Hey, my name is Peter Kamau Mukuria, currently incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison. And this commentary is about COVID-19 at Red Onion Prison where I’m currently confined in, which is a junior supermax facility. For the past eight years. I’ve been in solitary confinement and was recently moved to a transition part where I must- where I must first complete a 24-class program, 12 on phase one and 12 more on phase two.
Now when COVID-19 hit, I was in solitary confinement. Therefore I’ll only speak on the conditions and responses based on where I was and currently housed in. Around the month of May, face masks were distributed to all prisoners and we were mandated to wear them anytime we were out of the cell.And staff were also mandated to wear face masks during their work shift.
Masks have proven to be an effective approach to prevent, block, and contain an outbreak, therefore mandating facial coverings, I believe was a good response. However, unlike most other state prisons, the [inaudible] did not distribute hand sanitizer to prisoners, but they instead distributed four very small pieces of soap once a week per individual.
Further preventative measures they took in response to COVID-19 was that laundry for [inaudible] clothing, sheets, and blankets is now down twice a week, cell-cleaning disinfectant spray is also distributed more often. And cell door handles along with hand rails on the top tier staircase are also sprayed with disinfectant spray more often. Now those are good preventative measures.
But what I do think should be done is find a way to not use the same restraints on different prisoners. What I’m implying by this is in solitary confinement when we’re going to outside recreation, which is 20 individual [inaudible] cages. We are handcuffed, shackled, and then escorted, you know, outside rec by two guys, one by one, then those same restraints that have been used on me would then be used on everybody else going outside without ever being disinfected- disinfected. It wouldn’t be time-consuming or difficult to spray disinfectant spray on those restraints in between.
The other thing I believe should be done more often is that outside recreation [inaudible] cages for those in solitary should be cleaned more often. Having said that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at this facility, at least none that I’m aware of, but confirmed cases in the region are steadily climbing, which makes it seem more likely that it will inevitably make its way into Red Onion.
So given this trajectory and unpredictability of COVID-19, a critical preventative measure, and a humane response, would be to decrease the prison population by granting geriatric parole for those most vulnerable, who are the elderly prisoners, those with compromised immune systems, and those with less than a year remaining on their sentence. This isn’t some radical suggestion. This was actually something which Virginia governor recommended in March but has yet to actually be done, something that has been done in other states.
Just because there aren’t any confirmed cases here at Red Onion, it doesn’t imply that this facility is immune from it. Crossing your fingers, hoping that there will be no cases or outbreaks isn’t a really good strategy. Yes, they have been making attempts to prevent COVID-19 from entering and spreading, but geriatric parole and decreasing prison population should be granted, especially for those who have already been authorized by Governor Ralph Northam.
Statewide testing for COVID-19 inside all of Virginia prisons, to my understanding, is on the way, however they have yet to begin conducting those testings at Red Onion and surrounding facilities in this region. So there’s really no, you know, certainty or need to really, you know, say for effect that, you know, there are no- there have never been any COVID-19 cases in this facility. But however, as of right now, there are none that I know of and, uh, hope that it remains the same. This was my commentary. Thanks for listening.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.