Many people in jails and prisons lack connection with the outside world; many do not even have a window in their cells. Prisoners suffer from mental illness at a much higher rate than the average population, which is not surprising given their circumstances. However, inadequate access to psychological services is widespread. In some correctional facilities, prison guards have the ability to place inmates in solitary confinement for up to two years, sometimes for merely talking back. If this is not considered cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. We expect people to go insane if they cannot talk to anyone but themselves for days on end, and yet the practice of isolating prisoners is commonly occurring and widely accepted. Imagine being in quarantine for the coronavirus— trapped in a room with no face to face interaction for up to fourteen days. Do you think you’d go a little crazy? Now imagine being in that room for 730 days. If there is a question as to why recidivism rates are so high, therein lies the answer. Not to mention inmates who have been beaten and starved for finding their voice and using it like Kevin Rashid Johnson.
As if the challenges that prisoners face on a daily basis were not enough, a pandemic arrives. Inmates are much more susceptible to contracting and dying from the coronavirus due to overcrowding and lack of social distancing. Many prisoners exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus are not even tested. According to The Washington Post, data being published on coronavirus cases within prisons lacks transparency and is underreported due to limited testing.
We have a responsibility to our fellow humans to show compassion and to help each other. The most vulnerable are the discarded— those hidden away in boxes in America’s basement. The door is shut and no one can hear their cries. But are we even listening? America has her headphones on and is too busy filling her mind with noise. Scrolling mindlessly. We need to realize what so many other developed nations already have and that prisoners are still human beings who deserve to be shown compassion and mercy. Society needs to stop its willing forgetfulness of millions of people. The sooner we realize that the sooner the suffering can end.
One easy thing we can do to make a small difference in the life of an inmate is to write them a letter and encourage them to write back. The power of listening is highly underestimated. Listening to someone, even if it’s from within a letter, can provide them with reassurance and comfort. I want to give them a voice, even if I’m the only one who can hear it. I want to make them feel heard, even if it’s just some random college student who is listening. If me sending them a letter makes their day the slightest bit more tolerable, it is worth it. I want them to know someone is out there who cares about what they have to say, what they have been through, and what they are going through right now. Because that is what I would hope someone would be doing for me if I had no one.