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We are slowly returning to modified operations. Some of the inmates that were gravely affected by the virus, however, are still in bad shape; some unwilling to get back to work. People outside of prison may not know that inmates in federal prisons do all the work of maintenance in the prison and also work at prison industries, namely UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries), for pennies an hour. For the last few months, and particularly during the worst of the outbreak, our meals consisted of one hot meal a day and a bag of junk food, chips, tuna, peanut-butter, and stale bread.

Those of us in prison know that people out there are suffering too. We see what’s happening on television. We are not immune or insensitive to the ongoing political and economic situations and crises. But it is important that our stories are also told.

The way in which society deals with the people it incarcerates is a reflection of their need for justice and fairness. We are not disposable. We do not deserve to be trashed by a system of justice that runs on bureaucratic and inhuman principles and is interested only in maintaining itself and paying salaries to those it employs without regard to the outcome of its actions. Prison events resonate in society, and sooner or later injustice becomes a debt that comes due.

I have no doubt that the creation of this system was undertaken with good intentions. But it has spun out of control. The courts no longer have a human sense of proportion, and the prisons are only a reflection of the will of the courts, of the laws passed by Congress, of the fears of the public.

Hopefully COVID-19 has brought us to a new awareness of these interactions. In that sense I can only hope that, unlike what the Federal Bureau of Prisons may wish, this is not over, that what’s happened in prisons across our country brings reform and not oblivion and ignorance.

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.

Fernando Rivas Martinez is writer and prison reform advocate incarcerated in Texas. He is a 1977 Juilliard graduate and award-winning composer of film and television music. In 2016, while incarcerated, he received an honorable mention from the PEN America prison writing program for his poem "300 Min." In 2019 he won the American Short Fiction Insider’s Prize award and an honorable mention on the Texas Observer short story contest.