A man stands in front of many face masks hanging on a wall
Photo by Parastoo Maleki on Unsplash

My COVID-19 experience has been one of horror and hope. I have seen pain as well as possibility and promise.

I have yet to test positive for COVID-19, but I experienced symptoms and recovered from it before they finally got around to testing people. I didn’t get terribly sick, but many others did.

According to the COVID Prison Project, more than 607,000 incarcerated people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Aug. 10, 2022. Nearly 3,000 incarcerated people have died from the virus, along with nearly 300 people who work in prisons.  

Controlling COVID-19 has been a challenge across the U.S. as more than 1 million Americans have died from coronavirus. But I believe prisons could have done a better job protecting prisoners and officers.

The pandemic caused anxiety, fear and paranoia that will last for a long time. Many of us aren’t the same and will never be the same. You can’t see that much death and sickness and be normal. But maybe we can build a new normal, where we understand each other in a different, healthier way.

Since the pandemic started, many of us have learned we are more similar than we thought. We learned our differences were small, trivial and sometimes even fictional.

In a racially charged environment like prison, race has started to feel much less divisive. That is something that I haven’t ever seen in California prisons, and I have been in the criminal justice system for 37 years.

Seeing a new level of humanity has been beautiful and inspiring. And this doesn’t just go for inmates. Even some officers have displayed a new side of their humanity. One recent example was the time an officer resuscitated an inmate, saving his life.

Many lessons can be learned from the COVID-19 experience, but I think the most important lesson is that we all deserve our humanity. Mass incarceration strips away one’s humanity — for inmates and officers. But with this unexpected COVID-19 crisis, we have been introduced to kinder sides of each other.

Hopefully this can become our new normal.

(Additional Reporting by PJP Team)

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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Corey J. Elder

Corey J. Elder is a writer incarcerated in California. He is the author of “The Other Side of the Game: To At-Risk Youth,” a book he wished had been available when he was younger before he made the choices he made.