I've Been To Prison, Your Quarantine Hotel Room Is Nothing Like It

If you’ve been reading the news lately, chances are you’ve seen some of the many articles about Australians now having to quarantine in hotel accommodation after returning from overseas.

Returning Australians are being forced to isolate for 14 days to help protect the general population from COVID-19. It hardly seems like an unreasonable order given the recent debacle with the Ruby Princess cruise liner and the fact that most of Australia's coronavirus cases have been related to travel overseas. It seems especially pertinent since some of the people quarantined are apparently showing symptoms.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the complaints to start pouring in. While many of those affected seem relatively happy to do their part for society, some of those privileged enough to afford to travel seem to think the rules should not apply to them.

The complaints, not surprisingly, seem downright petty to a lot of people. For me as an ex-prisoner, however, they’re just plain insulting.

This is one of the views available at the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney... (Image: Getty)

A social media influencer currently being held in a five-star hotel, describes her ordeal as "worse than being a prisoner". What makes it worse than being a prisoner you might ask? Apparently she doesn’t have access to a window and fresh air. She also had to refill the bottle of water that came with her lunch from the tap once it ran out.

She’s not alone. An ABC journalist wrote about having to resort to hand-washing clothes in his ‘five-star prison’. One man being quarantined in a Sydney hotel told SBS News that prisoners in Long Bay are being treated better than he is.

It’s clear that man has never been to Long Bay.

Let me tell you what prison is actually like.

It's up to me to explain since prisoners can’t easily. Why not? Well for starters they don’t have access to social media, mobile phones or the Internet to whinge about their conditions like these people do. Inmates in New South Wales can’t even get access to computers without Internet capabilities, which, speaking from personal experience, makes it absolutely impossible to study in custody.

Inmates in Queensland could call and tell you about their conditions, but thanks to the Queensland Corrective Services Act, it would be illegal to publish their comments without prior approval from corrective services, which I am told is not easily obtained. And that’s presuming, of course, that the prisoners can get access to a phone anytime soon.

My prison had about one pay phone in the yard per 50 inmates. Imagine trying to stay connected with your loved ones when you have to share a phone with 50 people. And now imagine you only get access to the yard where that phone is located for two hours a day. Assuming your prison isn’t on lockdown, in which case you might not get access to a phone for weeks.

Imagine waiting in line for half an hour, just for a chance to make a call that is time-limited to six minutes -- and being charged $2.20 for it. An outrageous price, before you even take into consideration that inmates only receive an allowance of about $15 a week. Some of the quarantine hotels are reportedly giving guests $95 a day for room service.

You don’t have access to fresh air because your window doesn’t open? I couldn’t keep the cold out during winter because mine didn’t have any glass in it, just a heavy steel grill. I’m not even going to go into detail about the complaints I’m reading regarding the hotel food. Take my word for it, whatever they’re delivering to your room, it’s a hell of a lot better than what inmates are served.

... and this is what a cell looks like in Long Bay Correctional Centre. (Image: AAP)

Trust me, I know it’s difficult to be isolated, no matter what you have access to. I’ve heard plenty of conservatives complaining about how inmates don't deserve access to things like television. Here’s a reality check for them: a cage with a television in it is still a cage.

You’re locked in your hotel room. It sucks; I get it. But look on the bright side. It’ll all be over in less than two weeks. If nothing else, try and take some comfort in the knowledge that any prisoner in Australia would trade their cramped cell for your five-star hotel room in a heartbeat.

Before you describe your conditions as a prison again, have a think about how COVID-19 is affecting actual prisoners. Visits have been cancelled indefinitely. Inmates can't just wait this out for 14 days. They currently have no idea when they’ll see their loved ones in person again. And that, arguably, might not be the worst of it.

It is well-known that COVID-19 spreads faster in enclosed environments. Recently, an open letter signed by over 370 lawyers, academics and advocates urged the Australian government to release low-risk inmates, noting that once coronavirus gets into our prison system, it will become a breeding ground for the disease, and there will be a "substantial flow on effect to the community, including community health services".

It’s ironic isn’t it? An effective way to protect our community from coronavirus right now would be to release actual prisoners, while keeping these jet-setters locked in at the same time.

Featured Image: Instagram