I’m Coming Home.
It’s April 19, 2020, and the COVID-19 virus has been impacting us inside just as it has everywhere else. At first, I was playing it cool and not letting it bother me. The inmates of Yankton FPC have been keeping their composure, too. Until now. Now most of us are freaking out, including me.
On April 10th, my buddy Ben came running in, all out of breath. Unable to contain his excitement, he said he had to tell somebody.
“Dude, I just signed my release paperwork! And guess what the date is! April 30!”
I was stunned, “You have to be shitting me. As in 20 days from now?”
“Ya, I still can’t believe it, but I think I’m leaving.”
My release date is set for September 10. Ben was supposed to leave in December. I thought I would be the next one of our group to get out but it looks like he’ll go first. He said he is being released now because he is rated a “minimum” on the recidivism risk assessment. Because of the virus, the corrections department is re-evaluating everything.
My mind started going a million miles an hour. I am also a “minimum.” It hit me, holy shit, I might be going home, too.
I started looking into my situation and it was nothing but uncertainty. The prison is in lock-down which means we are stuck in our cells. My unit team is in a building I can’t access, so getting information is near impossible. Our “news” during a lock-down comes through what we call “Inmate.com,” the prison grapevine. The information I am getting is, at best, 75% fact and 25% made up and distorted as it’s passed from man to man. Some said that anyone with a date already, like me, is screwed. A curse of bad timing. I also heard that they let an entire women federal prison camp go and that the regional office was going to eventually get to us. As the days progressed I started to panic that I was being passed up.
All I could think about was all the different ways they could disqualify me. In the prison system, disappointments happen all the time. Why would I expect anything different now?
I try to act like it’s not a big deal, but it is. There is nothing that would make me happier than getting out of here even one single day sooner. My mind is consumed with how it might go. We started to see more inmates be called in to have their releases re-evaluated, then sent over to the quarantine unit where everyone who is getting released has to go before getting out.
One thing I notice is that none of the inmates being considered had a set release date. Apparently, those who already have dates scheduled, like me, are being handled from the regional office. As the week continues we wonder what was taking so long. You would think somebody like me, who had everything approved all the way down to who is picking me up would be the easiest to re-evaluate, but I hear nothing from anyone.
I finally couldn’t take it any longer and tried to email my unit team. I pleaded for any information – anything to know that I was at least being considered. I have well over 50% of my time served, I am a minimum recidivism risk, and I have 12 months of clear conduct, all requirements for consideration for early release. The response came through two hours later.
My heart was racing when I opened the message:
“I reviewed your case and it appears you are eligible for early home confinement under the Cares Act. However, we ask for your patience as we are working diligently to get all the paperwork in. There was confusion between ourselves and the Regional Office on who was taking care of the inmates who already had dates. We originally thought they were adjusting your dates, but now realize that is not the case. We are now resubmitting you guys, but keep in mind that there is still a chance that you could be denied.”
That was all I needed to hear because for over a week my life was being consumed by one thought: Am I or am I not going home early? Not knowing was taking a toll on me. I had quit writing. My 12-step work was stalled and stumbling. I couldn’t sit down long enough to watch a movie and reading a book was out of the question. My diet went to hell and I hadn’t worked out in a week. I shut down. I just needed to know.
My roommate, Gucci snapped me out of it.
“You need to quit laying in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself and get back to your blog posts, there is way too much material around here to write about and you are wasting it,” he said.
I’m not the only one freaking out. Widespread panic has set in throughout the facility and tensions are building. We have gotten word about other facilities that have been recently infected: two more prisons out in California and Sandstone, a federal prison in Minnesota. We have two buildings full of more than 200 inmates who are not getting any fresh air and are starting to go stir crazy. We are 19 days into the lock-down and will remain that way until May 18 when it will be evaluated again. This could go on for months and things are only going to escalate.
Inmates want answers but the staff is instructed not to say too much. The lack of information only adds to the confusion and frustration. I know I will have my answer soon enough but waiting is difficult. This is not a place you want to be but particularly when an outbreak happens.
I am taking all hopes and prayers!
From the inside,
EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 22, in the middle of editing this post, we received this email from Noah:
I am being released early due to Covid-19. I want to let you know because this will be my last email. They just informed me I will be leaving Thursday morning, May 7th, two weeks from tomorrow. Between now and then I will be placed into a quarantined unit, where I will be confined to a room with only bathroom access, no phone or email access, the next time you hear from me, I will be on the outside. Love you guys, thank you for the consistent support throughout my incarceration and I look forward to seeing you all soon.