OPINION: The Pandemic From the Eyes of a Prisoner

by Billy Gumabon

I remember when the global pandemic was declared and the nation went into lockdown. This ultimately trickled down into the prison system, and they immediately suspended all visitations and programming in prison. With no family and loved ones coming in to visit and no physical contact with the outside world, I was left in a spirit of uncertainty, worry, and fear. I just sat in my cell and watched the news helplessly for hours to see the latest updates from President Trump addressing the nation, hoping to catch a glimmer of hope I could hold on to. However, I kept seeing the number of positive cases and the death toll rise due to the coronavirus, and the president acting like a child during his debriefing sessions. That didn’t help my anxiety.

The reality is that everything has changed, and the world as we know it has now entered into a new era. In the beginning, it was like walking in a twilight zone, so eerie and weird. Everyone walking around in masks, people washing their hands more than ever, the correction officers yelling at us to “keep your mask on!” The atmosphere was tense and the spirit was heavy.

As millions of people around the world were locked down at home, compounded with businesses closing down and the loss of millions of jobs and the added strain this deadly virus is putting on all our lives — and also on our institutional systems — I know I wasn’t the only one experiencing a level of uncertainty and fear.

Now we are approaching 2021 — a new year. A new president is now transitioning into power, and we find ourselves with a surge of cases nationally and one American dying every 30 seconds from the virus. However, news of a vaccination is on the way! The savior of the world — the hope we have to get back to our normal lives. I don’t know if I should be excited about it or be worried that I’m going to turn into a zombie after they shoot me up with the vaccine.

Just as we were gaining some momentum forward and things seemed to be functioning normally, the highly contagious COVID-19 found its way into our prison. We immediately went into a complete lockdown, quarantine, and everyone was confined to their cell for 23 hours a day with an allotted 45-minute time out (for dayroom, phones, showers, etc.) in efforts to mitigate the spread. With over 200 cases, the lack of transparency, and the irresponsible management of prison officials and staff, you can really feel the tension and worry in the air. All the restrictions, the yelling and punishment by the staff over masks that didn’t work — because they failed to follow the rules themselves to mitigate the risk. They must’ve thought that this virus was a “conspiracy” or this was a “plandemic.” Now they are scrambling to figure things out. How ironic, right? 

To add on to the severity of the situation, we just received news of the first reported death here in our prison. Stunned by the tragic and unfortunate death, I was left with my heart breaking in silence. The fear and reality is setting in across the facility. All our lives are at risk, and we can’t do anything about it.

As I begin to feel the anxiety, worry, and fear, I sit in this cell and reflect on everything that just transpired within this last week and also within this year. Who would’ve thought that 2020 would shape up to be one of the most unprecedented times in our era? When I think about the term “virus,” I think of a computer. When a computer has a virus, it infects the whole system, and sometimes the computer needs to completely reboot its whole system in order for the virus to be eradicated and for the computer to get back to its full function. As it relates to this global pandemic, this virus has undoubtedly infected our whole system. All our institutions, our communities, our families, and our selves have been impacted in some way, shape, or form, whether we realize it or not. From our educational system to our medical institutions to the workforce and agriculture industries — even down to our criminal justice system, all are experiencing some type of strain that is in need of relief. It’s like this virus is holding up a mirror to our society, to our structures, to our systems, to the people, showing us our flaws and imperfections that already existed; we just chose to ignore them. Is a reboot necessary? Do we need to restart, reform, or reimagine a more sustainable and equitable world? What did this virus reveal to humanity?

I’m not here to give the answers or claim that God gave me the answers for this pandemic and the issues we are dealing with. I just know if there ever was a time for the people to mobilize around change, the time would be now. Because when a reboot is necessary and needed, then it will require a new software to run the system. Meaningful change is knocking at the door, and we all have a say in how we can reimagine and recreate the world we want to live in.


Billy Gumabon is the president of the Asian and Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG) at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

Featured image is attributed to Richard Gillin under a Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.