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Being incarcerated and feeling isolated is one and the same for me. Depression is a common undertone that comes with this territory of the underworld. 

Exclusion bears a heavy load. I haven’t had the blessing of seeing my family due to my detachment. On the brighter side of my dark times, my peers often get visits. I’m jealous even as I live vicariously through them. But now my jealous, joyous moments have stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

College, which used to be proctored by on-site professors, has been modified to a distance learning correspondence program.  This is just not the same. The pandemic stole the humanizing and magical effect it had on the one thousand plus incarcerated participants. Other programs such as ABE (Adult Basic Education), vocational training and the SAP (Substance Abuse Program) have also been stopped due to the pandemic. 

However, the marathon continues. Social distancing in prison is oxymoronic. Through years of observation, I have come to a conclusion. A lot of us incarcerated folk voluntarily isolate ourselves in order to gain perspective. It’s a common coping skill we use.  Of course there are daily forced interactions due to dormitory living. I find myself alone, yet surrounded. 

Collect calls have been free 3 days a  week. Global Tel Link has afforded us the luxury of reaching out to our loved ones. When you call home and hear the societal haunts that have been placed upon your family and friends it can be very bittersweet. Call home to relieve stress and hang up feeling more stressed than before you made the collect call?! This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Prison is a fluid environment which is very unstable to say the least. My hopes and anxieties are embedded in the next phase: the reopening of America. Listening to sidebar dialogues by prisoners and staff makes me laugh when they harp on opening the locked down community. It also makes me wonder. 

Currently I have a lot to look forward to. I’m hoping the self-help groups and educational platforms will soon resume. My inmate work assignment as a teacher’s aide places me in a position of leadership. I also facilitated and have created self-development workshops here in the community. Many of my fellow brothers in chains come to me for counsel. Even though the platforms have been postponed, the need for belonging, contributing, and hearing our hurt has been ongoing. Social interaction is prohibited, yet needed. This is all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This experience has forced me to walk fully into my leadership role. I’ve had to grasp hold of my inner strength, bravery, and faith. Considering the circumstances, I feel strengthened. I am optimistic. I truly believe that a radical paradigm shift can take place if one allows it. 

This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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.

Darion Hassan is a writer incarcerated in California. He became a poet while in prison and is published in the Harvard Journal of African-American Literature and “Silent Screams: Poems from Unchartered Territories.” Darion Hassan is his pen name.