Editorial & Opinion

Zackary Alvarado, ID #562543: My life at the ACI

“During 2020, it was no surprise that the coronavirus would make it into this facility. From the very beginning the correctional officers ignored social distancing amongst themselves as well as the inmates. Staff did not always keep their masks and would cough and sneeze in the air and in inmates’ cells when being searched – which was every single day. I saw correctional staff that obviously appeared to be sick still be allowed to work. However, there were increased penalties against the prisoners if they did not socially distance or properly wear their mask or passed an item to another person. These harsh penalties resulted in good time being taken away, longer segregation time, and quarantine being used as a punishment tool.”
Photo for Zackary Alvarado, ID #562543: My life at the ACI

Published on April 1, 2021
By Jesica Hayhurst

My name is Zackary Alvarado ID #562543. I’m 25 years old and I am serving a 35 year prison sentence at the Maximum Security Prison in Cranston, RI. I have been in prison for about 6 years now and my experience here has been what someone would expect a prison to be like, difficult, disgusting, vile, and sickening. There are many challenges one has to face in here, like watching your back not just from inmates but from correctional officers as well. Another challenge is sanitation in an environment that has filth on top of filth. Mice and roaches roam the prison scavenging for any kind of food. Human bodily fluids are left on the walls of the cells. Leaking toilets leave fluids dripping down the walls of the cell beneath you. Rust stains are all around the toilets, on the walls, and on the desks that constantly stain your clothes and sheets. There is mold in the corners of the walls and a constant stench of urine, mustiness, and other disgusting smells I will spare you the thought of. If only someone from the outside could see the conditions of these cells, specifically the Prudences [module] they would know that there is a health hazard here.


Anusha Alles, with DARE’s Behind the Walls Committee, read Zackary Alvarado’s letter aloud at the THRIVE Agenda rally on Wednesday. You can watch and listen here:


On top of having to worry about the issues mentioned above, there are more problems, like getting the proper health treatment from mental health to physical. I personally have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety, and depression. It took me a long time to get medication for these disorders – it was not until 2019 when I was able to get the proper medication to help me. Everything was going good until I ran out of my pills on December 28th, 2020. I requested more pills that same day and was told they would be ordered and to come back the next day but when I came back they said they never ordered it. So every day I went to medline but still my pills were not being ordered. So I took my complaint to the Lieutenant who told me he does not deal with medical issues. Then I went to the captain who told me that because of COVID there has been a delay in medication being shipped to the ACI. I told him that this medication that I am on, I am not supposed to abruptly stop taking it or it could have negative effects on my mental health. He simply said I’ll have to wait. I wrote the warden about the issue and she forwarded my letter to the Nursing Supervisor who has yet to respond to me to this day, January 6th 2021. So I have had no medication since the 28th of December. I don’t feel well but I’m doing anything I can to not have an anxiety attack. I’m not the only one who has not received their medication, there are several others who are also waiting.

During 2020, it was no surprise that the coronavirus would make it into this facility. From the very beginning the correctional officers ignored social distancing amongst themselves as well as the inmates. Staff did not always keep their masks and would cough and sneeze in the air and in inmates’ cells when being searched – which was every single day. I saw correctional staff that obviously appeared to be sick still be allowed to work. However, there were increased penalties against the prisoners if they did not socially distance or properly wear their mask or passed an item to another person. These harsh penalties resulted in good time being taken away, longer segregation time, and quarantine being used as a punishment tool. Recreation was shortened drastically to at times 30 minutes a day and once the facility issued tests if someone came back positive then there would be no recreation at all whatsoever. Programs were cut or only being used through the mail, mental health services were completely shut down. I reached out to mental health services multiple times and was ignored.

Before COVID made it through the entire building, the ACI was testing staff and inmates once a week. If an inmate tested positive they were then moved to a Module that had the most COVID positive cases. I understood at that time that these tests were not 100% accurate. I knew this because I witnessed an inmate test positive months before the virus made it into the facility and he was tested again which resulted in a negative result. This happened to the same individual twice. So when the facility was moving people that tested positive to already infested blocks I refused to take the test. I explained to the staff why I was refusing to take the test. I was placed on LFI which means locked for investigation and I was quarantined. I was not allowed to leave my cell for anything, no phone call, no shower, nothing – for 10 days – until ultimately I took the test. I wrote the captain about the matter and how I felt I was being fairly treated by not being allowed to take a shower or call my mother during a worldwide pandemic. He simply told me that I would remain locked in my cell until I took the test. Food was delivered to my cell during that time but that was it. When someone is placed on quarantine they are allowed to take a shower, make a phone call, and check the funds in their accounts but because I would not comply with the test I was denied the basic privilege to wash my body or call my loved one.

10 days.

From November 23rd till December 2nd I remained in my cell. By the time I took the test the facility decided not to move anybody testing positive because it was in every block at that time. At that point the facility was placed on 23.5 hours lockdown, which meant we only would receive 30 minutes of recreation a day. This lasted for 28 days and on the tenth of December I filed a grievance because two weeks into the lockdown the Department of Corrections (DOC) decided to open up the facility to a less restricted status for inmates who tested “positive.” Meanwhile the ones who did not test positive, like myself, remained locked down. While I was locked down, for not having the virus, inmates who had the virus were ordered to deliver our food to our cells. So COVID “positives” were delivering breakfast, lunch and dinner to COVID “negatives'” cells.

The morning I filed the grievance, that afternoon the building opened up for the COVID negative inmates. This meant that COVID negatives were forced to eat with, stand next to, and be around inmates who had the virus or still have it. Don’t get me wrong – it was nice to get some fresh air – but now I felt like the DOC wanted me and the others to get sick. Nothing made sense. The Deputy Warden forwarded my grievance to medical, for what purpose? I don’t know. Medical never responded. I also wrote a letter to the mental health social worker Lynn Ruelle on the same day I filed my grievance but still have yet to get a response from her.

Right now I currently live in the Prudence 2 Module, which holds 99 inmates. As I stated in the beginning of this letter, the cells are in deplorable conditions. Caked-on rust stains the walls, most cells have mold growing on the ceiling and in the corner of the walls. There’s plumbing issues with the toilets and it constantly stinks 24/7. The DOC was supposed to renovate these cells years ago after inmates were complaining, however, all they do is paint over the stains. No proper ventilation to combat the mold was ever installed and the cleaning supplies they give you do absolutely nothing. I wish the Department of Health would have someone come look inside these cells, actually step inside the cells and tell me that the conditions are fine and safe. Since being in prison I have acne all over my body, they swell up and then bleed. I have scars all over my back. The doctors tell me that it is some kind of fungus that they only see in here and do not have an effective way of treating it.

The majority of the public may not care about what goes on in prisons and if most of them do hear about what happens here they may say, “who cares, they are criminals.” All I could say is yes I did some bad things that I deeply regret for so many reasons. I have scarred my victims for the rest of their lives and there’s nothing that I can do to take that back. All I can say is I am so sorry for what I did to them and to my family. I’m going to be here for a long time and while I’m here I will work everyday to be a better person so that when I come home I can be a positive force in my community and give something back.

This place can break a man’s spirit with the things that are seen and have to be endured. Many people here just give up. Men are going to be leaving here with hate in their hearts because of what this place does to you. When someone is actually treated like an animal they may actually become that. So I would ask the public, don’t you want people here who are getting out to be treated like human beings? Wouldn’t you want these young men to be educated and not leave here with so much hate? How can a man focus in a wicked place like this? I have been judged by the courts and sentenced. I am now a ward of the state but my incarceration feels like a battle. I have seen many give up and check out early (suicide). I have seen many become abused and just accept it because that is the culture here, your life does not matter to the RIDOC. As for my time here I will continue to do all I can to be a better man regardless of what the DOC throws at me.

My statements are true and honest and are in no way fabricated. Thank you for hearing me. I do not wish to be anonymous. I give complete consent for this to be used.

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