scoreboard with home and guests written on it at sunset time.

A Mind Is A Terrible _____ To Waste

By Vincent “Tank” Sherrill

You fill in the blank! I’ve often referred to the mind as a womb, or a laboratory of life, not a “thing,” but rather a place where thoughts and ideas are conceived. However, since COVID-19 has been introduced on the scene, I’ve watched a cold game being played inside two Washington State prisons: the game between “The Progression of the Mind versus The Regression of the Mind.”

I didn’t have a front row seat in the Colosseum to this American tragedy; I was one of the 2.3 million sacrificial bodies. (Some of these bodies were released, back into a society not prepared to receive, due to their own post-COVID health needs.)

Supposedly, under the watchful eye of Lady Justice, prisoners are afforded certain inalienable rights and privileges, like religious and education services, for the redemptive qualities they both provide. However, due to this plague of epic proportion within these walls (some ancient, and some modern), which have made my domicile for 28 years, these basic services that provide the space for the Mind to grow, develop, and reconcile ceased.

Programs inside prison like education and religious services, which make for good mental and social stimulation — especially the programs created by prisoner’s and not prison profiteers — have disappeared. However, when the virus, or infection rate began to subside, and prisons started opening up, it was the profiteers (programs that fit into the profit margins, and fit the public image) who gained access to prisoners first. For example, Correctional Industries wasn’t affected by the closure of prisons from the outset of the restrictions, or the lockdown of prisons. It was business as usual! Whereby, for over a year prisoners were denied our most fundamental support systems: visitation from loved ones, and transformative programs with community volunteers, with the most successful reentry outcomes.

I witnessed the physical and mental breakdown of COVID every day. Personally, I was diagnosed with hypertension before the pandemic. I immediately changed some things in my diet (a major challenge in a prison pantry) and managed to get a handle on it. But, when the pandemic hit, our opportunities for movement (Big yard and programs) and mobility reduced to controlled steps. My physical and mental health declined. I experienced fatigue, muscle atrophy, anxiety, depression, headaches, and brain fogginess. I lost my motivation to study and socially engage with my peers, who looked to me as a pillar; when the conscious ecosystems we created inside prisons across Washington took a hit, I checked out.

“The sudden shutting of the prison gates / from the public made prisons less safe / and prisoners vulnerable to policies / and the publicly perceived honorable police state / That is until St. George Floyd came to be the face / and filled the already overcrowded space / of police brutality”

The Department of Corrections mental health staff could have done a lot more during the pandemic, besides hand out Sudoku and Crossword puzzles for the mind. When they walked the cellblock, I would suggest they conduct “social distanced talk therapy circles,” rather than handing out the paper that was utilized for fuel during the protest. The talented minds that created self-help and reentry programs, and challenged and changed the culture inside prison, were ceased and detained all over again, and possibly setting progress gained back decades. That is yet to be seen! For now, the scoreboard reads:

The Regression of the Mind (51) versus The Progression of the Mind (50)

But I’m back now in full swing in my Concrete Root Activism™, and back to being a strong pillar in my carceral community. In closing, I would like to express my love, appreciation, and admiration to our Restorative Justice partners, and Liberation Education (College) Professors, who are like our Thought Therapists in a sense. To let them tell it, we are their therapists. However, their presence in our lives, and in our ostracized world, helped us to process current events, and would have been a rudder during the pandemic and racial unrest, that erupted in the midst of the pandemic and seeped into these total institutions. When they are permitted to reenter prisons (or the “game” for our lives), I’ll be excited to see them come back, like a teammate who went to the locker room for an injury, but has returned to the game.

In Revolutionary Solidarity,

Vincent “Tank” Sherrill, The Concrete Root Activist

Vincent “Tank” Sherrill leads one of Washington State’s longest-running groups, the Black Prisoner’s Caucus.

The Petrie-Flom Center Staff

The Petrie-Flom Center staff often posts updates, announcements, and guests posts on behalf of others.

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