Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In a facility whose population does not have personal televisions, NPR is my go-to source for national news. Stories from the AP, sent digitally to my tablet, provide a daily international overview of a spinning rock in chaos. Climate change, race and more significantly, COVID-19  and the fast-spreading delta variant, are all issues that generate existential anxiety.

Human beings are strange creatures. Other intelligent creatures use experience to inform not only their individual survival, but survival of the species. How is it that humans, arguably the most intelligent creatures on the planet, are also the most self destructive?

COVID-19 deaths in America are in excess of 600,000. The rollout of vaccines not only faced logistical challenges, but political push back as well, most of which perpetuated narratives that had nothing to do with the health and safety of Americans.

I understand the skepticism of people reluctant to take the vaccine. People of color have been historically used as medical guinea pigs. The vaccine roll out was spectacularly quick, and some have bonafide medical considerations to take into account.

Here at Green Haven Correctional Facility, the first vaccines offered were Johnson & Johnson’s one shot. I took it. A significant number of men here did not. Johnson & Johnson does not have the best reputation on a number of fronts. The administration is now offering the two-shot Moderna vaccine to the men here in what I imagine is a desperate attempt to increase the percentage of the population vaccinated to a number inhospitable to the delta variant.

The anti-vaxxers here are still parroting all the same talking points I heard at the beginning of the rollout. It suggests to me they have not availed themselves to explanatory postings, magazines, radio broadcasts and other media disseminating scientific information about the vaccine. 

Initially, the prison administration failed to provide the population with information to make informed decisions whether to get vaccinated. That is no longer the case. Furthermore, we have watched the vaccine distribution arrest the death spiral that existed just last winter. I think that most, if not all, people know that most of those currently getting sick and succumbing to COVID-19 are the unvaccinated. Not even the dying declarations of those who wished they had taken the vaccine is enough for those with fixed ideas about vaccines.

Race, religion, politics and a lack of information effectively diminish prophylactic responses necessary to eradicate the virus.

It’s like we live in a world of competing realities, the subjective world putting one and all at risk. I am compelled to respect the wishes and prerogatives of others, but those privileges expire when one person’s behavior affects another‘s. Unlike other creatures, we have sophisticated decision-making processes. Given the nature of the delta variant, we need to go back to masking up, just don’t mask your brain.

 
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.

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Reginald Stephen

Reginald Stephen is a contributing writer for the Prison Journalism Project, currently serving a life sentence at Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York.