The COVID-19 Pandemic marks a tragic period in history

By David Moore

The COVID-19 Pandemic marks a tragic period in history. My utmost sympathies extend to everyone affected by the pandemic, sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones to the virus, and unequivocal appreciation to our nation’s front line first responders.

The pandemic has swept the globe in a treacherous storm. It has traversed the greatest oceans, invaded the shores of every nation, and is now pervading into the confines of the American prison systems. Department of Corrections staff, as asymptomatic carriers, unintentionally expose an underserved population who is often housed in an overpopulated state, a recipe for disaster. Similar to our country’s hotspots, areas worst hit by the Coronavirus, offenders are housed by the thousand in areas the size of small city blocks. They are forced to literally live on top of one another, waiting for the spark of the virus to set a burning blaze through the densely populated prison. Unfortunately, the charred remains won’t be forest, but human lives.

In Washington State, the Department of Corrections has made efforts to minimize offenders’ risk of exposure to the virus. This includes implementing basic social modifications experienced throughout the globe. Social distancing, bandana coffee filter face masks, extended periods of lockdown, and video visitation have become the new institutional norm. These are factors that only compound the intensity of the collective prison atmosphere, while edging individual mental health closer to its precipice.

Prisoners are people too. We have children, family, and friends that are at serious risk or have been victimized by the virus. Having become accustomed to the feeling of helplessness, fear has become its superior. The fear that our elderly parents may become condemned by infection, that our children may contract a serious illness, or that we may bear a lifetime of guilt from the loss of loved ones before an untimely release that was earned too late. These fears materialized into a stark reality when my father shared with me that he had been exposed to a confirmed carrier of the Coronavirus.

At the age of sixty-three, he’s a disabled epileptic that comfortably survives by a laundry list of prescribed medications. In the last decade he’s endured half as many surgeries, including the removal of a cyst from his brain, which led him to receive aid by a state funded care taker. It was this relationship that would lead to his exposure. After his care taker was notified of her personal exposure to the virus, she took a COVID test that required days to process. As she awaited her results, she continued to attend to my father in his home, without notifying him of her exposure nor her pending test. It was only after her results returned POSITIVE for COVID-19 that she warned him.

The fear in his voice emanated through the phone as he told me. He was already battling a case of pneumonia, and was now awaiting the results of his own COVID test. It was like awaiting judgment, knowing that a positive result would likely be a death sentence. The last phone call I had with my mom, before her unexpected passing while I was still in prison, surfaced with a cold furry. As he fought to retain composure, my father and I sparred with the lighthearted exchange of pleasantries, while I gently urged our conversation through last wishes. Without question, it was the hardest talk I ever had with him and the conclusion of that call was heart breaking. As a man, I struggle to express my emotions, yet here I was potentially talking to my father for the last time. I was in what felt like a fight for my own salvation to assuage his need for forgiveness, to tell him just how much I loved him, while trying to encourage him to stay optimistic.

Life has an impeccable way of reminding us how we take it for granted. It’s only when faced with death that we wake to the truth of our mortality. The real treasures of this earth are the people we share it with and the bonds we forge with them. As our lives converge, the time we’re afforded begins to dissipate, and before we’re ready it expires. The pandemic is a reminder to live our lives to the fullest, to not shelter in fear but love without constraint, and to not postpone what or who is significant til a tomorrow that may never come.

By the grace of god my father’s test returned negative. He’s doing well, stubborn as ever, but staying safe by staying home. Our prayers are with all the lives touched by the COVID-19 pandemic.