Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

A man stands in front of many face masks hanging on a wall
Photo by Parastoo Maleki on Unsplash

My COVID-19 experience has been one of horror and hope. I have seen pain as well as possibility and promise.

I have yet to test positive for COVID-19, but I experienced symptoms and recovered from it before they finally got around to testing people. I didn’t get terribly sick, but many others did.

According to the COVID Prison Project, more than 607,000 incarcerated people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Aug. 10, 2022. Nearly 3,000 incarcerated people have died from the virus, along with nearly 300 people who work in prisons.

Controlling COVID-19 has been a challenge across the U.S. as more than 1 million Americans have died from coronavirus. But I believe prisons could have done a better job protecting prisoners and officers.

The pandemic caused anxiety, fear and paranoia that will last for a long time. Many of us aren’t the same and will never be the same. You can’t see that much death and sickness and be normal. But maybe we can build a new normal, where we understand each other in a different, healthier way.

Since the pandemic started, many of us have learned we are more similar than we thought. We learned our differences were small, trivial and sometimes even fictional.

In a racially charged environment like prison, race has started to feel much less divisive. That is something that I haven’t ever seen in California prisons, and I have been in the criminal justice system for 37 years.

Seeing a new level of humanity has been beautiful and inspiring. And this doesn’t just go for inmates. Even some officers have displayed a new side of their humanity. One recent example was the time an officer resuscitated an inmate, saving his life.

Many lessons can be learned from the COVID-19 experience, but I think the most important lesson is that we all deserve our humanity. Mass incarceration strips away one’s humanity — for inmates and officers. But with this unexpected COVID-19 crisis, we have been introduced to kinder sides of each other.

Hopefully this can become our new normal.

(Additional reporting by PJP)

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.

Corey J. Elder is a writer incarcerated in California. He is the author of “The Other Side of the Game: To At-Risk Youth,” a book he wished had been available when he was younger before he made the choices he made.