Visitation Privileges Lost Forever?

It is clear -- as Americans, we were never prepared for COVID-19. Still, there were signs everywhere that something very bad was happening in the world. In January of 2020, China was building new hospitals in record time - 10 days! Meanwhile, our congressional leaders were too busy with allegations towards impeachment to even notice what was happening beyond the allure of spiteful politics. By March of 2020, the world and US were in crisis. Toilet paper was selling for $10.00 a roll, store shelves lay bare, layoffs were incurred in unprecedented numbers, airport lines vanished, and hospitals and essential workers had no idea what was about to come. None of us did. Meanwhile, the pandemic was slowly eating away at the now antiquated ideals of normalcy. On March 13th, in-person visitation was suspended indefinitely for Arizona state prisoners. Few, if any of us would foresee the profound emotional impact this would have on the incarcerated population, including myself. For the prior decade, I'd been accustomed to planning activities based upon, around, and looking forward to bi-weekly visits from family and/or friends. These precious hours spent with loved ones are cherished islands of emotional reprieve, amid the stormy ocean of time that many of us sail, destined by the promise of our release. They are the moments where I could once again feel the familiar comfort, security and warmth of an embracing hug. It was a time where I could allow myself to be reminded of what it's like to laugh alongside the company of friends, or reminisce about favorite meals of restaurants we frequented. I've also learned that visits are the only times where a simple game of pinochle or spades can bring out the competitive spirit that lies in all of us. For those of us who have offspring, they provided the only opportunities to see [our] children growing from month to month. They allow for the private intimate conversations that the prison landscape has never heard. They provide the opportunities to experience the virtue of holding a girlfriend's...a wife's...a child's hand. They provide me a glimpse of freedom through the window of reality, even if it was only for a few hours at a time. By the nature of our poor choices, we've been more or less condemned to the false sense of strength and fearlessness, that haunts us from day-to-day, and often at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. And, although that prior to COVID-19, the preoccupations of work and study would help shorten [my] weeks between visits, I never envisioned being stricken with such an insidious and debilitating fear so as to contemplate the now not-so-ridiculous possibility of never being able to hug my parents again...even if only one last time. In fact, I sometimes get carried away with the added fear that in-person visits may never come back at all, under the pretext of "the new normal." Of course, I hope I'm wrong. But as weeks and months pass I find myself feeling the same sense despair that has afflicted much of the nation, if not the world at large. Sometimes worse. I've noticed I've been sleeping more -- both emotionally and physically weak. I'm no longer excited for anything. As I contemplate my studies, I often think to myself, "What's the point...it’s probably all for nothing..." Things just don't mean the same things that they used to -- and it's not just me. General morale is noticeably diminished throughout the yard. Every month since March, we've been advised of their ongoing assessments -- that in-person visitation are suspended for another month. Ever so often I find glimmers of hope thinking next month they will allow visitors, only to realize it was just hope. It's hard for me to not rationalize that stopping in-person visitation for prisoners has saved the state millions of dollars. But I also have to force myself to realize that it may have saved lives, as well -- something we cannot put a dollar value on. This new era has forced me to think that maybe I deserve to feel this way. I recognize the actions that brought me to prison have caused incredible pain to innocent people. And I am aware that the people I've hurt have endured far worse. Maybe I should feel this way? Maybe this is what "tough on crime" is? Maybe I do deserve never to have in-person visits!? Or maybe these are just the thoughts derived of my search to make sense of it all. One thing I believe for certain, however, is that our families don't deserve being denied the opportunity to be with their loved ones. They, too, are victims.

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