Artist Erika Flowers has returned to creating postcards – something she did to document her time in prison – to capture life during Covid and under a different lockdown
Just before the first Lockdown, having avidly watched the news in the preceding weeks, I had an overwhelming urge to document the evolving Coronavirus situation in postcards.
Having served a prison sentence, I was no stranger to Lockdown! Having had to learn to deal with confinement for long periods, both mentally and physically (with no internet), I felt unusually prepared for the then unknown restrictions that we were all to face. Whilst in prison I had drawn a postcard every day to document the experience, not just to record for myself, but to be able to show others the reality of a world that they would be unlikely to ever see or experience.
The descendance of Covid-19 I quickly realised was unprecedented for our lifetimes and that postcards would be a unique way of documenting the pandemic and the response to it both on the news and in our communities, but as well to provide a sort if mini historical record of the time. Having learned from my postcards, which out of necessity was drawn in pencil as this was the only medium available to me at the time, I drew Covid-19 Postcards in pen so that they would be easier to read and scan! Then as time passed, I evolved into colour and ordered some brush pen markers, and finally the of drawing an aspect of the Lockdown that I was aware of during that day became an evening ritual. The fact that the first ones are black and white I think is quite apt in telling of the bleak outlook that we were all facing!
For myself, I was alone in my own home, with my own things and most importantly, I could work from home. I work freelance and had no idea how I might support myself as when applying for the Government Self-Employed grants, I was NOT ELIDGABLE in big red letters! However, I was actually really well placed to survive this lockdown with my sanity in place and more importantly, understand how I was going to make the best use of my time during this period of my life: I decided just to have faith in the universe and utilize the house full of art materials which enabled me to be creative and keep busy.
One of the most difficult aspects of serving a prison sentence, and more so being on bail, is the limbo and the un-knowing of what will happen and having no timescale to work around, alongside having your movement restricted, your freedoms suspended and being forced to adapt to a new way of living. The whole country was thrown into this new normal with no preparation, people had to adapt around their own personal circumstances with little guidance about how to go about this. Prisoners have no family visits, no education and little access to the gym. They received so many worksheets and new rules shoved under their doors (this is the way prisoners receive post!) that paper fatigue soon set in. This was all done with good intentions and I am sure appreciated by some, but is woefully inadequate compared with providing real education and wellbeing support.
I wanted to highlight the plight and circumstances to others. The country has acknowledged that Lockdown has put a strain on people’s mental health. Surely this should be a time when we begin to consider our Criminal Justice System. We lock people up for committing violent and non-violent offences together and expect them to come away from that experience reformed and re-adjusted and able to re-integrate back into society. I am not suggesting the abolition of prisons, more a thorough reform of the system in tandem with a societal shift and re-think of how we view and serve punishment to those that offend. Prisons have not exactly been top of the agenda when it comes to any announcements for Covid-19 support.
The pandemic has highlighted the struggles of those in our communities who have challenging personal relationships at home, or maybe self-medicating to cope with their circumstances. We have all learned a lot about the intricacies of how our society functions and all the many facets interact to make it flow and given us the opportunity to really spotlight the disparities, inequalities and problems that exist in our communities.
Despite the seemingly sudden imposition of Lockdown on our society, there was so much uncertainty and initial denial and reluctance by both the Government and community to believe that this could be something bigger than a three-month lockdown, and that ambiguous guidelines, bending the rules, pushing the boundaries, not following advice has contributed to the resurgence and longevity of the pandemic.
I remember thinking during the first month of lockdown that there should have been a really visual campaign; that all the buses should have social distancing messages on them, people should have been encouraged to make their own masks from day 1, maybe we could have reduced the amount of masks that end up in the street! It’s a bit like everyone in a moment tossed aside environmental considerations, because panic about Covid-19 was suddenly more present to them.
It was these sorts of thoughts that spurred the postcards as we all witnessed unprecedented measures by the world’s Governments. Having lived through years of austerity I was slightly baffled as to where the bucket loads of money came from to support everyone and fund the response!
It has also forced us to adapt and gain new skills. For those that have never done online shopping before, it was a chance to broaden their IT skills to enable them to do the weekly battle to secure a slot for their food delivery! Zoom Became a new phenomenon seemingly overnight….
We became generous with ingenious ways of raising money for various causes…
Personally, I think that it is really important to pursue interests that are important to us, find new ones and look after ourselves both physically and mentally. Daily personal exercise should be mandatory!! Do some morning exercises to wake your body up and level the mind. Try or investigate new interests or record in some way that works for you the events that affect you, it can be a cathartic process. I found adding an element of wry humour amused me and others! Having a project and enjoying the process of producing it can be a fulfilling experience, it may not end up at the goal that you originally had in mind; however, the journey can take you in many different directions and throw up unexpected hurdles. You may discover hidden talents, interests or it may be some time, even years later that this research, skills, or learning is useful to you, but we have all been given the opportunity to consider and possibly re-think what is important to us and how we want to live our lives, and what steps we all need to take to get there.