Life here is extra hard this year. After almost two years of COVID-19 lockdowns, we got a glimpse of things opening up, but it only lasted a few days. This week, COVID broke out again, and we are seeing new positive cases. People have only been able to attend educational programs two to three times per month. Goals to obtain GEDs and high school diplomas are delayed again and again.
People have been going before the parole board even though they haven’t been able to attend required rehabilitation groups for the past two years. Some try to take correspondence programs, but even the mail is iffy.
Meanwhile, chow hall has given too many girls intestinal infections from dirty trays, and we are often served spoiled food such as rotten fruits or vegetables, sour coleslaw and salad, fermented juice, or clotted spoiled milk. Those who can afford it don’t go to the dining hall to eat at all; they buy items from the commissary. My roommate and a neighbor were both on antibiotics for two weeks for an infection. Both described extreme abdominal pain and visible bloating immediately after eating or drinking.
Religious services have only been held sporadically. We are however grateful for the video communication with family members who are too far away to visit.
Staff shortages cause additional lockdowns beyond COVID. Our staff are not only overworked, they never know in which part of the prison they will be working before they arrive for work because things are changing all the time. They never know if they can go home after their shift. The inmates are always expecting lockdowns stemming from the lack of staff, and they are usually right.
The canteen is also out of stock of many items on the list, partly from the COVID-related supply chain issues and partly because there is not enough staff to restock items from the warehouse. The warehouse, mail, and quarterly packages are all delayed also because of the lack of staff. Replacement JPay tablets reportedly arrived at the prison six to eight weeks ago, but they still have not been distributed. Lack of staff is the stated reason.
The roof still leaks and the washers and dryers stop working, sometimes several times a week. This means people cannot wash their clothes. Everyone does their best to work around the problem so everyone can have clean clothes.
We recently got a new captain, so we’re waiting to see what changes that brings.
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.