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When the pandemic arrived at Sullivan prison

Then I would wait for a neighborhood mate working as a porter to wipe down a phone with bleach and water before I let me use it. I would call my 75-year-old mother in Fort Lauderdale, who told me about her cat, her Parkinson’s disease, and her family’s gossip. Each time, I asked her if she had already received the vaccine. She told me she hadn’t. She didn’t bother to ask me if I had.

At one point it looked like prisoners around the world could be among the first to receive Covid-19 vaccines. In November, after the federal government announced their imminent arrival, the American Medical Association recommended that we be given priority to receive them, along with other people living in communities where it is difficult to separate people.

It made sense to me. Nationwide, at least one in five prisoners tested positive in December, according to the nonprofit Marshall Project, four times the rate of those outside. (I’m a contributing writer for The Marshall Project.) Over 2,500 have died, at twice the outside rate. The death rate of incarcerated New Yorkers is actually lower than that of those outside prison, but incarcerated New Yorkers have tested positive at a higher rate. And it wasn’t just about protecting us. With staff and visitors coming in and out all the time, those of us here are part of the same ecosystem that you all belong to. Even though we can’t leave, the virus can.

At the start of the pandemic, however, states began to develop very different policies regarding the vaccination of incarcerated people. California, Massachusetts and New Jersey made prisoners eligible from the start. But as of the end of January, New York officials still had not announced such plans, putting the state behind at least 27 others. The governors of Washington and Kentucky have each granted more than 1,000 commutations during the pandemic, reducing the prison population in hopes of reducing transmission. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo commuted only 31 sentences, although he also freed nearly 4,000 people by other means.

Sometimes I have heard of these developments from Michael Antinuche, who lives in a cell downstairs across from me, listens to NPR ad nauseam and has become obsessed with anything Covid related. (Pronounces it “Cober”.) A rough 49-year-old gangster from Queens, with a hoarse voice and round body, Antinuche is serving a 25-year life sentence on a conviction for murder, assault and possession of weapons. . We call him Mikey Meatballs.

Meatballs is a tough guy, but Covid, the invisible enemy, tormented him; he hoped to go out and see the girl he had never known as a free man. She was born two months after her arrest. Now she is an adult. The Meatballs family sent virus statistics from the New York City Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to their tablet. He would arrest the administrators and question them about the testing, tracing and, according to Meatballs, their decision to confiscate his masks in a recent cell search. He would suggest ways to run a safer prison. Many of them struck me as quite healthy.

Ten days after the lockdown, I stopped by my pal Samuel Goodman. Sam, who is serving a 10-year sentence for robbery and assault, spent several hours a day working as a doorman at Sullivan’s infirmary, which was filled with patients who had tested positive in random tests that the prison was leading. For about $ 3.75 a week, Sam got into a zippered one-piece jumpsuit with a hood, put on an N-95 mask and face shield, then cleaned and wiped and handed out trays of food around the rooms. four men housing those who had tested positive. People with the worst symptoms stayed in isolation rooms. When Sam threw out the trash, it went into a hazardous waste bag.

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