January 12 — My friend John is in prison. He got Covid in one lockup, and after days of getting sicker, he was taken to a local hospital, and then a bigger one, farther away. I saved an illicit recording on my phone from him, left from a hospital in Louisiana, when his guard let John use his cellphone. He sounds scared and angry. His family and friends want to know if he’s okay, and where he is. If you’re like me — white, pampered, sheltered from most adversity — John’s situation is disorienting, horrible, and frankly shameful. I didn’t imagine life in prison until my friend was sent there. As he described his experience there, my outrage grew. So I read some of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore has to say. I listened to Angela Davis talk about it. I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t bothered to think about it.
Now my wife is quarantining in her friend’s apartment in Brooklyn, after returning from a visit to her mother in Florida. She got Covid tests while there, and will get another before I see her. When I see how Florida politicians and citizens are behaving, I feel outraged, uncomprehending, and superior. I’ve taken the pandemic seriously, so I haven’t seen my daughter, who lives a few miles away in Brooklyn, for months and months, only one time since this started, outside in a park. Her older sister in Chicago was careful but got Covid anyway, along with her boyfriend, and they gave it to his parents. Everybody seems fine now.
When the age guidelines shifted recently, my daughters started sending me and my ex-wife links to government websites so we could both get the vaccine, and after a few tries, I was able last night to make an appointment, for the month after next. For once it’s a plus to be older than 65. Along with the half-price subway. I sent the link to a few friends. I wish them good luck.
This morning, alone in my apartment, too early to call my wife in Brooklyn, noticing my hair is longer than I like, I realized that things are starting to shift, after nearly a year. I could remain lucky, get my shots, and be at the head of the return-to-regular-programming line. I might go to a restaurant, if it hasn’t permanently closed. Perhaps a play, once the theaters reopen, those that can. A year ago I would feel mild skepticism about some Chinese neighbors, routinely wearing protective masks as they went about their New York City business — what were they afraid of? Now I’m afraid of anybody not wearing a mask.
Last night a wave of emotion surprised me — was it fear? — as I tried to make a vaccine appointment online. I thought: this might be the beginning of the end of the scary lockdown. But I’ve gotten used to it, now mostly a big inconvenience for me, because I no longer have a job, can pay my bills, and have lots of workarounds, grocery deliveries, gym in the building, Zoom calls with groups of supportive friends. I realized I’m hesitant to rejoin the human race, leave my home confinement, regain a measure of freedom the whole world has been denied for nearly a year. What’s that going to be like? Back on the subway with the conspiracy theorists? Will I hear from John, telling me he’s better now, or from his brother, with bad news?
Between now and my scheduled vaccine shot, thousands more Americans will die from Covid. Hundreds of thousands will get sick, prisoners among them. And old people like me. I’m anticipating more violence and rioting from deluded and angry white people around the country. Perhaps the government will be returned to responsible people who’ll try to solve problems.
It took my friend John going to prison for me to think about prison abolition. It took four years of a sneering racist president to realize how the government protects mostly the powerful. I’ve been in my own cozy isolation ward for a lot longer than a year. And it feels unsafe to imagine coming out of it. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. There’s a lot of help needed, and I can identify ways to take action, rather than wait to get back into a revised version of my comfortable life. I’m hoping that sharing this with you will give me the grace to do something useful, and not just talk about it.