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The number of women who are diabetic here at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women doubled from approximately 35 to about 70 during the pandemic. 

This increase could likely have been prevented if we were able to maintain a healthy diet. During the pandemic, many have become obese due to the food we have been served. Administration seems to be more concerned about staying within a budget rather than providing a nutritious diet for us at a critical time when movement around the compound has ceased.

We can no longer go to recreation or any place other than the medical department. This is a drastic and depressing change for those of us who fill our days going to our jobs, educational classes, religious classes, or self-help groups to keep us busy, positive and productive. We are locked down with little activity and low spirits. 

Too many have found solace in food, eating out of depression or even from sheer boredom. Food has become comfort for us. Perhaps this would not be so distressing if we were served healthier foods or if the commissary sold healthier foods. But we are given too much starch, processed meat and soy, and not enough well-cooked vegetables or any vitamins and nutrient supplements.

At one point during the pandemic, we received a bag of chips with every meal except for breakfast. At one point, we received entire loaves of bread; one, sometimes two per week. For breakfast, we were served danishes high in sugar and carbohydrates. This was especially bad for the women who were not financially able to make purchases from the commissary and had to eat what they were given. 

After all this unhealthy food, we don’t do very much. The prison has exercise videos that the recreation department owns, but for whatever reason, they have not played them. 

Even though we have no choice in our meals, the doctor tells us, “You are overweight. You need to drink water and lose weight.” As a woman, it is a devastating blow to your self-esteem to have what you already know to be true, thrown into your face repeatedly. 

This pandemic has undeniably taken its toll on each of us. Some of us have gained what I jokingly call “The Quarantine Fifteen.” Others were fortunate and did not. But the most unfortunate are those now who have become diabetics as a result of the unhealthy practices here. 

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.

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.