Living Amongst Kindness in Prison

September 22, 2021 | Elizabeth Hawes

Elizabeth Hawes

A pandemic death count does not show the daily suffering of people who were imprisoned during this time. While a formidable chunk of my work generally revolves around the documentation of mass incarceration, this past year I focused on stories that showed the humanity or the lack of humanity around me. I wrote about the people making the decisions, the people living under those decisions, and the disconnect in between. 
What sounds thoughtful or factual on paper is often neither. What is written about prison is a narrative from the central office of the Department of Corrections or Department of Justice—a reductive view that classifies people in prison not as fellow citizens but as less-thans. The system is set up for the implementation of rules constructed by those who do not have boots on the ground and do not know what would be truly helpful. 
Ironically, I’ve often lived amongst deep kindness in prison. People who live beyond the wall have little conception of how many nice people are living with draconian, benumbing sentences. Unless people can see the faces and hear the stories of prisoners, the impetus for change will not be a priority for the larger community, and real change remains difficult. 
I write to share stories from an isolated, poorly labeled population.

I write to record the resiliency and lack of reason that surround me. 
I write to comfort people who live beyond the wall. I want them to know that if they have a relative, a friend, a love, or a neighbor in lock up who might need some extra care, the people who live within the wall provide for them the best we can. We look out for people who need assistance in filling out a form, writing a letter to a judge, hearing what was said over a loud speaker, or understanding where to go for a tornado drill. We make time to comfort people in our community who are going through a rough time or who are lonely. We remember birthdays. We listen when people need to talk. 
I wrote “Minding the Gap” to touch on the unspoken anxiety we experienced last year —especially last summer—and to highlight the stress we all feel when we cannot care for the people we love.

Elizabeth Hawes is a finalist in the 2021 Media for a Just Society Awards in the Media by a Person Who Is Incarcerated category. Her essay, “Minding the Gap,” was published by Pen America. Hawes is an award-winning published writer who resides in Minnesota’s correctional facility for women.