As I write this blog post, people around the world are under shelter-in-place orders or on full lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials at jails and prisons all over the United States are trying to figure out what they can do to help stop the spread of the virus. Many have decided to release non-violent inmates early, while others have suspended all visitation until the problem passes.
But, this entire situation got me thinking about what it is like to be on lockdown when you are a prison inmate, and the circumstances that would cause such drastic action. That is what leads us to today’s question: why would an inmate be on lockdown?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
Lockdown isn’t really a term that is used to describe the situation of one inmate. Instead, an entire prison (or a large part) goes on lockdown when the officials feel that extra security measures need to be taken during an emergency. This could happen for a variety of reasons, and usually it is because of some kind of security breach.
If someone incites a riot, inmates in rival prison gangs get involved in a fight, or someone gets murdered inside the facility (inmate or prison guard), then a prison will go into full lockdown mode.
Sometimes, depending on the situation, only one wing or cell block will be locked down. But, as a rule, if there is a security breach of any kind, all inmates will be confined to their cell or wing and all activities will be restricted.
Another major reason that a prison will be on lockdown is when there is an execution. Maximum-security facilities with an execution chamber will shut down all inmate movement and go on lockdown in the hours leading up to the time that prison officials execute a death row inmate.
The reasons behind putting an entire prison on lockdown include protecting the prisoners from themselves and to keep the prison staff members safe. Most non-correctional employees (educators, volunteers, supplementary staff) will be evacuated from the facility during this time and only the warden and officers remain on site.
If you are wondering, a single inmate doesn’t go on “lockdown.” Instead, if one inmate is being punished or needs to be protected, they will be taken to AdSeg, which is also known as protective custody or solitary confinement.
When the prison goes into lockdown, all inmates are ordered to return to their cells, rooms, or bunks (depending on the housing style). All movement is restricted, so no one can go to school, work, medical, visiting, recreation, or the chow hall.
Usually during a lockdown, all of the inmate phones are turned off so they aren’t able to make outgoing calls. Outside of going to the restroom (if it’s not in your cell), an inmate must remain in his/her bunk or in their cell/room until the lockdown is over.
During that time, you aren’t allowed to do anything or go anywhere. There is no internet access and no food delivery, unless it’s coming from the chow hall. Depending on the timing of the lockdown, the prison might suspend food service because none of the inmates can be outside of their cell.
That means if you don’t have any snacks in your locker, it could be awhile before you get something to eat.
If you are blessed to have your own TV on your bunk — or if you just checked out some books from the library — then at least you have something to help you pass the time. Otherwise, you are literally staring at the ceiling, sleeping, playing a card game, or writing a letter to a loved one.
The few times we were on lockdown when I was incarcerated, I was usually the only one in the room that had a TV. So, I would take out my headphones, so everyone could hear, turn the tiny 13-inch TV around to face the room, and then we would have a room “movie night” or watch a funny show.
Usually, lockdowns only last for a few hours. At some point, the inmates need to be fed, and that takes a staff of inmate food service workers outside of their cells to make that happen. If the situation hasn’t been resolved yet, officers will escort a skeleton crew of inmate workers to the chow hall so they can prepare the meals and deliver them to the inmates in their cells.
If you think a shelter-in-place order is rough, try doing it in a 10×10 room with no internet access or pizza delivery!
Do you think you could handle a prison lockdown? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Why Does A Prison Go On Lockdown? https://prison.laws.com/prison/prison-lockdown
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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