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I hadn’t realized just how much the pandemic was affecting me until the other day.

I was in the quarantine wing, where I had to stay for 14 days following an outside specialist appointment. As I sat there, I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness and despondency.

It wasn’t because I was worried about contracting COVID-19, but because I suddenly realized how much I miss my family. I have not had a physical visit, a hug from them since February 2020. Before the pandemic, my family visited me nearly every month throughout my 15 years of incarceration.

Now, being unable to see them is … well, there are no words to describe the feeling. We did have a few video visits, but those too were suspended due to the pandemic. Now there is no visitation at all. 

I want to see my family!

In March 2020, the institution went on lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, and it has stayed that way ever since. Some inmates are allowed to work if they are employed outside of their housing units, and we are allowed to attend our medical appointments. That’s it. No other movement. The majority of us are trapped in our housing units with one another, day in and day out. As tensions run high, it can be difficult to exercise self-control.

Violence and drug abuse have escalated. Many staff members and inmates have contracted COVID-19, and people are scared. The precautions they take to keep us safe are lacking, especially when inmates are consistently being moved to different housing units.

Staff members roam all over the compound and may go from a red zone into a green zone without a second thought. Staff shortages force unsafe practices.

So we sit here, sad and scared, as we long for what little freedom we used to have within our prison walls. We even miss going into the Chow Hall to have our meals. We miss going to school, to recreation, to our religious programs. Everything. And the future of it all is bleak and unknown. With the way the pandemic is handled here at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, I see no end in sight.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.