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A prison weekday begins with morning inspection. 

Each morning during daily inspection, prison counselors make announcements such as any rule changes. But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have not had daily inspection. Now wardens only come into common areas to make COVID announcements. 

In December, one of the announcements was about the start of the vaccinations. The warden told each dorm that those who signed up would receive a $5 commissary bag with two chilli ramen noodle soups, one iced honey bun, one beef and cheese stick, one package of Little Debbie Nutty Buddy, one Chick-O-Stick candy and one Coke. 

I’ve been in prison for almost 15 years, and I have never heard of getting an incentive bag for anything other than snitching or prison labor. 

In Georgia inmates work for free. But once a month the staff gives out these bags to certain types of prison employees. 

The inmate body went crazy after the warden made this announcement. Groups huddled instantly to talk about the shots as soon as the warden left. 

I knew instantly I would not take it because any pay-to-play scheme can never be good for you. There is always a hidden reason for payments. It’s even worse in prison where prison staff use incentive bags for some form of gain.

My fear stemmed from the fact that the prison was offering money for something I felt I should pay for. That created instant distrust. 

If there are vaccine shortages in the free world, but plenty in prison, what does that suggest about the safety of the vaccines? I wondered if the system wanted to use us inmates as test dummies. 

Nevertheless, I observed that about seven out of ten inmates got the shot in my dorm of 126 men. The prison I’m in holds 1,400 men total. 

Since the vaccines were given out I have not witnessed anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, but I’ve been careful to stay away from them other than my roommate, who also didn’t take the vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the majority of the inmates who took the shots in my dorm have not received their incentive bag for their participation. I estimate that only four out of ten have received them. 

No new COVID list has been distributed about the situation prison-wide, so my findings are based on only what I have personally observed in my dorm. 

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.

Richard is a writer incarcerated in Georgia. He has chosen to not disclose his last name for fear of reprisal.