Covid-19: Prison Report
I wasn't sure I should write this post. I have been corresponding with an inmate at a federal correctional institution for going on five years now, as part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship's Worthy Now ministry. We exchange letters every few months, usually just sharing notes on the weather, books we are reading and other mundane topics. But this week I got a letter from him that I feel compelled to share. I am not going to reveal his location, name, or any information that might help identify him.
The unit he is in is low security, for nonviolent offenders, many of whom are also over fifty.
The virus hit [low security] first, brought in by the guards. At first, they did nothing - several people (including me) went to medical with shortness of breath, hard to breathe, no taste, no smell, aches...we were all sent back to our units - if you didn't have a temp you were fine! Consequently the virus ended up running rampant thru our building. 10+ went to the hospital on ventilators, 3 died.Then, in their wisdom, they ... put people with temps [together in one unit]...distributed [people already in that unit] to other units.
The people in those other units were then effectively locked in; no outside time at all. They were also informed about the need for "social distancing" and handwashing, and given a 4 ounce bottle of soap every week. Imagine an open space with a TV and tables for four, surrounded by open "rooms" (cubicles with no doors) furnished with bunk beds for 2 or 3 people.
After [several] weeks they issued two disposable masks; after a month and a half they gave us...cloth masks. Most of the guards have them - some don't wear them at all. [Nearly 30] guards are infected here. Not sure how many inmates since the Board of Prison numbers don't match the union numbers and none match the local hospital numbers.
They haven't tested that many. I had it and I know most in my unit had it. They did pull out ... guys with temps and moved them into the quarantine unit but unless you had a temp they did nothing. I was one of those. It got so bad my fingers were blue and I had a very difficult time breathing.
He is better now, and has learned that his release date has been moved up by six months, so he will be moved to a halfway house in about 18 months.
Every day, I feel more ashamed and angry. I just channeled some of that emotion into a donation to the Center for Prison Reform.
It's been a hellish week -- personally, nationally, and globally. The terrorist attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. Violence of all kinds in the United States, but especially the police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the murder of police officers in Dallas. These alone would be enough to send me into a fetal crouch in the corner of my house. Add to that the week of worry and caregiving for my husband, who is home now but not well, and facing surgery. Yesterday I came to the sobering realization that, with both children diagnosed with chronic illnesses, I am the only healthy person in my immediate family. So self-care and monitoring my own health becomes essential. I wish I had the energy and focus to respond to the world outside my house, but frankly, I don't.
So there's this blog, where I can put my swirling thoughts and jumbled emotions into words about "everything else". And the word for the day is love. I believe in the power of love to connect and heal. If love is a miracle, I believe in miracles. Otherwise, I don't. And sometimes love can feel like a miracle, when it comes out of nowhere -- from a stranger on the bus, or a Samaritan coming down the road. But love for others is as much a miracle as Dorothy's ruby slippers; it's the unused power we already have. (I wonder what the Wicked Witch of the East used them for? But I digress.) Love can overcome hate, but not passively; it needs to be made visible, transformed into action.
If my focus on Indian films seems escapist, you're right. But it's the best kind of escapism -- the kind that heals and help me keep going.
Leonard Cohen on Muhammad Ali
Reposted from Allan Showalter:
Leonard Cohen particularly admired boxing legend and activist, Muhammad Ali, who died June 3, 2016. In I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, author Sylvie Simmons reports that when she asked Leonard who his hero was, he immediately named “poets and spiritual leaders – Roshi, Ramesh Balsekar, Lorca, Yeats – adding the caveat, ‘I admire many men and women but it’s the designation ‘hero’ I have difficulty with, because it implies some kind of reverence that is alien to my nature.'” The next day, however, Sylvie received the following email from Leonard:
my hero is muhammad ali
as they say about the Timex in their ads
takes a lickin’
keeps on tickin’"
And, Adam Cohen (Leonard's son) named his own son, Cassius, after his (Adam’s) hero Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali. He’s named Cassius, Adam explained to Brigit Grant in 2012, because "I don’t think the rabbi would have appreciated Muhammad Cohen"
Showalter credits the information and quote to Being Leonard Cohen’s son – it’s not all hallelujahs by Brigit Grant. The Jewish Chronicle Online: March 29, 2012.
Another giant of my life is gone. Muhammed Ali was 7 years my senior; I remember watching the young and glorious Cassius Clay in the 1960 Olympics when I was not yet in my teens. My dad loved boxing. I do not, and never have. (I turn away from the screen during Shah Rukh Khan's more brutal fight scenes, and I refuse to watch "Raging Bull", despite my tremendous admiration for Robert DiNiro.)
But Muhammed Ali was more than a boxer and a celebrity. He was a principled person who used his fame to work for positive change in the world. He was a courageous person who could walk away from a lucrative career at his peak by taking a controversial stand on the most contentious issue of our generation. As the sister of a draft resister, who risked much less for the same reason, I know how hard it can be to be true to your own principles.
His appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- his body trembling as he lit the Olympic flame -- broke my heart and yet raised my spirits. Still alive, still fighting. Still witnessing.
The fact that the world is plagued by people who use the power of celebrity to make themselves bigger and wealthier, while belittling and crushing others makes the loss of Muhammed Ali even sadder. Every empty-souled celebrity on the planet needs to look in the mirror today and measure the distance between their lives and his.