Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Hunt Han on Unsplash

Lately, when I check my Jpay messages, I exhale deeply, steeling myself against the specter of bad news because my mother is unwell. I sometimes dial my mother’s number, and when she does not answer, the sense of panic has me seeking to escape like a caged beast. My stoic mask protects me from opportunistic parasites seeking hosts, just like the dreaded coronavirus. 

But outside, my immediate family’s health and wellbeing has fortunately been above average for most of the year. Out of my immediate family, I was the only one to contract the virus. But over the past couple of months the grim reaper has been circling members of my family.

My mom and dad are 80 and 85 years old, respectively, and my mother’s health has been failing since November. Not being present in the winter of my mother’s life means living in a state of continual angst and self-accusation while fearing her loss. Through my mother’s illness, I feel a connection to the millions of people who worry about loved ones sick with the virus or some other life-threatening event.

My mother’s frail state is inconceivable to me. She is a nurturing and loving woman who made her way from the segregated south and carved out a life for herself and children in New York City. 

Even though my youngest sister has done a great job of protecting her from the virus, she has been hospitalized several times and is now in a rehabilitation facility.  That’s worrying, since a third of all COVID deaths are in long term care facilities and the like. I pray my mother’s facility provides the necessary protective equipment, conducts regular testing and has appropriate protocols. 

Inside prison, coronavirus infections have been popping up in the population like dandelions in a haphazardly kept garden. New infections crop up because of negligence, circumstance and inevitability. 

A cluster appeared in the mental health unit. No one was surprised about it, as it can sometimes be hard for people with mental health issues to avoid high-risk behavior. There are also segments of the population and the staff that either don’t wear their masks, or only wear them sometimes. 

Officers and support staff get infected outside, and they interact with us, unaware they are contagious. It is impossible to effectively social distance in a place designed to warehouse the maximum number of human bodies. 

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.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.