Coffee Hour

The Real Loss of Liberty: Experiencing Isolation in Isolation

We spend a lot of time talking about creators during lockdown, about missing people and restricted freedoms during lockdown, but one thing that hasn’t been spoken about is what it’s like to have a loved one in prison during this time.

If you have a person in prison, it is already likely that you don’t see them often enough as it is. You wake up, and they’re not there, you have birthdays, graduations, parties, births and marriages, and they are absent, undoubtedly felt by everyone. It takes money, time and effort to work your life around them, which can already take an emotional and mental toll on the relative. Add lockdown to that mix, and the toll can be doubled.

It’s easy to say ‘oh well everyone separated from loved ones’ but being separated because of lockdown, and being separated because of a prison sentence during lockdown, are not the same thing. Though most of us might be separated from loved ones during lockdown, we can still FaceTime them, call them, or even sneak out to see them. If your loved one is in HMP, there is (usually) none of that. There is no FaceTime, there are no calls past six, or if you’re lucky past midnight. Some calls can last no longer than 10 minutes, letters are being delayed, and above all, there is no hope of you seeing them, or even bumping into them. Fathers or mothers are missing valuable time with their children, time that was already restricted and partners who are already feeling the loss of their other half 90 % the time, now feel it’s 99% of the time.

On top being angry that you can’t see your loved one, you might worry about their health – after all this is a pandemic. You fear that Govs might bring it in if for your loved gets ill the prison system does not give a damn about inmates enough to looking after them properly, or respond quickly enough for them to get treatment. You cannot care for themselves, and you can’t really tell them how to care for themselves because there may not be the facilities for that. You wait by the phone to hear from them, worrying that something might be wrong if you don’t hear from them for a day or two. If you do talk to them, you end up listening for every little cough or sniffle that, in such a confined space, could develop into something fatal. And in an institution that does not have the funds, or inclination, to ensure that proper measurements are being taken to keep inmates safe, that can produce a nagging worry that eats away at the back of your mind.

And yes lockdown will end eventually end, but the likelihood is that it will take longer for this to effect HMP. Now, this may not be the case, so if this does apply to you do not panic because I may be completely wrong, but given the way the visiting system is set up, it is likely that prison visits will be up and running much later than the rest of British social life.

You can’t carry out social distancing in a visiting hall unless everyone is on closed visits, which would be a terrible thing.  Even if you are a married couple, you are no longer from the same household anymore so physical contact could still be dangerous and visiting halls and visiting centres harbours for disease. With too many people coming in and out, it just doesn’t make sense to lift start-up visits again until we’re 100 per cent confident that it would not cause devastation.

So while everyone else can guarantee that they will probably see their loved ones in a few months and be able to be with him/ her 100% of the time, there are people in our society that are never really talked about, who also have loved ones, but because of HMP, they don’t know when they will see them again. And when they do, who knows how much family time would have been missed what effect it will have had on the relationship and on their mental health. And a two-hour visit won’t nearly be as sweet a reunion as being able to stay with your loved under the same roof for an extended amount of time like everyone else.

That being said, those who have decided that they should be rioting in Hyde Park are ungrateful and selfish. These are people who have never known what it is like to truly be controlled by anyone, let alone the government, but now that there is a little bit of restriction they go mad, acting as if we are at the beginning of a dictatorship. These people probably have no idea what it is like to actually have their liberties taken away or have their entire life controlled by the state. They have no clue of what it feels like to have your loved one moved around the country at the will of a Governor and, now, have your whole carefully ordered routine of visits, heartache and work, thrown up in the air because of COVID-19. And the fact that this isn’t really being talked about it astonishing. None of us is perfect, so we shouldn’t be quick to discard others, their decisions or, what they may be feeling simply because the person they love is in prison. You think that you have it hard now? You think that you’re being brutally separated from your loved ones? You think that lockdown is taking its toll on you and your relationship – none of us can even begin to imagine what it’s like having a loved one in prison during lockdown.

For anyone who is feeling the strain of lockdown while their loved one is in prison, don’t suffer in silence. There are helplines available, like the Prisons Family Helpline for you to get information on how visits are being effected by COVID or if you just for you to talk to someone who understands. You will get through this.

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