As difficult as it was for everyone to get adjusted to a new way of life during a pandemic, it wasn’t any easier for those already locked up. We had access to the news and any newspaper that someone may have had a subscription to. Most of the news however came from phone calls, emails and letters from family, friends and also the staff. The only 24/7 type news we had was CNN. The rest came during the segmented times the news would come on regularly. There were times when the DOC would decide to block channels so we couldn’t watch certain things. There was a lot going on it seemed like all at once. We had the news of covid coming in, then we had the election and post-election madness. We also had the insurrection of the capitol building, and then there was the killing of George Floyd and Ahmad Arbury. We saw the trials of the police officer who killed George Floyd, the trial of the father/son who killed Ahmad. The trial of the officer who shot a man instead of using her taser. During the George Floyd incident they blocked the channel for a while not allowing us access to that news. They then, said we weren’t allowed to draw on or decorate our masks. Anyone who amended their face mask would be subject to disciplinary action. Our guess is that people were writing, “I can’t breathe” on them. it was kind of unfortunate because there were a lot of really pretty masks that people created. I could also see the reason behind the new rule, as there could have been some problems stemming from someone being offended. Things remained quiet for the most part during these times. If anyone had an opinion about the events, they were shared respectfully and without incident. The only major incident that actually occurred was from a staff member being suspended after kneeling and making reference to the Floyd situation. He was suspended for quite a while without pay we presumed and then brought back without incident. He was actually a decent officer, and just made a bad choice in poor taste. It seemed to me that most of the inmates respected him and vice versa. As the trials simmered down and the vaccines came out, things started to approach a new normal. We saw several officers being sent to prison for a long time and being held accountable. The election steal rhetoric was over, and now we were being told it was imperative we get vaccinated. As a Christian, all of the things going on just resonated with me as part of the end of times. Everyone was coming to me and other fellow believers asking if the vaccine was the mark of the beast. Constantly, we were pointing to the verses in the Bible that said that the vaccine was not the mark of the beast. We were told that whether you got the vaccine was up to you and that there wouldn’t be any repercussions if you chose not to take it. After being at the DOC for the time that I had been up to this point I knew that probably wasn’t true! There are times when they treated us like kids, only telling us what we wanted to hear at the time to avoid hearing any whining about it. They enticed everyone to get the vaccine by paying us $25 and giving us a goody bag. I decided to get the shot because we were still holding out hope that Phoenix would reopen. Those of us waiting for that to occur figured they’d say that you would have to be vaccinated in order to go. (Again, they never reopened the FTU yet the website says it’s open). After they held the vaccine clinic and evaluated how to move forward, they decided that anyone who didn’t receive the vaccine now had to move behind a door into a cell. You wouldn’t be allowed any contact visits, and you weren’t allowed to interact with other inmates. The staff gave you a final chance to obtain the vaccine, of which some decided to do so rather than move. Others, because of religious, health or personal reasons still didn’t get it. Once everyone was vaccinated, they slowly started to bring back programs, classes, activities and contact visits. They set up a system where you had to go in and make a reservation to be able to visit. They didn’t want people just showing up like it was pre-covid. My sister Pam and her husband were the first to make plans to come visit. They had confirmations in hand that they made the reservation. They drove 6 hours one way to see me. I was so excited! I was sitting in the visiting room and in walks my brother-in-law and not my sister. I love my brother-in-law and he’s a great guy, I was confused however why my sister wasn’t with him. Here, they would not let her in. She had proof she did what was required but the computer glitched and she wasn’t showing up on their list. They didn’t care how long they drove, that they were leaving to move out of state and couldn’t return. They made no allowances for a computer glitch because nothing was ever thought through. Anything the DOC does is based on reaction and not a plan. When the pandemic broke out, they acted like they didn’t know what to do. While this was new for everyone, it seemed to me that an institution that housed 1000’s of people would have had a disaster plan that included an outbreak. (Lice, TB, Scabies, the flu). It just confused me how they seemed so unprepared. They made stupid rules that made no sense to us. When we were able to go to activities, the library and commissary they had a 6′ social distancing rule. It was being imposed upon all of you on the outside, so it seemed to them to be a good idea for them to do on the inside. The funny thing was they had us moving by cohorts. This meant that we were only allowed to go places that with people that lived on the same unit with us. So, I could be standing in line at commissary with 2 of my roommates in front of and behind me. The staff would then yell at us that we weren’t socially distancing. Umm, excuse me but I live with these two and we’re barely inches apart sometimes in our room. Same thing if they weren’t our roommate. I could be on the kiosk next to someone I didn’t room with. The thing that made it so dumb was then they’d call us for chow. We would end up standing in line at the chow hall, with people in front of me I’d never seen before. from another unit. Yet we were to be separate by cohort to prevent an outbreak. So, it’s ok to be elbow to elbow with people I don’t live with, but you yell if I’m 2 feet from my roommate. These situations frustrated all of us and we would normally try to point out how it made no sense. Someone wasn’t using their head. When the booster shots came out, things really started to loosen up and soon they didn’t even care if the non-vaccinated folks were mixed in with us or not. Honestly, some of the decisions seemed to follow whatever you all were being told out here. This didn’t always apply to how things ran efficiently in prison, however. I know I keep harping on the Phoenix situation, but another unit is what the female’s need. (Actually, we need less incarceration). The over-crowding causes huge problems during these situations. When you try to move people around in a crowded space, it’s like re-arranging chairs in a closet. No one, at any given time should be made to live elbow to elbow. You’re only asking for it to become a breeding ground of disease and infestation. During this time the Governor enacted a temporary release plan that if you fit into a certain category, you were eligible for release due to the pandemic. The parameters were so small that barely anyone was released as a result of it. It was made to sound good, that’s about it. We’re approaching election time again. Our Lt. Governor is running for state senate along with Dr. Oz. (Yes, thee Dr. Oz). As part of the smear campaigns, Dr. Oz is using fear mongering to scare people away from voting for Mr. Fetterman. Mr. Fetterman is on the board of pardons and has been an advocate for second chances and inmates. I don’t find this to be a bad thing, when used properly. Every situation should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. I can tell you, after meeting some of the Lifer’s (they prefer to be called long-timers), there are some that I feel deserve to have their case reviewed again. Some of the law makers feel they are doing their constituents a favor by just voting “no”. I would like to think that everyone deserves to be heard, and at least given the chance to have their case re-evaluated. As time goes on, laws change and people who were charged today for similar acts aren’t being sentenced as harsh as a life sentence. They instead might be sentenced to 2nd-3rd degree murder or something else depending on their role. One major example that I saw often, was women that were abuse victims. They one day fought back, and things didn’t end up so good. Did they kill someone? Yes. There are resources today that weren’t available years ago. These are the types of cases now being reviewed again, to give people a possible second chance. So, I wouldn’t necessarily call someone like this a “violent murderer or violent criminal”. Yet, this is what the news/media will tell you. You won’t hear how they were tortured relentlessly. I saw a few ladies file for commutation while I was there. It’s a long and arduous process. Many of them have the total support of the DOC behind them. Staff that has watched them grow up and grow old. Who see them every day be nothing but kind and caring to others. I’ve also seen people who were meaner than a hornet and were set to come home. Not everyone in prison is violent or a terrible person. There are some good people who made bad choices. Some who were with the wrong people at the wrong time. I pray that the Lord will put it on the hearts and minds of the decision makers to bring positive change.
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