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My view from the tier. Artwork by Stefan Ambriz-Coronado

Being incarcerated during a pandemic is a real double whammy.  There’s the reality I lived before March 2020, a twisted reality to say the least, and my new normal, the reality I live now during the pandemic.

Before 2020, I would wake up in my closet-sized cell, have my breakfast delivered through a slot, and watch my morning news program. Each day started off with the same question in my mind, “Will we get a program today?”

I hoped they wouldn’t use the same old excuses to keep us locked in our cells. Maybe, I would be able to go out and stretch my legs and have the opportunity to call my loved ones. This reality was dependent on prison officials, the ones deciding what few freedoms they would grant each day.

That part of my reality is the same. With the virus, those same old excuses to keep us locked in these closet-sized cells have broadened. I’m locked in 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. I’m denied the opportunity to call my loved ones to see if they’re okay and healthy and to let them know I’m okay as well.

As of now, my reality exists mostly in these four walls, with the unlikely hope of taking a walk or making a collect call. 

In a way, my future is split in two different parts: the immediate future which consists of the time I have remaining incarcerated, and the distant future which will be my release and freedom. In my immediate future, with news of a COVID-19 vaccine, I hope for some of my old normal, like the chance to regularly call, see or hug my loved ones during a visit.

For my distant future, I pray this pandemic will be well over. I would love nothing more than to live a normal life, work, and have a family of my own. I can’t help but be optimistic, because it honestly can’t be any worse than this.

I do my best to keep a positive attitude. Even though there are moments when the weight of my situation drags me down, I find a reason to smile. It’s these moments that tell me that while things may be bleak, there’s always a positive to take away. My positive from all of this is that in this dark tunnel, my reality, I can smile.

I can look up and I can see that bright light at the end of this tunnel.

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.

Stefan Ambriz-Coronado is a writer incarcerated in California.