Essay Kevin Cooper

Life on Lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic that has spread across this world has made the experience of having to live on lockdown against one's will a reality for all people who certainly never expected this.
“Free Me,” a painting by Kevin Cooper, courtesy of the artist.

Kevin Cooper is a death row inmate at California’s San Quentin Prison.

By Kevin Cooper

As a human being on lockdown inside a 41/2–by-11-foot cage in one of America’s modern-day plantations, or prisons for 35 years on San Quentin’s death row, I find it interesting to see how certain people in this country are dealing with being locked down themselves.

The coronavirus pandemic that has spread across this world has made the experience of having to live on lockdown against one’s will a reality for all people who certainly never expected this. 

Certain people, through their politics and policies, have made it possible for people inside prisons to live a life on lockdown like it is a normal or humane thing to do. Now those certain people are finding out for themselves that living on lockdown status is not normal. 

Most people are going along with this order to shelter in place and practice social distancing, but others are not. Those who are isolating themselves and those who aren’t all have, to one degree or another, access to television, the internet, video games, movies on Netflix or other outlets, Facebook, Twitter and many other distractions. 

They can have Amazon deliver practically anything they want or need to help them practice escapism from what some call the boredom of being confined to the house. Most can have groceries and food of every cuisine delivered to their home, and other items that make their kind of lockdown seem like heaven to people like me, who are on genuine lockdown in places like San Quentin.

Yet all of that is not enough for some of them because they crave to be free or not confined to their house or apartment. So those who can’t stay on lockdown violate it by going to the park, the beach, the desert, and anywhere else they want in order to avoid being on lockdown in the comfort of their own home.

They are willing to put other people, including their family, friends and strangers at risk for their own selfish reasons.

Yet for millions of people like me who are in a prison, or a prison hospital, or a county jail, we have no choice but to live in cages on some sort of lockdown against our will, sometimes for decades, because of the politics of certain other people who now refuse to stay on home confinement themselves in order to save the lives of their fellow citizens and the world.

The lockdown for people like me in situations like mine are even worse in times like these. Whether it’s Covid-19 this time, or norovirus, the flu or legionnaires disease of the past. We citizens of the good ol’ USA who are called inmates, we modern-day slaves, are often on some kind or lockdown status for days, weeks or months depending on what the emergency is at the time. This happens on a regular basis in prisons all across this country. 

We inmates on lockdown do not have access to the Internet and all the other things that I mentioned before that help ease the pain of being on lockdown inside the comfort of one’s own home. We just have to grin and bear it, to take it, to do it, to survive it, to live it with nothing more than our willpower to survive this inhumane treatment that certain people feel we should be subjected to.

I remember hearing on the TV news, or reading in a newspaper that certain pro-prison people who have no problem with locking inmates down would say, ”Prison’s not so bad, they have cable TV,” (which is not true, we do not have cable TV and never did; “they pay no rent, they get three square meals a day,” and so forth and so on. Yet these taxpayers and pro-prison people are some of the very people who are complaining about being on lockdown even though they have everything they claim we have, and more, much, much more.

It is my hope, my prayer that people will now start to look beyond themselves and start to at least think about people like me who live in a constant state of some kind of lockdown inside cages, inside America. Not in houses or any other type of place that people call home.

I hope, I pray that people start to think and maybe even understand exactly how cruel and inhumane and degrading lockdowns are and the negative impact that this system has on people who are in places like I am, San Quentin Prison.

I hope, I pray that now certain people who are going through lockdowns of their own, even in the comfort of their homes will start to see the larger picture, and understand why solitary confinement was declared inhumane treatment by the United Nations and others

If they do, they will understand why certain people who are forced to go on lockdown do become schizophrenic and why schizophrenia runs rampant in places where people are treated like animals and inhumanely in the name of prison security, or public safety.  

If you think that your healthcare system in this country is broken, and it is, try to imagine how the California prison healthcare system was so deliberately broken that it had to be placed under a federal court order to be fixed because it was that bad.

Everything negative that is happening out there in the so-called real world is 10 times worse inside this world that time and people have forgotten. You must not forget or ignore this because this prison is yours, because you’re a taxpayer, and each and every thing that is done to people like me inside places like this—good or bad—is being done to us in your name.

It is my hope, my prayer that America and its citizenry begin to understand that inmates’ humanity doesn’t stop at the prison gates, that your inhumanity, and inhumane prison politics do much more harm than good to people like me, and ultimately to society itself. 

If anything good can come from this countrywide lockdown besides the saving of people’s lives, I hope and pray that it is the learning from the experience of having done to others what you don’t want done to you—being forced to live Locked Down!

Kevin Cooper
Kevin Cooper

In 1985, he was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized in a June 17, 2017, New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof and by 48 Hours, March 21, 2020  Visit more information.