As I write this blog post, people around the world are in shelter-in-place orders or total lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prison officials across the United States are trying to figure out what they can do to help stop the spread of the virus. Many decided to release nonviolent prisoners early, while others suspended all visitation until the problems passed.
But, this whole situation got me thinking about what it’s like to be locked down when you’re a prison inmate, and the circumstances that lead to such drastic action. That’s the question we’re asking today: Why are prisoners locked up?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- What caused the prison to be locked down?
- What’s it like being locked up in prison?
What caused the prison to be locked down?
Lockdown isn’t actually a term used to describe a prisoner’s situation. Instead, entire prisons (or large parts of them) are locked down when officials deem extra security measures are needed in an emergency. This can happen for any number of reasons, usually due to some kind of security breach.
If someone incites a riot, if inmates from a rival prison gang get involved in a fight, or if someone (prisoner or prison guard) is murdered inside the facility, then the prison will go into full lockdown mode.
Sometimes, depending on the situation, only one wing or cell block will be locked. However, as a rule, in the event of any sort of security breach, all prisoners are confined to their cells or wings and all movement is restricted.
Another major reason prisons will be locked down is for executions. A maximum-security facility with execution chambers will shut down all prisoner activity and remain locked down for hours before prison officials execute death row inmates.
Reasons for locking down entire prisons include protecting prisoners from themselves and ensuring the safety of prison staff. During this time, most non-correctional personnel (educators, volunteers, support staff) will be evacuated from the facility, with only the warden and officers remaining on site.
In case you were wondering, a prisoner does not remain “locked”. Instead, if a prisoner is being punished or needs protection, they are taken to AdSeg, also known as protective detention or solitary confinement.
What’s it like being locked up in prison?
When prisons went into lockdown, all prisoners were ordered to return to their cells, rooms or bunks (depending on the type of housing). All movement is restricted so that no one can go to school, work, seek medical attention, visit, play or go to the cafeteria.
Usually during lockdown, all inmates’ phones are switched off so they cannot make calls. Outside of going to the bathroom (if it’s not in your cell), the prisoner must remain in his/her bunk or their cell/room until the lock is over.
During that time, you can’t do anything or go anywhere. There is no internet access and no food delivery service unless it is from the cafeteria. Depending on the length of the lockdown, prisons may suspend food and beverage services as all inmates cannot leave their cells.
This means that if you don’t have any snacks in your locker, it might take a while before you get something to eat.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own TV in your bunk — or if you just checked out some books from the library — then at least you have something to help you pass the time. Otherwise, you’re literally staring at the ceiling, sleeping, playing a game of cards, or writing a letter to a loved one.
When I was incarcerated, there were a few times we were in lockdown and usually I was the only one in the room with a TV. So, I’ll get out my headphones so everyone can hear, and turn the little 13″ TV around the room, and we’ll have a “movie night” or a fun show in the room.
Usually, the blockade lasts only a few hours. At some point, inmates need to eat, and it takes a group of inmate food service staff out of their cells to do that. If the situation has not been resolved, officials will escort an essential inmate staff to the mess hall so they can prepare meals and deliver them to inmates in their cells.
If you think shelter-in-place orders are rough, try doing them in a 10×10 room with no internet access or pizza delivery!
Do you think you can handle prison blockade? Let us know in the comments below.