Anna Stitt

Anna Stitt is an award-winning multimedia reporter. She grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, graduated from Swarthmore College and the Transom Story Workshop, and spent several years as a news producer at KNWA-TV in Fayetteville and KSTP-TV in Minneapolis. Her audio work has been featured on public radio stations across the U.S. She produced the series on COVID-19 in Arkansas prisons through a grant from the National Geographic Society.

A guard holds a drink while prisoners work in the field behind him at the Cummins Unit. This photo is from 1975, when folklorist and documentarian Bruce Jackson gained rare photographic access to daily life at Cummins. In 2020, multiple Arkansas prisons s
Bruce Jackson - Used with permission

As of this week, COVID-19 has infected inmates in four Arkansas state prisons. The virus exploded at the Cummins Unit first, and quickly became one of the country’s largest known prison outbreaks.

Established in 1902, Cummins is the state’s oldest and largest prison. It is named after one of the slave plantations that was there before.

“I have a vivid memory of pulling up to the Cummins Unit,” said Kaleem Nazeem. He was convicted as a juvenile and spent 27 years in Arkansas prisons. 12 of those years were at the Cummins Unit.

Derick Coley and his daughter Adaisyah
Family photo

The largest outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas has been at a state prison in Lincoln County. 11 people confirmed to have the disease at the Cummins Unit have died. One of them was 29-year-old Derick Coley of Magnolia, who died on May 2.

The Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas has been the state prison hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
KATV-Channel 7

This is the first of a three-part series on the coronavirus outbreak in Arkansas prisons, supported by the National Geographic Society’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Journalists.

As the coronavirus pandemic has swept through Arkansas during the last three months — nearly 1,200 inmates in four of the state’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 134 staff working at eight state prisons have also tested positive.