Social Distancing

by Donny Saadiq

From the Paper Dragon, Issue One Fall 2020 R&R: Recovery & Resilience

The first time I heard that phrase, I wondered how it would look in a prison setting. This was in late January or early February when things were still in question — when the faces on the screen were making assumptions and bold predictions. Some real,  some fake, the  President of the United States was talking out of his ass, as usual. People were getting colds, catching the flu, and experiencing viral infections. At least, at this time, that’s what we thought it was.  

As February quickly came to an end, things began to rapidly change in this country and around the world. What was initially thought of as something we could easily explain away, became unexplainable. Fingers started being pointed as deaths began to rise, “The Russians did it!”  No,  “It came from China,” the  President Chump declared!!! What was once being brushed  off as a 24–hour virus or a new strain of the flu, became more than just your average common cold.  

By early March,  “wash your hands” and “use hand sanitizer” became a rallying cry. As we watched all of this unfold on TV, the internet, and in publications, little did we know so many had already suffered  and  some even  perished  from what they thought was a virus or a cold. As the infection numbers began to rise in society,  in  prisons across America the numbers increased as well. By the end of March, the protocol  was: 

“Wash your hands.” 

“Use hand sanitizer.” 

“Wear as mask!” 

“Wear gloves.”  

“Social distance, stay at least 6 feet apart…” 

“What! At least 6 feet apart? How?“   

I’ve been incarcerated for 25 unfortunate years, and outside of occupying a single man cell, it is virtually  impossible to social distance in prison! IMPOSSIBLE! White–cloth washable masks  were given to us.  The Governor of Pennsylvania put the Department of Corrections’ entire prison system on a modified lock down in late March. All contact with anyone other than staff was nonexistent.  

For the first week, we were locked down while they figured  out what to do next. Then came the death of Rudolph Sutton. K-taan is what we called him. He passed away in early April, one of the first reported coronavirus-related deaths in the  PA DOC.  We immediately began to get our temperatures checked twice a day. The only time we could come out the cell was for virtual visits for the first week, then for 40 minutes  a day.  

I will never forget, going around to collect commissary  order  slips on March 29th. A guy named Mel was lying in the bed with his mask on.  I thought that was peculiar, especially since his  celly  wasn’t wearing one.  The next day I asked him, “What was that about?” He said his “celly  stinked.” I said, “Well what did you do before we got the mask?”  

On April 4th, Mel was taken off the block with a 104-degree temperature and later tested positive. However, his  celly  never showed any symptoms or signs of infection. Imagine that, Mel sitting in there masked up and he’s the one who’s sick and his  celly  never caught anything. Mel was the only positive case on my block.  

Although, the DOC took early precautionary measures to keep everyone as safe from infection as possible, there were at least 50-plus inmates and 80-plus staff who tested positive. The problem is, as the months rolled on and we had the chance to see people from other blocks,  I learned that there were far more people infected than we were told. These men were sick back in late December,  early January,  February,  and March. They all thought they had the flu or a virus. Right  2  Redemption  members, Vern And Lil Charlie, told me how they were  sick for days in the cell. Tarik and Karl told me how one week, Karl was sick and the next week Tarik was sick. All  with  the same stories. I believe I had a mild case of coronavirus at the end of January  or beginning of February  when I was infected with a crazy ass cough for two weeks. The last couple of days, some weird–colored  phlegm  started coming out. So many of us could have  perished if it wasn’t for the fact that many of the brothers I know who were infected and never reported were in good physical shape, which may have contributed to their survival.   

As April came to an end and we moved into the month of May, more stories of infection began to come to light throughout the country and the world. So many women and men incarcerated across this nation were contracting this plague, dying from this thing called  COVID-19.  

Dying in Illinois. 

Dying in Georgia. 

Dying in Louisiana. 

Dying in Pennsylvania. 

Why?  Because it is impossible to effectively social distance in prison unless you are in a cell by yourself.  

Yes, they’ve released thousands across the country, reducing the population in order to limit the amount of incarcerated men and women affected by the plague. They are non–violent offenders and parole violators.  But what about the men and women serving Death by Incarceration sentences? Those  with 20  years  served  and  no longer pose a  threat  to society because most are nonviolent offenders, too! Yes, a person convicted of murder and serving a life sentence can be considered  a nonviolent offender, or in my opinion, they  should be.  

In order to effectively protect everyone,  we must  give everyone incarcerated a chance to be released, especially in these unprecedented times. The more released,  the  easier it will be to social distance in the prison system.  Single cells,  one–man cells,  will save lives! Or,  just do away with prisons altogether,  but  we all know that isn’t  gonna  happen!  You  have people out there running around recklessly,  increasing their  chances of infecting others, especially the elderly and vulnerable. We, too, have the same  issues. The  one difference? We are expected to social distance while confined to cells no bigger  than  your average bathroom. 

To my Brother & Sister across the state of Pennsylvania and around the World, Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Prayed Up… We All Need It!! Donnell Saadiq Palmer R2R/CADBI 2021 @Donny Palmer on Facebook
This was written as a follow  up to Saadiq’s first article Social Distancing! appearing in the Paper Dragon’s Fall 2020 issue.

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