One Couple’s Message About Love & Maintaining Bonds During The Pandemic

The following are thoughts about the importance of visitation and maintaining bonds between incarcerated people and their loved ones — reflecting on its magnified importance during the coronavirus crisis.

The authors are spouses ibn Kenyatta — an author, artist, and activist who has been incarcerated in New York since 1974 — and Safiya Bandele who is an activist, retired professor at Medgar Evers College, and former director of the college’s Center for Women’s Development.

They, and all of the family members, volunteers, and staff at Alliance of Families for Justice, urge New York State to put into place full safety measures for open visitation during the Covid-19 crisis.

ibn Kenyatta:

We are living in extraordinary times because of the coronavirus pandemic. The “new normal” means that we must learn how “to coexist with the virus”. Every segment of society is being required to face some form of personal sacrifice.

Visits are important and essential to supporting prison relationships. They help to mend the fractures, and bond lovers, families, friends, etc. in relationships. But visits are not a panacea for the longevity of those relationships. Prison relationships are hardest to work, to keep together. By their onerous outside/inside nature of need, desperation, and fear.

If DOCCS (the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) wasn’t putting in place guidelines for protecting prisoners in NY State, but was allowing visits to take place in the same manner as they were pre-COVID-19, wouldn’t we be upset and worried not just about prisoners but also visiting the prisons ourselves (with our children)?

Whatever is the reason behind this virus, whoever or whatever is its creator — it is here for us to learn important lessons. It is Blacks and Browns who are disproportionately getting infected and dying from COVID-19. What then is our answer to this?

The overarching question is this: beyond the immediate, the temporary, and the emotional — what is it that we want? Do we want to grasp hold of the energy and momentum fueling the BLM movement happening in the streets across America, and around the world right now as a result of George Floyd’s death — which means that Black Lives Matter in everything that we do with our Black lives.

Safiya Bandele:

Kenyatta’s words — the “need, desperation, and fear” — reminds me of so many times during our decades of doing the bid when these overwhelmed me. Times when visits were a lifeline and antidote to the need, desperation, and fear. There is absolutely no substitute for the physical togetherness required to adequately address these emotions. No substitute for the joy when he comes through those visiting room doors …. because there is NEVER a guarantee that he (or she) will come given the often arbitrary regulations and directives. The facility-inflicted micro-aggressions become somewhat irrelevant as we bond — our family unit a bulwark against outside negativity. Being together loving and supporting each other, planning our short-term and long-term individual and family goals — these are our “essentials”.

AFJ is powered by and for the families of incarcerated New Yorkers and allies across the state. www.afj-ny.org