Inside the Walls: Humanist Pen Pal Program Helps Isolated Inmates

Photo by selim blk on Unsplash

These days all we see is chaos due to the coronavirus pandemic. As each week passes, the world we see is so much different than the week before. This situation affects not only everyone on the outside, but also those of us in prison. We are classified as a “vulnerable population,” because if just one inmate or guard gets infected with COVID-19, it will spread like wildfire throughout the entire prison population. With nowhere to go, we too are feeling the stress, just as so many on the so-called outside.

All visitation has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, taking away much-needed contact from the outside for inmates with their family and friends. Also, due to social distancing guidelines, many important education and recovery groups that inmates rely on for support have been cancelled. Outside guests, who are so crucial to maintaining those groups, are also prohibited from coming inside the prison.

During times of crisis like we’re all experiencing today, it’s more important than ever to reach out to those we love and care about. The only way most inmates have left to communicate are through letters or expensive phone calls, placing incredible stress on an already stressful situation. The few positive distractions we had are gone and our ability to communicate is more limited than ever. Still, we’re doing our best to be optimistic and remain patient as we all get through this together.

With so little left to do, it certainly can be easy to lose focus and backslide into old destructive habits. Prison is already isolating, but now we’re stuck in our cells for twenty-two hours a day or more. Like many on the outside, we binge watch TV shows or reread whatever books we have in our cells as we pass the time. I’m thankful for the American Humanist Association’s Humanism for All Prisoners Pen Pal Program, which helps those of us isolated in here to maintain some contact with the outside world.

It’s important to be focused on our endgame for when this pandemic is over. There’s no doubt the country is going to get through this and life will go on, but we’re all going to have to get used to a new “normal.” It’s going to be a long, hard summer for everyone, but I for one am not going to let the coronavirus get me down or get the best of me. I want to have something to show for this time in isolation. I want to have used my time to read a new book or to have completed a goal of mine I’d been putting off. I want to help support others in here who need it.

Now is a chance for us to show what humanism is all about. I hope everyone else is able to make good use of their time and help whoever we can when they need it. Everyone needs to be smart out there, practice social distancing, and, most importantly, if you can just stay home!

Go to the AHA’s Humanism for All project for information on supporting incarcerated humanists and nones, including how to become a pen pal.

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