In the prison where I’m currently located, the River North Correctional Center in Independence, Virginia, everything is shut down.

Inmates aren’t allowed to travel to the chow hall, and only one tier at a time is mandated to wear a mask while out during in pod recreation. If we are caught not wearing a mask, we are forced to lock down in our cells. If we are caught with our mask not covering our mouth and nose completely, we have to go to our cell and forfeit our recreation in the pod. In between bottom-tier and top-tier recreation times, all the tables, benches, phones, and kiosk machines are sprayed and wiped down. Only certain workers are permitted to clean and handle our ice scooper in our units.

Officers also wear masks, but of course you have some inmates who disregard the rules and just don’t care. Without even thinking, these inmates do things that can very well place others at risk. I’ve sat back in my unit and watched other inmates pass and drink prison mash and pass bottles back and forth after drinking mouth to bottle. I’ve seen other inmates lick their fingers and then go directly to the kiosk machine and type without washing their hands. I’ve seen inmates sit down at tables to play cards or chess, pick their nose and then shake hands with another inmate.

Most notably, I’ve seen inmates get off the phone after groping themselves while having phone sex and then go play chess, touching the other pieces without washing their hands. This is the normal shit that goes on in our unit everyday, and it seems as if no one is mindful of the germs that are around us.

It’s the young, immature dudes that take this Covid-19 situation as if it’s nothing. Some conflicts are unavoidable, but it is being reckless and endangering fellow inmates that draws conflict amongst us.

I’m 43 years old and I understand people are dying, so my daily movements are pre-calculated. I wash my hands often, I don’t play cards or chess, and I don’t share bottles — I do everything possible to lower the chances of me being exposed unlike the dudes who just don’t give a fuck. As much as I don’t like giving credit, I have to be truthful, compared to other prisons, the one I’m currently at is really doing its best to manage the circumstances. The majority of Covid-19 cases here have been staff. However, the disregard for the health of other inmates runs rampant, and even a well-managed prison can’t fix other inmates’ bad and flat out dangerous habits. 

There are no visitations and no medical appointments unless deemed necessary. There are no transfers off the compound — 90% of everything is shut down. There is no schooling and  no programs running.

The tension is building, everyone here is frustrated and it’s just going to be this way until things and go back to normal. I constantly worry, stress, and think about my two children and family. Now I realize not to take every day moments for granted.

Even in prison if you’re a drug dealer, murderer, robber, con-artist or whatever your crime may be, this is the time where a person needs to be mindful of their actions. Even if you’re not a decent person, now is the time to step up and make the effort to be better. I strive everyday to be a better person and better my character.

Believe me when I say when you think it’s bad, always remember it can get worse. Imagine being directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19 while being incarcerated. At least some have freedom while dealing with this pandemic.

Please wear your mask, wash your hands, be safe, stay alert, and take nothing for granted.

Antwan Johnson is serving 30 years for 1st degree murder in Virginia.


Antwan Johnson #1171427