13 April, 2020

A Lockdown by Any Other Name...

The prison's not under lockdown but might as well be. ERDCC just took its "Viral Containment Action Plan" to the next level. Last Tuesday a mass e-mail landed in every prisoner's inbox, announcing the details of the Plan: "Feeding will be completed by one wing at a time per housing unit schedule. Canteen will be completed on a one walk at a time schedule, bottom walk then top walk. In house recreation will be on a Five Cell Rotation." The e-mail later mentioned, almost as an afterthought, "Yard recreation will be two wings at a time, on a rotation schedule."

In point of fact, by institutional policy, recreation can't begin until after every housing unit has been fed — a process that, under the current limitations, consistently takes most of the time allotted for outside rec. Administrative personnel can claim that this isn't a lockdown, gull ERDCC's population into believing that we'll get more than a few blinks of sunlight or a gasp of fresh air a couple of times a week, but in reality we're screwed.

A prime example was Saturday night. Shortly after dinner I removed my shoes and sat on my bunk to read. It was 7:30, and I expected no activity until our nightly allotted twenty-five-minute shower period, scheduled for an hour and a half later. Suddenly, everyone's door slammed open, startling me so badly that I fumbled the book in my hands. Then the guard in the control module announced, "Yards are open, gentlemen; you got two minutes to exit the housing unit," and really lit a fire under my ass. It had been a long day. Time outdoors would do me good. Still untangling my ear buds, I stepped out onto the yard, feeling considerable relief. Cool, breezy, overcast — this was weather I loved. Taking a counterclockwise course along the walk, I made one and a half revolutions before the yard lights came on, signaling recreation's end. I checked my tablet's clock; nine minutes was all the time we got.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciated those minutes beyond another human's immediate proximity. I also enjoy being able to take a shower more than once every three days. The degree of lockdown ensuing from, say, a riot or staff assault wouldn't afford such luxuries, but being locked in one's cell still equals a lockdown. Dishonest language and semantic games irritate me. Reporting to work five days a week, going to meals, bathing regularly, and making short phone calls a few times a week constitute more than what Missouri's Director of Corrections' Friday e-mail termed mere "operational adjustments." Let's call this period what it is.

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