A large group of people imply overcrowding
Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

I am housed at South Woods State Prison (SWSP) in New Jersey, which is inmate unfriendly in many ways, compared with facilities in mid or north Jersey.

The law that requires people to serve an 85% mandatory minimum sentence is no doubt a plague to all states’ correctional facilities. Overcrowding prevents corrections departments everywhere from doing the job it is supposed to do: Rehabilitate the convicted. I believe this is the root of most problems that have to do with living conditions in prison. SWSP is no exception. 

For instance, there are 120 inmates per unit here. There are 12 working showers, 12 phones and two kiosks for email. The 120 are divided into two groups of 60 people each, which are then divided again. This means that there are usually 30 to 45 minutes granted to 30 people at a time, so they can use the shower, phone and kiosk, the last of which is used to sync our tablets and check for messages from our loved ones. 

In reality, each person may only get 20 minutes each. Thirty people, 12 phones, two kiosks. Everyone wants to use them inside of 20 minutes AND shower? It is simply impossible. You can easily see how problems can arise. 

Many of us rarely get to use the kiosk, which is often broken. I personally was not able to use it from October 21 through December 27, 2021. Then factor in the COVID-19 interruptions, restrictions and lockdowns. 

At Christmastime we were locked in 23 hrs plus 45 minutes a day. To put it another way, we were only given 15 minutes to use the shower, phone and kiosk on December 25 and December 26. 

I’m a 69-year-old man and I could not phone my family on Christmas day because I chose to shower. I have an 86-year-old uncle — my godfather — who is dying of cancer and whose only way of communicating with me is via email through my JPay tablet device. 

My uncle knows his days are numbered. He wants to trade emails as we have done over the last three to four years, but he cannot do so because I haven’t had access to the kiosk. My uncle has written to Congressman Jeff Van Drew seeking help to no avail.

Prison is torture for the elderly under normal circumstances. Being held in a prison that is particularly unfriendly to inmates during this COVID-19 crisis is not humane. 

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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William Liepe

William Liepe is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey.