Prison Radio
Izell Robinson

I am Izell Robinson, Minnesota inmate #210006. Sadly, in the Minnesota correctional facility, Rush City, where I’m confined, we have been subjected to a rise of COVID-positive cases. This has come as a surprise to many of us due to the news media reporting on a decline in new positive COVID cases within the outside communities, and the fact that many of the inmates who recently tested positive have had both a COVID shot and booster. Also, masking has been a requirement within the facility when out of one’s cell. Yes, inmates here were issued a couple cloth, then a couple surgical masks, to wear. But the facility correctional staff were issued N95 masks. They even sold neck gaiters on the canteen for inmates to purchase for about $9. Never made any options available to inmates to get the N95 masks that’s said to offer the best protection.

Think about it: if an inmate can afford a $9 neck gaiter, then it’s only logical that an inmate could have afforded a N95 mask. What makes the correctional staff lives more valuable? Besides, the facility correctional staff are very lax on enforcement of proper mask wearing for inmates and themselves.

The situation here is mind-boggling because we haven’t been allowed visits or any other forms of outside contact for six months or more. Therefore, the source of the virus’ spread has to be from negligent testing and protocols of the Minnesota correctional employees in this facility. This is something that the system here has worked to ignore and dodge any real accountability for, as they’ve used COVID quarantines and isolation as a way to punish us inmates under the guise of safety measures.

But how safe are we, really, especially when guys are still getting the virus and becoming ill? In here, things are intricate at best because social distancing is nearly impossible to maneuver in close, secure quarters, where a majority of guys have a roommate. There was a push early on two years ago, at the start of the virus, to go to single-occupancy celling, but that never occurred.

There’s no clear reason as to why, other than systemic addiction to warehousing, of overcrowding prisons with bodies for profit. I mean, safety and health is clearly not a priority here where, as an inmate in a life-threatening pandemic, one is subjected to shared shower areas, shared common areas, where limited phones, microwaves, and kiosks are used, further promoting an unhealthy spreading of bacteria or germs. In my unit within the facility, they have continued to have us on lockdown status, giving us a sporadic daily time of 45 minutes, one hour, or an hour and a half to come out of our cells into the common area to shower, use phones, use kiosks, do laundry, or go out on the courtyard.

So we are usually restricted to life in the crampiness of our cells for at least 22 or 23 hours a day, and 154 to 161 hours a week. We don’t get to the gym for exercise anymore, which was a beneficial daily activity for both guys’ mental and physical health. We don’t get out to the main yard, where we can effectively socially distance and exercise while clearing our minds for some peaceful awareness.

All this is important in terms of anxiety and stability of mental health, which is increasingly compromised and untreated. The idea of safety is a joke in this institution, where there has been a rise in inmate medical call needs and inmate roommate assaults. It’s evident there is a flaw in the Minnesota correctional system’s approach and plan of keeping inmates healthy and safe in a pandemic. Yet that is overshadowed by perceptions that inmates need stiff punishment, especially given the rise in violent crime exploding in outside communities, igniting fears.

There’s this unfair belief, unsupported by statistical data, that it’s individuals released from custody or given lenient sentences that are perpetuating these crimes. The truth is we have had this lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality for centuries, and it hasn’t stopped or caused a decrease in violence or incarceration rates. In fact, century after century, there has been an increase. Therefore, common sense should lean toward different alternative approaches to crime prevention and crime accountability. Sure, a majority of men in prison have made poor decisions and some of which have caused harm to others. However, there’s a neglect in understanding that many other inmates and I have served a substantial amount of time that we’ve made matter in useful ways by participating in positive programming and treatment, which provided us with skills that’ll assist us in better managing our lives in healthy ways.

Everyone in prison doesn’t have a desire to continue harm or criminal actions. Some of us are well-intentioned and motivated to live better lives as pillars of good in our communities. But we do need a fair chance and support over judgment.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.