On December 25, 2020, I woke up on my top bunk drenched in sweat. “Chow time!” the corrections officer shouted. He stood outside the opened cell door with two breakfast trays in his hands. Listening to my institutionalized instinct, I rose halfway before I quickly realized that my achy body wasn’t going to comply. I felt miserable and extremely weak. I rolled over to look down at my cell partner. “The trays, brah,” I said with a low scratchy voice. As he got up to get the cold meals, the vibration of the steel bunk had aggravated my severe headache. Oblivious to my discomfort, my cell partner thought I was either too tired or just being lazy. He placed the Styrofoam tray on top of my wall locker. Disgruntled and delirious, I closed my eyes in hope I would feel better in a couple of hours.
“Count time!” a different corrections officer yelled through the long, narrow cell door window. I was in a deep, painful, unconscious sleep. It was 12 o’clock count and my corpse was still glued to my thin mattress. The prison guard had waited for me to show her a sign of life. I wanted to cry for help, but I was too paralyzed to express myself. I was enduring unusual body fatigue; however, I made a successful effort by turning my throbbing head to face the guard. She nodded then continued with her count. “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way?” I quietly asked. The only answer I had was to remain flat and go back to sleep.
After the sun retired, I was able to sit up all the way. My cell partner was out in the unit getting every second of in-house recreation. Styrofoam trays were stacked up on my locker, but I didn’t have an appetite. I wanted to use the kiosk and phone to wish my friends and family a “Merry Christmas.” Although my stomach was cramping, I managed to step on the bunk’s ladder. As soon as I got ten toes on the concrete floor, my feet raced to the toilet. I dropped on bent knees and released a yellowish load of puke.
Usually after vomiting when feeling sick, I’d be okay. Unfortunately that wasn’t nearly the case. In fact, the symptoms I had been suffering from all day were still heavily present. I slowly retreated to my bunk and relaxed my 5’10”, 150 lbs statue. In less than an hour, my face was back inside the toilet bowl. More painful than the first time, I vomited a greenish, acid-filled liquid that burned when it erupted from my empty stomach. The aroma of it was awful. I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I knew it had to be something serious. It was the worse Christmas ever!! However in my mind, maybe if I could go back to sleep I’d feel better in the morning.
The next morning I woke up feeling a lot better. No symptoms—cold chills, muscle aches, headaches, body fatigue, or stomach cramps. I was energetic and hungry. Whatever had knocked me down the day before was gone as far as I was concerned. Meanwhile there was a burning sensation going up my nostrils every time I breathed in—like when chlorine water gets into your nose. I didn’t think much of it and I went on my day.
Two days later I noticed two of my senses were gone. “I can’t smell or taste anything,” were my exact words to one of the nurses during afternoon pill call. She rolled her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. “When I finish pill call, I will call you over to medical,” she promised me. I told her, “thank you!” and patiently waited for her call. About an hour or so later I was instructed to go to a classroom on the opposite side of the medical department. When I walked inside I was greeted by a male nurse, who happened to have waist-long dreadlocks. While he tried to make light of the situation, my heart began to beat fast as he pulled out a Covid-19 rapid test kit. The next thing I knew my head was tilted back with a thick cotton swab circling my nostrils. We sat there and talked until the results were ready. After 15-minutes the nurse looked at the color line and sighed. “She’s pregnant!” he said with a heavy New York accent.
I was immediately overtaken by fear. I had tested positive for a virus that has killed over 400,000 Americans. The nurse went to the door, called the guard into the hallway, and whispered to him. The guard then reached for his radio. “That’s a 10-4,” he said to whoever was on the other end.
I was devastated to say the least. I had avoided Covid-19 for 10-months but was now infected because of another inmate’s careless actions. One of many disadvantages of being incarcerated.
I sat quietly before I was escorted to a red-zone unit to undergo a 14-day quarantine. Unlike many inmates who were quarantined, I was very fortunate to be assigned to a single cell.
For the first few nights I lived in relentless fear. “I have asthma. What if I stop breathing in my sleep? What if I don’t wake up in the morning? Am I going to die I prison?” These were my silent thoughts. The possibility of death scared me, but I encouraged my friends and family to not worry. “God has brought me too far to allow this demon to wipe me out,” was what I repeated. And that’s what I began to believe. My conversations with God before I went to sleep had given me the strength to combat those negative thoughts and fears.
On day five of my quarantine, God gave me the wisdom to fight without fear. With little help from the medical staff—who only gave me Tylenol and cough syrup pills—I knew it was just me and God. So I formed my own daily regimen: exercise in the mornings; drink at least 80 ounces of water; drink 1 cup of hot black tea; and eat all of my vegetables, even though I couldn’t taste them.
On day 8 my plan for recovery paid off. I slowly regained my smell—a sense that I’ll never take for granted again. The following day, when I bit into my French toast, the taste of cinnamon teased my tongue. By the 10th day, I could taste and smell again. “I got my taste and smell back,” I excitedly said to my friends and family.
On January 15, 2021, I woke up early anticipating the fate of my Covid status. A young white nurse with a Colgate smile stopped in front of my cell door. “Mr. Torres, you’ve graduated. You tested negative,” she said cheerfully. The battle was over. I defeated the coronavirus.
My emotions outweighed the scale of hopelessness. With God on my side, I claimed victory over my life!