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Life was breezing by in SCI Fayette, the State Prison where I’m currently locked up, and have been for three and a half years. Mornings for me before the coronavirus pandemic hit were spent in school, studying business management. Afternoons were usually spent reaching out to family, loved ones, my children and their mothers.

It seemed like overnight everything changed. The prison locked us down for days with no explanation. Three days later, they finally began disclosing timelines for how long it would take us to come out of our cells, and what we would and wouldn’t be allowed to do. Honestly, I found myself unable to care too much about the state’s new proposed plan. I was too preoccupied with thoughts of my family, my kids, my community. Wondering if they too were on lockdown, were they scared, were they safe? Were they, at this very moment, worrying about me too?

Over the past three years of my incarceration I had committed myself to building better, stronger relationships with my family, my four kids, and their three different mothers. I had spent countless hours on the phone with them, listening, supporting, and just simply being … present. The pandemic shed light on this newly found passion of mine. Before prison my passion was music, and now I find myself in pursuit of a genuine bond, wanting to simply be there for my loved ones. Knowing that my greatest chances of a genuine reciprocal love lie with them. The pandemic caused me to grow uneasy, wondering when I could be “there” — present with the family — again.

Anxiety started to make itself known, a sense of unease and longing creeped into my mind, making it difficult to pass the time locked down. When we were finally let out, it was now only five cells at a time and for only 45 minutes. In those few minutes we had to get a shower, ask for any papers we needed, i.e. request slips, phone add-on forms, etc., sync our tablets or try to log on to one of the three kiosks on the block. Not surprisingly, as soon as the pandemic struck, all the kiosks on the pod mysteriously stopped working, no longer allowing you to log in and check your account balance, amongst other things. They would remain that way for almost a month and a half, adding to the stress, anger and frustration a lockdown brings. We also had to try to call our family and shower within that 45-minute time frame. I made it happen, though, as did so many of my fellow inmates, because when you’re truly passionate about something, you’re gonna make it happen … no matter what.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Manuel Pagan Jr. is a writer, father and passionate musician. His music can be found on Apple Music and other online platforms under his artist name “Zona.” He is incarcerated in Pennsylvania.