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The solid, impenetrable doors left us with a false sense of security. Wake, meds, chow, read, chow, read, chow, read, meds, sleep, dream. This was our daily routine for months in the solitary halls of San Quentin’s Adjustment Center; all while the world started to burn. 

There, dreams were our only escape from the horrid reality of the state of our nation, the state of our world.

They would bring a temporary relief, with the assistance of medication, allowing us to journey with the ones we love the most. 

“The world is burning,” were the words that echoed in my mind, 

As I listened to the daily news broadcast on the radio.

“The world is burning, and there is nothing I can do to help.”

A tiny ball, invisible to the naked eye, slaughtering the people

Without any preference to political affiliation.

Yet the only way we know how to combat this miniscule, yet deadly enemy borders on insane levels of politicization. 

All this comes as the greatest fight for Civil Rights in our lives, nay, in our nation’s storied history, takes flight.

“The world is burning,” were the words that echoed in my mind, as I heard the words, “I can’t breathe” played on repeat.

“The world is burning, and there is nothing I can do to help.”

“I can’t breathe…”

I said those same three words, days after seeing blisters forming on my chest.

I had just turned thirty, asthma always a concern. 

I couldn’t breathe without feeling the need to clear my lungs. 

It felt as if I were breathing in fire. 

“There is nothing we can do,” they said. “Just sit and wait.”

Then my taste buds dissipated to the point that I couldn’t tell the difference between concentrated coffee and water. 

Chills, vertigo, the crushing sensation in my chest. 

I told myself “this is it,” when I couldn’t even stand without the need to catch my breath. 

I called out “Man Down, I-18!” and all they did was take my temperature.

It took three days from the worst of my symptoms to get tested. 

It took another three weeks to finally receive the results, the results I had long expected to see.

I had tested positive for Coronavirus. 

I tested positive for Coronavirus a month after losing my beloved aunt to the horrible disease.

And I could not call my family when I found out. 

Nearly a month had elapsed by the time they finally found out, by letter, and when they did, my mother broke down in tears.

“I didn’t know if you were sick,” she said through heavy sobs

When I was finally allowed to call.

“I was worried about you. This is tearing me apart”

It kills me that there is nothing I can do.

“The world is burning and there is nothing I can do to help.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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B. Tom Moskwa

B. Tom Moskwa is a writer who has been incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in California since March 2020. He has lived in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California. He is currently working on a semi-autobiographical historical fiction novel called “Paper Planes,” which he hopes to publish after his release from prison. B. Tom Moskwa is his pen name.