Friedersdorf: Is there any attempt to screen people who are coming in?
Ragsdale: The first time that I went, there was no screening at all. The second time that I went in there, last week, they did take my temperature. And if you’re above a certain temperature, you can’t go in. So that was definitely a change. There was no equipment provided. I had to bring my own mask and gloves. I brought a sock to put over the phone because the phones are kind of gross. In general, I honestly felt very nervous going to the jail, and I’m definitely self-quarantining for the next 14 days.
Friedersdorf: What are you trying to find out when you go inside the jails? Why are you talking face-to-face?
Ragsdale: So, it depends. It’s really important for the community bail fund that I work with, which is run by a group called Fem Power. It’s really important to know people’s situations. It’s important to know if people have a place to go when they come out or if we need to find a way to put them up in housing. We obviously don’t want to release people back into the streets. So for some visits, the purpose is just to get information to ensure that when we actually bond somebody out, we have a support system in place to make sure they don’t pick up new charges when they’re out. Often, when people take a new charge, it’s because they stole something. It’s often just a direct result of poverty. And to just make sure that we have a good sense of when to pick people up and things like that. I wasn’t going in to look at jail conditions at all.
Fridersdorf: Are you planning on going back again?
Ragsdale: I am not sure. I really, really don’t want to; just being honest with you. I didn’t feel comfortable going back the last time. I feel very uncomfortable. But if I’m asked by the people I’m working with, I probably will.
Fridersdorf: A lot of people in different professions are feeling discomfort during this pandemic, yet are still doing things that make them feel uncomfortable: supermarket clerks, nurses, doctors. What goes into your calculation to do that?
Ragsdale: For me, my calculus is, one, I do not want to get coronavirus. I’m really, really, really terrified of that.
But on the other side of things, if I am trying to get in contact with somebody who’s inside and I’ve continually missed their calls, or it’s somebody who seems like they really, really need some additional support, I feel like I need to do that. I just think that there are so many people who are sitting in jail who don’t have anybody to talk to on the outside who can advocate for them. At the very least, I have protective equipment, I can sanitize my hands, I can take a shower. I have antibacterial soap. So if somebody really needs me, then I just feel like I have to go back in.
Friedersdorf: It sounds like the jail could minimize the risk for people like you just by giving prisoners better access to phones. Is that right?