FROM THE INSIDE
★ ★ ★ ★
MY PRISON COVID DIARY
By Ryan M. Moser
March 11, 2020 – This whole thing is crazy. The world news said there’s a new pandemic out there and the US might go on lockdown. Everyone on tv is starting to wear masks. A crisis is building outside of prison and I’m watching closely. We all are. We have families. Kids. Friends traveling abroad. This entire thing is surreal; I’m a voyeur onto an exterior situation which is beyond my control and frightening. Mom and Dad assure me that it’s a flu-bug that will pass.
March 20, 2020 – Visits are cancelled now and everyone’s bitching. We thought the only inconvenience to us would be wearing our new masks around the compound and a temporary suspension of big events—that’s quickly changing. Nearby Miami Beach closed to the public today. Everglades Correctional Institution is a ghost town. There’s no more open movement around the compound and the chapel is closed. The rec yard is off limits, and I can see this is going to be a problem for me. I’ll go fucking crazy stuck inside.
April 6, 2020 – Wheelchairs roll down the sidewalks, pushed by anxious orderlies dressed in full bio-hazard gear: gloves, smocks, plastic face shields, rubber boots. The entire facility is on full lockdown. We watch from the barred windows each day as guys we know are carted to medical for evaluation, some never return. A trip to the hospital and back for the lucky ones. A potter’s grave for the others who had no family.
May 21, 2020 – Another spike. Two hundred and forty-seven inmates and ninety-nine staff members have tested positive to date. The deadly virus got into the walls of our prison. Men are dropping like flies on the compound; fainting spells, high fevers, fatigue, severe headaches, and labored breathing are common complaints among many of the guys I live with. It takes six hours to feed 1900 men (instead of the normal two) so we spend most of our days on standby waiting to eat
July 3, 2020 – Henry was sent to the hospital for hernia surgery and brought Covid back to our dorm…we’re now on 14-day quarantine. A super spreader from another outside hospital trip took out entire dorms-eighteen out of thirty dormitories are on full quarantine. Bologna and peanut butter sandwiches were delivered daily by masked orderlies, cringing as they roll a cart through our door. Social distancing is not possible within the confines of an open-bay dormitory. Sixty four men live on top of one another like sailors in a ship’s hull day and night. New cases pop up every day as our temperatures are taken-restarting our 14-day quarantine every time and causing a collective howl of disgust throughout the housing area.
July 17, 2020 – No hand sanitizer or bleach is provided to clean. Yet, we managed to keep infections down without the admin’s help. When a temperature of 99.6 is registered, people are now being taken to medical for a Covid test, and then escorted to solitary confinement where they spend 14 days in a single cell; no phone privileges, no hot food, no books, no radio, no contact with anyone except a shower three days a week. Some guys are really messed up. Garza is now on a ventilator and Sleepy was taken out on a stretcher today. I heard a bunch of guys are dying on the compound, but www.inmate.com is slow these days with everyone on lockdown.
August 5, 2020 – Our dorm just got off a 34-day quarantine. I had mild symptoms but didn’t report it. I didn’t want to go to solitary confinement for two weeks over a headache and fatigue. Because I couldn’t taste my dinner. Hundreds of men like me who became sick with mild symptoms never got tested. We lose any little rights we have, if we test positive.
September 23, 2020 – Another spike. We hardly go outside and never get to the canteen to buy hygiene products or food. There’s a hostile living environment indoors. Prisons are overcrowded by nature; add in never leaving your housing area, a pandemic, and short tempers, and it’s a recipe for disaster. More fights are happening. Loud arguments every day. Depression, anger, boredom, and worries about our family add to our already fragile emotional state, causing serious mental health issues with no access to help. I wanted to talk to a therapist last week and was told I had to wait until the lockdown is over next year.
October 14, 2020 – Medical staff is severely short-staffed because the nurses are quitting or got the virus themselves, leaving routine medical and dental care non-existent. There’s talk of vaccinations coming in the spring (we even signed waivers or refusals), but with two-thirds of the compound on quarantine and the rest on lockdown, nobody has any hope for normality.
December 23, 2020 – Mom and Dad both got Covid while having dinner at their house with friends. That started a chain-event of all the family getting sick now. They thought they were careful—I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m worried sick about everyone I love. They’re losing jobs and being laid-off and having trouble coping teaching all the kids at home. I hope this shit ends soon. The family has been sheltered-in-place for so long I feel bad for them.
January 5, 2021 – The world news today said that vaccines are being tested at record speed and senior citizens, military, and prisons will be given priority… ! Highly doubt we will see a shot before taxpayers. They talked about the feds releasing nonviolent and elderly inmates. No one was released early to serve their remaining time on house-arrest at my state prison or any prison in Florida. I live in a dangerous and infectious environment, but that wasn’t part of my sentence.
January 30, 2021 – Another spike in here. Another spike out there. I simply can’t understand what’s going on out there, just as they can’t understand what’s going on in here. Mom says she’s never seen anything like this in her life. She’s never seen prison.
February 11, 2021 – Eleven months into our lockdown at Everglades … everyone is losing their mind in here. Our educational building has shuttered. The chapel is still closed. The rec yard is starting to open up more than one day a week and I’m ready to go run. I need sunshine and fresh air. Walking to the chow hall three times a day isn’t enough. Rumors about opening up some programs were a false alarm. I’m very disheartened.
March 17, 2021 – St Paddy’s Day is here. I’m thinking about all the good times I used to have. I wonder how the family is doing missing another celebration. Not having control over my daily routine for so long has affected my well-being. Meditation and yoga only helps so much. This past year has been such a struggle, but finally there is some real hope on the horizon. The warden said that some operations will reopen on a limited basis as long as no new dorms go on quarantine. We’ll see. April 10 2021 – Another sign of change…I heard that some of the volunteers were in the visiting park today. Inmate.com said that the admin started a 14-day countdown to reopen if no new cases appear. I can’t handle another false alarm. April 24 2021 – Thank Buddha! I never thought it would happen but the compound opened up completely today! We all ran outside this morning like kids on the first day of snow, going to the chapel and school and even rec. I jogged until I almost puked and I will do it again tomorrow! When I came to prison, I convinced myself that I only had to get through 8 years of prison but Covid almost broke my back. Maybe I can get through more than I thought I could.
Ryan M. Moser is a recovering addict serving a ten-year sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections for a nonviolent property crime. Previous publications include Evening Street Press, Storyteller, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Progressive, themarshallproject.org, medium.com, thewildword.com, thestartup.com, and more. In 2020, his essay “Injuries Incompatible with Life” received an Honorable Mention award from PEN America, including publication on pen.org. Ryan is a Philadelphia native who enjoys yoga, playing chess, and performing live music. He is a proud father of two beautiful sons.
This column was made possible with the help of Exchange for Change, a non-profit based in Florida that teaches writing in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside.
Exchange for Change believes in the value of every voice, and gives their students an opportunity to express themselves without the fear of being stigmatized. Their work is based on the belief that when everyone has the ability to listen and be heard, strong and safe communities are formed, and that with a pen and paper, students can become agents of change across different communities in ways they may otherwise have never encountered.