6/21/21: 13 Days into Quarantine

As the title would lead you to believe, I am 13 days into quarantine. Quarantining for a virus that I have been vaccinated for previously and then tested negative upon intake at Yankton.

There is a lesson to be learned here and it is one that any Federal inmate would be well served to learn, sooner rather than later—don’t expect BOP policies to accommodate your needs and desires even if they are rational. That is lesson number one. Lesson number two, don’t expect anything.

I say this not coming from a place of frustration, but more so on a path to acceptance, albeit a hard path to walk. Inmates are supposed to be tested at twelve days. Then, pending a negative test result be released into general population. My twelve day mark was Sunday. Ok, no nurses who handle COVID testing were in. Now however, it is Monday. Yet again, no nurses who handle COVID testing are in. You would think most anyone could administer a COVID test. And you would be right, but not in this case.

But the BOP is a bureaucratic organization where everyone has their specific roles and responsibilities. This isn’t the private sector where we are used to seeing a “let’s roll up our sleeves and get the job done”—teamwork mentality. In reality, I have no idea, and most importantly, no control over when my test will be administered, when the results are received, and when I can leave quarantine.

There are a few things I do have control over. First, I can handle how I respond to the staff member who informs me I will not be getting my COVID test today. She is not doing that by choice. She doesn’t administer tests and wouldn’t depart from her defined job duties. So, not getting unnecessarily upset with someone is in my control.

Second, I can control my internal reaction to my disappointment. I can be in an ornery mood all  day, or Zen out and enjoy the reading time. I fall somewhere in the middle, but with my intuition telling me to lean to the latter.

Third, play the long game. Yes, they say you should live in the present. But I always felt the need to do that, while still planning for the future, which ties back to my first two points. So I’m staying as calm as I can—writing, cleaning my room and about to finish a 390-page book in less than 24 hours. I can think of numerous things I would rather be doing and 40 or so books I would rather be reading. However, my options are limited so I must live in the present.

A few nights back a CO (Correctional Officer) succinctly summarized his job duties to a few of us. The list was not long, but the first two points are worth keeping front of mind. One, keeping inmates safe. Two, count inmates.

I feel safe here. It is a mental challenge, not a physical one. Regarding counting inmates, we are all accounted for multiple times throughout the day and night. You get accustomed to all the flashlights shining in your eyes while you sleep. Are the inmates safe and are they here?

The CO job duties do not include: 

  • Are the inmates happy?
  • Are they having a fun day?
  • Was the last meal up to their standards? 
  • Is their bedding comfortable? 
  • Are they entertained? 
  • Would they enjoy a mint on their pillow?

It’s up to each of us to find joy and meaning in this journey, whatever that looks like to the individual facing such a situation.

One thing is for sure, when quarantine ends I am going to step on the gas when it comes to all the reading, learning and studying I have planned.  Plus, I’m going to buy a glove and start playing a new sport—handball. I’m ready to feel the sun on my skin and fresh air in my lungs.

Out of quarantine and into prison. Out of the frying and into the fire. I’m ready for it—but patiently waiting.

Happy Summer Solstice from inside the quarantine unit!

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