Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, it has been especially hard on those of us who are incarcerated. We have been forced to stay in our housing units with little to no recreation and no access to exercise equipment. 

Our last normal days here at the facility were back in February of 2020. During the pandemic, our food has been delivered to us. We do not attend classes or groups, though we have recently begun to have recreation again. Contact visitation was suspended in March 2020. 

Without normal programs, we have been sitting around, eating out of boredom, stress and depression. We’ve been gaining weight with no way to work it off. Despite my efforts to maintain my weight, I have gained about 35 pounds. 

Before the pandemic, we had recreation time regularly and were able to attend religious groups and educational classes. We also ate inside the chow hall. The meals were at least warm, if not hot, when we ate there. Now we are lucky if any item on the tray is even lukewarm. 

During the peak of COVID-19, we received an emergency menu, which included a bag of chips at lunch and dinner, along with our entrees and vegetables. Sometimes breakfast included a bear claw pastry as the entree. A typical pastry like that has around 500 calories. 

In addition, each week we were given an entire loaf of white bread. How could they expect us to maintain good health and weight when fed in such a way? As the virus has spread, so have our waistlines. 

In normal times, we have been able to burn our calories, if in no other way then at least by moving about on the compound going to classes, chow, and recreation. Our facility also has a series of channels on television that often feature exercise videos. But when COVID-19 was at its worst here in Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center in February 2021, these videos were not aired. 

One woman, who declined to provide her name, spoke of how hard it has been to find things to do to keep busy and stimulate her mind during the pandemic. She said she has resorted to “textbooks and dictionaries to learn new things.” 

To be sure, there are certain things we can buy from the commissary to supplement our diets such as fish oil tablets for $11.31 as well as fiber pills for $7.83 and health shakes priced at $1.30. 

But for those of us who cannot afford to spend a lot, selections are still mostly unhealthy. Healthy foods such as protein and granola bars are more costly. For example, honey buns cost $.78 while a bag of health mix with nuts and dried fruit such as bananas and pineapples costs $1.30. We can order 10 honey buns for the price of six bags of health mix.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Chanell Burnette

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia.