How the pandemic has affected our work and our people

I last facilitated a workshop at the end of February.  Since then, Indiana Prisons have tried to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 by suspending volunteer activity in their facilities. There was some hope, as cases declined in June, that we might be able to return in late July, but even at one of our facilities in Pendleton, where there are no cases of Covid, they have indefinitely pushed back the date when that will happen.

I feel for the inside facilitators and participants who have been waiting to join a circle. They so appreciate the regular rhythm of workshops where I often hear “I can be myself and forget, for a little while, where I am.”  I am also sad for those outside facilitators who had just finished their Training for Facilitators workshop and were eager to put their skills to work.

Unlike other programs, where inside facilitators can organize and meet on their own, the Indiana Department of Corrections requires an outside volunteer to convene any gatherings. I do know, through anecdotes, that participants and facilitators will gather informally to talk about AVP and topics that have arisen in workshops. But the regular practice of facilitation, with its immediate feedback and encouragement, its engagement of the whole body, its incitement of laughter, will have to wait.

For myself, this long pause has been difficult, personally, because I realize how much I feel appreciated by the circles I co-facilitate. The work is so meaningful because I have freely chosen it. And my continuing education on how to be a more mindful human, how to be more empathic and loving person, how to be an advocate and ally, has largely been carried forward by those circles. I miss working as a team precisely because it is hard, making huge demands on my patience – it is a kind of temperament strength training.

Since Covid has coincided with the great social unrest and consciousness raising following the killing of George Floyd, AVPIndiana is exploring its own racist tendencies and white supremacy behavior. We are creating exercises and resources for facilitators and possible future participants who wish to engage in this needful, challenging labor.   AVPIndiana is also seeking to expand its capacity to facilitate online, having successfully hosted its Annual Gathering in that manner.  

Regarding actual statistics on Covid cases at the two facilities where we host workshops, Plainfield has the third most diagnoses of the virus, with 126 individuals having contracted it. There have been 6 deaths.  It is useful to know, however, that Plainfield also receives many individuals who have health conditions requiring attention because of their medical facility. For example, to the best of my knowledge, anyone who needs to receive insulin is sent to and resides at Plainfield for those regular treatments.

The Correctional Industrial Facility that we serve in Pendleton, as mentioned above, has had 0 cases of Covid.  I am adding the link here for anyone interested in looking at data on the IDOC site which is updated daily.  Data includes information on staff as well: https://www.in.gov/idoc/3780.htm

As the quarantines at facilities continue, adding weeks and months to when we will be able to return, it will be vital that other avenues for contact inside be established.   We are waiting to find out if small groups of inside facilitators might be allowed to meet with us to keep those connections alive.

Respectfully, Darin’ Aaron Nell


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