Archive for June 18th, 2021

“Love your active solitude like a sunset.” An ex-con offers a few reflections and tips on COVID isolation.

Friday, June 18th, 2021
Advice: “You don’t like prison food, don’t go to prison.”

COVID is on the run – but new variants are afloat, and the occasional pandemic might be part of our collective future (though we hope on a smaller scale). What have we learned?

We are unaware how much society holds us all in check, contains our worst impulses. I have developed this theory: under COVID isolation, people became exaggerated versions of themselves, and not in a good way. The merely bad-tempered began throwing bottles in the streets, the mildly depressed are calling suicide hotlines, and the chronically worried took leave of their senses. And so on. We depend, more than we thought, on a smile, a frown, a real-life glance (zoom doesn’t count), a word of encouragement, a look from a close friend that says, “You’re not really going to go there, are you?” Then we were left alone with ourselves, and it wasn’t  pretty.  We are the victims of our own psychology.

I sought some guidance from my friend, the former bank robber and now author, Joe Loya. He spent a lot of time in solitary confinement in prison. What does he have to say?

“Now you all have entered my wheelhouse,” says Joe Loya. “Prison habituated me to hazard, so I have a super high tolerance for quarantined ambiguity.”

His thoughts on COVID privation: “If necessary, I can patiently wait in long lines after nine years of incarceration, waiting in Soviet-style bread lines in the prison pharmacy, laundry, and chow lines. These long supermarket lines ain’t shit.”

“I’ve been locked in a cell the size of a large parking space for months, 24 hours a day, with another prisoner, eating, shitting, and bird-bathing four feet from each other. So I know how to respect the density of confined spaces with another human.” These, it turns out, are transferrable skills in living with his family: “I can easily handle (wife) Diane, me, and (daughter) Matilde quarantined together in our house for three weeks.”

Here are his tips:

How To Survive Solitary Confinement

1) Get out of bed, make it, then lie down only once during the day for a brief 20 minute nap; then don’t lay down again till time to go to sleep.

2) Pace for 30 minutes while listening to music.

3) Everyday scrub your genitals.

4) Do not light your cell on fire.

5) Turn your solitude into an active solitude by testing your ability to stare at one spot on the wall for a decent length of time.

6) Read a novel a day.

7) Or a read nonfiction book within two.

8. Memorize a poem.

9) Rub one out.

10) Write a letter to your future self about your current squalor.

11) Did I already say to scrub your junk once a day? It matters. Eliminates the feeling of stewing in your squalor. Makes solitary practically sparkle.

12) Incline push-ups and back arm dips off the side of your bunk. Do a lot!

13) Read 10-pages of Ulysses daily. Take Saturday and Sunday off to catch up on the pages you didn’t read during the week.

14) Eat all your food and do not whine about the portions. You don’t like prison food, don’t go to prison.

15) Do not get caught singing Morrissey in the shower.

16) Love your active solitude like a sunset.

A pre-COVID New Year’s resolution. Now as good a time as any.