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In early March, I spoke with Isaiah Tautalatasi about living through the pandemic inside prison. Tautalatasi, who is a youth offender, has been living in prison for the past decade, serving a 13-year sentence for a carjacking he committed at 17. This past year he contracted COVID-19. He reflected on the fear of getting the virus, living with it and what can be done to prevent it.

Q. How did you react when you first heard about the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. Honestly, I thought this was God’s way of recycling the earth.

Q. Did you fear being infected by the virus? 

A. Yes, I was scared of getting infected because I’m only 24 years old. I have a long life ahead of me and I didn’t want to die at a young age.

Q.  What did you think of the regular COVID-19 testing?

A. I was happy to see regular testing to help prevent more infection. The mandatory mask wearing was another good way to prevent the spread of the virus.

Q. Did you call your family to discuss the pandemic?

A: Yes, I called home to see if they were aware of the pandemic, and to let them know I contracted COVID-19.

Q. How did you contract COVID-19?

A. I became infected with COVID-19 through other inmates who got it through the prison staff. Staff members brought the virus inside our walls with them from the outside when they came to work.

Q. How did you feel about being on quarantine?

A. I felt paranoid because I was afraid to die. I was thinking I would never be able to say goodbye to my family if I died.

Q. How did you feel about going to work as a critical worker?

A. I felt like I was a contributor, helping out during a pandemic.

Q. Would you like to be vaccinated once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to you?

A. I would refuse to be vaccinated, due to the potential side effects.

Q. What do you think is the most effective way to keep yourself from contracting COVID-19?

A. I believe staying in your cell, limiting the people you surround yourself with or come in contact with, wearing a mask, and washing your hands in warm water for at least 20 seconds with antibacterial soap are necessary measures to prevent infections.

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.

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."