Praise for DOC COVID-19 Response

Sussex II State Prison, housing units and interior fencing

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Department of Corrections has received praise for its response to inmates with COVID-19 from an unlikely source — an inmate who survived a serious bout with the disease. A story in today’s Richmond-Times Dispatch provides the details.

The inmate, who is serving two life terms, was housed in Sussex II State Prison, a high-security facility, when he came down with the disease. After he tested positive and began to have serious symptoms, he said, “I was only in the quarantine pod for maybe half a day. When I told them I couldn’t breathe, [the nurse] knew what to do. She went down, got me oxygen, they called in an ambulance and I was gone” to the intensive care unit at Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg.

It is DOC policy for two correctional officers to be present at all times with any offender who has been transferred to a hospital. The description the inmate gave of the actions of the officers assigned to him is reflective of the new overall attitude and approach DOC now has regarding offenders.

“When I was at my lowest point, they were there,“ he said. “I know it’s their job, I know that. I know that I’m in prison, they’re the CO [corrections officer]. I understand the whole dynamic of it. But the encouragement that they gave me—like when I needed a nurse, they [brought] nurses there. When I needed something, they made sure I got it. When I needed to laugh, they told me a joke. And it might not seem like a lot right then, but it was a lot for me because I didn’t have anybody else. It wasn’t like I could call home or had family there. I didn’t have anybody but me. But I had them. Not only were they kind, they made me feel human. They were nothing but professional across the board.”

The story also sheds some light on the approach that DOC took to containing the coronavirus, which nursing homes should emulate. The offender was a group of about 40 who were first tested, presumably after their potential exposure.  “They would test everybody in quarantine. When the results came back, they removed those who were positive and retested everyone else. Every time they did it, it was four, five people that was positive. And that process went over and over and over and over.”

He tested negative two or three times before his test came back positive and he then was removed to another part of the prison. That is in stark contrast to privately-run nursing homes that housed patients who had tested positive with other patients, as reported recently by the Washington Post.