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(Editor’s note: This report was written in summer 2020)

The public does not understand just what is going on in Tennessee State Prison when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic When someone is incarcerated, the state becomes responsible for that person’s medical needs, including medication. However, given the impact and cost of COVID-19 on the prison system, there have been budget cuts that have affected inmates’ medication. 

As was reported in news media, they stopped the copayment for sick calls, but medications are not being delivered. In fact, they will tell you that due to the pandemic, all non-life threatening medication needs have been added to commissary items, where inmates must purchase them themselves. 

But inmates make between $18 to $55 monthly, and some can’t pay for their medication in addition to hygiene products, stamps, envelopes, and other necessities. If you don’t get money from a loved one, they must go without. Our loved ones, who were already paying for some basic necessities before the pandemic, have had to take on extra medical costs that the state is no longer covering. 

Some rehabilitation classes have been paused due to the pandemic, but inmates have continued to work. I know because I work in a wood flooring plant. Masks have not been made compulsory and if I do not show up to my workplace, I lose my job. 

We have masks to use in the units, but do not use them in the chow hall where we sit four inches from the next inmate, but we have to wear the masks outside, walking to and from the Hall. Inmates are also locked into cells on their own for 14 days at a time. These are the measures used by state prisons to demonstrate that they are on top of the pandemic.

The public should be thinking about what is going on and asking questions about where their tax money is being allocated. I hope things get better for all of us and that this pandemic is resolved, but its economic impact will last for several years.

I am trying to stay safe until I can go home to my kids and grandkids if they are still alive when I get home.

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.

Tony Beasley is a writer incarcerated in Tennessee.