Cops, Courts & Prisons


Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 71, printed March 22. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For other issues dating back to 2012, see the Full Issues page.

By Chanell Burnette

My name is Chanell Burnette and I am currently incarcerated at Virginia Correctional Center for Women.

I am also a member of the Steering Committee for the Coalition for Justice. I am writing on behalf of the ladies here at VCCW.

While conditions here are favorable, we remain at a terrible disadvantage medically. Many of us women were recently transferred here from Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. At FCCW, we were allowed to receive certain medications, only to arrive here at yet another DOC facility and be stripped of our medications because they do not offer them here.

Where does the difference lie if we are all DOC offenders and are covered under Medicaid? This facility houses less than half of the population of FCCW, so the issue of cost-effectiveness, or formulary vs. non-formulary medications, should be no issue at all.

This is very unfortunate for us, myself included, as many of us suffer debilitating health conditions and are forced to walk constantly, even in the inclement weather. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, among other things, and was prescribed Lyrica by my doctor at UVA’s Pain Management Clinic, which I received at FCCW, only to get here and be taken off of it abruptly. This is an unsafe practice as many medications have severe withdrawal effects and are meant to be tapered down.

Another woman’s seizure medication had been changed to a cheaper brand upon arrival here and she began to experience epileptic fits as a result of such. This poses serious risks and detriment to one’s health when all it sums up to be about is money. Are our lives of less value because we are temporarily housed at this facility?

The only other negative part of being housed here at VCCW is that many of the officers prefer to be rude to us, but when we step out of line, we are quickly met with a disciplinary infraction. It almost feels as if they relish in writing these minor infractions without stopping to think about how it could possibly affect our release dates. But I suppose that once again, it is summed up by the almighty dollar. The longer they can keep us incarcerated, the more money Virginia can make to house us, and these petty officers can remain employed.

Outside of that, this is a nice facility with beautiful grounds and a breathtaking view. It is also nice to look around and not feel so entrapped by fences to remind you of your whereabouts. There is no fence surrounding this facility as the late owner stipulated in her last will and testament.

So I will spend my last incarcerated year in pain here at VCCW, but will persevere through it because what does not kill you only makes you stronger.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience with you!

Categories: Cops, Courts & Prisons

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