Voices from Solitary: Prison Lockdowns and the Forgotten COVID Casualties
Mathew Davis is in prison at the Western Illinois Correctional Center, where he is serving a life sentence. He was first incarcerated nearly two decades ago, in 2004, when he was 24. He is now 42. Davis previously wrote for Solitary Watch about his experience surviving extreme isolation in prison. His past writings can also be found on the blog Behind Concrete and Razor Wire.
In this essay, he describes how the response to COVID cases in the prison where he is being held has been near-total lockdowns, to the detriment of people’s mental health, their opportunities for rehabilitative programming, and their (already minimal) access to their loved ones. In most prisons, these lockdowns are not classified as solitary confinement, even when they extend to weeks, months, or even years. —Vaidya Gullapalli
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On August 25, 2022, all the residents of a small community were ordered to stay in their homes except for mandatory COVID testing once a week. Residents are only allowed out of their homes for 30 minutes a day for food, hygiene, exercise, and phone calls with loved ones outside the community. All facilities are closed except food stores and the hospital.
The residents of this community were originally told that they would be under this mandatory quarantine lockdown for 14 days. However, each new round of weekly tests brings new positive cases and extensions of the lockdown. Currently, the lockdown is scheduled to end on September 14, but that date is subject to change with just a single positive COVID test.
You can always spot a new positive case in the form of an individual wearing full Hazmat gear being escorted to the hospital by officials.
This containment strategy has faced challenges from the highly contagious Omicron variant, and leaves authorities struggling to contain or tamp down the outbreaks.
The rolling lockdowns have crippled the growth and goals of this community. Mental health issues now affect one in three residents and have broken down familial systems as residents are cut off from their loved ones outside.
Despite this toll, leaders of the community repeatedly vow to stick to the policy, insisting that it is saving lives. Although health officials, including national ones, have abandoned the recommendation of rolling lockdowns, quarantines of asymptomatic and negative tested individuals, and 14-day quarantines elsewhere, the leaders persist with these dubious strategies.
The residents of this community have become disillusioned with the zero-COVID policies and hoped that restrictions would be relaxed after the national health authority revised its recommendations, but the government has not offered any timeline on a possible shift in policy.
You may think this community is located in China. However, it is not. It is a small community of around 2000 incarcerated individuals located in Mt. Sterling, Illinois. These individuals are the forgotten COVID casualties. They are subjected to outdated, unnecessary COVID restrictions by leaders who care more about appearances than actual solutions. They claim that their #1 goal is the reduction of recidivism and protecting society, yet under the guise of zero-COVID policies, they have totally abandoned every effort to further those goals.
For two and a half years, these individuals have been denied rehabilitative services and their contact with familial support systems has been cut tremendously—the two things studies have shown to reduce recidivism and protect society from future crimes. While America moves past most COVID precautions, these individuals are perpetually stuck in the temporary protocols from the earliest months of the pandemic.
These individuals are the forgotten, the voiceless.
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