COVID 19, From An Inmate | Noah Bergland

COVID 19, From An Inmate | Noah Bergland

So, it appears that the coronavirus, COVID 19, is all anybody is talking about out there. And from what we’re seeing on TV the news is consumed by it, markets are crashing, and people are buying up hordes of food and toilet paper. Why are they buying all the toilet paper?

I’m assuming they are preparing for the worst, the apocalypse, which until now was only viewed on TV or in movies. The Walking Dead has come to life, and for once, it almost feels safer to be in a prison than out in the free world. International travel is out the door, and so we hear soon domestic will follow.

Cities like New York and San Francisco are hot zones that I hear are on the verge of being quarantined off from the rest of the world.

It sounds like people are being restricted from their daily routines, forced to work at home, plans are put on hold, events are being canceled, and it’s starting to sound very familiar. It’s as if these next few weeks, months, or even years, the world will be forced to live like us inmates. Because I have been sitting here for the last several years, watching the world pass me by as if I didn’t exist, and now I have to start preparing to get out to a world that nobody has ever experienced. Some bad stuff is happening but in the end, I have faith it will make us stronger.

COVID 19, From An Inmate | Noah Bergland

Every time I make a phone call to someone, I am asked to write a post about the virus, they want to know what’s going on here on the inside.

Is it a good place to be right now, or is it just a matter of time before it makes its way in? And if that happens we will all be infected within days.

Well, the coronavirus is all we are talking about in prison as well. Once infected, how are we going to be treated? That is the biggest question and is it going to become our own personal hell with nowhere to escape the spread of the disease? Sick inmates piled on top of each other is one image that comes to mind.

I am not going to lie; some inmates are expecting the worst situations imaginable.

Some of the stuff you hear, you almost start to think the National Guard is waiting outside, ready to start executing any infected inmates on sight. The typical prison nuts are talking about every conspiracy theory thinkable; my personal favorite is the Democrats are responsible for this, in order to dethrone Trump.

Not all inmates are updating their wills just yet, some are still hoping for the best. Any hint of encouraging news and they are running through the compound with it and speaking as if it’s a signed bill, effective immediately; president Trump is releasing all of us.

The first rumor was, any inmate with less than two years was about to be released, and by the end of the day, that number had climbed to five years. I didn’t believe it for a second, but something inside of me wanted to, but I quickly pushed that hope down like I have so many times over the years when someone starts talking about prison reform, and I went on with my day.

Am I scared?

Yes, I am. Maybe not for myself because I have confidence I can beat it if I get it, but I can’t help but think about my Grandma, my Mom, and all my aunts and uncles that are at a higher risk than I.

Anytime people are dying and we are forced to look and think about the unknown, it can be troubling. My time in prison has forced me to prepare for this because I have controlled so little in my life over the past 6 1/2 years, so why break that habit now when it finally benefits me.

Do I think the media is full of it? At first, I did, but as the situation has grown worse and then you start to look at Europe and you start to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before it’s that bad here. The government is taking certain measures and they are basing this information off of the advice of people much smarter than me, and I am in favor of these measures.

Let’s go through some discomfort now as a whole, to save the lives of the susceptible. One thing’s for sure, I am very interested to see how this plays out, how long it lasts, how much worse it will get before it gets better, and what will they do with us when it starts to break out inside the prisons?

The fear is real for some, I see it in the eyes of my buddy Chuck, who has started to wonder if this will affect his outdate. They have stopped all furloughs and transfers, and that only leaves departures.

Just today, the first departure was stopped because the halfway house that he was going to shut down and quarantined, so now everyone is wondering who can’t go home next?

As the days progress, I can tell Chuck is worried less about his out date and more about the criteria that put an individual at risk. Chuck was watching TV the other night and then informed me of his fears as he said, “Over the age of 60, check; respiratory problems, check; high blood pressure, check; are you in prison, (confusion sets in) check; is your name Chuck, (wide eyes, he mouths the words, WTF). I think I’m done watching the news.”

I once wrote a post about inmates being germaphobes, and you would think tensions would be at an all-time high. But, to be completely honest, they’re not, they could be worse. I guess they are saving that behavior for when it actually makes its way in.

I thought for sure the homemade masks would be out, everybody would have their own personal “pink spray” bottles, and people would have picked their corners and fought off any intruders trying to get within six feet. That is not the case and I commend the inmates here at Yankton Federal Prison Camp for keeping their composure, so far.

So what are we doing as inmates to stop the spread of germs, just in case one of us gets infected?

The reality is there is nothing we can do. If it gets in here, we are all screwed.

We sleep on top of each other, we share a room for two, with 8-12 inmates, and half of that space is taken up by lockers. Every morning when my roommates and I are getting ready for work, we orchestrate a synchronized dance while getting dressed, brushing our teeth, filling our coffee mugs, and going in and out of the door too many times. The last one is according to the roommates that are still trying to sleep (sorry, Gucci).

The TV rooms have 100+ people in them every night, the dining room has been broken up by units, as we are eating in shifts, but that still means 100+ people at a time are eating together. Everybody is stocked up on commissary, most are washing and bathing regularly, and we are as prepared as we can be.

The Bureau is taking measures to stop the spread of this thing, they say they have a plan, they just won’t tell us what it is, which makes it even more alarming.

They have installed sanitizer dispensers next to all computer and phone rooms. They have put out numerous bulletins, with very basic information about the disease and ways we can prevent the spread of germs. One of those being a five-step process in Spanish and a six-step process in English. What is the additional step for English speaking inmates? Step six is using a paper towel to turn off the faucet, which explains why I have walked upon numerous faucets around the compound that have been left on.

So far most of the measures that have been taken only restrict our privileges, and by most, I mean all.

First, they took away the Community Service Program, which had been my own piece of heaven over the past month and a half. I was going out into the community and enjoy getting away from prison for a few hours a day, but all good things must come to an end, and they did.

Then they shut down visits, as soon as Trump ordered the National Emergency. The problem with that is the announcement came on Friday afternoon during visitation hours. Hence, they strolled in and informed everyone that visits were done immediately, to not be alarmed, but if you traveled from far away, you are out of luck, so enjoy your weekend in Yankton. Wednesday or Thursday would have been a better day to announce this for the visitors who traveled many miles, but I am guessing the President wasn’t too concerned with prison visitation schedules when he made the decision.

The staff sensed that tensions were high, and to smooth things over, they bumped all of our monthly phone minutes from 300 up to 500 (we still have to pay for but no longer maxed out at 300 minutes), and it worked because any talk of retaliation by the inmates disappeared by morning.

All classes with outside instructors or professors have also been postponed; this includes college, yoga, creative writing, and the welding and CNC programs at RTech.

So what’s next, closing education or the gym? I can’t wait to see them try to close the gym, because inmates are going to lose their minds. I am sure the staff realizes the ramifications that this could bring, and I hope, for their sake, they have something prepared. I recommend bringing on HBO or Showtime. Because, the fastest way to an inmate’s heart is more television programming, this is sad but true. That brings up the last and most severe measure, taking the TVs; I don’t even want to think about that, because that would mean WW3 is right around the corner in here.

So far nothing has gotten out of hand inside the prison, I believe nobody is infected in the town of Yankton, but there are some nearby cases, and the mood around here is starting to feel a little eerie. Everyone is on high alert on our end, but we are still going on with our days the best we can.

Dennis told me recently, “You have no power in the future, so stop trying to future cast, and live for today, because that is the only place you have the power to do anything.” That’s what I am doing now, living just for today. I can’t predict if the virus is going to hit us or what their plans are if or when it does, nor do I have a choice whether or not I follow those plans.

So, I am focusing on what I can control, and today that is who I chose to call with my extra minutes, what I decide to write about, and my recovery.

I will keep you updated from the inside!

Thanks for listening,

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COVID 19 in Prison | Dennis Cockerham

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