A story of man-made illnesses, according to this prisoner incarcerated in Pennsylvania.
The United States Penitentiary Canaan holds about 1,300 people. Qwantay A. is one of them. He has been incarcerated for 16 years and will be released in 2034. He drew some parallels between the coronavirus pandemic and mass incarceration, and shared his thoughts with Prison Insider.
— Photo by visuals on Unsplash
Both destroy lives, decimate communities, confine human beings to closed quarters, spark mental health crises. They propagate exponentially because of arrogance, capitalistic greed, and indifference from corporate and government officials.
Valuing profit over the lives of people
I hate to compare mass incarcerations with the coronavirus, but there are stark similarities. Both destroy lives, decimate communities, confine human beings to closed quarters, spark mental health crises. They propagate exponentially because of arrogance, capitalistic greed, and indifference from corporate and government officials, and are at their highest rates in the United States of America. And, yes, they both disproportionately impact marginalized communities of poor and colored people.
They are both man-made illnesses, one social and one respiratory. One intentional and the other inadvertent (presumably). Ironically, one could be cured by mere words and/or legislation, while simultaneously lowering the chances of vulnerable people being infected with the other. But that would require our leaders to overcome the very quirk that allowed both situations to escalate into conflagration: valuing profit over the lives of people.
They both can compel a close-minded person to find entertainment in books, TV shows, and activities they would have never considered before.
They spur men into taking time out and doing a little introspection, sometimes forcing even the most stubborn to drop to his knees and submit to a higher power.
If embraced and addressed properly, those affected can come out of both crises more profound and spiritually-aware.
Some don’t believe either situation is a humanitarian crisis –neither mass incarceration nor the coronavirus pandemic. Prisons aren’t overpopulated, they say, there should more of “those” people in prison. It’s a poor people and colored folk problem – Stop breaking the law, others say. It’s a Chinese virus, our president claimed. And as I sit here typing this message, there’s a prison guard with a mouth full of tobacco staring up at the TV (CNN), vociferously claiming the numbers are false, and that it is all “fake news” propaganda to subvert President Trump. Never mind what the doctors say, coronavirus is no worse than the flu, he opines. That’s why the doctors are doctors and he a correctional officer. I’ll consider the advice of the former.
Our conditions in lockdown are no better than yours, and almost certainly much worse.
The core of the crisis
Some might refute and curse me for daring to compare the lives of convicted criminals to that of innocent civilians affected by this horrific virus. But facts are facts. Just as people shouldn’t be infected with coronavirus, many shouldn’t be stuck in prison. Many prisoners don’t belong here. We are experiencing the trials and tribulations of mankind; signs of the times, and repercussions of mistakes made. I’m convinced the arrogance of not only our president but also many people have contributed to the spread of this virus the same way it has contributed to a nation with a stymied, incarcerated workforce.
The hard-nosed arrogance and sense of entitlement and invincibility is at the core of both crises; it is this that makes the two so similar. Similar roots produce similar branches.
Now that we’ve seen the similarities between imprisonment and the coronavirus pandemic, let me tell you how we prisoners are dealing with the virus. Different strokes for different folks. It varies from prison to prison and from prisoner to prisoner. Here at the United States Penitentiary Canaan we are on a modified program, coming out of our cells into the day room for only a couple hours per day to use the phones, computers, and showers. Our conditions in lockdown are no better than yours, and almost certainly much worse.
Many prisoners are plaintively grappling with the warden’s logic in allowing us out for only a couple hours to spread germs and not allowing us out the entire day to spread the same germs. They say “What’s the difference between a couple hours and a couple more? If the novel coronavirus is in the building, it’s in the building. Limiting our time out to two hours instead of four doesn’t make a difference.” I myself am indifferent to the rationale of prison wardens. Questioning their reasoning can be tantamount to questioning why birds shit while flying. When you’re full of shit, sometimes shit just happens.
And when you are out for profit rather than to help humanity, both mass incarceration and pandemics happen. Only in America, the nation of prisons and pandemics.