‘I Don’t Want To Die Here’: One Woman’s Experience With COVID While Incarcerated


March 10, 2021
By Meghan Smith

At the beginning of 2021, Lizette Nevarez was nearing the end of her 10-year criminal sentence. She had just four months left before going home.

Then, she got COVID-19.

“It’s been horrible. It’s been hard mentally on me and the other women in here,” Nevarez said, speaking by phone from South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC) in Framingham, Mass., where she had been in pre-release for the last two years. She served seven years before that at Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Framingham.

As has happened since the start of the pandemic in prisons across the country, a COVID-19 outbreak hit SMCC at the end of January. In total, Nevarez and 11 other women at the facility — almost half of the population in the minimum security unit at SMCC — eventually tested positive for the disease.

Nevarez, 60, has several pre-existing medical conditions, including diabetes and asthma. She is still experiencing painful symptoms.

“I still feel like I have glass in my chest,” she said. “I still get headaches every day. It doesn’t go away.”

And there are other challenges. After the outbreak at SMCC, the Department of Correction announced that the facility, which had only been operating at about 10% capacity, would close temporarily and the women incarcerated there would be moved to county jails across the state that can better support their rehabilitation. Last week, Nevarez was transferred to a men’s jail in Billerica — just three months before her release.

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