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BY ELIZABETH PRUCHNICKI

April 28, 2021
This DC jail's anti-COVID measures quickly turned into a human rights violation.
An ‘insane’ coronavirus lockdown two miles from the Capitol, with no end in sight - via The Washington Post.
 
"For a year, 1,500 people held at D.C. jail have been confined to cells 23 hours a day in what experts call a grave human rights abuse."
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” - Matthew 25:35-36
The DC jail went into lockdown more than a year ago, putting inmates in what has amounted to a mass campaign of solitary confinement. This policy, which went into place to keep COVID-19 from breaking out, never eased up, and it quickly turned into a human rights violation.
 
When the pandemic started, it was easy to fool ourselves into thinking that the disruption was going to be enough to really change our society. Metaphors from nature propelled this fantasy: pollution started to clear up, air quality around the world improved, and we could see, very literally, how interconnected our lives are – to each other and to the natural world.
 
One of the scarier parts of the early pandemic was how quickly we realized we were dependent on a type of employee that we had taken for granted: namely grocery store workers and warehouse employees. The pandemic was supposed to bring us closer together - erase boundaries and show us all the people that society had undervalued, or, in the case of the prisoner, forgotten about completely.
 
The pandemic was supposed to be a time that we were so disrupted from our lives that we learned to be more compassionate. Reading articles like this, about 1500 men and women in DC alone (although as the article states, there are similar jail programs throughout the country) reminds me of how easy it is to lose the momentum behind societal change.
 
Christ calls us to visit the prisoner, but the people being held in this DC jail have been held for more than 400 days without any visitors. As we enter a new phase of life together, of being vaccinated and hearkening back to “life as it used to be,” let us remember the millions of people for whom life wasn’t ever easy. Let us use this resurrection season to propel us into a moment of genuine care and concern, to recraft who we value in society. Let us treat the imprisoned more humanely, including creating a new system of criminal punishment and abolishing the police.
 
The metaphor of the cleaner air quality and the dolphins in the East River have their limitations. Nature, as we’ve seen, can largely take care of itself, but the same is unfortunately not true for people. The social world only changes if we force it: slowly and with determination.
Never forget those who are living on the margins: undocumented, differently abled, imprisoned, queer, poor, or nonconforming individuals. There is no quick fix. The work is in remembering and bearing witness.
Gracious God, let us be radical subjects following in Your way. Teach us how we can understand the world as it is and then help us to remake it better. Amen.
Elizabeth Pruchnicki recently completed her Master of Theological Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. She combines an academic passion for public theology with parish ministry as the Director of Youth Ministry at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (USA) in McLean, Virginia.
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