Isaiah Mayweather, who is incarcerated at Macomb Correctional Facility, returned to his normal cell Jan. 27 after serving 18 days in a mandatory quarantine as a result of coming into close contact with someone who contracted COVID-19. However, Mayweather, after being tested three times, never once tested positive for the virus that has infected more than 25,000 prisoners in Michigan alone.
Mayweather wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily about his experience being isolated for 18 days and never contracting the virus.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, quarantining for 10 days without symptoms, or quarantining for seven days and receiving a negative test on or after day five are sufficient precautionary measures to take following a COVID-19 exposure. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says if individuals show no symptoms for 10 days following a COVID-19 exposure, they can discontinue quarantine.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer received criticism from activists and families of incarcerated individuals late last year for her criminal justice policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. While she signed an executive order in August 2020 to improve testing and transfer protocols in prisons, some said these actions did not adequately protect prisoners from infection.
Mayweather emphasized the strain that his prolonged quarantine took on not only his own well-being but on his relationship with his family, whom he was not able to talk to the entire time he was placed into quarantine. In-person visitations have been discontinued completely for over a year.
“My children couldn’t imagine what it would be like not hearing from me in nearly a month’s time,” Mayweather wrote. “After the long break we were forced to take from each other, my relationship with them hasn’t been the same since. A lot had changed in nearly a month’s time.”
Based on Michigan Department of Corrections policy, prisoners should still be able to have daily access to phones, showers, microwaves, showers and the J-pay emailing system. Mayweather, however, said this was not the reality. According to Mayweather, an inmate who has had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual often has less access to facilities than someone who tests positive.
“On paper it looks nice and civil,” Mayweather wrote. “But in reality, we are rarely, if ever afforded these luxuries. If (you’re) in close-contact with a Covid person, it’s possible you can be held longer than a person who’s actually in violation of a rule. So mentally, this is draining.”
Mayweather wrote he is not the only prisoner who has experienced a long wait time in close-contact quarantine, claiming some prisoners experienced up to 30 days in close-contact quarantine.
MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz told The Daily prisoners should still have access to normal facilities, such as regular showers and the use of phone and email services, while in quarantine. He did not confirm whether close-contact quarantine could last up to 30 days.
Gautz also said the restriction in programs, classes and outdoor activities is important in reducing the spread of COVID-19, what MDOC sees as an unfortunate but necessary measure.
“We just have to remind them that this isn’t punitive,” Gautz said. “Although it may feel like it is (when they are) stuck in their cell for longer than they’d like, it’s for their safety.”
Incarcerated individuals are also experiencing issues with testing. In accordance with the Department of Health and Human Services, prisoners are now being tested daily. As soon as the department found the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant, they issued an emergency public health order to increase testing in prisons.
On Jan. 23, Steven Schutt, who is incarcerated at Macomb Correctional Facility and deals with severe asthma, was told he tested positive for COVID-19 and was sentenced to a mandatory quarantine — yet Schutt, who never showed a single symptom, was convinced it was a false positive. According to Schutt, his family’s request for him to be re-tested was denied.
“We were never swabbed the entire time I was (in quarantine),” Schutt said in a written message to The Daily. “The only thing they did was check our vitals and more (or) less wait and pray (I didn’t) get sick from (my roommate) or the other guys that were already there. I worried every day … I (cried) on the phone to my family and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
According to Schutt, an antibody test later revealed that Schutt did not have any COVID-19 antibodies.
Gautz said he knows nothing of the alleged false positive test and that all testing is conducted through private labs due to the large capacity of tests being ordered.
“I don’t know of many doctors who would falsify a record just so their hospital could make more money,” Gautz said. “So I’m not really sure where that (accusation) would come from.”
According to the CDC, it is possible to receive a false positive result from a COVID-19 antigen test. The accuracy of antigen tests is very high when administered properly, but can vary with the prevalence of infection in a given community. The rate of false positive COVID-19 tests increases in communities where the prevalence of COVID-19 is lower.
Prisons are required to provide two hot meals a day, but Dion “Bantu” Dawson, who is also incarcerated at Macomb Correctional Facility, said he has only received three hot meals total since January. Dawson said the prison serves them cold meals almost every day.
Gautz explained that this may be due to an outbreak among the prison kitchen staff.
“If a facility loses all its prison kitchen workers, then they may have to switch to a bagged meal just to get the whole facility fed until they can get people trained again,” Gautz said. “But we do everything we can to get that back up-and-running as soon as possible.”
Gautz said he and his staff understand that the pandemic has caused much tension in the prisons, especially for those who have gone through the sickness themselves.
“Given the erratic nature of the virus, there’s a lot of unease,” Gautz said. “One prisoner could have no symptoms, while another could be on a ventilator within hours.”
Despite the sympathies of MDOC employees, inmates told The Daily they still feel as if their voices are not heard. Schutt emphasized that conditions must change at the facility and that too many lives have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve lost so many friends in here due to COVID-19, I’m still dealing with it (until) this day,” Schutt said. “This has been going on now for almost a year to the day. (Prison officials) didn’t know or care about us. This facility then and now is still an issue.”
Daily Staff Reporters Julia Forrest and Ashna Mehra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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