Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
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Remember a few years ago when the Black Lives Matter movement started and people responded to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag by saying “All Lives Matter” and it set off a cascade of racial commentary and division? Back then the only things chasing us into our homes were either the threat of police brutality or accusations of racism intended to shame us into silence. Good times, good times.

The COVID-19 pandemic proves that the hashtag #AllLivesMatter isn’t racist. It’s a lie.

The novel coronavirus has pulled down the pants of many institutions: emergency preparedness, economic stability, federal leadership. That sneaky little capsid also revealed that all lives never mattered. We’re just willing to admit it now that we may have to ration health care.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed the policies of 30 states for “crisis standards of care,” which is the polite label for the list of people we can keep from lifesaving treatment without moral recrimination. It reported April 8 that 25 states had provisions that explicitly devalued the lives of elderly or disabled people. Twenty others had either “not established rationing policies or did not release them,” so they’re not off the hook just yet.

After the elderly and disabled, people with chronic health problems are less likely to get sustaining care.

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis, only Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina had policies for prioritizing care that weren’t problematic on their face.

One population missed in this analysis, one that never even figured into the ventilator math, is people in prison. If ventilators are in short supply and first responders wheel a COVID-positive inmate into a local hospital that’s rationing care, there’s no guidance on how that person would be prioritized.

Some rationing policies prohibit rationing decisions based on gender, disability, race, immigration status, personal connection with hospital staff or even “VIP status,” The Washington Post reported April 7, but there’s no mention of how to handle a patient who’s incarcerated. It’s a status incapable of concealment; the shackles, cuffs and two badge-wearing, uniformed civil servants standing next to him will surely give it away.

I’m not sure how to interpret the fact that guidance on this decision is absent from these policies. The coronavirus has 2.3 million potential targets in U.S. prisons and jails and, so far, it’s been quite efficient in reaching them. Now the biggest hotspot in the country is the Cook County Jail in Chicago. Surely the people who devised their states’ pandemic plans know that these people may appear at hospitals for infectious disease complaints.

I think the policies rest on the assumption that’s so pervasive it no longer needs to be spoken, namely that the inmate should receive care last. I hate the fact that people like me would be sacrificed but I also don’t blame the doctors, and not because I believe the lives of prisoners aren’t worthy or I can defend discrimination against them.

The main consideration in making one of these unholy decisions is the patient’s ability to survive and the quality of life should the person be helped to live.

For someone in prison, finding meaning is about as easy as finding a spare ventilator these days. It’s a hard life anyway, and we actually lose two years off our life expectancy for every year we serve, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. My life was shortened by 12 years before that pushy protein pack we call COVID was even born. Even under one of the defensible rationing policies, inmates likely wouldn’t rank very high.

I could be wrong. Perhaps inmates’ health problems, which are generally more severe than those of the general population, would affect the evaluation of their chances at survival without their legal status ever coming into play.

Do you wonder where you’d land if all of us had to queue up at the hospital, ordered only by the value of our lives? I’d probably stand behind you no matter how old you are. You, groggy and confused, would feel the relief of mechanical breath as harried nurses hooked you up to a precious ventilator after they ushered you to the front of the line.

My last words would number three in total, proceeded by the number sign, as I typed #AllLivesMatter into my phone in the hospital waiting room before I expired.
Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at outlawcolumn@gmail.com.