Today I was at work and I learned that my good friend, Edward Jones, had passed away 3 months ago from the Coronavirus. I was deeply saddened because not only had I lost someone that I had known for over 20 years but it had taken me this long to hear about it. 

I shouldn’t be too surprised though because Edward was a prisoner just like I am. During this pandemic prisons have been hit hard. Nevada’s inmate infection rate is 80%. It has gone down considerably since last year but many lives were lost during the height of the pandemic, including my friend’s. 

I’ve been incarcerated for over three decades and I’ve seen and dealt with my fair share of death. Everything from cancer and heart attacks to stabbings and natural causes. Covid-19 fit right into this kill zone. Inmates live in close quarters, oftentimes even in dorms. If one person gets sick, everyone gets sick. Edward took real good care of himself because he knew that he would get out one day and he wanted to enjoy it as much of life as he could, but now that won’t happen. 

What saddens me the most is that his life–like most prisoners–passed with very little fanfare. Over the years most of his family members had died and in the end he was alone. In 2002 the loneliness drove him to attempt suicide. He barricaded his door and set his cell on fire with him in it. But he underestimated the sprinkler system that extinguished the flames, but not before he suffered severe burns to his face and arms.

Who knew that one day his life would be taken by something not of his making or doing.

I wonder how many prisoners across the U.S.  suffer the same death by the same killer. We’ll never really know because prison officials are adept at fudging numbers and hiding vital statistics. But if 80% of inmates have gotten the virus then the death toll is going to be somewhat significant, especially considering that there are third world countries that receive better healthcare treatment than American prisoners. 

For example, we have to write a written request to see the doctor and it usually takes about a month or so to get an appointment. If an inmate gets sick then he had better pray that he can fight it off or else his life is hanging in the balance. So I imagine that Edward died a lonely, painful and uncaring death. With no one to claim his body he’s probably buried in an unmarked cemetery with no headstone or any type of marker that lets it be known that he existed on this earth.

But I know I’ll always remember you, my friend. To the world you were a prisoner but to me you were a human being, a friend who often reminded me to stay positive in a place that breeds despair, anger and depression. 

And for the rest of the 500,000 dead from the Coronavirus, which includes prisoners, the homeless, the famous and not-so-famous words of Helen Keller ring loud and true: “The world’s great heart has proved equal to the prodigious undertaking which God set it. Rebuffed, but always persevering; discouraged not by death or difficulties without, or the cry of anguish shared by many, the heart listens to a secret voice that Whispers: be not dismayed; in the future, out of the darkness lies the promised land.” 

Frederick Paine