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In February 2020, I was sitting in my cell when I realized COVID-19 was actually real, and not a hoax or conspiracy like a lot of people were thinking.

I was scared for my family’s safety and for mine, too. To protect myself from the virus, a few other inmates and I came out of our cells with gray bandanas over our noses and mouths. A corrections officer (CO) told us we could not cover our faces. If we continued to do so, we would be given a disciplinary write-up.

It amazed me that I could get a disciplinary write-up and extra time added to my prison sentence for wanting to protect myself from this deadly virus, the same virus they are bringing into the prison. I wondered if they watched the news showing the overcrowded hospitals and dead bodies packed and stored in containers with ice by the hundreds.

Things started changing a couple of weeks into March 2020. The prison I’m in reacted quickly, passing out masks in April. Back then, no inmate could leave their cell without wearing an orange mask. We started receiving N-95 masks in the last four to five months.

At the start, it was an issue. Inmates wore masks but COs did not. Inmates had concerns about that. We had to wear masks and quarantine 24/7 while the COs, who were the main source of infection, did not. By April, inmates and COs alike were wearing masks. I felt safe in this prison. I was aware of others which were not providing face masks to protect their inmates’ health.

Everything was smooth sailing until about September or October 2020. That’s when infections reached other yards in the prison, then to a building next to mine, and finally, to my building. That’s when I realized the prison did not have this under control.

I was put on three back-to-back-to-back 14-day quarantines for false positive tests from October to November. The false positives were difficult to deal with because I was sent to a building with people who really were positive for the virus. That was and still is a big problem because I was at risk of catching the virus for real.

We also had, and have, unprofessional COs who don’t like to wear masks and risk infecting inmates. An inmate just wrote a grievance form against an officer for this very reason.

When inmates get COVID-19 inside the prison, we don’t get special treatment or ventilators. We sit in a cell on our deathbed, while a nurse comes and checks our temperature daily. Nothing less and nothing more.

The only positive is that we now have the option to get the vaccine. I am currently waiting to receive mine. I am in a cell by myself now and I feel safe. When I had a cellmate, I feared getting infected because he worked outside with COs and other inmates all day. I’m glad and thankful to be on my own.

I believe our lives do not matter to the prison organization. Overall, we are just a dollar sign and a prison number to them. Who we are as a person means nothing. The best thing an inmate can do is document all of the misconduct. The only way we can win is with a black pen or a pencil.

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.

E.D.H. is a poet who was raised in Compton in Los Angeles. He is currently incarcerated in California. He has asked to be published under his pen name.