Testing in the Middle of the Storm

We’re locked down here at the prison so time doesn’t matter much. Without a schedule I find myself rising with the sun. Something primal wakes me up. I watch out the window as a distant mountain slowly turns purple. Orange and yellow spread into a blue sky.

At 9am yesterday the main door opened with a clink. I walked to the window in my cell door to see. Habit these days with so little going on. I had been up for hours but wondered if I was still dreaming.

A group in full hazmat suits and sealed respirators walked in. A gruff-looking Sergeant type in full camo with a face mask was directing things. The National Guard had arrived.

Our Covid-19 outbreak started two weeks ago. Six, then eight, then twelve men isolated. Four ended up in the hospital.

A week ago mass testing for affected units was done. Prisoners herded onto the rec yard to wait for hours. Finally tested in a long line. A whole day affair.

But something went wrong. None of the tests came back. Or they were lost. The stories vary.

Without results, the infected were not quarantined. Thirty two men in the honor pod live in single cells. The other more than 1100 men live in double cells the size of your bathroom. Cells with shared ventilation. Blowing nearly 40 years of dust and mold. No way to social distance.

So someone called in the National Guard. I always thought that was just a line from the movies. Or something that happens with hurricanes and tornadoes. Now we were in the middle of our own storm.

One by one they called us out of our cells. I was disappointed when I could hear them clearly. Had expected a Darth Vader hiss and distorted voices. The young Guardsman told me to lean back. That he would insert a swab two inches into my nasal cavity. It might be uncomfortable.

I laughed. Told him my nose has been uncomfortable since I destroyed it with cocaine 18 years ago. He laughed and swabbed away.

That was it. Back to the cell as they tested down the line. A few of the Guard working. Most standing around. Talk about getting all dressed up for nothing.

The idle Guardsmen and Guardswomen looked sideways at us. Not judging. Just curious. Men locked in cages were as alien to them as young men and women in hazmat suits were to us.

They left and we went back to the new normal. Locked doors. Lots of reading and writing.

Sometimes it’s scary. More often boring. Today it was at least exciting.