Photo by Takemaru Hirai on Unsplash

Ever since the prison system has had to deal with the COVID-19 virus, there is a lack of mental health policies and services to help the prisoners cope. 

The thoughts of dying in prison and never seeing loved ones causes depression, anxiety and other negative feelings. One broods about survival when they see fellow inmates succumb to the virus. Those who survive praise God that they’re able to see another day. We make empathy cards and send them to family members of the departed. Some try to find escape by using drugs, alcohol and explicit materials to forget the harsh conditions. 

With the prolonging of the pandemic, I have observed many inmates suffering during their recovery, dealing with the so-called “long-hauler syndrome.” I’m one of them myself. I have noticed that I am constantly fatigued. I feel constant chest pressure. I am unable to concentrate for long periods and become aloof at times. 

Most inmates who were eligible for parole suffered from the prison closure of in-person self-help programs that were needed to fulfill requirements for parole. I have seen many people, who were not able to meet the conditions set for their parole board hearings. 

People who are mentally ill are even worse off — they suffer from the agitation due to the increase in deaths seen, no help with the parole curriculum and lack of prompt assistance from the mental health department here in prison. 

With no access to yard programs, navigating tough feelings is even harder. This situation increases mental illness and the risks of obesity for everyone. It seems ironic to me that inmates are able to go to work every day and help make the Prison Industry Authority money, but they can’t go to the yard to improve their mental and physical health.

The medical department seems swamped, and inmates are not being seen when crisis befalls them. Officers also appear to be untrained to deal with the mentally ill. Inmates who need help have no one to turn to. Those who are undiagnosed are getting worse.

In my opinion, the mental health department is inadequate, understaffed, outdated and there are no therapy groups to help people cope. For example, I was given an old pamphlet, created years ago, to help with my mental illness. 

Some inmates try to help themselves, but amid the harsh conditions, they tend to fall back on criminal behaviors to soothe their pains, thereby gambling with their potential release date. I’ve seen a lot of inmates lose their dates under these conditions while trying to stay sane. Inmates become addicted to illicit intoxicants or legal pills distributed by the prison pharmacy. They are looking for a way out of this reality which is perpetuated by the prison itself. 

The mental strain of quarantine exacerbates mental illnesses here. People suffer in silence as we try to maintain our chance for freedom while also finding comfort in addiction. 

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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Marvin E. Wall

Marvin E. Wall is a writer from South Los Angeles, who was raised in the streets by a gang after his mother died. He was raised in poverty in an abusive household with two sisters and a brother. He is incarcerated in California.