This week I received the first dose of the Moderna Covid vaccine. Yes! Finally. I can’t begin to tell you how much stress this lifts from my shoulders (every inmate for that mater). I’ve hoped and hoped for months now that Director Chambers-Smith would make immunizing Ohio’s prisoners a priority. She has.
Since March 2020 my facility has been on modified lock down consisting of restricted movements. NO socializing with anyone outside your unit, NO eating in the chow hall with others from other units, and NO yard or recreation with other prisoners for any reason beyond those who live in your area. NO visits, and NO programs. Typical maximum security wouldn’t you say? Sure, except for one minor detail: I’m in a minimum security facility.
These are some of the Covid restrictions, in place for over a year now. I suppose they’re meant to control the spread of Covid, and I’d imagine to some degree they would if it weren’t for the Covid fatigue experienced by both prisoners and staff resulting in numerous holes in this effort.
None of it really matters anyway. Covid tore through my facility sometime in October 2020, sickening nearly 2,000 men. You won’t read about this in the official figures, because those numbers reflect cases detected through daily screenings only. Through it all NONE of us were Covid tested–not once, save for the cantankerously sick–and daily screening methods of taking our temperatures and checking our blood O2 levels have failed miserably. All of it could have been prevented. Hell, what do I know? I’m just an inmate.
The one thing that I do know is that something has changed since those dark Covid days of 2020. Somewhere along the way, Ohio engaged in a concerted effort to control Covid in its facilities. We went from once leading the nation in the number of cases in its prisons, to paying Ohio prisoners to get vaccinated. Why? What changed?
The cynical side of me says that none of this is born from genuine concern for my or any prisoner lives. A number cruncher somewhere simply realized that it’s cheaper to immunize us rather than continue to ignore us. Everything in corrections is about money, lives are secondary.
The optimistic side of me says that this is in fact consistent with Director Chamber-Smith’s more caring hands on approach. Early on Covid overwhelmed Ohio’s ability to handle it within it’s facilities, and now a year hence after much stumbling and angst, Ohio corrections is on top of things. There was a learning curve, and now that the price of learning has been paid (in inmate lives?), we’re back on track.
I have a unique perspective when it comes to Covid in the nation’s prisons. I correspond with prisoners from all across the country. I know what other states are doing. By default I then know what Ohio is or isn’t doing.
I can say that, at this time, Ohio corrections ranks in the upper percentile of state corrections departments being proactive in handling their prisoner populations and Covid.
As I said, something has changed.
Most states are vaccinating their inmate populations to some degree, some faster than others, but none that I know of are paying their prisoners to do so. When I tell prisoners in other states this, the response is always the same: Are you kidding me?
Ohio corrections is shelling out up to a half-million dollars paying inmates to vaccinate. It’s a savvy move really. So many prisoners are suspicious of the vaccine and the intent of the department of corrections, that many hadn’t planned to get vaccinated. But, because most inmates are poor and have no money, a ten dollar incentive moves the fence sitters.
The nursing staff here has been amazing making sure that shots get into arms. My facility has an incredible proactive medical department, and I’ve been incarcerated long enough to truly appreciate this. If any credit is due, it’s due to these amazing men and women.
I’m told that at my facility plans are being made to relax Covid restrictions once 70% of the inmate population has been vaccinated. I know this to be true, because this is exactly what other states are doing at their facilities. We’re all looking forward to it.
The one thing that I do know out of all of this is that nothing happens within the department of corrections without the blessings of Director Chambers-Smith. She’s in charge, she’s at the helm. The fact that I’ve received the very same Moderna vaccine that so many of you out there have speaks volumes. No law says we’re entitled to it, and it’s certainly not popular with the public.
Though Director Chambers-Smith won’t hear it, tens of thousands of Ohio prisoners along with their families are thankful. And so am I.