Incarcerated: 43 years
Cell 4-2, roll up your property, you are being quarantined. The correctional officers came up four flights of stairs to handcuff and escort me to South Block, the largest prison cell block in America, maximum capacity 2,000 men stuffed into a 5’ by 12’ concrete cage, with a stainless steel toilet, four inches from your rusty bunk. In normal times South Block is an administrative segregation section or the “Hole” prison purgatory. Where they send prisoners that exhibit extreme violent behavior. Now, those who test positive. In 43 years of incarceration I have never been sent to prison purgatory. My anxiety was high. Purgatory has a giant rusted iron gate that opens with a big brass key, the size of your hand. It’s through a rotunda that had four big iron doors and a steel staircase. On the third floor, another big rusted iron door that makes an eerie screeching noise, opened to a really dark and long menacing menagerie. One side of the long four foot wide tier had cell bars covered by expanded metal (think real thick chicken wire). These bars went to the concrete ceiling, so you couldn’t jump across the void, a gun walk where officers walk with a shotgun. Half the lights were burned out or broken. The long dim corridor appeared as if the bars from both sides merged and went on forever, a distorted infinity of cages and bars. I was so distracting the next thing I knew the officer was telling me to step into a cell. Looking around my new cage, I saw my books – my true blue friends, my only escape from life in prison, and sometimes my only reason to live. For 60 days they delivered my food through a slot cut into the cell bars, so they didn’t have to open the cage to feed us. Twice a day they delivered delightful, tasty delicacies designed to destroy the palate. The high point of my quarantine experience was finally being alone in my 5’ by 12’ concrete and iron bathroom. Normally they squeeze two men in this space built in 1870 for one man. Forty plus years of sharing a tiny cage was like an anvil around my shoulders, one I was unaware of – until it was gone. Other than being sick with covid twice, my quarantine was a good thing.