CBS News reported on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s prison system and here shares the views of inmates as they put it. Major details of their accounts have been verified by CBS News. They have been edited for length and clarity.
Marybeth Hill, 33
The first few weeks were very chaotic. We have been blocked since April 1. Tensions are high. There is a lot of uncertainty, especially about being incarcerated and not knowing if your loved ones are safe and constantly have no idea day to day whether or not the virus is going to enter our facility.
We spend our days trying to stay as positive as possible, cleaning up as much as possible with what we have, and trying to uplift each other rather than tear each other apart.
I happen to be in a unit with some truly God-fearing women and women who are very conscious of trying to maintain some sort of sanity and stability while we’re here. Every morning we wake up, we work together. We spend a lot of time reading, we pray. This is the only thing I can say about this whole experience that I have been fortunate enough to be with women who really have a strong faith. We try to encourage each other as much as possible.
We’re human, and we make mistakes, and just because we make mistakes doesn’t mean our lives are worth less than the next person’s life. We also deserve a chance to fight. We want to come home to our families healthy and not have to worry every day about whether it will be our last.
I was one of the people called in the second round to. They called us there to let me know I qualified. We completed our back-to-school paperwork, just so new criteria were released from the balance of payments, not even five days later. Since then, I haven’t heard anything else about house arrest.
I have three young children and my babies are still coloring these pictures and they send mail and so I hold onto these things – they motivate me to want to come home healthy.
Chad O’Handley, 44
O’Handley is serving a 70-year sentence for second degree murder and robbery. Buckingham Correctional Center, Virginia: 111 confirmed cases. He wrote the following letter to his wife and has since tested positive for the virus.
The guys are walking around looking congested and coughing, my head just hurts. We had another high temperature last night. If you hit the hundred, you’re missing. I’m still under 98, with a headache.
They provide us with an emergency menu, as they call it. It’s like eating your meals from a vending machine. We get a bag of crisps with lunch and dinner, we get those gummy fruit snacks for lunch, and maybe a side of veg – mostly junk food, though.
That swab in the nose was terrible. A few guys have bloody noses.
Sitting here obsessed with the weather took its toll on me. I’m stressed beyond my limits right now, that I can’t tell you about this shit. If you have a temperature or if your test is positive, they put us in the gym, where they put bunk beds. Just leave me in my cell. This is where I am most secure and I have all my things. In the gym, we won’t have anything.
Stéphanie DiCarlo, 35 years old
I have been in quarantine for six days. The virus changed everything here. There is no more structure, there is nothing. We are now a bit like laboratory specimens and rats. The attention we get is very minimal because it’s chaos here. We cannot communicate with our families as usual. It’s very difficult.
We don’t have computers. We have a phone that was just installed a few days ago. Everything is closed here. There is no staff, everyone is sick. All detainees are tested daily in quarantine. We’re stuck in rooms, we’re stuck in kitchens. We can’t even look fresh.
I thought it was hard to spend time – it’s hard. I don’t know if I’m going to call home someday and a family member is going to be gone or if something will happen to them. I don’t know what’s going on at any moment here – given that we are so limited in communication, I just want my family to protect themselves.
I get up every morning when everyone is asleep around 6 a.m. and read my Bible. Whatever exercise I can do to keep my mind going and keep my endorphins moving, it’s like medicine for me. My prayer is, right now, all I have right now.
I have some coffee. One of the officers lays down a breakfast bag with milk and a piece of fruit and – let’s call it some kind of liquid egg. Later, from the kitchen window, we watch all the men being shackled and sent to the men’s prison or we watch them go through to medical for quarantine.
On April 7, I was called to the lieutenant’s office and they told me that I was admitted to house arrest. They told me I had an hour to pack my things. The next morning my case manager came in and the lieutenant came in and told me I had to leave because I was under review, because I had a violent charge. They said I had to be shot and go back to the unit.
My freedom has been taken away from me because they feel I am not eligible – I have clear conduct in seven and a half years. I am an asset to society, I am not a threat to society. My case manager told me he didn’t have time to look at my case because he had too much work to do and unfortunately I’m going to have to stay in jail until the rest of my time is up. finished.
Phillip Hill, 63
I’ve never been in a war zone before, until now. It has been a most devastating and destructive thing – because you can’t see the enemy but you know they are still there. From every cough you hear the sneeze you see is like a gunshot, in war you squeak and run to your bunker.
As we sleep 10 feet from each other and with our sick cellmate, or sick neighbor, we just sit ticking time bombs waiting for when it’s going to happen to me. At this point, we watch our neighbors, in one case, literally our neighbor, in the next booth get taken out by the doctor – only to see on the local news a few days later that he was deceased.
Seven men have died from here, so far, with countless sick people, untold because there is no test. Many did not complain about being sick as they did not want to put up with packing their bags and going into isolation / quarantine where they would be deprived of what little freedom they had.
We’ve been locked out for over a month now. We only have a few minutes of fresh air a day as we walk to the dining room to have a hot flapper meal and come back to the unit to eat it. We watch the local news for reports on the dead and to listen to their names to see if we know them. It was truly tragic. One of the dead was an older man, 57, who came to the chapel, before we went into lockdown, and made me choose inspirational movies to watch.
There is no one here who has been sentenced to death by their judge, yet we live as if we were sentenced to death. One day at a time, faith over fear.
Leonard Black, 51
The virus has caused a lot of fear here. I’m in a lower security facility and for the most part the guys here have a release date. It scares people, seeing the numbers on deaths and cases increasing, it makes guys worry about whether they’re going to get out of here after they’ve spent their time. If he comes in here, it’s like a fire to dry the grass.
We cleaned a lot. I am a nurse on the unit and help clean up. We continue to spray disinfectant type cleaner and wipe down phones.
I am in a unit of about 300 people and social distancing is out of the question. It has gotten to the point where the staff are scared. They come to work because it is essential work, but no one wants to catch the virus.
People need to understand that everyone with what are called violent offenses needs action to improve. A lot of these guys who have violent offenses also need a chance. I was incarcerated, I had no incident report. We do not all have a life sentence or the death penalty, we also want to go home.
I am a volunteer tutor, helping to facilitate black history classes, self esteem classes, and health care job fairs. With these things I learned, I tell new guys that come in, the positives are way better than the negatives you’re trying to get. I make it a positive situation. Some guys call me the prototype of violent offenders, in terms of what you have to do to get results on the inside.
If you or your loved ones live or work in a correctional facility and would like to share your story, contact: Clare Hymes at firstname.lastname@example.org and Justin Carissimo at email@example.com.