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“It Spreads Like Wildfire”

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

By Daniel A. Gross for The New Yorker

Last week, Adam Roberts, who has been incarcerated in New York State since 1999, began to prepare for the arrival of covid-19, the respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus, at Fishkill Correctional Facility, in Beacon. He began washing his hands more often and keeping his distance from men in the mess hall; he noticed someone in a common area using a TV remote through a plastic bag. Roberts has an intolerance to dairy and worries about losing access to foods he can eat, so he planned to buy as much instant ramen, tuna, mayonnaise, peanut butter, and tea from the commissary as he could. “It seems like things are slowly shutting down,” he told me on Thursday. “Funny that prison may be safer than the outside—until, that is, covid inevitably finds its way in here. At which point it spreads like wildfire.”

The coronavirus has now found its way into New York’s prison system. On Sunday, the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or D.O.C.C.S., confirmed that two prisoners at Wende Correctional Facility had tested positive for covid-19. (One of them, according to multiple reports, is the former movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who was sent to the facility only recently after being convicted of rape.) Health officials in Cayuga County announced that the coronavirus had infected a man who had been incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility. D.O.C.C.S. has also confirmed three cases of COVID-19 in its ranks: one officer at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, another at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, and one civilian staff member in Albany.

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