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This last year of sustained lockdown in prison at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility has really been a test of my patience and a testament of my mental strength. 

Living through this pandemic, especially after contracting the COVID-19 virus in December 2020, has given me a new outlook. Before, I was always depressed or indifferent towards everything, and I took a lot of things and people in my life for granted. One of the people I now appreciate more is my mom, who likes my improved way of seeing things. I tell my mom “I love you” every chance I get. 

After hearing about what I went through when I contracted the virus, my mom started taking COVID-19 more seriously. To protect herself, she now follows all the recommended safety guidelines, and she doesn’t venture outside unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

Currently, my day-to-day life includes meaningful and constructive activities such as writing, calling my family, talking to friends and making connections with the outside world by corresponding with organizations like the American Prison Writing Archive, the TGI Justice Project, Black and Pink, Power Blossoms and the Prison Journalism Project. 

I associate myself with these organizations because they keep me updated on the activities going on in my community — the LGBTQ community — and they offer me a platform to make my voice heard. More importantly, they help me advocate for myself and others. To gain more knowledge, I even enrolled in summer college at my prison’s Coastline College. 

During the pandemic, I have noticed a higher frequency of medical staff coming into our unit to perform random COVID-19 testing. The building officers also pass out KN95 face masks whenever an inmate requests one, and if someone shows symptoms of COVID-19, the staff reacts quicker now because they’ve been through this and are used to it.

Our program resumed on April 1, but was again shut down on April 5 after five inmates contracted COVID from a visitor. The staff immediately quarantined those who were in the visiting room that day to contain the potential spread of infections. Our institution was also locked down for two weeks to make sure everyone was safe. 

Despite everything going on, there is a feeling that we will return to normalcy here, especially since a majority of the inmates at our prison have either been partially or fully vaccinated. Everyone either got the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine. I received my doses of the Pfizer vaccine on March 4 and March 25.

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.