Illustration by Ponomariova_Maria via iStock

Round 1

Before the state conducted an audit of California’s prisons, including the California Institution for Women, we nearly died. It was the end of 2019 when my family emailed about a virus in China. I thought they were paranoid until the coronavirus began to spread rapidly, and someone who was like a parent to me, Annie, died in Minnesota. I was shocked. 

Then came the lockdown. We had no masks or bleach. We barely had any cleaning supplies and the nursing staff was meager. They made us walk a foot apart when outside, assuming that by going in one direction we would not recross our paths to contract the virus. 

We stood three feet apart to take medication and lines went for hours, sometimes into the night shift as most of the nurses were helping quarantined inmates who had fevers. 

They had old school vital sign monitors on rollers with thermometers that they used to take our temperatures. Once they forgot to put the plastic protector on mine and I tasted metal. Spitting it out would be considered assault, so I dealt with it and brushed my teeth after. 

I stayed in my cell for all of 2020. I contracted the virus in January of 2021 when my cellmate took a bite of food from an asymptomatic friend. I packed all of my belongings onto four carts to move to quarantine quarters, receiving no help despite having a pacemaker. When I got out of quarantine, I went back to my room and noticed my door had been locked the whole time. I could have easily left my bedding and such for my return.

Round Two

When the delta variant arrived, the outbreak was small, but we were still mostly locked down. They never mentioned booster shots. They said that if we got the vaccine, we would never get COVID-19 again. They said on the news to wait six months if you test positive for the virus, but the nurses came over a dozen times just weeks after my bout to try to vaccinate me. I heard there were microchips in it and started to believe it, but I also knew we would have to get swabbed weekly without the vaccine. One nurse shoved the swab so hard that I finally agreed to get vaccinated after the six-month period. 

Round Three

Despite the arrival of the new delta variant, we are fully reopened. They quarantine anyone who has been near someone who comes down with COVID-19. My unit currently has less than 15 people left. We were all quarantined when the outbreak came. It’s 2022, and COVID-19 is still growing strong.

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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Heather D'Aoust

Heather D’Aoust is a writer incarcerated in California. She also publishes under the name Jeff-Free and uses the pronouns they/them.