Pandemic makes Greensville Correctional Center a potential death trap

A protest sign, held here outside Cook County Jail in Chicago, where the coronavirus is raging, is the demand heard nationwide that continues to be ignored by the mayors, governors and president who have the power to make it happen. – Photo: Nam Y. Huh, AP

by Uhuru B. Rowe©

If you have logged onto the Virginia Department of Corrections’ (VADOC) website or listened to Secretary of Public Safety Brian P. Moran during one of the many televised coronavirus briefings, then you probably were left with the impression that VADOC and Greensville Correctional Center (GCC) officials are taking all of the necessary precautions to prevent or mitigate the spread of the deadly COVID-19 behind the walls of GCC or any other prison in the state. If that is your impression, then YOU HAVE BEEN DECEIVED!

You probably believe we prisoners have had greater access to bleach, germicides and disinfectants in order to keep our cells cleaned and sanitized. You probably believe all prison employees have been screened, examined and tested for COVID-19 prior entering this prison. You probably believe all prison employees who work in close contact with prisoners are wearing face masks and gloves. 

You probably believe all prisoners who become ill are automatically tested for COVID-19. You may also believe nurses have been deployed to all housing units to interview and/or examine each of us prisoners to determine if we are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. If these are your beliefs, then YOU HAVE BEEN MISLED!

Yes, it is true that the VADOC has cancelled contact visits with our loved ones, which is something it was more than happy to do because they’ve had contact visits under attack for many years.

Yes, posters have been posted in each pod explaining to us what the symptoms of COVID-19 are and ways we can safeguard ourselves against infection.

Yes, Housing Unit (HU) 7 Manager L. Evans brought a bottle of germicide around to each cell on March 13 so we could sanitize our sinks and toilet. But this happened only on this one day and has not happened since.

Yes, for the first time beginning on March 23, GCC has been feeding us in our cells as a containment measure instead of allowing us to eat in the cafeteria.

Yes, we were issued a miniature bar of Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE) manufactured “Lisa” luxury soap on March 25 and 26 to accommodate the increased frequency of our hand-washing. We have not been issued any additional bars since.

And yes, we were finally issued two bright orange VCE manufactured, non-PPE sneeze guards on March 27.

Despite what VADOC officials have reported to the media, prisoners here at GCC have not taken a screening questionnaire.

But even with these changes, we prisoners are still at risk of being exposed to and gravely sickened by COVID-19. We prisoners know of at least two correctional officers who come to work wearing a face mask because they were sick with the flu. Before the end of their shift, they had removed their face mask.

This may have contributed to the flu outbreak in S3 cluster earlier this month, which spread like wildfire in HU 7 and other housing units in the cluster, causing several prisoners to become severely ill. Two infected prisoners in HU 7, 100 pod, who were cellmates, one of whom has cancer and a weakened immune system from chemotherapy, were ordered to self-quarantine in their cells. They received very little medical treatment afterwards.

Despite incarcerated people’s increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection and VADOC officials’ claims that an epidemic sanitation plan is now in place for all prisons to ensure sanitation, we prisoners are still having trouble accessing germicides, disinfectants and gloves on a regular basis. Even as I write this essay, the plastic bottles which were supposed to contain the germicide we’re supposed to use to sanitize our cells sit empty in the control booth. This has been an ongoing issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to prevent GCC from becoming a death trap, resulting in the deaths of prisoners, especially those who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, GCC and VADOC officials must immediately implement the following measures:

~ Wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensaries must be installed in all pods, cafeterias and school areas so we can keep our hands sanitized, especially before eating our meals.

~ Because there continue to be days when the bottles that are supposed to contain germicides for offender use sit empty in the control booths, VADOC and GCC officials must ensure that disinfectants and germicides be brought around to each cell a minimum of twice a day so we can keep our cells properly sanitized.

~ Despite what VADOC officials have reported to the media, prisoners here at GCC have not taken a screening questionnaire. Therefore, medical personnel here at GCC must be deployed to each pod at least twice a week to determine if any prisoner is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

~ Because many people with COVID 19 are asymptomatic, all prisoners held in the VADOC must immediately be tested for the virus.

~ Despite what VADOC officials have reported to the media or are claiming on its website, several prison guards have told us they have not taken a “screening questionnaire” or have been examined or tested for COVID-19 prior to entering GCC. Therefore, the VADOC must ensure that all GCC employees, prior to entering this facility, are screened, examined and tested for COVID-19 in order to prevent its introduction and spread behind these walls.

~ All geriatric prisoners and prisoners with underlying health conditions which put them at a greater risk of suffering serious complications and dying from COVID19 must immediately be released from prison to their loved ones via pardon, parole, commutation of sentence or the VADOC inmate early release plan

I ask that you please organize a phone zap directed to the following GCC, VADOC and state government officials in order to pressure them to implement the aforementioned measures:

Secretary of Public Safety Brian P. Moran, 804-786-5351

VADOC Director Harold Clarke, 804-674-3000

Chief of Corrections Operations A. David Robinson, 757-334-9872

GCC Lead Warden Larry T. Edmonds, 434-602-3403 or 434-535-7000

Send our brother some love and light: Uhuru Baraka Rowe, 1131545, Greensville Correctional Center, 901 Corrections Way, Jarratt VA 23870.