MONROE CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX, Wash. — At least 205 prisoners — more than a quarter of the population — in the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) within the Monroe Correctional Complex have been infected with coronavirus in the past two weeks alone.
Our gymnasium is being converted into a medical wing to house the overflow of those infected with COVID-19, according to a memo posted in our unit this week.
We’re living in a petri dish.
Prisoners have known about this outbreak for some time now, as I reported for The News Station, but prison officials didn’t release the new numbers until today. The way we knew it was occurring was from our fellow prisoners who work in the kitchen, because they’re able to track the flow of food.
Staff have refused to tell us the severity of the outbreak, but incarcerated kitchen workers have been counting the trays they send to the minimum security unit, where the outbreak is occurring. They know full well that the sick are being fed by another kitchen.
A little over two weeks ago both minimum units housed about 160 people. They tested every occupant, and only two came back positive. Yet, since New Year’s Eve, these numbers have dropped from that 160 down to 61 in one unit and down to 114 in the other.
According to my wife, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) website was finally updated last night to reflect what our kitchen workers were saying. It previously claimed a mere 83 cases, but overnight it was updated to confirm what we knew: Cases have spiked to 205.
All of us share the same century old building. We are kept from mingling. We see movement in and out of it from our recreation yard. My medium security neighbors and I have witnessed dozens of minimum-security prisoners being escorted out over the past five days alone.
Numbers for the other three prisons within this sprawling compound, however, remain a mystery to us.
Kitchen workers claim that while they’re at work, guards in the minimum-security units come to mingle with those working medium. They stand in groups and laugh until somebody asks them why they are trying to get us sick, at which point they usually respond with anger. They’re also moving freely throughout the day between units with outbreaks and those without them.
Much has happened since prisoners here rioted last year, and it’s more tense today than ever.
All clean linen is being removed from general population units and placed in the gymnasium, where a medical facility is being set up.
Those in minimum security are suffering. They’re only allowed to shower and make phone calls once every three days, which is less access to these amenities than prisoners in disciplinary segregation get.
Worse is the rate at which the deadly virus is spreading in their units, coming for them the way all of us in medium know it will soon come for us: via reckless guards.
What should be spreading, however, is information pertaining to the imminent threat to our lives so we can take precautions to protect ourselves.
At this alarming rate of the spread, it’s inevitable our medium security units will enter into lockdown soon. We have no idea when. And we’re not expecting prison officials or our guards to feed us timely information on the spread of this deadly virus. For now, kitchen workers are our best source of information, and that’s not giving us much hope in this system.