Loving a prisoner–father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, son, daughter, or friend –presents great challenges in the best of times. I’ve been visiting my husband, Charles Norman, for over twenty years, in a succession of Florida prisons, and the conditions have only worsened.
Now we are faced with the coronavirus pandemic threatening to wash through prisons nationwide like the Passover Angel of Death. What are we to do? The growing anxiety about this sudden threat negatively affects helpless prisoners and their families, making an already difficult life virtually unbearable.
We live in a state of unrelenting fear–fear that my husband could be stabbed in some prison riot, an innocent bystander. Fear that he will be brutalized by guards, paralyzed or killed. It happens. It is a reality every one of us must face every day. Fear that he will lose hope, give up like so many others and harm himself. Fear that he will catch some terminal illness untreated by the marginal medical staff, overwhelmed by sick, elderly, immunity-challenged prisoners, many already suffering from HIV and hepatitis infections.
Thankfully, Charlie is mentally and emotionally strong, a rock, and has diligently worked hard to remain so. But he has already endured and survived forty-two years of imprisonment, he is seventy years old, and I can’t help but worry about him daily.
I am angry, angry that my husband was not released three years ago on his parole date, angry that corrupt politicians blocked his well-earned return to society, angry that I sleep alone every night, praying for a miracle. Our communication is limited to fifteen-minute phone calls and oft-delayed prison e-mail.
Many others are in worse circumstances. My heart goes out to the young wives and children of prisoners I saw visiting their fathers week after week before the virus struck, crying when they had to leave, unable to see them at all with the visiting restrictions and widespread quarantines now in effect. So many wives in service occupations in central Florida have lost their hourly jobs, making their lives untenable, struggling to pay bills and buy groceries, unable to send their loved ones in prison any money, not knowing when or if relief will come.
Each of us is subject to ”PTSD”–Prison Traumatic Stress Disorder, although we try to hide it from our loved ones, to spare them the additional burden of guilt they bear already, for being unable to live a ”normal” life with their families in free society.
Charlie and I have endured many difficult times in our twenty-plus year relationship. At the first hurdle we had to decide, shall we fight for “us,” or quit. So we learned from each other, supported each other in all ways, and persevered. We became one, strong in our faith, believing our union was no accident, but a true God-thing. Even so, paraphrasing the old song: this time You gave us a mountain.
Now we are faced with the great unknown, COVID–19, the coronavirus that is devastating every population it infects. Two million prisoners nationwide are housed in close quarters, unable to isolate themselves, and the prison administrators’ greatest nightmare is that COVID–19 will gain a foothold in their jails and prisons, devastating the populations.
Fortunately for Florida, the new leader of the Department of Corrections is a retired U. S. Army general experienced in dealing with life or death crises. Perhaps he will use his training and expertise to get us through this bad time. So far, as of March 20, 2020, there are no known cases of coronavirus in this prison system of 94,000 souls.
No one knows how long this pandemic will wreak havoc on a helpless world population before it runs itself out. As for myself, I pray daily that this, too, shall pass, and there will be life for us afterwards.
I love my husband, who is also my partner, my better-half, the one who completes me, and will be with him through sickness and health, till the end, which hopefully is in a distant future.