The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free.
The following is a transcript of a phone interview I had today with a prisoner in the Burnside jail. On Monday, a coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter to Corrections calling for a number of actions to intervene before COVID-19 becomes a crisis in provincial jails. Another letter was sent to key members of the justice and health systems, calling for actions to reduce the risk.
How are people in Burnside feeling?
They haven’t given us any information at all. People are freaking out. We don’t know anything about what’s going on.
Ultimately, everybody in here is stressed out. What’s going to happen, of course, is that as soon as they ever find out it’s here it’s going to be too late at that point. Someone’s going to bring it in — one of the guards most likely — and then one, two, maybe a dozen people get infected. And by the time they test positive, the whole entire jail will have it.
If that happens, Capital Health is barely capable of administering medication as it is.
What are the conditions like in there? Have they been cleaning more to help prevent the virus?
Not that long ago they were dry-celling people, and throwing them in cells full of shit and blood and throw up. And they continue to do this. They don’t care about sanitary.
Have they cleaned the phones in the visiting area?
Well, actually they stopped the visits now.
They said they were allowing non-contact visits.
No, they stopped. We’re not allowed visits on the phone. We’re not allowed any visits. I saw in the paper that they’re allowing non-contact visits, but as of yesterday they put up a sign that we’re not allowed visits.
Has there been any testing? Or has any medical staff come to give you any information?
They still come to administer medication. But, nobody can tell us anything. Like, a little over a week ago Jason McLean [president of NSGEU and former correctional officer] said something in the paper that all the inmates and staff have access to some type of pamphlet on how to deal with it if it ever comes in the jail.
There’s no such thing. They aren’t giving us any information whatsoever. So we’re just basically sitting here, terrified, just thinking about it.
There’s going to be some big issues too. Because if it does — I should say when — when it does break open in the jail, we’re going to run into so many issues. Like, they’re not going to be able to search you. They’re not going to be able to do it. And because of that, the union is not going to allow them to work.
What do you think will happen?
They’re going to lock everybody up. Just lock us in our cells permanently. And when people do act up, because of course there’s going to be a select few that react, they’re still saying that they have no problem using their pepper spray. And that could potentially kill somebody if they’re having respiratory problems.
And I’m not sure about this disease, but I’m hearing that it might be morphing and mutating and it might be able to affect other people already.
We all have lesser immune systems because we’re in jail, but also there are reports that people got rid of it and then caught it again. If that is the case, and I’m in jail, it’s no secret that’s it’s almost impossible to stop transmission of a disease in a range like this. So if I catch it and then I get rid of it and then I catch it again, is it just going to be a revolving door?
Health care is not going to be able to handle it. And basically what they do is going to be cruel and unusual punishment. We’re also worried about our human rights.
They’re pushing people’s courts off to until June or July, so I don’t even know if we can habeas [an emergency application to challenge deprivation of liberty] or even get any cases heard in court.
I’m sorry, I have to let you go.
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.