Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The prison industrial complex is sometimes referred to as the modern-day plantation due to the cruel and inhumane way it treats prisoners. This treatment condemns and consumes the minds, bodies and souls of its victims to the point of no reasoning. 

Today the prisoner finds himself or herself dealing with a new issue at hand in the form of a virus that has taken the lives of many people around the world. I would like to share my thoughts and concerns about this virus and how it has affected the prisoners, along with their families and friends.

I’m currently located at St. Brides Correctional Center in Virginia. I’ve been incarcerated for over 15 years. In July 2020, St. Brides Correctional had 260 prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 15 staff members as well. St. Brides is a dormitory prison, in which social distancing is pretty much impossible to enforce. 

Unlike a cell setting, eating, showering and sleeping all involve several individuals at a time. Each bed area, which we refer to as bunks, has only two to three feet of space in between them. 

To try to prevent infection, the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) created a rule that each prisoner at nighttime must lay their heads in opposite directions, it has not worked. When one prisoner is infected by the virus, it spreads like wildfire. 

The Virginia DOC, like other state and federal facilities, lacks the proper cleaning supplies that are needed to combat COVID-19. The cleaning solutions or chemicals that are used are often watered down, so they can be used over a longer stretch of time. 

Once a prisoner falls ill, they do not receive adequate treatment. We are told to stay in bed, except during count when we must stand. Can anyone,who has ever had the flu, cold or even COVID-19, imagine what it feels like to battle an illness without any medication? 

Prisoners are human beings that suffer the same as anyone else. A prisoner who has asthma, diabetes or other illnesses is highly vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19, putting them at high risk of death.

The correctional officers and staff that enter the prisons are responsible for contributing to the spread of COVID-19.This is an inevitable situation that turns a prison sentence into a death sentence. 

One solution is to release any prisoner that has served a third of his prison sentence back into society whether their crime was violent or not. 

We must keep in mind that many prisoners are incarcerated because of a miscarriage of justice. What really is the end that justifies the means within a system that aims to exterminate its captives? How do we proceed as a nation knowing that the blood of so many people’s lives is on our hands for financial gain? Because isn’t money what all this is about?  What other reason is there to hold prisoners hostage until they die from a disease? 

At my institution, prisoners are not given the opportunity to fully recover before they are put into environments where there is a risk of catching the virus a second time. There are some prisoners who are not infected but are forced to live in the same building with those who are.

I pray that this message reaches those with the courage to help those who can not help themselves.

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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Hakim Trent

Hakim Trent is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.