On September 1 2021, I reflected on how it is impossible to Social Distance in Prison.
Since then at least 10 men have succumbed to Covid19. All had cellmates who were infected as well. For a few of the deceased their celly passed it on to them.This is why I pointed out the need for single-celling. One can practice every precautionary measure possible but if your celly is careless or reckless or just so happen to come in contact with someone who’s infected with the virus.
One of the men who perished from this plague name is Bruce Norris. I met Bruce back in the late 90’s and when you hear people say “He don’t look or act like somebody in jail or who could or would catch a case,” they are talking about Bruce Norris. One of the kindest unassuming people I’ve ever met in my 46 years of living. Bruce always had a kind word to say and a pleasant smile. Trust me I’m not saying this about this man because he passed on Bruce was all of that and more, he was a hellofaDude!
Bruce’s passing is the reason why I choose to write another piece, Bruce allegedly caught Covid from his cellmate. I was actually with Bruce the day he went to sick call, because he wasn’t feeling right. But he didn’t think he had the virus. As we waited to be seen by the Doctor, we had a conversation about what he was gonna do when he went home. Oh yeah, Bruce had recently been approved for commutation and was waiting for Governor Tom Wolfe’s signature, which was delayed for whatever reason.
45 years of incarceration and finally he gets the chance to return to society, rejoin his lovely family, and two days after we sat and talked about his plans and how his daughter just told him is sisters where in a dispute about who was gonna take him shopping and dinner’s all good stuff and we laughed at the mere fact of this good natured dispute taking place for his up an coming release.
I smile as I reflect on that last day with Bruce, because even though he was extremely happy to finally go home he still was mindful of the brothers and sisters who will still be here and as we parted his last words to me were, “Saadiq your next up man, were all gonna get that second chance and with his signature smile and nod… Bruce went in to see the doctor. Two days later I was on the phone and the nurse and an officer was rolling someone from the A side of the block out in a wheelchair. I couldn’t see who it was, then I heard someone say, ” Yo that’s Bruce Norris in that wheelchair, isn’t he about to go home?” Silently I said to myself “I hope he’s okay.” Unfortunately I was wrong and that was the last time I saw Bruce…
With a Heavy Heart, I want to dedicate this missive to the Norris and Lightly Family for whom I send my Deepest Sympathy and Condolences to…Your Father, Brother, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Uncle, Cousin and Friend will be sadly missed be all of us inside and out.
Even though Bruce was granted Commutation, the inability to truly social distance in prison reared its ugly head, solidifying the need for single-celling for people incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons. If we still were in Graterford Prison, Bruce would still be here and would be home by now, because unlike SCI Phoenix’s 80 or so single man cells SCI Graterford had over 500 single manned cells.
Now thankfully but regretfully Bruce’s passing prompted Gov. Wolfe to sign the 13 remaining commutations and on Feb.12, 202. They walked out of prisons around the state after decades, I mean decades of incarceration!
Unfortunately one man Mr. Daniel Cummings 74 who served about 38 or 39 years tested positive for Covid 19 upon his release and I was told he is now hospitalized or in quarantined as I write this and yes his celly is quarantined on my block as well! It is unknown to me at this time if Mr. Cummings celly is positive, but I do know he moved in the cell within the last month while Mr. Cummings has been waiting on Governor Wolfe to sign his commutation papers. Pray For Him.
Vaccinations haven’t started at SCI Phoenix yet- the state’s largest state prison. I do hope the process begins soon, because the virus continues to spread amongst the men and the staff with no signs of slowing down.
Also, we’ve been on lockdown or modified lockdown for 11 months, just like the rest of the world and the feelings of angst, stress, depression are also affecting us on the inside. Now one might say, “But you’re locked up anyway, how is it possible to feel the pressure or be consumed by this extended version of quarantine?” Yes it is true we are incarcerated and unfortunately used to being locked up to a degree. Unless we are in the RHU(restricted housing unit) in which we are locked in the cell for 23 hours a day Monday thru Friday with one hour for yard and a shower every other day. And on the weekend for 24 hours a day and only come out for the Law Library or Medical. We have a lot of movement in the prison, work, school, programming, activities, visits etc. If an individual has a full schedule he or she will spend less time in the cell. Prison is more than just the yard and a cell. We work hard at bettering ourselves contrary to what people may believe. Especially those serving an exorbitant amount of time whether its numbers or letters.
The hope for a second chance is always present, seeking and searching for Redemption. For many Redemption is achieved, but for some unfortunately Redemption eludes them like the annoying fly in your car. Now with this plague and the possibility of becoming infected and succumbing to it looms over our heads just as much as the possibility of never going home. Hopefully we’ll all get inoculated sooner than later and the world can again return to a form of normalcy. Unfortunately things around here will never be the same.
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. This writing will also appear in Paper Dragon’s upcoming Spring 2021 issue.