The Imported Threat

By Timothy Pauley

My boss spoke to me this week. I know this might sound trivial, but it doesn’t happen very often. You see, as a shift commander, he has many duties with which to occupy his time. Probably more than I even know. Typically anything that concerns me is simply delegated to a subordinate.

He told me he thinks we’ve gotten past the worst of the COVID crisis. If true, this is welcome news. When I expressed my concern that the massive protests in the area would soon trigger a second wave, he pointed out that most of the protesters were wearing masks.

Until he said that, it had not occurred to me. As I watched the news thereafter, I noticed that for the most part his assessment was correct. I began wondering if perhaps this meant I might get to visit with my family again some time soon.

Few days later, my hopes of such a reunion were dashed. Another administrator told me there was an outbreak at Coyote Ridge (in eastern Washington) and that some of them were being sent to the quarantine unit at the Monroe complex until they recovered sufficiently to be returned to general population at Coyote Ridge.

Two days later, my work crew was told to go spray the mattresses in the regional care facility they made out of one of our education buildings. I entered to see rows of beds, one right next to the other. The place was all set up and ready for business. I quickly sprayed the mattresses with bleach solution and got out of there.

The ominous aspect came the following day, when my attorney told me there were nearly a hundred confirmed cases at Coyote Ridge. It seems likely that not only are they going to fill our quarantine unit with them, but this regional care facility as well.

You might be wondering, what difference does this make as long as they’re kept separate? The problem is, who guards them. They are definitely not going to be left unguarded, wherever they might end up. The very nature of prison is that everyone must be guarded.

And it’s a union shop. That means that anyone with seniority gets the spot. It also means when there are vacancies, like vacations and sick days, those with seniority get first pick. Those with less get stuck with the less desirable assignments. And if there are too many openings and not enough volunteers, the administration hands out mandatory overtime assignments.

This means, of course, that any given day, any staff member could be sent to guard the COVID guys. Afterwards, they could be dispatched to my living unit to interact with me.

We already see guards from the building where the quarantine unit is, working in our facility all the time. Guards in that area have different uniform shirts, so they’re easy to spot. The thing that terrifies many is that, even though they’ve managed the disease reasonably well for the most part, now they are importing additional cases. Potentially a lot of them.

To point out how this increases the likelihood of a massive outbreak here is merely stating the obvious. So how can we hope to protect ourselves? The short answer is that we can’t. It is literally impossible to live in prison without significant interaction with guards. Even if that were possible, what about interacting with other prisoners who are interacting with guards?

Add to these circumstances the fact that a significant number of prisoners and staff don’t believe in social distancing, nor do they believe in wearing masks properly and it’s easy to comprehend why someone living in one of these cages might have cause for concern.

To a certain extent, the lack of concern of many prisoners is understandable. Many of them are required to share a 6×9 cage with another man. This is typically another man chosen by the prison administration, seemingly at random.

In March the doc assured the state supreme court they planned to make significant cuts in the prison population. If that has happened, we have yet to see evidence of it. Even though the courts have ruled the cages they keep us in are barely large enough for one person, the fourth tier is mostly double bunked. These men, who have essentially been denied an opportunity to social distance, are supposed to be conscious of such things once they exit their cells? Most of them seem to think not…