The prison has been in Red or Yellow Covid modified operations since I arrived here. That means controlled movements where foot traffic through the compound is prohibited unless it’s during the 5 minutes between when a call is initiated and when it ends. The two main housing units are allowed minimal interaction with one another. Masks have to be worn everywhere except when sleeping or eating. There are a plethora of obscure restrictions created more to shield a prison from liability than to combat the actual spread of covid – which is a near impossible task in a prison. When any sickness comes through here, be it covid, a common cold or the flu, it ravages through the unit like a wildfire in August. By the time everyone becomes sick some people experience sore throats, others nausea, yet others have coughing and headaches. It’s like a buffet of illnesses and symptoms. You bide your time and enjoy the healthy days you have because it’s a ticking time bomb you cannot escape.
It’s frustrating at first, the sickness and the covid restrictions, but as with most things, being annoyed is harder than giving in and getting over it. The outlook for an open compound appeared promising several months ago, then the Delta variant came to visit. As it wound down Omicron shows up and resulted in a full lockdown of our unit, followed by a visit to the Covid isolation unit for the 200+ inmates who tested positive for the virus.
A Green schedule started to become the thing of lore. Inmates who have been here for several years would talk about how things ‘used to be’ and it began to feel more like a folktale than true stories. In my early months I would yearn for what could be, how it would feel if we had that limited freedom inside an environment designed to take away freedom. Then I eventually learned to deal with what is. A far easier and more temperamentally pleasing option.
The paradox of choice highlights the freedom that comes with limitations. If you give a person three options, they are likely to choose one. Give them twenty and they are more apt to become overwhelmed and choose nothing. Having a restricted schedule and a closed compound was by no means enjoyable. The limitations it imposed we’re a frequent test of willpower and practicing acceptance. On the other hand, it clarified the days. If it was a rec day, you went to rec. Lifting weights, playing handball, playing pickleball, walking the track. If it was one of the lockdown days, I eased into life more than I would have had I had access to the gym everyday. I read far more than I otherwise might have. Played guitar in a basement when I instead might have gone outside. I would write or watch an old movie. I learned how to be still, really still. Reading all day long type of still.
Many inmates talk about how you need to stay busy to make the time pass. I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t agree with the method. You don’t need to fill every hour of every day in an attempt to disguise your reality. That somehow keeping your mind occupied is the key to mentally winning. For me, it was the opposite. It’s not that I was doing nothing, but that I grew to expect nothing other than what I had. To be okay doing not what would have been my first, second, or third choice. In the end, it worked out fine and I can slow my role like an absolute champ these days. If you want to sit around, read books, take a nap, then read more and throw in a game of chess or spades I am on it. It’s not that I was being lazy or unproductive, I had to adapt to the circumstances and what was out of my control.
Daylight Savings Time came last week. Controlled moves are finally gone as well. The week before that was freezing cold and full of snow. Now it’s gorgeous out but at the same time, it will be nice out all day long. All week long. And it’s only the beginning of Spring. We’re not going to start our workout until 1pm and while everyone is rushing out of the unit to go to yard, I’m ready to finish the book I started earlier this week.
The thing that’s starting to frighten me about my perception of the past is that however it went, however anything went, it’s gone, done. There are always lessons to be learned and unfortunately people will frequently find something new to complain about. For now, however, we have some semblance of what we said would make the time here easier and I need to appreciate that.