June 26, 2020

Corrections Corner / Susan Hall

Peanut butter, prisoners and a pandemic perspective

One thing I’ve learned during the last few months is that during a shutdown a lot of peanut butter is eaten!

I’ve heard from many prisoners that during lockdowns they eat a lot peanut butter. During the recent coronavirus pandemic and shutdown, many friends—including myself—have survived partially on peanut butter. Prisoner or free, we have peanut butter in common.

Looking back on the last few months, there has been a lot of time during the pandemic shutdown to reflect and to see how our lives run parallel to prisoners’ lives in several ways. In no way have our isolated lives completely mirrored prisoners, but it does make for interesting insight into a little bit of what they go through, day after day, year after year.

Pictures and memes on social media have shown the agony that parents and grandparents have gone through in not being able to hug or touch their children and grandchildren.

In one picture, I saw a grandfather’s face pressed against a window offering a high-five with two grandchildren. There was such love in that face, but agony as well.

Prisoners in the general population can have visits with family and friends, but visits are monitored and strict rules on touching are in place. Those in solitary have limited visits, and no touching is allowed—ever.

During the pandemic, we have been assured that “this too shall pass,” and we can, once again, go back to touching all those we love whenever we can. The prisoners’ lives remain static.

During our pandemic shutdown, we have been able to leave our houses for essential purposes. At least we have had the knowledge that a couple of times a week we could go outside, get in our cars, and drive around a bit. It’s been a boring inconvenience for many people, a state of depression for others.

Consider the prisoner in solitary who may get to leave his cell for an hour a day for exercise only and nothing else. Volunteer work at our county jail recently resumed, and the prisoners who came to religious studies were able to see outside for the first time in months because the room we use has windows. Their cells contain only a small sliver of a window.

There has also been a rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic shutdown. Domestic partners have been forced to remain together indefinitely. The same is true between prisoners. Cells are small and frustrations many.

Most of us have kept in touch during this time with family and friends through social media and phone calls. Prisoners pay for their phone calls but are not allowed to use social media, restricting how much contact they can have with loved ones.

When we count our blessings at the end of the day, may we remember the prisoners and the lives that we paralleled in a small, small way during the pandemic.

May our prayers be focused on God in their lives, giving them what they need to carry their burdens courageously and with hope.

(Susan Hall is a Prisoner Visitation and Support volunteer. She is also a member of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute and of the archdiocese’s Corrections Advisory Committee.)

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