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With COVID-19 raging across the country once again, you’d think Ohio public officials would do all they can to ensure that this deadly virus is kept from spreading inside prison walls. You would think that prison authorities would recall prior COVID-19 outbreaks here and throughout the nation and take into account that much of the prison population at Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville, Ohio is not even partially vaccinated. But it seems that another outbreak is likely. 

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention said the Delta variant causes “more infections and spreads faster” than earlier forms of the virus. Even fully vaccinated inmates could spread the virus to others. Multiple studies also indicate that the immunity provided by vaccine shots that some of us received wanes over time. 

Several  recent decisions indicate there is a lack of COVID-19 precautions at Belmont.

No Soap

As of Aug. 10, 2021, it has been almost two months since members of the 3 House housing unit here at Belmont have been given soap. We had previously been receiving soap at least every two to three weeks. Several months ago, we received it once a week. 

Of course, even without the threat of COVID-19, prison can be a filthy place, where germs easily and endlessly lurk. So, prisons without strictly enforced policies with regards to cleanliness can endanger staff in addition to inmates. 

Social Cramming 

A year and several months into the era of social distancing, many establishments continue to keep people at least six feet apart indoors and encourage or mandate wearing a maks as well.  But these precautions do not seem to be rigorously enforced in the prison setting. For example, there are segments of the Belmont compound where two-man cubicles are being converted to four-man cubicles. 


In June 2021, Belmont fully-vaccinated inmates were informed that we would have our inmate IDs punctured and a white zip-tie inserted to indicate our fully vaccinated status; thus, we would not have to wear masks. The unvaccinated, however, would have to continue wearing masks indefinitely. I recall this mandate being enforced for about a week before the enforcement of wearing masks became willy-nilly. 

Every single day since, as of Aug. 10, 2021, the chow hall—the institution’s dining area—has become a place where few masks are worn. People move about in dorms and other indoor places regularly as if a pandemic is not raging. This flouts the mask mandate with regards to the unvaccinated, which I believe is still in place.

Denial of Vitamin C 

Since late 2017, oranges have not been served after it was discovered that inmates were using  them to make homemade liquor. While this is understandable, it seems the state should also consider the pros and cons of removing such a vital source of nutrition. 

The benefits of vitamin C from citrus fruit have been known for centuries, including, for example, in controlling infections and in preventing scurvy. While vitamins are available for incarcerated persons, supplements are not intended to replace whole foods and do not provide essential fiber and a variety of micronutrients that our bodies need. Moreover, Vitamin C deficiencies may be at least partly responsible for many inmates suffering from tooth decay. 

To avoid another outbreak, prison authorities should ensure that proper precautions against the spread of COVID-19 continue to be taken, including mandating social distancing and masking and providing soap and access to healthy food to inmates.

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.

Ennis Patterson

Ennis Patterson is a writer incarcerated in Ohio.