Surviving Lockdown

By Christopher Zoukis

Lockdown!  We – the imprisoned – know what it is.  As I write this, we at FCI-Petersburg are locked down. 

Technically speaking, lockdown is an extended period of time over which the cell doors remain closed.  Food rations are reduced, showers are almost non-existent, and one’s resistance to claustrophobia is challenged.  During my time in prison, I have learned (the hard way) that lockdown is either hell on earth or a holiday vacation.  The difference is in how you approach the situation. 

Preparation for the situation can make all the difference in the world.  First, go to the commissary and purchase 20 Ramen Noodle soups, which will cost you $5.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to buy 5 cans of tuna, saltine crackers (for flavor and substance in the soups), a bag of coffee, and a few bars of soap.  Everyone needs coffee, and you can use the soap for birdbaths in your cell’s sink.

This investment will definitely improve your lot-in-life during lockdown.

The second step in the preparatory process is what I call ‘boredom relief.’  In other words, have something to do.  For me, boredom relief is composed of Ohio University courses, reading material, plenty of writing paper, along with a few pens.  You can get books from the library, borrow them from a friend or even order a few.  Just keep them in your cell.  They’ll come in handy during the next lockdown.

For example, during the present lockdown, which I call a “forced vacation,” I’ve occupied myself with writing 7 letters, one article, and two book reviews.  I also finished my U.S. History course and read two books:  The Sound of Meat, and Icicle Bill by Dave Babb.

As we all know, lockdowns are not preceded by memos from-on-high, explaining procedural changes about to occur.  Lockdowns happen faster than a New York minute.  The goal of any lockdown is to bring all activity to a screeching halt, and secure the institution.  My present lockdown was triggered by a food strike/work stoppage.  Other common reasons for lockdowns are the discovery of shanks or fights.  No matter what the reason, you need to be ready.

Once a lockdown is initiated, try to ascertain why.  If the guards are going cell-to-cell, get rid of all contraband.  If you don’t, a quick shakedown will find you in the hole, where you have no supplies.

As soon as you’re locked down, adjust your perspective.  It’s not lockdown, rather it’s holiday vacation.  And holiday vacations are full of fun and activity, not boredom.  So begin occupying your time, even if it’s simply napping on the beach. 

Set an agenda.  Read for a while, then start a letter or an article or a book.  Perhaps you’re artistically inclined – draw a picture. 

It goes without saying that during your holiday vacation you want to look and feel your best.  Go for a run on the beach (run in place) or do some calisthenics.  Then go back to your luxurious hotel room for a shower and soak in the hot-tub.  Of course, since you’re in prison, this means a birdbath with a washrag and soap.  But that doesn’t matter.  Reality is in your head, not in your circumstances.  Creating your own environment during lockdown is vital to not getting bored or going stir-crazy.

Other vacation suggestions include: playing cards with your fellow-vacationers, having interesting philosophical conversations or simply discussing the merits of turbocharging versus supercharging.  Write, produce, and direct a play or skit, assigning roles and dialogue to your cell mates.  Hold a rehearsal in your cell.  See who might be the next Tom Cruise. 

In the final analysis, the goal is to entertain yourself, while at the same time being considerate of your cell mates.

Let’s recap the important points of going on an extended vacation or, as some might say, surviving a lockdown. 

  • ·         Stock your cell with food, beverages, and hygenic items.
  • ·         Flush all contraband if a shakedown is in progress.
  • ·         Set a vacation agenda (a to-do list).
  • ·         Read and write.
  • ·         Exercise and keep yourself clean.
  • ·         Maintain a healthy perspective by being active and productive.

Don’t worry, be happy – the doors will eventually be unlocked.