It’s been nearly two months now since the U.S. was stricken by the coronavirus pandemic and Americans have been forced to adjust to this new normal of isolation. Millions of children are sitting at home confused, worried, and terrified; parents are home, some wondering if they will have a job to return to if and when businesses reopen. We have all been forced to shelter-in-place, adhering to “social distancing” from the most important people in our lives.
Now that you’ve experienced a glimpse of life in the unknown, I’d like to share an alarming fact with you. This unknown is exactly what it feels like to be a child when your parent is incarcerated. I’ve been social distancing from my father for 31 years, because he is in prison. This abnormal reality is merely compounded by coronavirus.
The collateral damage of mass incarceration is incredibly pervasive. Some of the hardest-hit have been those without a voice, some impacted so early that they literally could not speak. Others couldn’t bring forth the words to articulate the pain. Others cried for help in many different ways, but nobody responded. —Tony Lewis, Jr., We Got Us Now actionist and author of Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Washington, D.C.)
When my father was arrested, my immediate reaction was similar to the public’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak: This will pass soon. In reality, I was completely clueless to what it meant to have my father sentenced to life in federal prison. Weeks, months, and years have gone by, and our lives together have never been the same. In retrospect, I realize I’ve been coping with the pain of this ambiguous loss of my father for decades — I just stuffed the emotional turmoil of his physical absence deep down inside of me to avoid the pain.