Photo by Umanoide on Unsplash

Isn’t it ironic that over the months since the coronavirus pandemic began countless politicians, celebrities, and mental health professionals have spoken on TV advocating for the mental health of the general public who have been self-quarantined in the comfort of their own homes with their families and loved ones. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania prisoners on the Restricted Release List (RRL) are forced to endure quarantine-styled solitary confinement for years, with very little or no mental health advocacy.

Among those of us who have been socially distant for years due to long, racially-biased and socioeconomically slanted prison sentences, RRL status prisoners are the only ones being subjected to the psychological torture of long-term sensory deprivation. The Pennsylvania Department of Correction’s (DOC) mental health professionals seem to show little or no concern for those of us who have been exiled from the general population for an indeterminate period of time. Periodic doorway check-ins that feel mostly rote and shallow.

Recently, I was infuriated and offended by people I saw on network news complaining about being quarantined on a five-star luxury cruise ship for 14 days. They were comparing their posh living conditions with being in prison, calling themselves “inmates” and referring to the ship’s captain as their “warden.” 

In comparison, hundreds of RRL prisoners remain in solitary confinement for years, in the harshest conditions that the law allows, yet they try to survive through this time with some semblance of sanity and dignity.

Meanwhile, the mainstream news outlets highlight the mental health concerns of quarantined cruise ship passengers and crew as “human interest” stories while there seems to be so little interest in the humanity of RRL prisoners. Kim Kardashian West has done more for prisoners in recent history than Governor Wolf and his “liberal” administration.

DOC Secretary John Wetzel recently issued a reprieve for 150 nonviolent, low-level prisoners who were already on their way out of prison without his intervention. I’ve been in the Restricted Housing Unit in solitary confinement longer than most of those reprieved prisoners have even been in prison? 

Where’s the reprieve for those of us languishing on RRL in “RHU Purgatory” with no purpose or finish line in sight? 

Ironically, RRL prisoners are probably the least likely to contract COVID-19 because of the Draconian conditions of our confinement.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Michael Rivera

Michael Rivera is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.