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May 23, 20

“The Community Would be Better Off if You Died”: A Timeline of Contagion and Protest at Neuse Correctional

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A prisoner offers up a timeline of resistance and the spread of COVID-19 inside Neuse Correctional Insitution in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

The last two months have seen an uptick in both crisis and protest around prisons in the US, with noise demos and collective resistance on both sides of the walls. A disease of this kind, for which distance and isolation remain the only real preventative, represents a particular kind of disaster for US prisoners, whose “medical care” is grossly negligent on the best of days. Like many states, North Carolina prisons have been increasingly overcrowded in the last decade, and “understaffing” that was seriously chronic before this pandemic is now even more extreme. The conditions that aid the spread of disease were not invented by a virus, but by the State.

The following is a timeline written by a Covid-19-positive prisoner, about administration malfeasance and prisoner resistance inside Neuse CI, in Goldsboro, NC. Neuse is medium/minimum custody and has perhaps had the worst outbreak of Covid-19 of any prison or detention facility in the country. It is one of three facilities that have been particularly hard hit by the disease in NC, along with NC Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, and a federal facility in Butner. At Neuse, well over 400 of the roughly 788 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19. As of mid-May, 3 prisoners there have died from the disease. There is ongoing solidarity with the prisoners inside Neuse, through correspondence, phone zaps, and two different demonstrations on the outside, as well as lawsuits to pressure for prisoners’ release.

From our correspondence with others at different facilities across the state, this timeline confirms a common picture of how NC DPS is managing the public relations of this crisis while—intentionally or passively helping to spread the disease itself. The logic of the disease’s spread is not hard to understand. At facilities all over the state, prisoners report the same trends: NC DPS is double-bunking prisoners, refusing to provide cleaning supplies, knowingly moving positive prisoners to dorms with negative ones, refusing to share prisoners’ own test results, continuing to exploit covid-19-positive prisoners in kitchens, refusing to test guards, and refusing to release prisoners.

This timeline presents a uniquely important picture precisely in how it contradicts what NC DPS is saying to the media, as the State hopes to present a soothing narrative of technocratic competence and safety. While the managers of this misery continue to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, there is a relatively simple solution they choose to miss: LET. THEM. GO.

Neuse Corrections Timeline

March 12th – President gave warning on pandemic. No masks are being distributed here at Neuse CI.

March 22nd – Two Cases of Coronavirus detected here at the Neuse, but all of us inmates are unaware. We heard rumors.

March 22nd – 29th – More people are getting infected, going to restrictive housing.

April 2nd – Warden Reid gave orders to lock the door to Building B. We were being quarantined, but didn’t know why. Naturally we all came outside in protest. Why would you lock us up together with no social distancing for 23 hours a day? That would cause the disease to spread like wildfire. We all came outside. All officers, sergeants, lieutenants, and wardens were answering questions, then told us to go back in. This is when Dr. Brown first told us about the two cases of Covid-19 here at the Neuse.

[While refusing to come back inside] we expressed our concerns. We needed cleaning supplies. (They were provided, though DPS withheld towels and bleach.) Why would you lock us up for 24 hours and spread the disease, instead of testing us and finding out who’s infected? Why didn’t you tell us about these positive cases before, so we could take precaution? Why did we need to find out by the news? It was an intense yet peaceful protest between the inmates and the staff.

The whole time Warden Reid is on the phone with the Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT). That evening PERT team runs onto the yard shooting at inmates, slamming them to the ground, beating them up. All this as the inmates were running in retreat. They treated us as if we were rioting, when all we wanted was cleaning supplies and a chance to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. When we expressed our concerns about contracting Covid-19, Warden Reid said, “The community would be better off if you died, there would be less victims.”

April 3rd – Sergeants come in all dorms and basically snatch up and detain anyone who asked a question to the administration, as well as the brothers who voiced their concerns the loudest (the “leaders”). They were sent to the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) and transferred. We stood up for our health, but to no avail because  (as of 4/19) over half of us (458 out of 700) have been infected.

When we expressed our concerns about contracting Covid-19, Warden Reid said, “The community would be better off if you died, there would be less victims.”

April 3rd – Captain Bizzel walks to all dorms an finally hands u 1 cotton mask and says, you get one now, you can wash it out and we’ll give you another one in two days.”

April 17th – People who are showing temps of over 100 degrees are being sent to RHU. There are no phone calls.

April 18th – At this point there are over 35 positive patients in RHU. 281 out of 300 inmates who had been tested were reported positive by WRAL 5 News that evening, with 400 more tests pending. In RHU, medical staff did not check on us, or do their 15-minute rounds. Had there been an emergency we would not have been attended to.

The administration panics and clears out all positive inmates in Restrictive Housing. I think, in preparation for an uprising. That night, from 9pm to 2am, they move thirty inmates with regular population (At this point, nobody knows if they are positive or negative. We are not given our own test results. All we know is what the news is reporting.)

April 19th – Officers come from Johnston County, a camp that had 8 positive cases and shut down. They are unprepared, don’t have radios, etc.

April 19th – A lieutenant was asked about opening up the yard so we could social distance. His response was, “I’ll take names and complaints and turn them in.”

April 20th – As of 4/20 our masks have only been changed once (not every 2 days).

April 23rd – Mathew Cox was escorted to Segregation by PERT officers and was assaulted while handcuffed, then later assaulted in Segregation. He was rushed to the ER. NC DPS officials claimed he fell out of his bed. He had seven stitches. (Ed. Note: We’ve confirmed this assault and the false story by NC DPS in correspondence with two different prisoners at Neuse).

April 24th – Assistant Warden along with practitioner Brown come to B- Dorm and tell everyone that they indeed are infected. We all ask for our results. They say they will provide them; nothing has been provided as of 5/5. Several inmates that were told they were negative remained in a pod where positive inmates were moved in. Two of them eventually died.

April 24th – The Neuse Correctional is in the News and Observer as the site of one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks of any prison in the Nation. They are misinformed when they say that 98% of cases are asymptomatic and show no symptoms. We all had symptoms. We all however weren’t tested, or developed a fever after being tested, after which it was too late.

April 27th – Programs come to the quarantine building to deliver popcorn to all inmates (clearly a bribe), instead of our test results. They move infected kitchen workers who tested positive to another building because they are short-staffed. They want us to believe that 3 out of 4 pods are negative.

April 28th – The dorms are evacuated and sprayed down with disinfectant. This should’ve been done on March 22nd when the first two cases were detected. Come to find out, all these actions were only taken due to a lawsuit that was filed by the ACLU and NAACP and three inmates.

April 28th – The Neuse Correctional makes national news in the USA Today paper, “ of more than 50 detention centers…none had more infections at the time than Neuse, prompting officials to test 700 prisoners. Within a week infections surged from 39 to 444…Infections showed up with no symptoms.” (This was a lie—we aren’t superhuman inmates—we all got sick. Sick call, which takes two months, was not available.)

May 2nd – Programs again passes out goodies (ice cream) to all inmates for no reason. Once again, no test results.

May 5thNews & Observer had an article that said NC DPS denied a company (Mako Medical Laboratories) from testing 20,000 DPS officials out of fear of positive results leading to more of them being even more understaffed. These tests would have been free.

May 5th – Judge Rozier orders Governor Roy Cooper to outline how they are keeping NC prisoners safe from Covid-19, as well as outline steps to provide masks, access to soap and sanitizers, along with living conditions that allow for six feet of social distancing and don’t mix individuals from different housing areas, by May 8th.

May 7th – Maintenance installs soap dispensers, one in each bathroom.

May 8th – [Ed. Note] Organized by a handful of radical groups, over 30 cars stage a demonstration outside of Neuse CI, passing back and forth in front of the facility honking horns and carrying banners that say “Free them all!” As the cars attempt to get on prison property they’re blocked; a group of Sheriffs stop the caravan and traffic backs up, preventing the guards’ shift change. Protesters leave their cars to lay “body bags” in front of the barbed wire fence.

May 11th – Dorms are sprayed with disinfectant.

May 12th – A  second demonstration takes place at Neuse, this time organized by UE150, a public workers union.

Conclusion

We feel like this is cruel and unusual punishment. DPS did not do everything within their power to keep us safe. Officers were not being tested. When the first two cases were detected, precautions should have been made. Everyone should have been tested, hand sanitizers and soap dispensers should have been put up. Dorms should have been evacuated and sprayed down. Temperatures should have been taken, masks provided. Instead we were told to go in our dorms and stay there. They were going to—and did—lock us up with the virus and allow it to spread. The evidence speaks for itself. We were the first camp in the nation to have that many cases. Neither our safety, nor the safety of the officers, was a priority. As a result, we are suffering with ongoing symptoms from this disease. The fact that none of us know if we are positive or negative is an injustice in itself. Somebody should be held accountable.

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Empty Cages Collective

We're a collective of people in Durham, NC working against incarceration, carceral society, and a world that tells us prisons are normal and necessary.

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