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The day we reactivated love in the prisons of Colombia

Relatives of some prisoners protest in front of the La Picota prison in Bogotá, demanding that the government of President Iván Duque take urgent measures to prevent a massive spread of Covid-19.

Photo: Mauricio Alvarado Lozada

n Sunday, March 14, 2021, a friend sent me a photo of a long line outside La Picota prison, with the message “you just reactivated love”. That weekend, hundreds of women lined up to meet their lovers in jail again, after a long and unfair wait where love and passion had had a dark pause that had seriously affected many, and had caused them great suffering. That day the inmates got up to bathe with greater determination than ever, and anxiously awaited the materialization of their repressed fantasies for so many months. Love had been reactivated. (Read Oral diseases affect 45% of the population: WHO)

Such deprivation of physical contact had no near precedent in the country’s history, and was in many ways a terrible injustice, of the many that covid-19 caused. A sexual and affective deprivation that deepened the loneliness that we all felt during the pandemic, but that was much more painful for those who were already isolated from the world beforehand. (Read Europe could face a “cancer epidemic”)

Also, outside of prisons, many people had a few months of forced or voluntary sexual abstinence, especially in 2020. Not only because of the closure of motels, the generalized quarantine, the breakup with their partners, but also because of the fear that many had of meeting intimately, due to the risk of becoming infected with the virus. However, for that month of 2021, almost everyone had already returned to their love practices, and those who lived with their partner had resumed their love routines. The truth is that this crisis, after the quarantine, led many couples to separate or divorce. It was a litmus test for love, and those that did not unite, separated them irretrievably.

But everything was much worse for the people deprived of their liberty. Epidemiological measures had restricted visits, and in practice they did not exist. The risk of transmission in prisons was higher, given the greater difficulty of maintaining physical distancing, and certainly community outbreaks were correlated with prison outbreaks.

Hundreds of clusters had been treated, and although it was a mostly young population, the impact on mortality under their conditions was somewhat difficult to accept ethically, first, because they are subjected to conditions that make them more vulnerable; second, because they are preventable by avoiding transmission from outside prison. Thus, it was unfair, and unethical, not to prevent outbreaks that could lead to preventable deaths in the prison population (PPL), but at some point this should be balanced against the psychological and social effects of romantic and sexual isolation. of the inmates.

In 2020 we received at the Ministry of Health, where I was the director of Epidemiology and Demography, a lengthy right of petition handwritten and signed by hundreds of inmates requesting the reactivation of spousal visits to prisons. The response had been that it could be done as the epidemiological situation improved; however, it gave the prison directors the responsibility of verifying the epidemiological conditions to allow them.

Months later we realized that they had maintained a very strict interpretation of the principle of concern, and even though visits were no longer prohibited by law, in practice they were still mostly closed. From that moment we knew that it was necessary to act differently.

So when in 2021, we received another similar letter, I told myself that we had to act more decisively, and this accelerated our change of approach. In our favor, it was the fact that older adults were also being vaccinated in prisons, and soon those with comorbidities, although the general opening for all inmates would still take a few weeks.

It was also a relatively more optimistic moment about the behavior of the pandemic, and it was easy to bear the need to give equal treatment to the inmates, if the rest of the Colombians for months could already see their families and their lovers, the PPL They should have the same right, of course within the framework of their special conditions.

I found out about the technical part, the rules, the competencies (which I had shared with the Promotion and Prevention Department). At 10 pm on Thursday I spoke with the minister.

“The prisoners are still without visitors,” I told him. I knew that I had the ethical arguments of Public Health, but I preferred to be more direct. Imagine, minister, what it’s like to go so long without making love to anyone.

“No, no, that’s inhumane,” replied the minister with a very sincere tone of concern. That has to be opened, that can’t be, do what you have to do.

With the permission of the minister, we then began to write what was later joint Circular 021 of 2021, signed by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice, where the instruction is given to allow visits by spouses and relatives to the population deprived of liberty throughout the country. We argued that given the need to safeguard the mental health and psychosocial well-being of persons deprived of their liberty, it was necessary to guarantee these visits, and only restrict them under a specific epidemiological cause, as later clarified with the INPEC technicians. We had to call all the relevant authorities, and do all the knowledge management of the decision. The news came out in the press massively, and many families, spouses and couples, but especially PPL received the news with happiness.

With some people from my team we baptized this small administrative act as “The circular of love”, and we noted it on the list of products of which we are proud. Today I must say that, although this was something that was invariably going to end up happening, and that perhaps should have happened much sooner, it allowed me to feel the immense value of public service, those brief moments when you make something happen. There is no other more fundamental sense of service than using scientific knowledge, and the power of the State, to correct injustices, especially those suffered by those who have fewer resources to fight against them. That’s what we did with that Circular, albeit on a small scale.

That epic Sunday where those beings returned to love each other, to touch each other, to feel, and to enjoy each other was the materialization of that purpose. All this may be something that few value as it is a reparation for those people who many see as undesirable outcasts of society and whose pleasure matters little, but it is clear that that humanity that unites us exhorts us to wish that everyone can enjoy what everyone We enjoy ourselves, and it makes me happy to know that some have recovered their love, although they have not yet been able to recover their freedom.

*Former Director of Epidemiology and Demography of the Ministry of Health in Colombia.

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Source: Elespectador

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