Originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 62, printed August 14. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
While the global COVID-19 pandemic rages largely unchecked across the U.S., American jails and prisons have become something of a series of petri dishes, and the Richmond Justice Center is no exception.
In late July, two inmates in particular, Angelo Long and Virgil Tucker, found themselves dangerously familiar with this phenomenon when they were tasked with cleaning and disinfecting four COVID-19- positive pods within the Richmond Justice Center. By both Long’s and Tucker’s accounts (which they have given me permission to share), they were pulled off their pod with no warning, no briefing and instructed to begin sanitizing the positive pods.
It is unclear how or why they were chosen to perform this job. Neither were provided PPE beyond two thin, single-layer cotton face masks and a few pairs of nitrile gloves, and both were locked in the positive pods with harsh cleaning agents until their task was finished.
While hazmat suits are available within the Justice Center and were visibly stacked within reach on the cell block while Long and Tucker were cleaning, by Long’s account, they are reserved for inmates making appearances in court and for deputies on staff, should they choose to wear them.
Both Long and Tucker were promised compensation for their work, although this was not expanded upon until they had each finished cleaning, at which point they received instant ramen, one pack of cookies and one bag of chips from the commissary.
Soon after, Long and Tucker were sent back to their pods in the clothing they cleaned in, despite the fact that their possible exposure endangered the other, unexposed inmates still there. Eventually, after other inmates repeatedly complained to staff about the overpowering smell of cleaning agents on their clothing, they were both provided with clean jumpsuits and t-shirts. Since their exposure to these four COVID-positive pods and the agents they used to clean them, both Long and Tucker have reported to me headaches, sneezing, coughing, body aches, difficulty sleeping and breathing.
On July 2nd, in an email to the Richmond Free Press, Catherine Green wrote on behalf of Sheriff Irving that mass testing was scheduled on the 6th and 7th of that same month. However, as of this writing on August 10th, Long relays to me that testing is optional, offered seemingly at random and that he estimates only 20 percent of the inmate population at the Richmond Justice Center has been tested.
Both Long and Tucker are nonviolent offenders; Long has been incarcerated without trial for 12 months and Tucker for seven.
Categories: Letters to the Editor