Facing the Pandemic in Prison

Guards in Tyvex suits lead a diaspora of prisoners carrying trash bags with their meager belongings. They file onto the rec yard and spread out to claim a corner. They flee an enemy that cannot be seen.

These men live in units where the outbreak began. They walk, knowing their fate but clinging to hope they will not soon fill the gym. If the rec yard is a refugee camp, the gym is a field hospital.

They await test results. Marched through cramped hallways. Locked in cells breathing the same air. Cleaning the units after an outbreak is too little too late. The prison holds double the men it was designed for. Already inadequate ventilation has collected dust and mold over almost 40 years.

Virginia is projected to face more than $1,000,000,000 shortfall in its budget.

The Department of Corrections costs taxpayers $1,300,000,000 each year.

Staff and guards are underpaid, the turnover rate is as high as 90%.

Virginia abolished parole in 1995. There are no second chances for prisoners who turn their lives around.

Judges have complete discretion. One defendant can receive six years and another forty. Sentencing guidelines are regularly ignored.

Victims have few rights and regularly fail to receive compensation for their losses.

The system is broken.

The only hope is that, when we restart the country we take a hard look at things that weren’t working. We don’t have to go back to a broken way of life. Stopping means the freedom to start off in another direction.