Against the Odds

By Antwann Johnson

From PHN Issue 47, Fall 2021

My name is Antwann Johnson, and I felt compelled to share my experience with COVID-19 while incarcerated. On October 16, 2020, I was working as a DLA (Daily Living Assistant) and I was approached by the Housing Unit FUM (Functional Unit Manager). He asked me if I would be willing to live in the Medical TCU for the purpose of giving assistance to the medical personnel who cared for inmates that had contracted COVID-19 and were severely ill and dying.

At first, I felt reluctant because this virus was still a mystery to us all. Not long after that conversation with the FUM, I was informed that my cousin and two of my close friends had tested positive for COVID-19. After that, I made the decision to go to the TCU Unit. I’ve seen firsthand how many of the inmate patients don’t have any family or people who care about their well-being. The primary purpose of being selected to live in the medical unit was to help prevent any cross-contamination or spread of the virus as much as possible. It would be two inmate patients that I grew close to while they were battling COVID-19 who would ultimately give me the strength to continue fighting this worthy cause.

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No One Should Die Alone

By Sheena King

From PHN Issue 45, Winter 2021

My name is Sheena King, and after 28 years of incarceration in a female facility, I have witnessed many women provide care for each other in various ways. We provided simple things for each other, such as throat lozenges and acetaminophen for a cold or flu, or ibuprofen for pain or injuries. We push wheelchairs for our sisters and help them up and down steps.

As a volunteer hospice worker, I can attest that there is nothing more rewarding, yet heartbreaking. I have never been more aware of my own aging body and mortality. There is a heaviness that settles over you and a keen awareness of the fear and loneliness of the woman lying in front of you. It breaks your heart but any sign of anguish from me would only increase her fear. You must just be. That is the sole purpose, to be with her, ease her loneliness and pray or read from a Holy Book if she wants you to. This isn’t about you.

For myself and other volunteers that I have spoken to, it is imperative to be spiritually connected to a Higher Source. For me, it is God. When I am not with my hospice patient, I pray for her, her family and for strength for myself so that I can be there for her as she needs me to be. When she dies, many of us cry and allow each other the space to talk. I will generally journal about the experience, read scripture, and meditate to re-center, re-orient myself.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by each death. It’s something you don’t forget, but I do it because no one should die alone in a cold, uncaring prison infirmary