325

U$A: From Solitary Confinement to Coronavirus Quarantine

I’ve Spent 27 Years in Solitary Confinement. Here Are Some Tips on Making the Best Use of Time Alone.

By Keith Lamar, via AMW.

In solitary, I’m already quarantined somewhat. The only way we would get sick is if a CO [correctional officer] or somebody brings it in. It’s probably inevitable because the guards, even if they don’t have a temperature, can still be carrying the virus. And they are the ones who pass out mail, who give us food. I’m doing what I can in terms of washing my hands frequently, but there’s only so much you can do. You just sitting here waiting to catch it.

I had a strict rule with my family that if anyone is sick please don’t come visit, because once you get the flu [here] it’s just torture. They don’t give you any medications, beyond ibuprofen, so you pretty much have to suffer through. If you catch something as severe as coronavirus, I don’t know how they intend to deal with that. Perhaps they would ship you out to another facility, a hospital. I’m definitely afraid.

They have suspended all visitations, so our families aren’t able to come. Before, I was getting five to six visits a month: nieces and nephews, my uncles, aunts, friends. I realize there’s a pandemic, so I’m all for suspending visits temporarily. My fear is that after this is said and done, they will use this as an excuse to extend the no-visit policy. I went 18 years without being able to hug my family. That’s the only concern I have, besides getting sick.

People have been asking me questions ever since this “shelter in place,” with people having to stay home. It’s somewhat similar I suppose to being in solitary confinement, even though you might be with family and whatnot. Being in solitary confinement is really just being thrown upon yourself: You’re running around, just like people do in your regular life, and now all of a sudden you’re confronted with yourself, and find that in a lot of cases you haven’t really put anything into yourself to occupy yourself. Everything is outward directed. That’s what happened to me 27 years ago, and what happens to a lot of guys who are initially thrown into this situation—it’s like being thrown into the ocean. You have to learn how to swim. You have to learn how to deal with yourself.

I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways. My cell has a bookshelf with three shelves, and there’s a table to sit and write. I have a lot of music, books to read. Not to distract myself from myself, but to take me deeper into myself. I paint, I work out, I do yoga, I meditate.

I didn’t know I could write. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. I was 23, 24 years old at the time I was thrown on death row, at a loss of what would become of me. My education, if you can call it that, has come from my own efforts. I just started reading Richard Wright’s Black Boy, over and over. Paying attention to what he was doing and how. Before I knew what a semicolon was, I saw how he was using it. That’s how I learned to write. And I became an author. I’m not the best writer. My book Condemned probably won’t make the New York Times bestseller list. But that is my story, and I wrote it. And in that way I feel somewhat vindicated, that at least I tried to stand up and say something about my life.

I also like reading about the Holocaust. One of my favorite authors dealing with that genre is Primo Levi. Compared to my situation, his situation was much more extreme. You could die or be sent to the gas chamber on a whim. The arbitrariness of being thrown into those situations—I respond a whole lot to his experience. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, is also a big influence on my life. And Ta-Nehisi Coates_, Between the World and M_e. We’ve got three bookshelves, all three are filled with books. Being in solitary confinement, these books are my community. A lot of these guys, I’ve read their books over and over. So I’m intimately connected to these people. James Baldwin, I consider him like a family member.

I’ve watched quite a few people fall apart, lose their minds. But I went in another direction. So 27 years later I’m still sound in mind and body and spirit. I attribute that to just reading and cultivating myself. That’s the thing, when you’re thrown upon yourself, you realize you are more equipped than you realized. A lot of the system keeps us from realizing our own power. It’s a good opportunity for people to tap into that.

Being in solitary confinement, it’s a punishment. But people out in society, it’s an opportunity for your kids to get more in tune with themselves. Because when you’re in school, especially with the internet being what it is, everybody is generally being pulled away from themselves.

The root word of education is “to educe,” to bring forth that which is already there. Education isn’t really about what kind of career you’re gonna get or how you’re gonna make money. That’s not why we were born, to make money for somebody else. To get a big house. To have a nice car. You’re here to bring forth that which is already there. Hopefully young people being forced to stay home outside of the mainstream curriculum are able to get a glimpse of themselves and start pulling on that thread.

Tags: , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 at 3:36 pm and is filed under Prison Struggle.