Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

The blazes hot orange in a cloudy sky
Photo by niuniu on iStock

I was in bed sweating profusely. 

It was late, around 2 a.m. Earlier that day Georgia had been hit with a heat wave. The news had reported a high of 112 degrees on the heat index, what the temperature feels like when you factor in humidity. While lying in bed, I reached over to the wall and touched it. The concrete was radiating warmth. 

“How in the world is it this hot at night?” I said to myself.

Tossing and turning, I even prayed and asked for God to take the heat away. 

“Aren’t nights supposed to be cooler? I mean, come on, God!” 

I finally fell asleep once the concrete cooled down around 4 a.m.

Only a quarter of Georgia prisons are fully air-conditioned, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. The radio station has reported that those prisons are generally only partially cooled, which means they might have air conditioning in a single dormitory. 

Georgia is one of 13 states in the South and Midwest that lack universal air conditioning in their prisons, as reported by the Prison Policy Initiative. At least one still unfinished study linked lack of air conditioning to increases in violence. Many people in prison are susceptible to heat-related illness. And extreme heat has also caused dozens of heat-related deaths in Texas prisons, according to a Texas A&M University report released this summer.

At my camp, only one unit has air conditioning. However, the architecture in the rest of the housing units is old and outdated, compounding the heat problem. (This is my opinion based on having been a combat engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.) Even though the planet is suffering from climate change, Georgia still has not outfitted its prisons with proper cooling.

Walking to chow line one day I noticed a guard patting her forehead with a washrag. I leaned over and reminded her to drink plenty of water, feeling ashamed that my state hadn’t modernized its cooling systems in correctional facilities.

I’m an inmate, but I’m an American first, and I believe our country should set a high standard. I thought recently of Reidsville State Prison, in Georgia, which had been shut down for lack of prison staffing and the age of the facility. The governor had promised to build new, updated prisons, but that will take a long time. 

Georgia can make its current prisons better by modernizing facilities with air conditioning and training staff for extreme weather events. Extreme weather is here to stay. It is only going to get hotter. And at some point it is unsustainable and inhumane to refuse to act.

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.

Edison Ariel Ortiz is a U.S. Army veteran, artist, poet, singer and songwriter from Bridgeport, Connecticut. He incarcerated in Georgia.