By Hassan Raashann Shabazz
Dillwyn Correctional Center
Buckingham County, Virginia
Part One: May 27, 2022
It pains me to see that after 23 years of thinking that I have seen all that there is to see behind the walls of the Department of Corrections, the VDOC makes another insane move. As I write this, I am sitting in a Covid quarantine unit at Dillwyn Correctional Center, waiting for the next jaw dropping event to occur, but I cannot remain silent as prisoner’s lives are being treated like we are not human beings.
I am utterly disgusted that while Covid is making its move to infiltrate the prison system again with hot spots at Dillwyn and Fluvanna, there are members of the legislature who are attempting to hijack the one thing that would create a little more space in the system; the new good time law HB5148. As I watch myself and everyone around me fall ill I can’t help but think about just how little our lives matter to those lawmakers.
I contracted a variant of Covid 19 after an outbreak occurred on/or about May 9th, in the housing units that housed kitchen workers and those workers had to quarantine. This left the administration with no choice but to draft workers from the Re-entry dorm where I was the Senior Coordinator in the Community. I was informed that the administration told those drafted that if they refused they would receive a disciplinary charge.
Needless to say, these members of my community went to work for 16 hours on May 10th, and they woke up feeling ill on the next day. To add insult to injury, on that day, which was Tuesday 5/11, the administration decided to start a full scale shakedown. My dorm was the first. We verbally protested this because of the Red Zones which had been created in the Gymnasium and Department of Corrections Education (DCE) area.
The administration went on to shake the entire compound down over the next week with cases popping up the whole time. During this time they were only testing the unvaccinated. I did not test positive until Tuesday 5/24. Now, I am being housed in a Red Zone unit with 76 other prisoners 36 of whom had started their 10 day quarantine 6 days before the rest of us started ours. Now the administration plans to move those 36 guys back to the gym where they will have to sleep on the floor and use one shower, toilet, and bathroom until all pods turn green. This is inhumane!
All of this has happened, undoubtedly, due to the failure to test staff due to employment shortages at the facility as officers are not tested unless they believe they have been exposed. Once it is within the facility there is cross contamination as officers make security rounds in red and yellow zone units, and then go into green zones due to staff shortages.
What also causes the spreading is the way the tests are conducted. Firstly, tests are only given to the unvaccinated prisoners until either one of them tests positive or someone falls ill, then staff will test the entire dormitory. This makes absolutely no sense as taking the vaccine does not keep you from contracting the virus, nor spreading it to others. Secondly, when staff comes in to give the rapid test they use the same gloves to handle all tests and swabs from multiple individuals. This is totally different from how the CDC protocols were followed by the National Guard when I was tested previously. In between every swab and test they changed gloves and used hand sanitizer.
Finally and most importantly, the swabs are self administered whereas staff allows the prisoner to swab himself which has allowed for many to fake the test so that they don’t have to quarantine. The National Guard did not allow self swabbing. The self swabbing results in the infected remaining in a green or yellow zone even though they are sick. Therefore, I know that the numbers reported do not reflect how many people are actually positive.
I have watched the inability to handle Covid in the Department of Corrections to the extent of contracting Covid twice and watching five of my fellow prisoners die due to the inability to socially distance. As we see the hot spots of Fluvanna and Dillwyn go full blown with the infected there must be something done before it reaches other facilities in Virginia.
It is for this reason that I am requesting that Governor Youngkin reimplement the Covid Early Release Program first done by his predecessor Ralph Northam, and/or speed up the process of good time calculations through Executive Order to create more space in the prison system for all those at risk. It is my plea that the current plot to revoke HB5148 by those in the vein of Senator Robert Bell be stopped immediately if they have at least one human bone in their bodies. People are suffering on the inside with no way to escape a disease that very well could be a death sentence even though we were not sentenced to one. SOS…
Part Two: June 10, 2022
Many things have developed since Part 1 of this article which have compelled me to compose Part 2. I have recently endured the most inhumane treatment of my 23 years just when I thought it couldn’t get any more worse.
On May 31, 2022 at approximately 4 p.m. I was forced to move to the very gymnasium that I wrote of in Part 1 through threat and intimidation. I protested the move because I was currently in a Red Zone and had been quarantining for 6 days already, but because of the different start dates of quarantine for different groups, the administration sought to separate my group from the quarantine unit so that they could turn the unit to a Green Zone to get the Virginia Correctional Enterprise (VCE) workers back to work. Once again, it’s all about the money.
I, along with 16 other prisoners, were told that if we refused to move to the gym we would be charged with inciting a riot and placed into segregation pending transfer to a higher level. Under duress we all complied and consequently we were placed into conditions not fit for an animal.
Upon entry into the gym the heat was immediately noticeable. It felt like a sauna. There were three industrial sized fans that were circulating nothing but hot air whereas the heat index within the gym was easily 100°. The floor was extremely dirty and we were all given an extra mat to sleep on as though that would provide some consolation.
There were ants, spiders, and other insects around us daily, and many of us created tents to try and keep them off of us while we were sleeping. I did my best to clean up the area by mopping the entire floor, but this did not stop the insects from coming back. We had to constantly kill them and move around to get as comfortable as possible.
The most egregious violation of our rights was the closet bathroom that 17 of us had to use which contained a toilet, sink, and shower all in one. Only one person could use this at a time, and when the shower was in use the water would not drain out because the concrete settlement of the floor was uneven which made the lip of the drain elevated. This caused the water to puddle around our feet. Many of us improvised by using a blue piece of step-up exercise equipment to stand on to limit contact with the dirty water.
As we would stand on the step-up the space was so tight that you could touch the sink with your thigh and kick the toilet with your foot. Once we were done we had to resort to using latex gloves and a dust pan to shovel the dirty water off of the floor and into the toilet. This took place every time we used the shower, and whenever we used the shower no one could use the toilet. This resulted in one individual having to defecate in the trash can because he could no longer hold it.
We were forced to endure these cruel and unusual conditions from 5/31/22 to 6/4/22, but these conditions have existed since the advent of Covid 19 in 2020. In order to address the issues I began the grievance process on 6/1/22 and received a response from staff on 6/3/22 stating:
“We are aware of your concerns and will be addressing prior to any other assignments. You will be moved to a green zone on 6/4/22.”
This was written as though they were trying to provide a remedy, but our quarantine was up on 6/3/22 anyway. We were moved on 6/4/22 to the same housing unit that we had previously been in before being forced into the gym. The administration’s dereliction of duty has only further been compounded by not keeping their word and addressing the wretched conditions prior to any more assignments as they moved prisoners into the gym again on 6/7/22 to quarantine in the most vile of conditions.
As I proceed to move forward to exhaust my grievance on these issues, I do so with the realization that the only thing the DOC is bound to respect is a lawsuit in the Federal District Court with an injunction to make them change the conditions. The only viable solution to this problem is to make room for prisoners to quarantine by decreasing the population so that true social distancing can take place, and so that cruel and unusual conditions do not have to be endured by the sick who have no ability to escape them.
Categories: Prisoner Essays