Surviving Captivity – Tips from Prison for the Coronavirus Lockdown

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The universality of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the resulting measures being taken to limit its spread, represents a unique moment in the history of mankind. The experience of shared hardships has touched all of us at the same time, irrespective of our differences, and crossed all divides. Whoever we are, wherever we may be, we can all relate to one another and what each of us is going through, perhaps for the first time in our lives. Writing this from my prison cell, I am struck by the nature of our shared predicament and how my friends will now be able to relate, on some level at least, to my experience as a prisoner.

There is great potential here for understanding, born out of our common and inalienable humanity. We might take this time to reflect upon the society we live in today and ask, in the march towards equality, whether our current systems reflect our similarities more than they do our differences. In the face of ever-escalating polarisation and divisiveness, there is hope that overcoming an ordeal like this together may allow us to transcend global political trends, and usher in a more compassionate and empathetic post-Corona society.

Having spent a decade in prison, I’m pretty used to the idea of ‘lockdown’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘staying at home’. I also remember how difficult it was for me to adjust and find ways to cope with life inside. I wondered whether that unenviable insight might have some relevance to people today, so for those of you struggling, here are a few tips to help you survive life in captivity, written from the viewpoint of a life spent in prison.

Finding Freedom in the Everyday

Confinement can feel restrictive and suffocating. Psychological survival requires a change of focus, enabling you to transcend the physical realities of your captivity.

  1. Absorb your surroundings, and appreciate the little things. In time, your senses will become heightened to the finer details that you would normally overlook.

  2. Every moment is a sensory firework. The more you stop to look, listen, smell, taste, or feel, the more you’ll discover.

  3. Injustice, loss, and pain are unavoidable experiences, but they also make us more complete human beings. Always try to draw something positive out of bad situations to give them new meaning. Negativity will only suffocate you further.

  4. Your mind, body, and spirit all need stimulation and exercise. Keep them active to avoid atrophy.

  5. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, keeping yourself busy is the best distraction from your troubles. It centers you in the here and now, allowing everything else to fade away.

  6. When your freedoms are limited, little micro-choices carry real power. Mastering your environment and lifestyle allows you to manifest your will and re-establish some sense of control.

Coping with Uncertainty

Uncertainty is challenging. Finding a sense of hope and purpose in these times means being flexible and adapting quickly to change.

  1. Set short term goals for the week ahead. For longer term goals, identify way-points along the way you can aim for.

  2. Plan for failure, not success. Expecting the unexpected will prepare you for disappointments, which are an important and inevitable part of the journey.

  3. Acknowledge setbacks, but don’t dwell on them. Always have a contingency plan in place so you can recover quickly. Don’t give up!

  4. Remember others when you’re feeling sorry for yourself. A healthy perspective about your place in time and space goes a long way. Many will have endured the same problems you’re facing, and then some. Many more still will be worse off right now.

  5. When all else fails, practice patience. Things may seem awful now, but we live in a transient world and time changes everything eventually. Keep the hope alive and it will get you through. If you have faith, pray.

Making Time work for You

Prevented from living our normal lives, we may feel like precious time is going to waste. Making the most of our time is an important way to mitigate against this.

  1. New experiences & challenges may seem few & far between, but finding a self-improvement project turns lost time into an investment. Learn a language, pick up an instrument, & revel in the unknown.

  2. Stress and anxiety can be exhausting, so remember to give yourself some down time and take up a hobby.

  3. Life is meant to be shared with others. Being forced apart can be traumatic and isolating, so if you can, find a way to stay in regular touch with the people who matter most.

  4. Stay current. Long periods of captivity can leave you ‘out of touch’ with the world. Aristotle said Man is a political animal, so try not to lose your edge and don’t be afraid to use your voice. Participating in society rather than remaining a passive observer keeps you rooted in what matters and helps ward off introversion.

Mark Alexander is a post-grad Law student who has been in prison since 2010. He has always maintained his innocence. While in prison he studied for his Grade 8 Piano and a Diploma in singing, before going on to complete his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Law. Mark received the Longford Trust’s Patrick Pakenham scholarship award for Law in 2016, and has been published in a number of academic journals. He is currently developing a research proposal around the ‘pains of imprisonment’, building on his paper ‘A Phenomenology of Freedom: finding Transcendence in Captivity’.

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