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There are so many ways that the COVID-19 variants have changed the way we conduct ourselves. 

The administration of the central unit at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in California — commonly known as Soledad State Prison (SSP) — has been asked to modify its scheduling program. We now have four hours of day room activity, including showers and phone calls. If the building we reside in is not under quarantine, we can go to work and also enjoy a couple of hours in the recreation yard.

Right now, there are no contact visits. Hour-long video visits are allowed on Saturday and Sunday for approved visitors only. 

The canteen moves from wing to wing. Starting from B-wing and making its way to Z-wing, the canteen is brought to our buildings in carts and inmates are allowed to purchase goods one draw at a time. A draw is our designated timeframe during the month that we are eligible to go to the store. One’s draw is based on the last two digits of our prison identification number. 

Personal packages are still allowed every quarter, meaning that every three months we are allowed to order a package from one of the main three vendors that serve inmates at SSP.

As I write these words, SSP is experiencing another COVID-19 outbreak. No one has died yet, but the situation is still very bad. It has forced the prison administration to take inmates out of their living quarters if they exhibit positive test results or have been found to have been exposed. The administration makes them take all of their personal property with them and relocates them to unhealthy and unsanitary locations such as gyms, chapels, family visiting areas and other places that are not safe.

There is no ventilation in our cells outside of the portable fans we are allowed to have. The way things look, prison life will never go back to normal. This is the new normal, to state the obvious.

Writing letters, talking on the phone and video visits are our only communication methods with people outside. It’s very difficult and painful for everyone.

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.

Tyrus C. Potts is a writer incarcerated in California.