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PEP Students’ COVID-19 Perspectives and Reflections

For our June newsletter, we asked students in the Prison Education Project (PEP) to share their stories, reflections, opinions, and creative work in order to highlight their personal experiences with coping with and living through the COVID-19 pandemic. We invited them to share the strategies they are using to continue with their schoolwork, the strengths they have developed or relied on throughout the pandemic, and any expertise or insight they might have as to how to persevere through these challenging and uncertain times. There were no guidelines as to what they could submit. Some of the submissions we received speak about racism and police brutality, another pandemic and public health crisis our nation has faced since its inception and is currently facing against the backdrop of COVID-19. We believe these submissions speak for themselves.

 

Gratitude by G. P.

For the tangerine sunrise filled with hope
Above the silver glint of razor wire
Especially on the days that are hard to cope
In this senseless, quenchless quagmire

For the verdant hills of undulating green
Seen through the dual chain-link fence
The wild turkeys with their avian sheen
The doe sprinting through a forest so dense

For the sunshine warming my upturned face
Painting the hollows yellow and white
Unable to brighten this darkened place
A tilt of my head, an escape toward the light

For the deluge of a spring showering rain
Cleansing my tattered and blackened soul
Unable to board the freedom train
As I strive to make my broken life whole

For the summer fog rolling in from the valley
Slowly providing a moist embrace
To all who venture to the imagined rally
In the hope of rejoining the human race

For the majestic purple of an evening sunset
A visual wonder to offset the fear
Of another day spent, living the threat
That I will never walk away from here

 

Untitled by T. A.

Co-vid 19, the way you have incarcerated the world with your storm of numbers and counting, numbers and counting, counting the deaths, the misery of day to day lock down, in prison, while the world is in prison. Lockdown, no protest now, job loss, crime-ridden neighborhoods, crime-driven neighbors. Time ticking, ticking away. Co-vid 19, I have a dream, not another one of my people choked out by force, threat, or disease. In answered prayers from people who refuse to change themselves, low morale, and low morals. Stop co-vid 19, brutal like police brutality. Stripping throats of their voices, madman like you hearing voices, the voices of Mike, Tamir, Sandra, Emmet Till. A world where we can’t take a knee, the declaration tells us to overthrow the government, that forgets citizens run the country. Co-vid 19, I have a dream, that by any means necessary, a return to two jihads, outer and inner. The war rages on civil disobedience. Co-vid 19, bringing people together again, because we only have time to protest, once we stayed home and seen what’s going on. Damn this co-vid 19, because of it people again have a dream that will be accomplished by any means. Co-vid 19, and it seems as if the resident president declared war on the U.S. Co-vid 19, restoring humanity.

 

Untitled by P. C.

“This Black experience is gonna open a lot of eyes. Even then tho,…they still won’t get it.” (local St. Louis recording artist “OneWay”)

2020 has no doubt brought us a dangerously bothersome beginning. A foundation shaking illness hits the scientifically ignorant, like a flurry of jabs from “The G.O.A.T” (Muhammad Ali). Physically and mentally unstable, the human race lies wide open for an attack from an opponent with a polar opposite approach. An opponent that we have seen countless hours of tape on, and trained to defend his attacks in identical time….., somehow never managing to escape the insidiousness that overpowers every opponent that stands in its path. An infamous opponent known worldwide as “RACISM.”

I was in disciplinary segregation (the hole) for 20 days starting on March 18, 2020. Already incarcerated, my options for engaging the fragile social climate that stabilizes our society are limited. You can imagine my surprise in seeing the protest and unrest when I got back to my television.

Another Black life discarded like garbage….. SMFH!!!

The murder of George Floyd was not surprising, yet surprisingly undisturbing. The occurrence of Black men becoming prey to police officers is a re-run comparable to Martin on BET. You’ve seen it so much that it loses its appeal. Instead, it was the unmistakable pride and entitlement in the officer’s expression during the offense that rocked everyone to their core. I will never be able to erase the image of this proud, white officer kneeling on top of a Black man’s neck like a hunter posing with its deceased catch. A sentiment shared worldwide.

The world has collaborated against the powers that be. Unlike the protests that followed the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and the list is emotionally exhausting, there is something symbolically historical about the current “States of America.” In solidarity, the vessels that have ignored and pushed under the rug the issue of racism, stand with the minority classes.

The reality is this: you don’t have to be Black to know what hate is. You don’t have to be Black to feel the pain of a loved one being murdered. You don’t have to be Black to know right from wrong, and the united front lines of the current protests against racism and police brutality are enforcing these ideologies. In ages ranging from toddlers to senior citizens, black and white, rich and poor. From social gatherings to social media, this “Black Wave” is being rode to unmask an American custom of dehumanizing, demonizing, and destroying the Black race. It is paramount that we as human beings seize the climactic moment at hand and address all areas of racism, prejudice, oppression, segregation, equality, etc. Not only for the Black race, but for all of humanity.

During a conversation with a local St. Louis recording artist and friend, Keith “OneWay” Taylor, he made a comment after a lengthy debate about the outcome of the current protests and every class of people from around the world uniting on a shared front. “This Black experience is gonna open a lot of eyes. Even then tho,….. they still won’t get it.” I let this register in my psyche for a moment. If this statement holds any truth, it will be that no matter how united we stand in this nation, nothing can erase the debauchery, the savageness, the nightmare in which we as human beings have arrived at the current time-frame in history.

Learning from mistakes of the past, it would be wise for races outside of the Black race to sympathize with Black plight and understand that this “Black Wave” is not one to be rode for sport.

 

Alone by R. K.

It is okay that you never see me. I’m used to it. You walk by and never notice that I’m here. I like being left alone. I like living in the shadows of mankind. I love being a nobody. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I do not like this virus. I’m not a sickly person or anything; it is just that now for some reason, I am being looked at. Now I exist. What is with you people? All because you are afraid to get a little virus, I cannot hide. What’s worse is the looks. I’m not contagious. I have been here all along. No, I’m not new. Why are you talking to me?

I went to my favorite Chinese restaurant that I go to every day for lunch. Usually, even though I get the same thing every day, I am not remembered, nor is my order. Not a single person pays me any attention except the cashier. And that is only because she has to take my order and my money. Now I am seen by every person on the way there, while in the restaurant, all the customers see me and even the cook looks out the little window at me for the first time in the many years I have been coming here.

While sitting in the park, usually I blend in with the tree I am sitting against and am ignored by everyone, even the squirrels. Now I can’t get one word written without someone asking me if I am all right or a squirrel begging for food.

I can’t wait for this virus to be over. We can all go back to how it was before. Before you knew I was here because you became aware of your surroundings. Before, when you were so self-absorbed in your world that you never noticed mine. Before you thought someone you don’t know would get you sick.

When I’m alone, I can think. I write my thoughts and ideas down and post them online. I make my living that way. I cannot do what I need to with you looking down at me. I can’t think with all these questioning eyes. Social distance yourself further away so I can disappear. Leave me alone. I take pleasure in my solitude. Your solitude is making my life unbearable.

 

Friends by R. K.

I can be your new best friend. We will start the relationship off with me being a little clingy, but you won’t even know that I am there for a maximum of 14 days. During that time, I will get to know you inside and out. I will familiarize myself with every nook and cranny that your body has. I will even make copies of myself and give them to all your friends and family. Better yet, to be safe I will give a copy to everyone you come in contact with. I’m a giver like that. It’s in my nature. Sharing is caring after all. After that I will make myself known to you. Depending on your medical history, I will either just bug you and make you feel uncomfortable with what seems like a cold, or I will be a downright asshole. If all I am is just a cold to you, I will leave you in two to six weeks. That is the good news. The bad news is you really don’t want me to be an asshole. I will do everything in in my power to kill you. But by the time I start to do it, you will seek the help of a medical professional. I have some more bad news for you: it won’t help. The only thing that will do is make it to where you die alone and helpless. Sorry for the way this relationship will end, but it is just my nature. I am a virus after all.

 

Spring Sale by R. K.

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VIBE WITH ME by R. W-B.

Momma never cared if I was in the streets

Cause she was out there doing the opposite of me

See I was selling crack and she was smoking that

Deprived of a mother homeboy that’s facts

But shout out to my granny though she made sure I thrived

Got assistance from the states she did worry about pride

Complications with the courts getting kicked out of school

Put on probation eight o’clock curfews

Streetlights on homie I was in the house

DJO creeping sitting outside the house

Vandeventer wait got a cell for my name

Detained for some months got me going insane

How you understand my pain you don’t know what I lost

Jealously make rage you don’t know what that cost

Trap trapped in the streets yeah the belly of the beast

St. Louis pride till D.I.E.

Home home of the blues murderers and dope fiends

Get caught out of bound that’s your brains on your sleeves

See this is every day in the city and the county

I swear we catching rec an ain’t worried about a bounty

War war with tha pigs right fist in the sky

Huey P. thoughts got us ready to riot

I feel like M.L.K. standing upon for my dreams

A brief chronology the making of a beast.

 

Thug Life by L. M.

Whether you live in London, Switzerland, or some wretched prison in Missouri, We are all aware of the latest events in the past few days that derived from the brutal slaying of George Floyd by an police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Riots, protesting, and reports of looting have dominated the news for the past eight days, with no signs of hopefully not stopping. The events I’ve been seeing on the television screen are not surprising nor shocking to me in the least. But the problem I am faced with is the misinformation that has been perpetuated on T.V., radio, and all the news outlets from our so-called leaders, which is what really troubles me. And after I am done with this article, hopefully it will trouble you as well.

My name is L. M., and I am an Associates graduate in humanities studies from Washington University in St. Louis. But I think what’s even more impressive is that I received my diploma from Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, a minimum-level prison in Missouri. Though I am incredibly grateful for the education I have received at WashU, my true crowning achievement is the level of knowledge and understanding I have gained over the years while incarcerated of the system that has systematically oppressed millions of my brothers and sisters for hundreds of years, and sadly it shows no signs of slowing down. Hopefully this article will enlighten you and open your eyes to what this system is truly like and what We as a people can do to change it.

One of the annoying narratives I have heard constantly over the media airwaves is this notion that most of the people protesting are people from different states – agitators coming for their fifteen minutes of fame. But these claims are not only irrelevant, they hold no bearing on these issues. To say that protesters are coming from all over different states in America just for show is an insult to the memory of Emmett Till, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, and countless others who have been lynched by agents of the state’s social structure. No disrespect to Mr. Floyd in the least, but these problems of brutality have plagued blacks, browns, and poor whites for centuries. The protesters who are traveling from all over are angry. We are angry for being oppressed. We are tired of being poor. We are done with asking for peace, for prosperity and respect. We are not asking or even demanding justice anymore. We are taking it. So to those who say Floyd’s memory is being disrespected because of the so called ‘outside agitators,’ I say this: it is not those so called ‘outside agitators’ that are threatening Floyd’s memory, it is those who do not stand in solidarity with those on the front lines, whether that solidarity is overt or unseen. We are ensuring that all those who have been murdered by the hands of the state were not murdered in vain.

It is important to note my strife with Our so-called leaders who take center stage on a national scale (CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, and any other national news source). The problem that needs to be addressed is that these so-called leaders are not adequate enough to lead Us. Not because they are incapable, but because they are reactionary, they are to quick to compromise with the state. They are opportunists in sheep’s clothing, preying on the oppressed’s pain and struggle. Because of these reasons, their lack of commitment to Our struggle and to real change should not be taking lightly.

Though Blacks have worn the brunt of this vicious systemically racist system, we can not discount our white and Latino brothers and sisters who are not only victims of the state as well, but who have also helped in Our ongoing struggle for equality and justice. We must also not confuse the appearance of this system with the appearance of whiteness. What I mean by that is this: if a black police officer murders an unarmed black civilian, is he racist? If a white police officer murders an unarmed white civilian, is he also a racist? It needs to be understood that this is not a white or black issue, this is an issue of systemic oppression that has no face, and the only color it is loyal to is green.

This is the wrong time to be killing Black people. There are no jobs, people are bored at home, We’re hungry and restless. So to my brothers and sisters, whether you be black, white, gay, straight, poor, wealthy, trans, or foreign, keep mobilizing, keep agitating, and keep educating. We are violent mobs, we are T.H.U.Gs because we are the hate you gave us (Tupac). We are the offspring of their hate and greed, their corruption is what raised Us, and their violence is what made Us. We are tired. WE can’t breathe, and neither should they.

 

The distance among us by J. M.

I am a first year student in Washington University’s PEP program. For those who don’t know, PEP stands for Prison Education Project. While we all understand the need for social distancing during this crisis, it hits us all differently. For me, these times are extremely difficult. I have been incarcerated for just over fourteen years, and the PEP program has come to mean so very much to me. The distancing that now is necessary has left me feeling disconnected.

I must commend the Washington University staff who have done all that they can in order to stay connected to us and continue to help us. This program has changed my outlook on the future and has given me so very much that I cannot put into words the gratitude I feel for the people who are essential to the existence of this program. I also feel extremely grateful for all the professors and teaching assistants who in normal circumstances spend their time here helping us and providing hope for a future brighter than our past.

In these times, some of the things we are experiencing scare me. I have never seen our country shut down the way it is presently. And as a person who is already isolated from friends and family, this crisis is just making a bad situation worse. I also feel extremely grateful for the fact that this virus has not invaded these prison walls; we cannot manage social distancing in this environment. Also, there are a lot of people who are older and have health conditions who may not fare well. I am wishing all who are affected the best and a speedy recovery.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing these reflections. I have been wondering how the students in the PEP program were faring this year, and am glad to be able to read their own words on how the crisis is affecting them.

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