Covid-19 is Scary
By Kenneth Nixon
 
 

Covid-19 in prison is even scarier for even more reasons, but imagine being INNOCENT in prison as Covid-19 rages war on everything around you. That has literally been my reality since the pandemic began back in March.

Some people don't realize that being in society allows you certain human rights and protections from this virus. Things like social distancing, the ability to isolate yourself away from others, and accessing appropriate CDC-approved face masks with proper filtration.

You get none of that in prison. Prison is by nature a very virulent place. A furnace of affliction. Described by some as a chamber of torture at best and hell on earth at worst. Nothing about prison was designed to be able to handle anything remotely like the coronavirus. Prisons can be viewed as human warehouses and just like every other business in the world, they try to minimize the costs and in the case of private prisons maximize their profit. Meaning that every available living space is occupied by a human. Swiftly and unknowingly, the virus has thrust things from the darkness into the spotlight and on to the world stage.

During this pandemic, prisons are categorized as high-risk environments. Also on this list as high risk are nursing homes, schools, and long term care facilities. But unlike the others in this category, prisoners cannot be removed from their settings by concerned family members nor can we possess the proper PPE unless it is provided to us. We are completely at the mercy of the system. A system that is designed to be oppressive punishment. I do not believe that human society is meant to create this much suffering. This amount of suffering is neither redemptive nor just.

For me however, the unvarnished truth is that the gravity of this situation is magnified by my INNOCENCE. I've been subjected to a level of stress that is indescribable. For the past several years, I've been working with attorneys and law students from Cooley Innocence Project trying to prove my innocence. Just as we began to make respectable progress, the pandemic hit. I am nowhere near a fear monger but I am far from anybody's fool.

On March 24, 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pulled the emergency brake on my train of progress with her Stay-at-Home order. For me, that was the first sign of danger. Being wrongfully incarcerated for the past 15 years has taught me that the Michigan Department of Corrections is ill-prepared to deal with anything other than feeding (which they're not very good at) and warehousing prisoners. So I didn't wait for them to take control of the situation.

As someone who enjoys all forms of media and a passionate subscriber to the Detroit Free Press newspaper, I was fully aware of the news reports stating that a face mask was the first line of protection. I immediately went to a friend and asked him to crochet me a mask. Then I sewed two layers of perfectly cutout squares of an old uniform to the back of it to form a multi-layered face mask. I wore it everywhere except to sleep and in the shower. Most guys saw the logic in my thinking, some thought I was foolish. In reality, I was just a few steps ahead of the masses. In the long run I was recognized as the whiz kid that started a trend and now everyone has to follow. Subsequently, Gov. Whitmer’s mandatory mask mandate is now respected by all, staff included.

At the end of the day, my decision was driven by two goals that I've had since the day I entered the system: Survival and Exoneration. The urge to complain is a natural reaction to frustrating circumstances but the mature response is to move past words and into solutions and action. Willpower and determination are two things that I was born with. Over the past five months, fighting for freedom and justice has guided my tunnel vision for both of these goals. However hard-won the win will be, it will be enjoyed. But make no  mistake about it, some days it feels like I am grasping at elusive rings.

Covid-19 is a wickedly invisible virus that is nimble enough to adapt. I don't believe that the people in power have figured out what to do. People in prison should not be forgotten nor should we be condemned because of incarceration. The VERY last thing that I want is to contract the Coronavirus while serving time for a crime that I did NOT commit, while the real killer is free to roam the streets. Covid-19 in a prison setting is almost certainly a death sentence to some. If you don't believe me, just ask the family members of the 70 dead Michigan inmates so far or the 4611 positive cases - 12% of the entire inmate population. (Detroit Free Press, Aug.20, 2020)

If you are reading this, it is because you are willing to listen. Listen and you will hear grief, frustration, exhaustion, pain, and uncertainty. Look and you'll see courage in the face of great risk, soul searching, and glimmers of hope. With my goals in mind I will keep pushing forward because on the path to my exoneration I know that obstacles like this are just a part of the journey.