Written by Michael J. Moore for the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'.
There was a party here in the Monroe Correctional Complex last night because apparently there's a way to filter the alcohol out of hand-sanitizer in order to drink it. So a couple of my neighbors sang, danced, and consumed methanol, which I've read isn't even supposed to get you drunk. If I had access to the internet, I would probably fact-check this in an attempt to understand what could possibly be worth risking the lives of 17,000 incarcerated individuals in Washington State.
As a scribbler of words, I tend to observe my surroundings. This enables me to recreate social patterns in my writing, and often to foresee how things will unfold with an almost eerie accuracy. So yesterday afternoon, when a station containing alcohol-based hand-sanitizer was mounted to the wall by the phones in my living-unit, I knew it would only be a matter of time before somebody drank of its contents. Still, I couldn't help but inflate with pride, because short-lived or not, it was a victory which meant our pleas to not be murdered by the Department of Corrections, working in tandem with Coronavirus, were being heard.
Since Patient One appeared twenty minutes away in Everett, residents in MCC have taken an anomalous interest in the news. We've watched Covid-19 sweep through a nursing home in Kirkland like death on wheels, and cruise ships carrying refrigerated corpses float off the coast of Florida. We've listened to conservative reporters claim that prisoners don't deserve to be protected from a virus that has the entire world in a state of bedlam, and seen the Department of Corrections flamboyantly mimic this sentiment. It took a riot in our prison to gain national attention before certain guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control were finally adhered to, and guards mandated to wear face masks while at work.
I was only able to use the sanitizer once before two of my neighbors joined forces with DOC and Covid-19 in an attempt to kill me. I wasn't a part of the riot, but I've wielded my pen—alongside others—in the struggle for life amidst this pandemic. We've done it fully cognizant of the potential for retaliation from guards, angry that we've brought their lethal negligence to light. So the icy sensation of methanol evaporating off my skin yesterday was surreal because it meant we haven't struggled in vain. Within a couple of hours, however, the gallon container was empty, and a middle-aged man was dancing in front of the phones shouting rap lyrics at the top of his voice. He and his next-door-neighbor were taken to the hole, and the station was removed before it had been there twenty-four hours.
But joking aside, it wouldn't have taken an author to have predicted this. It's happened in correctional facilities for years, which is why the substance was banned in Washington State prisons before the CDC recommended its use during the current pandemic. It seems that either DOC officials decided the benefits of making it available outweighed the risks, or they ordered the stations installed with the intention of having them removed when the inevitable manifested. Either option begs equally unsettling questions. And though I'm not a mathematician, I don't think it takes one to figure out that two people out of two hundred in my unit, means 198 didn't drink the stuff. Now I'm wondering what will happen if—and dreading the day when—one of my neighbors figures out a way to abuse water or air, as I don't know how I’ll live without them.
Michael J. Moore’s books include 'Highway Twenty,' which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award and the bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, 'After the Change,' which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington. His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies and magazines and has been adapted for theatre. Follow him at: twitter.com/MichaelJMoore20 or facebook.com/michaeljmoorewriting.