In April 2020, Ricardo DeLeon worked in production in the food factory at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington, when one of his co-workers showed up to work feeling ill, he said.

DeLeon, an incarcerated man earning $1.70 per hour, said he was responsible for overseeing a team of about 20 people who worked on an assembly line, filling and rolling burritos as they inched along a conveyor belt before being dropped into a freezer. Those burritos were sent to other correctional facilities, hospitals, and food banks. “Breakfast burritos, dinner burritos—all product cooked fresh,” he said.

He said he’d been talking with other co-workers since the pandemic began to try to persuade management to implement stronger Covid-19 precautions: It was hot in the factory and people weren’t always wearing their masks, and hand sanitizer was scarce. Social distancing measures were not being followed. DeLeon hoped management would relax production quotas and isolate people who might have been exposed to coronavirus. “Talking with management is kind of difficult,” he said. “There was no communication—just, ‘Keep it going.’”

During a shift in April, one of the guys on DeLeon’s line came to work feeling a little ill. His cellmate had contracted Covid-19. And despite quarantining and receiving a test, DeLeon said the man came to work the next day. “We were at work for four, five days before anything seriously took place,” DeLeon said. The Washington Department of Corrections later shut down the food factory altogether, citing a decline in revenue. At time of publication, 414 cases have been confirmed at Coyote Ridge, and two people have died.

DeLeon said he did eventually contract the virus, though he was asymptomatic and received three inconclusive tests before receiving a positive test. He thinks the Department of Corrections could have implemented tighter safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus. “They could’ve done way better. You know, they were lost, they had so many—so many things going on, you know what I mean?” he said. “Management didn’t know what to do, you know, the upper management didn’t know what to do. They were just so struck by … all these people that started falling ill.”

Read the full article about prison labor by H. Claire Brown at The Counter.