The dictionary definition of lockdown is “the confining of prisoners to their cells, typically in order to regain control during a riot”. So in that respect, I’ve been involved in a fair number of lockdowns over the years. However, 2020 became the year of the lockdown, the whole world experiencing some of the restrictions the prison population lives within everyday life.
Re-entering prison in February 2020, I, like most people, was aware of the coronavirus that had been discovered in China. I paid fleeting attention to it. After all, it was something happening on the other side of the planet. Anyway, I had bigger problems than a few people with an illness that would never affect me.
Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.
Through watching the news, reading newspapers and speaking to my girlfriend on visits the seriousness of this newly named Covid-19 was slowly becoming apparent, yet it still didn’t garner enough attention within the prison walls, where trying to blag an extra slice of bread or bar of soap were more important. Prison life just carried on regardless.
Curiously, nobody wore masks. In fact, we were warned of punishment if we wore a mask
Very quickly there was news of infections spreading through Italy, into France and eventually killing people in England. The Prime Minister announced the lockdown and the prison sprung into action. At first it was the closing down of workplaces, the gym was shut down, visits were cancelled, courts were closed – leaving hundreds of remand prisoners in limbo – and we were all locked away. The days turned into weeks as the prison tried to find a way of running a regime that was both safe and lawful.
By this time I was running the servery. My team and I had to carry on working, but changes were implemented. The first was the feeding times. Instead of a hot afternoon meal we were given cold sandwich packs. Any new inmates that entered the prison were put into 24-hour quarantine for 14 days, fed at their door by officers wearing full PPE. Markings were laid out for social distancing and signs displayed the importance of hand washing. Curiously, nobody wore masks. In fact, we were warned of punishment if we wore a mask. Apparently, it would cause mass hysteria!