Its 92° … in this housing unit. It is not even the hottest part if the day as yet. As I write this it is @ 1:30 pm. I sit at a pod table sweating , my clothes are wet, my grey hair matted flat to my skull with perspiration and the occasional breaze from one of three high wall mounted fans, oscillating here and there, working continuously circulating the hot, humid air around the housing unit. Tensions are high; residents are on edge. The showers run constantly as this is one of the means to avoid becoming over heated, which can happen easily enough. The showers are a blessing and a curse, as they create more humidity within this small environment perpetuating the dampness all around. The temperature outside is equal to that of inside. As a result of the heat, the smells here bog the mind as an assortment ofnbody and other odors inundate the senses with no way of avoidance. For Wednesday through Friday of this week the Heat Index for this area is forecast to be above 100°!
I am writing this from Nottoway Corr. Ctr., a maximum security prison in central Virginia built in the early 1980’s. When this facility was erected there was no thought to the inhumanity of placing 64 grown men a small housing unit, two to a cell, having to endure the heat of summer without air conditioning. New prison construction in Virginia, at least since 1998, includes air conditioning within the housing units where residents live. At this facility, which houses 1429 residents ranging in age from eighteen to 85 currently, with medical conditions commiserate with an aging prison population, there is only air conditioning in the areas where staff, faculty and security routinely work. I have been sitting in this housing unit now for most of the afternoon and as the result of the high temperatures security staff have failed to make their mandated 30 minute rounds to check on the resident population to assure everyone is safe. The hotter the conditions the fewer staff I see. I can’t blame them, really. If I had the opportunity to stay in an air conditioned portion of the prison I would do so as well.
The heat naturally exacerbates residents’ many medical conditions. I am in my early 50’s now, and I experience myriad health concerns, including Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), asthma (I experienced an attack last evening), diabetes, angina, as well as edema through out my body including my lungs. The hot, humid weather understandably reeks havoc on my person. Sleeping in sweltering conditions, as difficult as it is for me having experienced trauma in and out prison, is a non event as one can imagine. As a result I remain fatigued the majority of the time even through I must work 30-40 hours per week washing resident clothing within an even hotter location in the building.
Ice is provided three times daily during the summer months at this facility. The housing units here which were formally known as honor housing, possess their own ice machines within the unit itself, therefore there is never any shortage of ice there. The building possesses exhaust fans as well which effectively evacuate a great deal of the heat generated in the honor housing units. However, I live in the Shared Allied Management Unit (SAM) NOT LOCATED close to the honor unit, where we must rely on individuals to provide ice in three five gallon water cooler containers daily! Because of the heat there is a frenzy of sorts when the ice is delivered to the unit. By the end of “Ice Call” there is no ice left, not even a cube thus we must await the next ice call which is at a minimum six hours later in he day. If I am working, at an MD appointment, or otherwise legitimately occupied when the ice is delivered to the housing unit, I will simply miss out on the ice. I try to remain hydrated; as silly as it may sound to someone not incarcerated, drinking hot or tepid water is not very refreshing although it will indeed keep me alive and for that I am grateful.
That brings me to an important point. I am in recovery from some very traumatic experiences which have occurred to me over the course of my lifetime, in and out of prison, which is why I have chosen to be housed in the SAM housing unit. Recovery can be an arduous, painful experience, one that requires all of my attention, focus, and efforts so that I might have some success which desperately need in my life in overcoming my issues with PTSD, flashbacks, nightmares and the like. These harsh conditions are not conducive to the recovery I sincerely need and desire. One may argue that I am the reason that I am incarcerated and one would be correct in that assessment, however incarceration should serve more than one end. Of course public safety is at the core of incarceration and to that end I wholeheartedly agree. However within the peremeters of incarceration there should be the ability to recover from past hurts, habits, and hang-ups for the betterment of the offending party (me) and the public to which one may eventually be released one day. These harsh, draconian conditions do not further the latter part of the stated objectives and therefore should be remedied to allow those who want to change for self betterment and the betterment and safety of socciety to meet that objective end.
May God grant me the Grace, peace and wherewithall to change in the areas in my life needed most so that I can become the man who He desires me to be.
Categories: Douglas Howard