16 June, 2020

It's a COVID-19 Test, Not a Peepshow!

The assistant warden, his voice slightly muffled by a mask, asks the crooked line of prisoners I'm waiting in, "Can I get you guys to kinda swing over this way?"

We're snaking all over the gym floor, each of us with our face covered and a little sticker in our hand, just given to us by a panel of young female nurses. The stickers bear each of our names, birthdates, and DOC numbers, and are to be given to the nurse or med tech who performs our nasal swab.

Now, if we can just get our shit together and move, as the assistant warden asked us to, instead of jockeying for the best angle from which to stare under the nurses' table. Someone should've thought to drape a cloth or some paper over the front of it, because the animals in front of and behind me are ogling the nurses' legs with an all-encompassing rapaciousness normally only seen during Discovery Channel's Shark Week. I'm genuinely concerned someone here will pounce and cop a feel before guards can whisk him off to the Hole. This is a "grab 'em by the pussy" moment if ever I've witnessed one, and it’s both worrisome and repellent.

In a hormonal daze, the line shuffles a few steps to the left, inching into some semblance of order. The tall guy in front of me stoops down for a better angle, whipping his long dreadlocks out of his face so quickly that one hits my arm. He doesn't apologize because I doubt he noticed. The guy behind me is at least peripherally aware of my presence (and my race), because he literally pushes me forward with his chest as though we're playing half-court.

"Damn, get out the way, white boy, " he says, pushing me bodily aside. "You blockin'."

The tall guy in front of me, now stooped so low that his hands grip his knees, says, "All the rest of them wearin' black pants, but she got on that colorful shit. You can see all the way up." It's the least crass thing that I hear come out of his mouth.

Thank goodness the line moves quickly. When I get to the front of it, the major, who's posted there, directing traffic, says hello. He's not wearing a mask; although, all of the nurses and med techs do, in addition to nitrile examination gloves. The major doesn't even stand six feet away as he points queued prisoners to open chairs.

I'm consistently amazed at the apparent distaste for masks that the guards here display. Behaviorists should study the phenomenon of certain subcultures' reluctance to mask themselves. Is it about perceptions of their authority, or about appearing submissive to a trend? Is it about desiring visibility, or about susceptibility to discomfort, or even about misplaced political pride? I'd like to understand it. Part of me wants to ask the major his reasons, but I bite my tongue. He'd probably take it as a provocation, and besides, it's my turn to take a seat and have my nostrils Roto-Rootered.

The whole operation takes seconds and doesn't hurt at all. My eyes water the tiniest bit, a problem solved by a couple of blinks, and the nurse who held my head back pats me on the shoulder.

"A-plus. You took it like a champ," she says, and I wonder if this is her stock line for everyone who doesn't cry, moan, squeal, scrunch up their face, grunt, or otherwise react negatively.

Whatever, I'm just glad to have this test out of the way. I head back to the housing unit, listening to the people I was just in line with express their displeasure at their experience of the test.

"It burned!" said one.

"It felt like it sometimes do when you take a hit off a blunt and it go up into your sinuses," laughed another.

"Man, I never smoked no blunt that burned like that!"

And so on, the nurses all but forgotten.

In another couple of days the whole population of ERDCC should have been tested, after which it'll just be a matter of waiting for results. The state doesn't do much of anything quickly, but we'll see how this goes. The way I understand it, if no one in the prison tests positive, ERDCC's ineffectual not-lockdown will come to an end. I don't have some delusion that this novel coronavirus won't wreak plenty more havoc in the coming months, but a break from the current restrictions on recreation, showers, and telephone use, even if only for a week or two, would feel like a deluxe all-inclusive vacation to paradise.

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