12 August, 2020


The distant ripping noise that woke me repeats, then repeats again, and I roll over on my bunk, suddenly alert and curious about this sound that roused me from what in retrospect felt like a deep sleep. What the hell's going on out there? A series of radio chirps, blurts of static, and indistinct, tinny voices precede a thump, instantly recognizable as the sound of a Rubbermaid tote full of someone's property set down on the wing floor.

This is common on the Department of Corrections' designated transfer days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, guys get shipped to another prison. Something else is going on here.

Enough passivity. I sit up and pivot out of bed to see whose stuff is being packed up and taken away. Jeff, my cellmate, is almost as light a sleeper as I am, but try as I might to be quiet, my rubber sandals scrape the concrete floor with every step I take across the cell. Bleary eyed, I bring my face close to the door's narrow glass pane and look around.

The guard's downstairs, right on the other side of the wing, wearing a blue trash-bag smock, gloves, and N95 mask while she supervises the packing. The packer is Levi, one of the guys who attends my Buddhism service (or used to, before COVID-19, when we still had services). He's shirtless and displeased, and I immediately know what's happening. Levi isn't transferring; his elderly cellmate, Anthony, who was taken via ambulance to the hospital yesterday, must've tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital; Levi's being relocated to an isolation cell in 1-House, the unit we all moved from two Fridays ago.

I lie awake for many long minutes, considering the implications of this turn of events. The way ERDCC operates now, if anyone tests positive, his entire wing is placed on quarantine status for fourteen days – four days longer than the period currently recommended by the CDC. That wing eats separately and has a separate recreation period from the rest of the house. It gets no use of the gym. It's barred from Clothing Issue, the library, and the property room. Activity within the wing, from card games to walking laps, continues as usual. It's life as usual, then, except none of us goes to work.

For me, this means another two-week vacation. I'm perfectly okay with that; I occupy myself quite well. But poor Levi, trapped for a fortnight in the plague house! And poor Anthony, suffering unknown torture in the hospital's ICU. Thinking, What a mess, I finally fall asleep. It's an uneasy rest, and my alarm clock seems to rouse me far too soon.

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