12 March 2020

Welcome to The Zo

by Eve Fisher

I'm involved in a variety of things at the penitentiary these days.  There's the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), that I've been doing for 10 years.  We're doing a training for facilitators (T4F) workshop in April for that, getting more inmates trained as inside facilitators.  AVP is going strong.  Our main problem is that we always need more outside volunteers.  In case you haven't noticed, volunteerism has gone down over the last few years.  Most of the service organizations I know of (Kiwanis, Elks, Lions, etc.) are seeing a dramatic drop in membership.  And the people who are interested in helping aren't that interested in doing a weekend-long workshop inside a prison, even though it's probably the most interesting, educational, entertaining, and safest place you can be.

Allan and I are also supervising the Lifer's Group, for the third fiscal year, and the achievements are beginning to really show.  There's Toastmasters, which the Lifer's Group hosted for almost 2 years, and now is a full-fledged group of its own at the pen.  There's the suicide watches, which the Lifer's Group has taken on (with, of course, permission and approval from prison mental health and prison administration).  We just hosted our 2nd Talent Show, and it was great.  Music, jokes, poetry, and a production of yours truly's "The Scottish Play", a five-minute rendering of Macbeth, complete with cheerleading weird women.  (Great laughter and applause.)  We have a few other on-going projects, and a lot of ideas.

Over the years, I've gotten sort of used to prison ways, and idiosyncrasies, because working with the inmates is worth it.  But I can go home.  Every night, I get to go home.  What about those who don't?  What is life really like for them?  Well, I'm presenting for your information and (?) entertainment, a series of videos (each runs about 5 minutes) called "Welcome to The Zo" presented on the website The Marshall Project.

And for the last episode, "Retaliation", see here:

Life in prison.  

Meanwhile, let's talk - for a brief moment - about disease.  The coronavirus may never reach the South Dakota prison system, but colds and influenza go around swiftly and frequently and it often seems that everybody in the unit catches it.  They isolate prisoners - with their cellie (whether the cellie has it or not at the time) - in their cells, which is a 6 x 8 space with a window that does not have a view or access to fresh air but does have a toilet right in the front, at the door.  Toilet paper (which must also serve as tissues) is rationed.  Hand sanitizer is considered contraband (alcohol content).  There's a lot of bleach, and a lot of cleaning, but I've seen an awful lot of prisoners hacking and sneezing while cleaning.  See this article in the Marshall Project for more info:  (Marshall Project)

As I said, at least I get to go home.  And I always keep hand sanitizer in my car.  

Meanwhile, South Dakota - as of today - has 5 coronavirus cases, and 1 death.  As Daniel Defoe would say, not a high weekly bill of mortality, but has turned our eyes to the potentialities.  


Paul D. Marks said...

Eve, I hope the coronavirus doesn't get to the prison and doesn't get much bigger in your state at all.

janice law said...

An eye opening piece. Hope you and the folks in the penitentiary stay safe from the virus.

Eve Fisher said...

Thank you, Paul and Janice. I pray we all have a light bill of mortality.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, when I first read your article title, my mind automatically added the second O to make the word ZOO. It wasn't until later that I found out ZO was a slang word. But in truth, many civilians in the outside world and some prison guards and wardens do consider the inmates and prison to be a zoo. Apparently in some people, there is a psychological weakness in their behavior when they have complete control over other people. Rehabilitation goes out the door.

Keep up the good work you guys are doing. Rehabilitate those you can. Hope the guards up on the Hill aren't like those in the videos.

Jan Christensen said...

What a fascinating article, Eve. You are so brave and kind. Keep up the good work, and I hope you stay healthy and safe. You are an inspiration.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, Jan.
R.T. - strange stuff happens, even in SD. The sudden transfers are always unsettling.
Meanwhile, the SD prison system, like most of the prison systems around the country, has as of late yesterday stopped all visits, including from volunteers, and all activities that require a volunteer (other than specifically named pastors of a few specifically named church services).