The sticker that the writer received in New Jersey State Prison after he got his vaccine. (Photo by Yukari Kane)

On March 2, 2021, a month after my first dose on January 29, 2021, I received my second and final Moderna vaccine shot in New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) and became one of the first set of prisoners who got fully inoculated in the New Jersey Department of Correction (NJDOC).

The vaccinations took place in the South Compound Visit Hall (SCVH), where religious services are held in normal times. 

Sitting on an armless blue plastic chair while filling out the disclosure forms about my health and medical history, I couldn’t stop noticing the small ‘X’ marks made with blue-tape on the white linoleum tiles of the SCVH. Last summer, I had helped put the marks there for the limited religious services that had taken place at the time after a temporary decline in infections. Services were eventually cancelled as we faced a second wave of infections.

Like in many states, the New Jersey Department of Corrections has been criticized for its handling of the pandemic inside its prisons, but the vaccination process so far appears to be running flawlessly. 

For both of my vaccine shots, I was called out to the SCVH at 7:30 a.m. after our morning count. Me and four other prisoners from my housing unit received our injections from nurses and medical professionals from the outside. Just as everyone else outside of prison, we were made to sit each time for an additional 15 minutes to see if there were any adverse reactions to the vaccines.

The vaccination process at NJSP was rolled out in a sequence that started last fall when an inquiry form became available through Securus Technologies’ JPay kiosk system, where we can sync our four-inch tablets to download e-mail and other content. The form listed the following options:

1. I am interested in the vaccine

2. I am NOT interested in the vaccine

Later on, staff nurses went to each housing unit with a paper survey form that provided an additional choice: “I might be interested on a later date.”

Prisoners were selected for the first vaccines based on the results of both surveys plus age and chronic care requirements. According to a nurse, the civilian and custody staff of the prison was also given a voluntary option to take the vaccine as well.

After each injection, we received a “Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers,” which meticulously explained the CDC “Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)” process, the definition of COVID-19, information about the Moderna vaccine, its ingredients, history, uses, benefits, risks, side effects, and related health concerns. I also got a sticker that said “I GOT MY COVID-19 VACCINE” as well as a bilingual vaccination card issued by CDC. 

A friend outside told me that this sounded like the same documents and sticker that everyone outside was receiving. 

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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Tariq MaQbool

Tariq MaQbool is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey. He maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays as well as the writings of other incarcerated people. His work has been published in The Marshall Project, NJ Star Ledger, Slant'd magazine and The News Station.