Sussex II Lockdown Essay

Sussex II Lockdown Essay

Marqui Clardy

September 25, 2021

As America slowly recovers from the COVID pandemic and struggles to regain a sense of normalcy,
life behind bars remains much the same as it was a year ago. Here in Virginia, we are still on a
statewide "modified lockdown" with no visitation, programming or religious services, and very strict
controlled-movement protocols. Some institutions have begun reinstating in-unit recreation as well
as outside recreation, while others are still keeping offenders locked in their housing units. Sussex
State Prisons (1 and 2), however, have not only failed to resume any form of recreation; they've
taken things to an entirely new level. I recently got a new cellmate who transferred here from Sussex
2. We've had several enlightening (gasp...shocking) conversations about the differences in how this
lockdown is being handled between both institutions. Possibly the most noteworthy difference, which
I find rather disturbing, is HOW Sussex has locked down their inmate population: by placing
padlocks on each door to make sure no one can leave their cell.

How being padlocked inside those cells have affected him, and how it's affecting others, is a topic
my cellmate has never shied away from sharing. He describes it as similar to being in solitary
confinement. Although there are still two people in each cell and they have their TVs,
books/magazines, media decides and other personal property, no one can leave for days at a time.
The only time the padlocks are removed is every 3 days when officers come around and open the
cells - a few at a time - to allow everyone 15 to 30 minutes to shower and/or use the phone. Aside
from these temporary escapes from isolation twice a week, everyone remains locked behind their
door. Even the offenders in solitary confinement receive one hour of recreation each day. General
population receives none.

When sharing these experiences, my cellmate's eyes tend to become distant, as if he's shaken
simply by revisiting that place in his mind. Being padlocked in those cells for the past year has visibly
taken a toll on him. He's even outright expressed that he felt he might've actually lost his sanity had
he been forced to stay at that institution any longer. Some inmates - whether out of boredom or
mental/emotional anguish - yell and kick and bang loudly on their cell doors all day and night. That
incessant commotion only serves to make the already unpleasant environment that much more
unbearable, affecting the mental stability of others and leading them to act out in kind. Psychological
damage may be just as much of an issue for those offenders in general population as it is for those
in Segregation.

In addition to the mental health concerns, padlocking offenders in their cells poses major safety and
security risks, especially since the in-cell intercom system at Sussex 2 does not work. What if
someone has a heart attack, or attempts suicide, or injures themselves, or if there's a fire or smoke
inside the cell, or any number of emergencies? There's no way to page the control booth for help.
Not only is it nearly impossible to get the staff's attention; but once they arrive, the extra time it'll take
them removing those padlocks to open the cell door could be crucial in a potential life or death

This is what offenders at Sussex 1 and 2 have had to endure daily since the pandemic first began
more than a year ago. Rehabilitation - which is what's needed to achieve the overall goal of
increasing public safety - may not even be possible in such an environment. What's more likely is
that, like my cellmate, a lot of those offenders will leave there in a worse mental state than when
they arrived, more likely to exhibit antisocial behavioral effects in the long-term. Confining people in
cells with padlocks is a different form of isolation that is no less counterintuitive or inhumane than
confining them in Segregation.