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The stories in Witness are first-person observations of events, occurrences and situations that took place in and around prisons. Global Forum Online has not verified the reporting with prison officials because we believe that doing so would put our writer at risk. This story was carefully evaluated for plausibility, and we worked with the writer to be as clear as possible about what they saw firsthand and where they got each piece of information.

I have been incarcerated for 13 years and I have never seen the prison system as impacted as it has recently been by an acute employment crisis. The realities of a short-staffed prison system feels like a slap to the face.

Before the labor shortage, a group of officers would arrive at a scene of an altercation within three seconds and they would come from every direction in packs along with their ranking superior.

Now, it takes more than three seconds for officials to pop up on the scene for incidents.

Over the past couple of months, the U.S. has experienced a national labor shortage. A recent report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that approximately 4.3 million American workers quit their jobs in August. Though the labor shortage is a national phenomenon, American prisons have been particularly hard hit. The Associated Press reported that the Bureau of Prisons budgeted for 20,446 full-time correctional officer positions in 2021, but only 13,762 of those positions were filled as of May 2021. Some correctional facilities have even resorted to forcing cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to fill the vacant correctional officer positions and guard the incarcerated population.

When we do not have the proper amount of officials operating the system, we as inmates suffer. We are constantly having to beg to go to the recreational yard. Our work days are also harder. Instead of having five staff members, we are now down to two, which means those of us with jobs have to work triple time to make up for their absence.

At chow hall, our meals and nutrition suffer because staff tasked with making means now also have to supervise other areas. The menu might call for an egg and cheese omelet with oatmeal, but instead we receive two boiled eggs, sliced bread and prunes or raisins in a Johnny sack.

In my observation, officials appear to either be quitting, taking time off as a result of contracting the coronavirus or transferring to another unit. This creates a strain on those who remain employed. I have observed the same officers in the unit for more than 18 hours, with some staying overnight.

Prisoners, who are concerned about officials lashing out as a result of sleep deprivation, are left with few options. Utilizing the grievance process is often unhelpful.

The best we can ever do is to give them words of encouragement or just stay out of their way.

(Additional reporting by Annabelle Wang)

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.

Michelle Strahan is a writer incarcerated in Texas.