Lady Unchained: Coronavirus Lockdown Vs Prison Lockdown

Lady Unchained is a Poet and Founder of Unchained Poetry, a platform for artists with experience of the criminal justice system and is a member of a Spokesperson network being piloted by sounddelivery. In this guest blog she shares her experience of prison and how the coronavirus lockdown is affecting those in prison, and those who have left.

It’s taken me a while to post anything about #COVID19. I can’t even lie the last few days, weeks, month have been a bit mad. I’ve found myself feeling sad, lonely, angry and depressed, all the emotions you’re forced to understand in prison. And it took me on a downward spiral.

To me the word ‘lockdown’ means hot water and being behind your door in prison or you’ll get written up. So straight away all my triggers have been poked at. I know self-isolation is to protect me, but they also told me prison would help me and that was a lie so I find myself confused.

So for the last few days, I have decided to act like I am in prison.

Wake up exercise, eat, write, sleep, cry, exercise, eat and drink.

Apart from the drink everything else is just like prison, and somehow my prison routine is what got me out of my hole. I am slowly returning to normality.

With social distancing and having to stay inside I told my friends to avoid shouting at me through the window. I think that would push me over the edge. I already live in a block that I only realised it looks like the inside of a prison after I went to jail. So trust me I am working overtime to ensure that I know I am Free.

I know we are all going through so many emotions, but I want you to think about the people in prison at this time. Not being able to see your family in general is a madness, but now you can’t see them at all, let alone talk to them. I would hate to be in prison now.  At the moment I have to run even faster to the landline, just in case it’s a prison call, because now if you miss the call, you have no idea when they will next call back. And trust me I know how it feels to make that call and not get an answer but still get charged for that one second of voicemail. So if you have a loved one in prison try to email a prisoner, if you have not yet tried it, messages are being received a lot faster which is amazing. I had four prison visits booked and they all got cancelled. I understand it’s for our own safety again, but they were all birthday visits. I don’t know how I would have coped without seeing my family on that day in prison, so I’m praying for everyone in that dark place. Keep Your Head Up. I have a Whatsapp group for my Unchained Artists, who all have experience of the criminal justice system, we always try to check in on each other. Being on lockdown after lockdown is not easy, but WE are the Experts right now.

As I slowly rebuild myself mentally, I’m starting to reconnect with organisations I had already made plans to work with this year. I’m trying to see how I can get session plans and other motivational material into prisons, so my brothers and sisters in there know I’m still thinking of them. Lockdown out here will never be as bad as it is in prison, at least we still have the power to connect to each other through social media, and having the power to pick up your phone or not is a massive thing we should not take lightly.

In this time people in prison can’t even attend education but we can still leave our homes for essentials, and go back to the shop if you forget something. Imagine being told you have to wait a week before you can get that one thing you forgot? People in prison must think the world is going crazy fighting over toilet roll, that’s a luxury in there. In prison you have to press the buzzer if you run out, and hope there’s an officer available to answer you or hope a fellow inmate is close enough to swing you some through the window.

I’ve read about the potential early release of some prisoners that would mean we get to see some of our people free finally. As happy as it makes me to think people close to me could be freed, I’m left with the question where will all the released prisoners go if they have no family or support? Anyone?

I recorded some videos for National Prison Radio’s show Straightline on experiences of prison, and these are definitely needed in a time like this. For me it’s a reminder that I am a strong black woman, and sometimes I just need a reminder. I have worked so hard to build Unchained Poetry, I realised after prison and being arrested over and over again, I needed to find something to hold on to. Something I loved waking up and doing, instead of hating myself and who I thought I had become after prison. Watching videos I have done to motivate others, others who’ve been through the criminal justice system is now what I am using to motivate myself.  I’ve always said listen to that inner voice.

I want this to show that in the darkest of times, we can find light in the smallest things. And trust me they are all around us, you are that light for yourself and others. Your words, your story, your voice is exactly what someone needs to hear right now, so share it. This is how I’m digging myself out of my lockdown hole of depression and I hope that we now understand just how connected we truly are to each.

“I want us to understand that we are all connected, through sight, sound and touch. And when we look up we see the same sky, we breathe the same air and when we bleed we bleed the same colour” 

The Forgotten People- Lady Unchained

About the Author:  

Lady Unchained is a Poet and Founder of Unchained Poetry, a platform for artists with experience of the criminal justice system and is a member of a Spokesperson network being piloted by sounddelivery.

@UnchainedP

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