Saving Your Mind: Mental Health in the Age of COVID

November 1, 2020
By Leo Cardez
Illinois Department of Corrections

“This is some crazy ass shit; and I thought I’d seen it all after twenty years in the joint.”  Murder*, my COVID wing co-worker, lamented while shaking his head.  We were dragging yet another fellow inmate to the hospital wing of our prison.  Murder is a seasoned con from the streets of Chicago’s South side, but I swear I saw a tear in his eye.

            There were four of us glorified janitors working in the makeshift quarantine wing of our prison.  Besides cleaning, we were tasked with moving and caring for sick (even dead) inmates.  At the peak of our coronavirus outbreak, we worked seven days a week double shifts, sweating through our full PPE—too busy to even stop and eat.  It was only at the end of the day, during my shower, that I would finally have a moment to catch my breath.  Sometimes I would break down, hiding my tears as the warm water washed over me.  My co-workers and I suffered everything from nightmares to migraines.  We lost and gained weight at an alarming rate.  We slept sporadically and were often depressed or angry.  Double D, my morning co-worker, said it best, “We are never going to be the same after this… you cannot unsee or undo this type of damage.”

Continue reading “Saving Your Mind: Mental Health in the Age of COVID”

An Open Letter to the Incarcerated of Pennsylvania

by Anonymous

June 16, 2022

It has been more than a year since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections vaccinated its inmate population. Mask mandates have been lifted. The unvaccinated have been allowed off quarantine and spread throughout general population. And yet here we are, another year gone, and the pandemic restrictions limiting activity and quality of life within the prisons remain. The PADOC has successfully used a deadly pandemic as a smoke screen to institute many of the wide-ranging and destructive restrictions it’s wanted all along.

Many of us served as “essential” workers during the pandemic, tirelessly disinfecting the blocks, preparing food and distributing trays. We toiled for long hours to keep the prisons running, with the understanding that Covid was an unprecedented situation that required all of us to work together. Besides those few lucky enough to work, the majority of us were stuck confined in our cells for days and weeks and months on end. It was tough on all of us, but we made it through, and to show its appreciation for our cooperation the PADOC has chosen to keep its pandemic restrictions in place indefinitely.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to the Incarcerated of Pennsylvania”

Ask PHN: Reducing Your Risk of Diabetes in Prison

By Lisa Horwitz and Seth Lamming


Dear Prison Health News,

How do I avoid diabetes when the meals usually consist of white bread, white rice, cake, cornbread, fruit served in syrup, and white noodles? I would appreciate any

information you can provide. Thank you.

—Colin Broughton, South Carolina


Thanks for this great question! Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes (high blood sugar), is a common long-term health problem that affects 1 out of every 10 Americans. It can cause many physical complications, and of course we would all like to prevent getting it if at all possible (If you have diabetes, PHN has written a “Diabetes Self-education Guidebook” that we will send you on request).

The cause of diabetes is not really known—so guaranteed prevention is not possible for any of us. It is thought that a combination of environment, genetics, and health choices like diet and exercise cause some people to develop diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes are: smoking, having other family members who have diabetes, being overweight (especially if the extra fat is mostly in the belly), getting little or no exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diets high in sugars and saturated fats, being of Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian/Pacific Island ethnicity, being female, and being over 40 years old. Being low income increases risk, both because of increased stress and lack of access to fresh whole food. But anyone can get diabetes, even if they have none of these risk factors.

Continue reading “Ask PHN: Reducing Your Risk of Diabetes in Prison”

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) And What You Can Do About It

By Lucy Gleysteen and Seth Lamming

Whenever your heart beats, it pushes blood through your body to nourish tissues and organs. The heart has to beat with enough force to reach every part of the body. However, many people have blood pressure that is too high. When blood vessels are narrowed by conditions such as high cholesterol, the heart has to work harder to supply blood to the rest of the body, increasing pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, over time causes less blood flow to the kidneys, which causes the body to retain more water and salts. With more water and salts in the body, the heart has to beat harder to manage all the fluid, causing an increase in blood pressure.

What is blood pressure, and what do the numbers mean?

Blood pressure is the measurement of how much pressure or force there is of blood pushing up against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are what carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.

Blood pressure readings have two numbers. Systolic, the number on top, represents the pressure on blood vessel walls when your heart is beating or contracting. Diastolic is the number below, and it represents the pressure on your blood vessels between beats when your heart is relaxing. It is normal for blood pressure to fluctuate over the day.

Continue reading “High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) And What You Can Do About It”

What You Need to Know About Your Rights of Consent Regarding Medical Care

By C. Nunley, GRCC, KY

Do you know what “consent” means? Maybe you think that you might, or perhaps you know what the dictionary defines it as, but did you know that legally, as far as the healthcare system goes, there are two basic types of consent?

The first type of consent is known as “implied consent.” This type of consent is typically based on actions rather than words. One example of implied consent is in emergencies. If you are found unconscious and not breathing, the law basically says that a reasonable person would assume you want them to save your life, so consent is implied without you having to say anything.

Continue reading “What You Need to Know About Your Rights of Consent Regarding Medical Care”

MDOC Covid-19 ‘Quarantine’ Reaps Financial Windfall for Corizon Health’s Investors

By Rand. W Gould, October 2021

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper

In early March 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) declared a so-called “medical quarantine” for influenza, i.e., the flu, that quickly morphed into the COVID-19 “quarantine” still in effect to this day. Just as quickly, MDOC health care provider Corizon Health, Inc., took full advantage of this quarantine to deny prisoners constitutionally mandated health care across the board, including dental, optical, hepatitis B and other vaccines, with all previously scheduled 2020 medical consults and surgeries canceled.

Continue reading “MDOC Covid-19 ‘Quarantine’ Reaps Financial Windfall for Corizon Health’s Investors”

Covid-19 Updates: April 2022

By Lily H-A

The most recent wave of COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, peaked in January in the US. The rate of COVID-19 cases at that point was by far the highest in the US to date. Cases dropped rapidly over the next couple months. However, as of April 2022, cases have begun to rise again in many parts of the country, though less steeply than before. This is likely due to a “sub-variant” or slightly different version of the omicron variant called BA.2 (the version of omicron that caused the earlier, larger wave was called BA.1). BA.2 seems to be slightly more contagious than BA.1, but does not seem to be more severe.

Continue reading “Covid-19 Updates: April 2022”

Convict Chronicles: Tip #21: Breathe Easy

By Leo Cardez

Adapted from Yoga Magazine 2020, Pam O’Brien

There is a medical term called heart rate variability, or HRV, which stands for the variability of time between heartbeats. There’s significant research demonstrating a correlation between better HRV (more variety in the length of time from one heartbeat to the next) and improved mood, enhanced focus, better sleep, boosted energy, and more resilience overall. Anyone would benefit from better HRV—and fortunately, anyone can … with a little practice.

Continue reading “Convict Chronicles: Tip #21: Breathe Easy”

Indiana Begins to Allow Hormone Therapy Treatment for Transgender Inmates

By Tonie. N Loveday

I would like to relay my story of how I, a transgender woman and inmate doing time at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, took on the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC).

Not being on hormone treatment prior to incarceration, the IDOC would not allow transgender inmates to begin them. I was not diagnosed with gender dysphoria until June 2015, seven years into my sentence. Gender dysphoria is the medical diagnosis for experiences of distress and discomfort connected to a difference between one’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Diagnosis by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or doctor is often required to receive gender-affirming care, such as hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria is not needed to identify as transgender or be a part of the community. However, it is often needed to access treatment.

Continue reading “Indiana Begins to Allow Hormone Therapy Treatment for Transgender Inmates”

Prison Decarceration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Protesters in Philadelphia demand decarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Joe Piette, shared under Creative Commons

by Yosef Robele

Editor’s note: With this thoroughly researched academic article, Prison Health News has the rare privilege of offering scientific data—in addition to our continuing testimonies from people in prison—about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted incarcerated people. We agree with the author, Yosef Robele, that decarceration is the winning strategy we all must fight for.  

Yosef is a 2nd year masters student in the Environmental Health Science & Policy Track at George Washington University School of Public Health. He was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He went to undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Environmental Science and minored in Physics. He hopes to have a career tackling environmental justice issues from a scientifically informed background.


The COVID-19 pandemic has done much to reveal structural inequalities in American society. Throughout the pandemic, the Prison Industrial Complex has been shown to be wholly inadequate in protecting incarcerated persons, prison staff and the surrounding communities. As both the incarcerated persons and the staffs have higher rates of chronic disease than the general population (Wildeman & Wang, 2017), this places them at higher risk of an adverse outcome from contracting COVID-19. While the prison population has actually decreased by about 10% for various reasons during the pandemic, (Franco-Paredes et al., 2021) prison reform advocates have called for more radical slashes. This paper will advocate not only for these radical slashes but also for other forms of support for formerly incarcerated people. Over summer 2020 alone, over 500,000 cases of COVID-19 can be attributed to the carceral state (Hooks & Sawyer, 2020). In order to prevent further cases and deaths, it’s imperative that incarcerated people are not only released but released with enough health care and housing to support themselves during the pandemic.

Continue reading Prison Decarceration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Prison Health News Advisory Board Member Under Threat for Health Activism in Oregon Prison

April 28, 2022

One of our beloved Advisory Board members for Prison Health News, Aaron Maxwell Hanna, filed a lawsuit last year against the Oregon Department of Corrections for not enforcing its own rule that prison employees must wear a face mask to protect those inside the prisons from COVID-19. It’s widely known that prison guards are the most common way COVID gets into prisons from the community. After filing the lawsuit, Max got COVID earlier this year. At his facility, Two Rivers Correctional Institution, 1,287 others have contracted COVID; across the state, 45 people in prison have died of it.

Due to his tireless advocacy, Max won a preliminary injunction on March 21 in federal court that requires the prison authorities to enforce their own mandate for staff to wear face masks. After Max won the injunction, guards allegedly pressured a gang member to take Max’s life, but Max was able to use the support he has from other prisoners to reach this gang member, who is now testifying for Max. We are awaiting the next court hearing, which will be May 10 and cover the alleged retaliation by prison guards against Max and others.

Max requested that we share this note from him on our website, along with a copy of the preliminary injunction:

I am fighting the good fight and standing up against an entire prison staffed with right-wing Republicans who don’t care about me or anyone serving a sentence behind these walls. You have no idea how big, how red and bright this target is on my back, but I don’t care because I am doing the right thing for everyone! This is what matters to me, and how I want to be remembered.

With what I am writing to you, I hope to encourage all of you who are prison activists, who want to protect the lives of those that can’t or won’t stand up for themselves. Please keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers. If you want to email me with words of encouragement, please do so at: and I’ll get those from you. I’ll even respond to you if you let me know that you want me to do so.

Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

You can read the preliminary injunction here: