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A white prisoner transportation vehicle with small narrow openings for windows
Photo by benkrut on Depositphotos

“Now I’m free! Free falling!” We all sang along to Tom Petty’s hit song. We were leaving Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. We were being transferred to a new prison — but for that fleeting moment, we were free. 

Prior to our bus ride, we all sat in a room at Fluvanna waiting for our names to be called. We had to dress in bright orange transportation attire. Some of us had chain loops on our shirts. Others on our pants. We were chained, handcuffed and shackled for the duration. By the time I was uncuffed, the lines on my wrist were so deep and red that my fingers were numb. 

Our bus looked like a horse trailer with its oblong, horizontal windows, placed so high that we had to stand to see the scenery on the 45-minute drive. Standing was not permitted; but we, of course, had one rebel. She claimed motion sickness and stood during the trip. 

After sitting on the bus handcuffed, chained and shackled for over an hour, we were tired and ready for the intake process to be done and over with. 

We had to sit around tables in yet another room and listen to new rules and regulations. We then swabbed our own noses for the COVID-19 test. We completed our paperwork and then were strip-searched before we dressed into our prison chambray shirts and blue jeans. 

Next came the searching of the property we brought with us from Fluvanna. We had to sit some more, but they at least fed us. We were starved.

Finally we made it to a basement where we would be for the next two to three weeks. It was an open dorm, so there were 36 other women. We shared our belongings and items purchased at the commissary with one another just to make it. 

If one of us had coffee and the other creamer, we each shared what we had to make the perfect cup of coffee. If one styled hair and the other plucked eyebrows, we traded services. 

We also shared the showers, sinks and toilets, as well as the phones and kiosk. There was no room for being shy about your body. Someone would inevitably see a part of you even if they didn’t want to. The toilet or shower curtain could be blown open by the wind or the fan, exposing you when you were most vulnerable. 

Thankfully this type of transfer is a temporary situation for many of us. But it was scary nonetheless, especially for me because I had been at Fluvanna for the past 16 years. 

In prison, one must always expect the unexpected. And so, here I am, transferred.

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.

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.