I’m 54 years old, and this is my third incarceration. I’m sitting on a misdemeanor battery charge. I had my own plastering business for 20 years until a car accident that broke my back. We were locked in our rooms due to COVID-19 but allowed to use the restroom with, at times, 10 to 15 inmates. We line up for meds four times a day at least 10 to 20 deep. If you ask the correctional officer (CO) to wear gloves, they’ll refuse your meds. Depending on the CO — if it’s a laid back one—other inmates come out when they’re not supposed to. There are four phones on the small units and 10 inmates come out at a time to use the microwave, shower and for phone calls.
The phone calls are 20 minutes, so 40 minutes, eight of you can make two calls, if you don’t want a shower. The other two get one call for 10 minutes, if they’re lucky.
We eat in our cells. One time we had a sandwich and soup. I put my own cheese on it and a $1.00 pickle. Then, trying to avoid the chaos of taking the tray back—which is at times 15-20 inmates—I took my tray out right away. The CO saw another inmate give me his ice cream and made me give it back, which I did. When I got to the bubble to dump my tray, that same CO had a plate full of stale cheese and crackers. I told her I should write her up. She ran down the hall and went into my room and threw my sandwich away, lying and saying she went into my room because the trash stank. When I confronted her and said, “you can’t just throw out my supper,” she sent me to the hole.
I took it the long way while taking four days to hear my ticket. They denied me the video and the two witnesses you’re allowed. I got five days. So, nine all together while in the hole.
I watched out my door—a nurse going to a quarantine cell of a cancer patient who had a doctor’s appointment, so he got put in the hole for 14 days. He then had another appointment. When the nurse told him, he said, “I’m not going.” She said, “It’s bad for your health.” He said, “So is being locked back in here for another 14 days if I go to the doctor!”
I had two different cellies from two different units while I was there, then I got moved to a totally new unit when released. This isn’t keeping people isolated! On this unit we came out one time a day for an hour to use the phones, shower and microwave, and most of the time one hour outside. There’s total chaos on this bigger unit. Inmates stand around in the restrooms listening to music on their tablets or just talking, so you never use the restroom without an audience of 10-20 inmates.
“The COs are using COVID-19 to punish us more.“
Sometimes, when a CO that doesn’t care is on duty, inmates from both sides come out and fight over the phones. There are seven urinals and six stalls in the restroom, with two shower stalls for sixty inmates at a time that come out. Now, there are 11 phones we are allowed to use, with 60 inmates.
We try to keep structure and keep track of who’s next for the phones, causing more chaos. We now come out three or four times a day for one to two-hour periods, alternating starting 8:30-9:30 one day, the next 9:30-11:00, then afternoon 12:35-2:20 or 2:30-4:20, and 6:15-7:00 or 7:15-8:40 and one group 10:10-11:40. The other side alternates. We can go outside at the same time, except after 8:40pm. It’s over with when they call for Rec. Twenty inmates at a time have to line up and the CO releases them with no social distancing.
No COs wear masks. I have asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure. I wrote the head of the DOC, Carr, a sentence modification. He sent a letter back stating we cannot release anybody for medical except if you are in the Earned Release Program (ERP). I’ve written Governor Evers. They sent back some paper which I filled out months ago, with no response. I have a stable house to go to with my future wife who has had the same job for 20 years at Walmart.
On the whole, they’re doubling up. One of you is on a mattress on the floor. You have to climb over your cellie. They’re throwing people in the hole for breaking sanctions, like for using the phone when it’s not your time. Some people have family that work and can only be contacted at certain times of the day, so you pick or choose to take a chance of getting caught.
The COs are using COVID-19 to punish us more. I took a plea agreement for two and a half in, and three and a half out. In 2013 I got four in and eight out. I’ve got somewhere around five years and a couple months in already. When is enough enough? I still got five years, three months, and eight days of ES [Extended Supervision] and consecutive probation left on an intimidation charge, for trying to make a phone call that was never answered, and a strangulation charge with two batteries and a battery by prisoner.
Gary Child is a writer at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.