COVID-19 Hope & Help Inside | Dennis Cockerham

Addiction | Dennis Cockerham

COVID-19. The Pandemic. It’s sweeping the nation, wreaking havoc on social and economic stability and devastating the penal system across the country.

The Federal Bureau Of Prisons (BOP) has 141,306 inmates in its institutions with 10,823 in community-based facilities (meaning halfway houses and home confinement) and 35,000 in staff

As of May 3, 2020, the BOP had conducted 2,700 tests nationwide. Of those conducted, 1,926 have come back positive.  There have been 38 confirmed inmate deaths, with zero staff fatalities.

This crisis is real.

And yes, I believe even more so for those of us confined in institutions. We are with hundreds of others. ‘Social Distancing’ is a figment of the imagination. ‘Safe Shelter’ is a title in lights, a theatrical play acted on a grand stage. 

With no general audience allowed in the studio, the narrative is up to those directing the credits. On these matters, much has already been said. And, as an inmate myself, my views are most definitely biased.

So, today I would like to bring attention to something entirely different and quite the opposite. As it must be with any showing, the casting of participants always presents the opportunity for stars to be born. I believe this is happening now, right here ate Yankton FPC.

Oh for sure, we have the attitudes, the stress, and the anxiety. Not all of this coming from the inmates, but from the bureaucracy as well. Staff forced to inherit inmate duties, the system forced to modify its agenda, and the public swaying its empathy and attention on all institutional behaviors.

But, amongst that, a couple have risen, a few identified, and in doing so…they help. Locked down to a building, no access to the outside, no visits, and only the news to guide our thoughts. They interrupt. They distract, they entertain, and they listen. Together they retrieved requests and formed a DVD movie schedule which plays throughout the day for the whole institution. Together they went to the gym and popped bags of popcorn. Enough for each inmate to have one. They delivered them to the housing units. Together they organized card tournaments, Bingo, and mask painting contests. Prizes for the winners of each. And together, knowing our longing for our family, they arranged to take a free photo for each inmate in the facility.

Doing this, so that we may send it home. Allowing our loved ones a chance to see us in a time where we are not allowed to see them.

I would love nothing more than to name these champions and give them their ‘Positive Praise.’ To let them know that they are appreciated, that we see them, and that we thank them dearly.

But for now, it must be statement enough for you to know that these type of people, these federal employees, they exist as well, and we have proof of them right here in Yankton FPC.

In conclusion with this update, I want the world to know this: the attitudes, the policies, and the negative mindsets that you are hearing about the penal system are not abnormal. These are the regular personas found here daily. I am a 7-time felon. Created from a child and molded by this very system to be what I am today…inventory. The Coronavirus has just amplified the amount of light shining in this direction. It could be no different.

Turning on the lights in your own home, it does not add to or deduct from its contents. It only illuminates that which cannot be seen in the dark. Unfortunately, after the lights are shut back off, and the emergency has passed, the BOP and its newly applied concern for the welfare of its prisoners, will once again fall back to sleep too. Awaiting the forgetfulness that comes with a fresh day…the nightmare finally over.

That being said, let these heroes be examples to the rest of the world. Let their light continue to guide your attention, and please…let us not be forgotten!



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