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In the midst of the COVID-19 surge throughout the nation, separating fact from fiction has become more and more difficult. East Jersey State Prison is no different, as the facts about the institution’s conditions face an uphill battle against the rumors. 

All the wings at this prison are under quarantine, and the rumor is that this was the last prison to do so. In addition to the wings being quarantined, about 100 or so individuals who have positive test results are being kept in quasi-isolation (two men to a cell) in other areas of the prison.

However — because this institution is kept functioning by the toil of the individuals bound within its walls — quarantine, for all intents and purposes, is not being adhered to. 

Most of the individuals who are working in the inmate dining room are volunteers from the most recently quarantined wing and are responsible for delivering meals to all the other wings. The commissary workers also reside on the same wing and have been called out to work since that wing was quarantined on Jan. 10.

Because of the delay between when tests are taken and when their results become available, infected individuals are still interacting with each other — using the same phones and kiosks without knowing whether the person standing next to them has COVID-19 or not. 

Staff take temperature readings on the quarantined wings everyday. But this provides little useful information, because most if not all of the guys who have recently tested positive are asymptomatic.

As an aside, prison would be an excellent opportunity to conduct a quantitative analysis on the different rates of infections between the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated since we live in a controlled environment.

As we squirm in this petri dish and try our best to stay uninfected, we yearn for some sense of normalcy. At the same time, we are grateful that our colleagues are not dying at the rates we witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic.

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.

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M. Yayah Sandi

M. Yayah Sandi is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey. He requested that his first name be withheld.