Covid Operations: Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh asked for compassionate release. It never came.

Alderson Federal Prison Camp is the oldest federal women’s prison in the United States. Founded in 1927, Alderson was meant to serve as a model of “reform”. Ten years ago, it became famous, or infamous, for housing Martha Stewart for a while. At that time, it was reputed to be one of the best prisons for women in the country. And what did that model of the best look like? “Overcrowded, understaffed, and short on funds … It now follows a punitive rather than a rehabilitative model …  There’s intimidation, humiliation, and sexual harassment … a symbol of all that’s wrong with how the criminal justice system deals with women.” Ten years or so later, what’s Alderson? “Covid-19 rips through West Virginia women’s prison as federal agency takes heat”. This is the story of compassion in the covid carceral. The is the story of Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh, three women who very reasonably asked for compassionate release. It never came, and, within one week in January, they died. There is no “heat” that can bring them back or bring justice for them or their loved ones.

Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh’s collective list of preexisting medical conditions included Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Any one of those should have qualified. Adams was denied. Eberbaugh was denied. Juanita Haynes was “granted release”, when she was already intubated. She died four days later. Because she died in hospital, a `free woman’, her death is not counted as a prison fatality by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Alderson Federal Prison Camp is indeed a model, as is FCI Waseca, another low-security federal prison for women that functions as a death trap.

In March 2020, Bree Eberbaugh applied for compassionate release. In August, she was denied. The judge said the cases were too few to warrant compassionate release. As of February 8, Alderson, with fewer than 700 `residents’, reported 50 cases. Many assume the numbers of both cases, and, given what happened to Juanita Haynes, deaths is considerably higher. Eberbaugh appealed that decision. In April 2021, the appeal was denied. Nine months later, Bree Eberbaugh died.

This is the text of the handwritten letter Bree Eberbaugh wrote to the judge after the first denial:

“Dear Your Honor:

I am writing to request your assistance to obtain an attorney through the federal public defender’s office to assist me with pursuing compassionate release or home confinement based on my three underlying medical conditions that place me at a much higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and suffering irreparable medical damage or loss of life.

COVID-19 has been confirmed in 114 of the 122 facilities in the BOP, yet the BOP is opening the facilities up to accept transfers from other institutions. Your Honor, it is only a matter of time before it reaches here and I am in fear of my life.

Please grant my legal counsel to properly represent my concerns and convey all that is happening that requires your assistance.

Thank you for your consideration and I anxiously await your reply.

Respectfully submitted,
Bree Eberbaugh”

Incarcerated people in federal and state prisons are twice as likely to die of Covid as the general population. The situation in jails is presumed to be worse, but there’s no data as of yet. When the pandemic is over, will we recall Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh, three women who asked for compassionate release that never came? Will we remember compassion itself?

 

(Photo Credit: Kaiser Health News / LJ Dawson)

In Covid-hit India, where are the women? In Byculla Women’s Jail, awaiting trial, awaiting death

When Covid hit India, the reports, and for some expectation, were that the State would consider pandemic measures, such as the need for social distancing, and would reduce the incarcerated populations. To no one’s great surprise, that did not happen generally, and in particular it did not happen in women’s jails and prisons. For example, the state of Maharashtra has 60 central and district jails. Of them, one, Byculla Women’s Jail, is the only one dedicated for women and children, but that doesn’t mean the conditions are in any way better. Byculla Women’s Jail has always been an overcrowded hellhole for women and children.

But first, let’s consider the national situation. The most recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s annual Prison Statistics of India looks at 2020. It finds, first, that, between 2015 and 2020, the prison population increased by 16.4%. In 2020, the number of undertrial prisoners increased by 11.7%. In 2020, there were 1427 women prisoners with 1628 children. 1184 were undertrial, with 1345 children. 214 convicted, w 246 children. Where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial. Occupancy rate for women in all jails at national level was 72.2%, but in many states the rate was much higher. 20,046 women were held in jail, of whom 15.4% were in women’s jails. The number of women in women’s jails increased 3.7% from 2015 – 2020; in Other Jails, 14.2%. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of convicted incarcerated people decreased by 16.1% while the number of undertrial inmates increased by 31.8%. Again, where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial.

In 2020, 4,83,585 were incarcerated: 4,64,260 men, 19,255 women, 70 transgenders were confined in various Indian jails at the end of the year 2020. Of that 4,83,585 population 3,68,381 were remand, awaiting trial. 96% are undertrial. Incarcerated women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly undertrial.

Finally, in 2020, 1,291,504 people awaiting trial were released. In 2019, that number was 1,606,731. So much for pandemic concerns.

Byculla Women’s Jail was at 101.5% of capacity, in the midst of the ferocious first wave that hit India, and Mumbai in particular, where Byculla is located.  On March 31, 2020, held 352 women. Its capacity is 200. That’s 176% occupancy rate.  Last September, when Covid raged through Byculla, the jail held close to 300 women. According to activist Sudha Bharadwaj, recently released, sort of, on bail from Byculla, her unit housed 75 women. It had a maximum capacity of 35. Women slept side by side by side on the floor, each on a mat the “size of a coffin. Overcrowding becomes a source of fights and tensions. There’s a queue for everything – food, toilets.” 24% of the women in Sudha Bharadwaj’s unit were infect with Covid: “The judiciary should consider decongesting our jails more seriously. Even during the pandemic most people did not get interim bail to return to their families.” In April 2021, Byculla accounted for 33% of the Covid cases in Mumbai’s five jails.

Amidst a pandemic and despite promises to reduce the incarcerated populations, why is Byculla Women’s Jail a death trap? Why is the entire prison system, the entire criminal justice system, filling prisons and jails with people who are presumed to be innocent and are awaiting trial? Why sentence people to death or serious infirmity in this manner? We have seen this before, in pretty much every carceral system in the world. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.” That original formulation pertained to Brazil, but we have seen it in the United States, England and Wales, South Africa and beyond. What happened in the prisons and jails of India in 2020,  during the pandemic, what happened in Byculla Women’s Jail? Absolutely nothing. Nothing happened … absolutely.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Art Work: Arun Ferreria / Free Them All)

 

In the Nova Institution for Women, Canada’s special hell for women, COVID runs rampant

In 1995, Canada opened the Nova Institution for Women, in Truro, Nova Scotia, and it’s been a hellhole for women ever since. In 2015, Veronica Park died of pneumonia, after begging for days for health care, to no avail. Three months later, Camille Strickland-Murphy, after a series of incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts, none of which were attended to, killed herself. Earlier, in 2006, Nova Institution was the first station in Ashley Smith’s journey into suicide. In 2019, Samantha Wallace-Parker died of pneumonia, after begging for days for health care, to no avail. In 2020, Lisa Adamsexperienced Nova’s dry cell, a cell without running water or toilet, for 16 days. These are just the best known stories, all of which end up in court. But that was all `prepandemic’. 2022 opens with COVID running rampant through the Nova Institution for Women, and the thing is, all of this was predictable, everyone in charge knew, and they did nothing, worse than and less than nothing.

Today, Martha Paynter, who is “a registered nurse who researches prisoner health, and as a community advocate for people in prisons for women”, wrote, “The news that 49 people (24 prisoners, at least 25 staff) have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the Nova Institution for Women, a federal prison in Truro, brings a nightmare we foresaw … into reality … Federal prison is a $2.4 billion/year operation. We need to stop throwing money at this system and redirect it to meaningfully address the trauma and poverty that drives criminalization. The horror of mass infection at the Truro prison must finally change our thinking.”

Again, all of this was foreseen. In 2020, Martha Paynter wrote, “Prisons are petri dishes. Hundreds of people are under one roof with poor ventilation, barriers to health services, substandard nutrition, limited participation in exercise and time outdoors and inadequate information provision.”

What else is there to say? The petri dish has done what it’s designed to do. Advocates, like Martha Paynter, are calling on the State to release the women. The State has responded with lockdown. In one day, the cases jumped from 8 to 38. There’s less testing in federal prisons than in the general population, to no one’s surprise. In 2020, a study found the following: “There were 59 cases of COVID-19 in women’s penitentiaries. These represented 31% of all cases in federal penitentiaries, suggesting that women, and women’s penitentiaries, are over-represented among COVID-19 cases inside federal prisons. COVID-19 prevalence was 8 times higher among women’s prisons (8% prevalence) than prisons for men (1% prevalence) and 80 times higher than in the general Canadian population (0.1%).”

COVID-19 prevalence was 8 times higher among women’s prisons than prisons for men and 80 times higher than in the general Canadian population. That was two years ago. Today, the situation for women held in prison is worse. This is not failure, this is petri dish public policy, designed for incarcerated women. Don’t fix it, shut it down.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Saltwire / Chelsea Gould)

FCI Waseca did not fail to assure the safety of incarcerated women; it refused to do so

This week, Utah’s Legislative Auditor General submitted a performance of health care in Utah’s state prisons. The Auditor found “systemic deficiencies”: “The lack of follow-up and patient monitoring is a systemic concern that extends beyond the Covid pandemic.” Reading this report, it’s a wonder that anyone survives Utah’s prisons. In fact, they don’t. According to a report earlier this year, “people in Utah’s prisons were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the average Utahn.” While five times more likely is high, it’s not much higher than prisons across the United States, boasting four times the infection rate of the country’s general population. And then there’s FCI Waseca, a low-security Federal prison for women, located in Waseca, Minnesota. FCI Waseca houses 756 women, of whom, according to the latest number from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 132 are currently infected with Covid. That’s the most of any Federal prison. The next in line is a Federal prison in Pollock, Louisiana, with 30 incarcerated people infected. FCI Pollock houses 1,556 incarcerated people. Less than 2% of FCI Pollock is infected with Covid; 17% of those in Waseca are Covid-infected.  Waseca accounts for 47% of all infected incarcerated people in the U.S. Federal prison system. These numbers provide the profile for “low security”.

At 199 Covid infections per 100,000, Waseca County has the highest rate of Covid infection of any county in the United States. Minnesota state prisons house 7,323 incarcerated people. Of that population, 95 are currently Covid infected, far less than 1%, although one prison, MCF Lino Lakes, 70 of its 911 incarcerated residents are Covid infected, a little under 8%.

Since the start of the pandemic, around 450 incarcerated women have tested positive for Covid. On Wednesday, December 8, the ACLU sued both FCI Waseca’s warden and the Director of the U.S. Bureau of Federal Prisons, claiming that the prison failed to take measures to contain Covid. FCI Waseca failed to release women with medical conditions to home confinement and failed to reduce the prison population sufficient for any kind of social distancing. That was no failure, that was refusal.

FCI Waseca is organized as dormitories with bunk beds kept close together. Everything is done in fairly tight common, social spaces. None of that was changed in any way in response to Covid. In August, a group of around 40 women was transferred from a facility in Oklahoma, a facility which was reporting Covid infections. The women from Oklahoma were placed in bunk beds in a unit with other bunk bedded women right next to them. Within weeks, most of the women in that unit tested positive for Covid.

What is there to say? FCI Waseca refused to address Covid, refused to respect women’s Constitutional rights to safety, refused to imagine an alternative to packing them in until it’s time to go. “Low security” should not be a death sentence nor should it mean being endangered. In fact, nothing should be a death sentence, but there we are. Two years into a pandemic, and we continue to cling desperately to the charnel house as the only way. If nothing else, by this point, perhaps people will stop saying, “The prison failed” to do this or that. There was no failure, there was only refusal, in broad daylight for all to see and without any remorse whatsoever.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Kayla Salisbury / The Marshall Project)

Covid Operations: In prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, the United States refuses to address Covid

In June, the Florida Department of Corrections ended all Covid-related pandemic emergency protocols. This includes reporting, and so now, although cases increase and people behind bars are dying, the state issues no reports. It’s none of your or our business. Go away. Florida is not an outlier. The whole country has refused do care for people behind bars. According to the most recent Prison Policy Initiative analysis, the United States gets an F, the Federal Bureau of Prisons gets an F. 42 state prison systems get F or F+. The highest grade went to New Jersey, C. Another study, looking at jail populations, finds that one of the best forms of Covid mitigation – along with vaccination, mask mandates, social distancing – is jail decarceration: “The globally unparalleled system of mass incarceration in the US, which is known to incubate infectious diseases and to spread them to broader communities, puts the entire country at distinctive epidemiologic risk …. Public investment in a national program of large-scale decarceration and reentry support is an essential policy priority for reducing racial inequality and improving US public health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity.” As to immigrant detention centers, “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proven itself ill-equipped to manage the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in its detention facilities.” This applies as well to the “nongovernmental detainee facilities across the country”, such as the Otay Mesa Detention Center, site of the largest Covid outbreak among detained migrants … thus far. Say what you like about Florida, when it comes to concern for the vulnerable, for care of those people living and suffering in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, it’s just one of the guys.

As the Prison Policy Initiative analysis suggests, this shouldn’t have been so complicated or difficult. Reduce the prison population. Reduce infection and death rates behind bars. Vaccinate everyone living behind bars. Address basic health and mental health needs through easy policy changes: waive video and phone call charges; provide masks and hygiene products; suspend medical co-pays; require staff wear masks; require staff be tested regularly. That’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. Everyone failed. I know … New Jersey got a C, California a C-Everyone else got a D or F.New Jersey vaccinated and released many living behind bars, but New Jersey’s infection rate in prisons was almost four times higher than the state COVID infection rate, and the prison Covid mortality rate was almost double that of the state.

Four states – California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey – made significant efforts to reduce prison population, partly through early release, early medical parole, suspension of incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole. Even with that, no state actually passed: “the nation’s response to the pandemic behind bars has been a shameful failure.” The response is shameful because there has been no response, and here I don’t only mean on the part of prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Where is the outrage? Where is the attention? Other than the usual suspects, who really cares? The failure is shameful because it is part and parcel of the national project. This is us, brutal and bankrupt in our lack of concern.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Photo Credit: The Guardian / Tannen Maury / EPA)

Prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers are deathtraps. What else is there to say? Do not look away.

Where are the women? Where is Andrea Circle Bear? On April 22, 2020, The New York Times reported that 7 of the 10 largest Covid-19 clusters in the United States are prisons and jails. Today, The New York Times returns to the scene of the crime – prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Their article opens, “Worldwide, about 2 in 100 people are known to have had the coronavirus. In the United States, which has among the worst infection rates globally, the number is 9 in 100. Inside United States prisons, the rate is 34 in 100, more than three times as high …. Over the past year, more than 1,400 new inmate infections and seven deaths, on average, have been reported inside those facilities each day …. The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 have died in custody.” What else is there to say? Overcrowding, criminally poor health systems, failure – or refusal – to test prisoners, laissez faire as a form of mass execution, a half century of mass incarceration come home to roost. Remember Andrea Circle Bear, who died in federal custody, April 28, 2020, the first woman to die of Covid in federal custody, Andrea Circle Bear who should have never been in prison in the first place? Andrea Circle Bear was in FMC Carswell. How are things at FMC Carswell today? In mid-February, weeks after the winter storms had knocked out electricity across Texas, of 1,288 prisoners, 30 officially were infected with Covid, although many manifest symptoms. Because of lack of planning, or refusal to plan or care, women went for days without heat or water. Women who are quarantined are “treated absolutely horribly”, according to Faith Blake, the name plaintiff in a suit against FMC Carswell. According to the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, FMC Carswell’s cumulative case rate is currently 60 percent. You know what FMC stands for? Federal Medical Center. FMC Carswell is the only medical center for women in entire federal Bureau of Prisons. What else is there to say?

Where are the women? Where is Colony Wilson? Colony Wilson was a prisoner at the Birmingham Women’s Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, in Birmingham, Alabama. On May 11, 2020, Colony Wilson collapsed in a stairwell, in full view of staff and inmates. Staff did nothing for seven minutes and wouldn’t allow others to help her up the stairs to the clinic. According to inmates, Colony Wilson collapsed and couldn’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Staff yelled at her to get up and waited seven minutes. Colony Wilson died on May 11. On May 10, Colony Wilson had complained of difficulty breathing. The incident on May 11 was the second time she collapsed in the span of 24 hours. Colony was never tested for coronavirus, not by the coroner nor by the prison: “Alabama’s prisons have among the lowest testing rates and the second-lowest case rate of all state prison systems — but among the highest coronavirus death rates in the nation.” Colony Wilson was 40 years old when she died … or was executed.

According to the Covid Prison Project, as of April 9, there have been 388,520 cases among people incarcerated in prison and 2,443 deaths of incarcerated individuals in prison due to Covid-19. Remember Colony Wilson, who was never tested for coronavirus, neither by the coroner nor by the prison. Remember Andrea Circle Bear. Where are the women? Do not look away.  

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The Guardian/Tannen Maury/EPA) 

When it comes to a COVID 19 vaccine, fairness in health care is not in sight

We believe that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be distributed fairly in our world. Why? We know about the systemic inequality of the world organized according to race, gender, and class that determines who are the have and the have-nots, the ones who may live and the ones who must die.

The race to get the vaccine has started. A recently released OXFAM report confirms that health inequality is well established in a market-driven environment, concluding that wealthy nations, representing 13% of the world population, have already struck a deal with the five big pharmaceutical companies to receive 51% of the promised doses of the vaccine. The distribution of health care vs. excessive wealth is still following the same pattern as before the pandemic struck, despite all the promises of change. Of course, this is no surprise. The profit market system has generated inequalities in every aspect of modern society while justifying it with illusionary access to modern technology and comfort.

The coronavirus pandemic’s story has generated an interlocking system throwing into deeper poverty many women, children, and men. It has revealed the dirty secret that the neoliberal system only serves the wealthy to make them wealthier. Déjà vu! Yes, but what is striking is the nature of the discourses about solidarity in this world pandemic, making populations believe that the market had gotten the message of its inability to serve us. Although the discussion of the Coronavirus 19 has been technical, it has rarely linked this new type of virus behavior to deforestation and the industrial production of meat.

Similarly, the absurdity of the global neoliberal monopoly approach to global health is kept invisible and not discussed as the pandemic’s leading cause and its consequences. In the 1980s, we saw the devastating effects of the Structural Adjustment Programs on global health. Restricting access to healthy living was part of that program. By the same token, we have seen the impact of this approach on AIDS, the Executive Director of the UNAIDS reminded the public that “the corporations use monopolies to artificially restrict supplies of life-saving medicine and inflate their prices.”

Big pharma industry’s ethics-devoid lobbying is supported by a number of world leaders and quietly pulls the political process’s strings, warping the solidarity attempt to have a patent-free accessible worldwide vaccine. The Oxfam report underlines the absurdity of not sharing and cooperating: “The estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy.”

Meanwhile, COVAX is an entity whose goal is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and “guaranteeing” fair and equitable access for every country in the world. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO. It aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, pledges to ensure that no one is left behind in having access to health care, including the vaccine. It regroups The World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is presented as playing a critical role in strengthening primary health care (PHC). These entities have minimal means and might also be influenced by massive lobbying.  

All these mechanisms and the pledges of some countries to support COVAX might be vain in this neoliberal environment as freedom for the few is synonymous with freedom to purchase. The absurdity of not considering the global interest of solidarity in facing a pandemic mirrors the folly of continuing politics of gender discrimination, impoverishing environmental equilibrium (encouraging fossil fuel use, deforestation, the industrialization of food production, etc.).  In all cases, women and girls lose out, and they will be the ones on whom the burden of protecting life will fall. 

(Image Credit: Cristian Newman) (Photo Credit: Avel Chuklanov)

Jails, prisons, detention centers are still COVID death traps, where, despite promises, people in large numbers are left to die. Where is the global outrage?

Two months ago, prisons and jails made up seven of the ten largest COVID clusters in the United States. Hands were wrung, voices raised, promises made. Today … the situation remains the same, and not only in the United States. In the past six days, we’ve `learned’ that prisons in Turkeythe United KingdomMexico are scandals and worse. In the jails of Maharashtra, in western India, prisoners are tested for COVID … but only once they’re dead, and even then there’s no contact tracing. Across the United States, COVID carceral policy is referred to as a massacrepunishment by pandemic, a death sentence, and a death trap. Over the weekend, COVID cases in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona `surged’ by 460%. This list is the smallest fraction of the so-called news over the past six days. As national trends more or less flatten, prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers rates zoom skyward. In response, prisons use solitary confinement more intensely and more oftenwhich only drives infection and self-harm rates higher and higherSome are saying it’s already too late. Women are at the center of this map of abandonment and deceit. Where are the women? Everywhere. Where is the global outrage? Nowhere to be seen.

According to a recent report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, in England, women prisoners’ rate of self-harm has risen precipitously since March. Women prisoners generally have higher rates of self-harm than male prisoners, largely because so many are living with trauma and mental illness, generally. This has been exacerbated by a new policy of 23-hour a day lockdown. Again, most of the women are in jail and prison for non-violent so-called offenses that would not have been considered criminal in earlier times. One woman, currently held at London’s HMP Downview, has petitioned the United Nations for help. Meanwhile, despite all the promises concerning prisoners living with underlying conditions, as of yet, a trickle has actually been allowed early release, fewer than 30 a week. Yet again, women are at the core of this policy of abandonment and abuse. Despite earlier promises, as of early this week, a sum total of six pregnant prisoners had been released. Twenty-nine pregnant women are still waiting to be released. Of 34 women in mother-and-baby units, 16 have been released. The English government spent £4,000 for electronic tags, to facilitate the release of prisoners. The money was delivered, the tags were delivered, the prisoners remain in solitary confinement in deathtrap prisons and jails. They call it compassionate release.

The same story is true in the United States. In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happened. The prisoners and their loved ones are losing hope, and so the system is working perfectly. Seven women currently housed at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, KCIW, are suing for release. All of the women have serious underlying conditions; the rates of infection are rising precipitously; practically no one is being released. In Louisiana, the men’s prisons have somewhat dodged the COVID bullet … for now. But the women’s prisons, which are more dilapidated and more overcrowded, are recording infection rates between 60% and close to 90%. Nothing is being done to address the situation in Louisiana’s women’s prisons, less than nothing. Almost no one is getting `compassionate release’ and no one in charge has a plan, other than solitary confinement, to address the severe overcrowding. From sea to shining sea … 

Again, this is the news from only the past six days. Promise that you’ll release pregnant women, and then do nothing. Promise that you’ll take care of those with underlying conditions, and then do nothing. Or worse, institute universal solitary confinement protocols. The situation in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers has been referred to as “the hidden scandal”, but it’s neither hidden nor, actually, scandalous. It’s the logical consequence of five decades of mass and hyper incarceration; of urban development through racist and misogynist violence under the name of policing; and of abandonment as the only real public and mental health system provided. Where is the global outrage at this situation? Nowhere to be seen. But hey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

(Photo Credit: KentuckyToday)

Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

Since we’ve been back at school, I’ve managed to wake up before the alarm every single day. Yesterday I woke up with a fluttering heart just after 5, and after 6 today. Not cool for a weekend. Especially not when you have to be at your full senses, on high alert for the coming week. Being positive, encouraging the kids, telling them how brave and wonderful they are, because they are, staying in touch with the kids who are still home, teaching in the real and virtual world, trying to teach, be expressive and animated with a mask on, watching which board marker you pick up, using the same pen for everything, not being able to walk to a desk, hand on child’s shoulder and explain. Coming home, absolutely famished because you only drink the coffee which the hubby packs, because you had a sandwich at school once since being back, but you didn’t know which side plate to use and it was embarrassing having to raise and lower the mask everytime someone came into the staffroom and you imagine the virus lurking in every surface which you know has been sanitized.

Watching these amazing teenagers listen intently, take in every single word we say, fear for their future, ask if they will have to repeat the grade, be afraid to even speak to each other. I miss their quick retorts, funny quips, and especially their random, offbeat questions and comments. We used to ‘get’ each other. Now we’re just afraid of getting the virus from each other.

Watching your friends and colleagues struggle with their own fears, speaking to parents’ concerns about their child at school, their child at home, their child with a co-morbiditiy, their child without a co-morbiditiy, but with vulnerable family members. The parents’ huge and understandable irritation and then their ensuing vitriolic expression when Ministers and MECs don’t say the same thing. Being at the receiving end of that expression, but using diplomacy and exercising patience when you yourself are ANGRY! Watching our principal try and do the right thing by everybody, carrying what seems too much on those slight shoulders. Being available to parents at odd hours because questions, fear, anger and confusion knows no school hours.

Since Lockdown started, we’ve repeatedly told the kids and their parents ‘We’re in this together and we’ll get through it together’…. Now I’m not so sure. What will we come out as? Resilient, tenacious and ALIVE, or defeated, overwhelmed…

I remind myself, as I remind any other teacher and parent reading this, we can only take it one day at a time, and most importantly, this is the time to have and exercise an active and living faith.

Wishing you a blessed Sunday. Do what makes you happy. Be kind to and gentle with yourself. Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

(Photo Credit: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency / Cape Times)

We didn’t get to finish

Tembinkosi Qondela

We didn’t get to finish

We didn’t get to finish
a social media dialogue
in between the music
I sent TQ to keep
our spirits up

We didn’t get to finish
he asking leading questions
in response to my saying
that I miss the schoolchildren

What will you do he asks
when most are infected 
the school has to close 
and you can’t even 
visit them at the hospital 

Children whose nutrition 
and immune system 
is compromised are also 
vulnerable and then they 
bring it home to those 
who are more vulnerable

Whizz Centre suspended classes 
for 60 of their learners 
who were a major source 
of the Centre’s income
putting people’s health first

This is the TQ we knew
health before profit
health before economy 
not economy before health
he maintained you cannot sacrifice 
people’s health for the economy

Then he asks me
what is this economy 
we are talking about  
are we talking about 
food or gold

We didn’t get to finish

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Tembinkosi Qondela)