close quarters. I recall the intake process in both jail and prison. They were actually pretty similar. At my last and final intake at Lew Sterrett, I was placed in a holding room with several individuals. They were from various states and parts of Texas.  I recall trying to find the farthest corner of the room because I tried to get as far away from people as possible. However, finding the furthest corner is impossible when you are inside a perfect square.

I wanted to get away because women were coughing and vomiting. I watched as inmates pushed the panic button to request medical assistance. Assistance did not come! When I was moved upstairs, the housing situation was much different than intake. Of course, the square is much bigger, but the cells inside the pod are not. The cells, within the pods, housed four to six inmates. Beds were not assigned; inmates chose a bed in a cell where one was available. Inmates changed cells frequently. Inmates could not sleep in the dayroom area.

My transition to TDCJ was no different. Upon my arrival at the “Gates of Hell”[1], I was placed on the “dog run” with several other women. I remember being in a “kennel” with, I believe, ten other women. From the dog run, I was moved to classification. While inmates were two to a cell, there were still many inmates in classification. Although, while in classification, I was in a cell with one other person, the cell across from me, I don’t think, was more than an arm’s length away. The walkway was very narrow.

From classification, I was moved to population and into an actual dorm. The dorm held at least thirty women. I recall there were two to three rows of bunks beds. I am 5’2”, and when I stretched out my arms lying down, I could touch the next bunk bed.

As an inmate during these coronavirus times, one is a sitting duck because the inmate does not have the luxury of practicing proper social distancing etiquette. The inmate does not regularly have access to personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks and face shields, hand sanitizer, wipes, and gloves. The inmate does not have the privilege of deciding not to go out into the public to limit his/her exposure to the virus. The inmate does not get to prevent others from entering his/her living space to decrease exposure.

Furthermore, while I am sure many things have changed since my stint in jail and prison, medical care access is limited. Depending on the seriousness of the issue, medical’s response time with an appointment was three days. I recall moving from the dog-run to population and becoming very ill. I vomited for three days straight. Medical requests were made via an “I-60” form that was placed into a dropbox. I was seen after the third day. I cannot even recall the remedy, but it was probably anti-nausea medication and Tylenol.

Finally, I remember three women had infections—one had staphylococcus, another had boils, and the last had an infected spider bite. Prison is where I learned the word staphylococcus. I do not recall whether these women were ever seen by medical, but I recall that the inmates provided the care to those they could.

Jail or prison is not ideal for inmates or the detention officers during coronavirus times because neither group can practice safe social distancing precautions. Access to the necessary PPE, I imagine, is limited to the detention officers. And, medical response and coverage for inmates are inefficient to curve the spread.

[1]Intake at Woodman State Jail in Gatesville.

Veronica Lockett recently graduated from UNT Dallas College of Law. She passed the Texas bar exam on December 4, 2020. She a policy associate for Texas Appleseed. She lives with her husband and two children, Raney and Ryan.

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