The Bad Place

By Timothy Pauley

Early on in the pandemic, prisoners were instructed of the symptoms to watch for, as well as what to do if detected. If a person experienced symptoms, they were to immediately inform staff and then to return to their cell and remain there until instructed further. Seemed reasonable at the time. When people started actually following those instructions, we began to see how this would work.

A short time after reporting symptoms, medical staff would arrive at the cell front. After a cursory examination, the person would be escorted out of the unit by guards and medical staff. some would return in a couple weeks, some not. It wasn’t until prisoners began returning that we learned about the other end of that journey.

The reports were that these men were taken to another area of the facility and locked in a room. For at least a week they were not allowed to leave that room. This meant no shower and, more importantly, no phone. Connection to the outside world was effectively terminated.

To someone living outside of prison, this probably seems like a minor and necessary inconvenience. On one level, even I was kind of glad those suspected of being infected were removed from the cellblock where I live. It required closer scrutiny to reveal the problem.

In 2017, I became violently ill one morning. Instead of reporting this to the guards, I reported to medical. After a brief examination, I was admitted to the facility inpatient unit. It was a Sunday, so I expected I’d probably see a doctor the following day. They locked me in a room and checked on me four times a day. Even though my blood pressure and body temperature were not too far out of the ordinary, I remained violently ill, stricken with intense abdominal pain.

Monday morning the doctor did speak with me briefly. She ordered that I be put on an IV. I was then left in the locked room, same as before. They continued to deliver meals they knew I could not eat.

This protocol continued for four days. during that time, I continued to deteriorate. Eventually I found myself lying on the floor, curled up around the trash can, retching. Even though the doctor spoke with me twice during this time, there was no diagnosis, and no treatment. Soon I was in fear for my life.

On the morning of day 4, I requested to make a phone call. When I told my brother what was happening, I hung up the phone wondering if that was the last time I’d ever talk with him.

Two hours later, the door to the room they locked me in swung open. I looked up to see my attorney walking in. I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my entire life.

Ten minutes later I was on my way to a hospital. About five minutes after being admitted, they’d successfully diagnosed my condition and formulated a treatment plan. My symptoms were alleviated almost immediately and I soon had emergency surgery to resolve the problem.

The facility doctor was fired two years later, in the wake of several unnecessary deaths later attributed to her failure to provide timely treatment.

When I found out that reporting symptoms would result in being subjected to another potential ordeal like that, I had serious doubts about my ability to follow the instructions they were giving if I ever did experience COVID-19 symptoms. It would seem I am not alone in this regard.

Every night, I can hear people coughing. They probably cough during the day too, but it’s a lot noisier then, so I probably can’t hear them. But there’s coughing going on. My suspicion is that others share my fear of being marched off to the bad place and being locked in a room. After my experiences, how could I blame them?

The first quarantine they did, many prisoners refused to participate in the twice daily temperature checks. This was allowed to go on for several weeks. I present this as further evidence of both the aforementioned fear, as well as a set of protective guidelines being skirted to the potential detriment on many. And there is a precedent for this too.

For several decades, the doc has administered annual TB tests to all prisoners. For many years, these were mandatory. Failure to comply resulted in immediate isolation. A completely reasonable response to such a circumstance.

At some point, the department began permitting prisoners to refuse these tests with no consequence. For some incomprehensible reason, many did.

After testing clean for 25 consecutive years, I all of a sudden tested positive. This was a direct result of permitting prisoners to opt out of testing. When I heard about what they were doing with the temperature checks, I wondered if this would have a similar impact on my health.

There is a chasm between those seeking to formulate and administer responsible policies and the way those policies actually manifest in the lives of those they were intended to protect. COVID-19 is shining a massive spotlight on that gap.