The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell Write

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

I am worried about the women I met in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and how they are coping with COVID-19. My favorite cellmate, Sinful used to say, there are worse things than going to prison. You could get sick and die in prison.  The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell WritesStudies in Oregon, where I served my sentence, have shown that Oregon has one of the largest senior inmate populations in the US and has higher rates of health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiac conditions.

Correctional Health Care is understaffed. The prison I was housed, holds approximately 2,000 inmates. In any prison, the inmate population is serviced by a skeleton crew of health care workers. We  used to call the triage nurse a bouncer because if you want an appointment there better be blood. Now they are inundated.

Corrections staff members are constantly reading the latest updates, first thing in the morning and before they go to bed at night. Already, the toll from the virus has forced staff to work double shifts.

The NPR interview of Corrections staff  at Oakdale Correctional Facility in Louisiana by Ryan Lucas described the working conditions:

My biggest fear is catching the virus and taking it home to my wife and three teenage kids.  I do

what I can to try to prevent that. When I get home every day, I kick my boots off outside and spray them with Lysol. I strip down in the utility room and throw my clothes directly into the washing machine and then run straight into the shower. The virus doesn’t care if you’re prison staff or an inmate. That’s just the dangerous nature of what Oakdale dealing with.

Oh, I absolutely believe I have been exposed. I believe it would be safe to say that 80% of the staff out there have been exposed.


I asked a staff member of Oregon correction, who requested to remain anonymous: Is your job worth it?

I have about three more years until I retire. Will I die before I get the chance to retire? Will I ever get to take the trip I’ve been planning or spend time with my grandkids? It’s not the inmate’s fault. I chose this career. But I ask myself everyday, why am I risking my life for this job? I don’t see anyone in our driveway honking their horns and sending thank-you food boxes. We’re the lost first responders.

Human beings are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. The inmates want connection not just with other inmates but with their family or friends. They are isolated from loving emotional support. Many have tragic histories of domestic violence and abuse and do not have the coping skills to manage the stress of the Coronavirus.

We can’t distance, can’t see family, no comfort measures such as warm broth. We can not buy cough drops or cough syrup. I don’t have a life sentence. I don’t want to die in here.-Female Inmate, Oregon

What if the inmate is innocent until proven guilty?

This is a desecration of the presumption of innocence-forcing people to dwell in the certainty of infection, in the possibility of death, when viable alternatives exist. -Jackson County female jail inmate. Nick Morgan Mail Tribune.

It is in these moments that people lose hope:

I doing my best to turn my life around. There is an art to surviving prison in the best shape possible. I found that if I could be conscious of my choices and emotions, I make healthy choices for myself. But the Coronavirus makes it all seem futile.-Female inmate, Oregon

I talked to my neighbor without telling her about my history. What she said did not surprise me:

They broke the law. They deserve to be punished. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time is what I say. We don’t have the money or resources for normal people. One less mouth to feed.

This is what I believe: Holding them accountable does not mean putting them to death.

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell Writes
Photos by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

It is National Poetry Month. This month I would like to honor the poet Sharon Olds with her poem called The Race. I heard this poem while walking the prison yard, listening to NPR’s Prairie Home Companion Show. The poem spoke for me and my yearning to be free while my father was still alive.  Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

My father lived five hours away and did not visit often. When I first saw him in the visiting room, despite his natty attire, he looked diminished. He stood on his second attempt and I hugged gristle and bones. There was more space around the edge of his collar. He smiled with tears. Sam needed me to survive and much as I needed him to live, at least, until I was free. Please God, let him live until I am free.


Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race
Karen’s father, Sam

The Race 

by Sharon Olds

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go
down to the first floor, make a right, you’ll
see a yellow bus, get off at the
second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he’d told me, a fish
slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into
in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,
I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then
run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,
and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the
bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my
long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were
just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle’s eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet
was full, and people’s hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,
in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the
other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

Sharon Olds from The Father (Knopf,1992)

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race