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Prison has been difficult, as it’s designed, but I’m doing my best to survive and rehabilitate myself, even if I never get out. 

The emergence of COVID-19 has taken a mental, physical and emotional toll on me because our prison was placed on lockdown in March of 2020. At that time, everything ground to a halt. Visits stopped and no movement was allowed unless under escort. There were no mental health groups, education services, or chapel services. Access to the dayroom and recreational yard was limited to every 72 hours with a 10-person limit. 

The COVID-19 infections started with one of the nurses at the clinic. It passed to some of the correctional officers and then down to the inmates, where it spread like wildfire. Before long, 15 inmates had died, including two inmates with whom I was acquainted. I don’t know how many more inmates passed away before the warden got desperate enough to use the gym to house those who contracted or who showed symptoms of COVID-19. I was among them.

My symptoms consisted of loss of smell, loss of taste and bones that ached all over. These symptoms persisted for about five days, but I was unwilling to just lie in bed and hope to get better.

I got up every day to exercise, run a few laps to sweat it out, then take a hot shower to top it off. By doing all that, plus following all the advised safety precautions, I beat COVID-19 in only 11 days, although I had to still stay isolated for three more days to officially finish my quarantine. 

I was moved from the gym on December 26, 2020, and was told I’d receive the vaccine after being COVID-19 free for over 90 days. 

In March, I finally qualified for the vaccine. The medical staff first vaccinated those who had never had COVID-19, then the officers, and now us, the COVID-cured, as we say. My first dose of the Pfizer vaccine was given on March 4, my second dose on March 21. I had little to no side effects from the shot, only mild tingling all over and sleepiness. 

There are now no more COVID-19-infected inmates or staff inside this prison. San Diego is now back in the “red tier,” which means looser lockdown restrictions here. We are allowed dayroom and yard access twice a day, in-person visitations and one-on-ones with our primary care clinicians and in-person visitation. 

When San Diego reaches the “orange tier,” we’ll be allowed to return to groups, go to work assignments that weren’t on the essential workers list, and mingle and mix with inmates from other units. 

This lockdown and the COVID-19 battle was rough, but things are looking brighter! 

Although we’re not out of the pandemic, I’m optimistic and confident we’re heading to the light from the darkness.

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.

Shariff Taylor is an African-American transgender writer who is incarcerated in California. Shariff is from Newark, N.J., and is an activist for LGBTQ rights in and out of prison. They identify as gender-fluid. Shariff has been published in the American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Prison Journalism Project.