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