Part XII: Letters from the Harris County [Texas] Jail
These excerpts from inmates at the Harris County Jail in downtown Houston, Texas, were originally catalogued and published May 1 at The Texas Tribune in this piece by Ian MacDougall. The Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
D. March 30: “We’re all scared of this place getting infected it only takes one guard or the wrong inmate for it to be spread in here like fire in a barn. They say they’re trying to release some of us but doing very little.”
Paul April 4: “As of 4-4-20 we have been quarantined and no one has informed us as to what’s going on with our situation, and since being quarantined no one has been tested in order to check and see if anyone may be infected with COVID-19. Everyone on this dorm is concerned about what’s going on and what is going to happen.”
Ren April 8: “At this present time I am sick with a bad cold/flu, possibly coronavirus. I am scared. So I am letting you know, I got really sick on last Friday. I told my girlfriend over the phone to call the medical clinic to tell them I was feeling bad—so I could get them to come get me and be seen as a walk-in . . . they checked my vital signs and my fever was up . . . I was rushed out in an ambulance to Ben Taub Hospital to be screened by a doctor, so I was given medication, a shot, and a chest x-ray. Then they released me on Saturday and sent me back to the jail and screened by the 1200 Baker St. clinic — then they put me in a quarantine tank on the 4th floor at the female inmates’ floor for 14 days. I am scared because of some guys in here that’s sicker than I. I do not want to die in here.
Greggory April 13: “These are frightening times here at the Harris County Jail! The last I heard, over 1,100 inmates were on quarantine. I feel great, but see fellow inmates getting, and staying sick for over 2 wks. We’re literally living in bunk beds that are only 2 1/2 feet apart on both sides! No “social distancing” here!”
Matthew April 13: “It’s scary in here to say the least. I was diagnosed with asthma and scar tissue on my lungs when I was twelve. I’m on an albuterol inhaler and Singulair which is a breathing medication. I don’t know if my lungs could make it through COVID-19. Social distancing is impossible and hand sanitizer is not available. The only way to get bleach is to buy it with food from commissary from the trustees. They are trying to contain something that is impossible to stop in here. A detention officer that works the 701 Kitchen tested positive for the virus so all the kitchen workers in 3D4 were put on quarantine. This left no available people to make our food! To fix the problem, the guards and floor workers started passing out sandwiches. This caused a lot of inmates to burn mattresses & blankets on the 7th floor and a lot of animosity towards guards throughout the jail. Also us inmates are literally having to fight other inmates for commissary and food. Only the strong survive attitude.”
Rich April 14: “Being locked up with no fighting chance is wrong. Most of us don’t have life sentences to have a death sentence because of lack of medical supplies, basically it’s like sitting on death row.”
Ken April 16: “And each day that I wake up I’m in fear of my life. Our bunks are about 8 inches apart. And the tank next door is quarantined, there is a doorway between us and them that is not sealed. The whole social distancing is not in compliance. We are closer than 6 ft. We are in a dorm with 58 men. I would like to know if there is any help for us inmates and how do we go about getting word to someone that could please help us out. It’s like they don’t care about anyone in here. Not all of us are guilty of the charges that are against us. Please take this letter seriously because people’s lives are in danger.”