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OPINION: How you see lockdown is a choice

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How are you coping with lockdown? Here’s what Newcastle-based artist and former prisoner Damien Linnane thinks.

There were two kinds of people in prison. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people saw it the way it was intended. As a punishment. Restricted from visiting friends and family, going to community events, and basic luxuries like a night out at the movies.

A lot of prisoners constantly talked about how hard they’d been done by, and what had been taken from them, only ever focusing on the negatives.

Prison wasn’t easy by any means, but in my experience, how well you got through it depended primarily on your attitude. Instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t do, I found myself in the minority of people who decided to view it as an opportunity. One week in I started writing the novel I’d been finding excuses not to start for years.

Writing the first draft took up half of my ten-month sentence. I spent the second five months teaching myself to draw. My novel was picked up by a small publisher and released at the end of 2019. Earlier this year, I illustrated a book under a contract with Random House.

Life is always what you make with the cards you’ve been dealt. I couldn’t keep up with the latest movies or play video games, but the prison library had enough entertainment for years. I read 63 books during my sentence. Part of me is sad to know I’ll probably never have the free time to read that prolifically again.

I’ll probably never be as fit as I was in prison again either. I couldn’t make excuses not to work out every day when the gym was literally outside my cell block. I barely get to the gym three times a week these days, between all my various work contracts and my social calendar. Or at least I did before Newcastle went into lockdown again, and the gyms and most of the other places I like to visit were closed. But with less places to go, I’ve once again got more free time to pursue other things.

The current lockdown reminds me a little of prison. But only in the sense that it presents me with a choice. I can choose to be angry with what’s been taken from me. Or I can choose to make the most of the situation. I used the lockdown last year as an opportunity to finish my master’s degree.

When I submitted that six weeks early, I finished writing my second book. I’m mostly using this year’s lockdown to work on new art projects. And if I catch myself being annoyed at our current situation, all I have to think about is how much harder it is for people in prison.

In prison, a COVID lockdown means not being let out of your cell, a room so small you can probably touch both walls when you outstretch your arms. And chances are, you share that tiny room with someone else.

You don’t even have access to the phones in the yard, where you could normally wait in line for half an hour to make a call that is capped at six-minutes. You definitely can’t stay in touch with people over the internet. And that weekend visit from your family that you typically look forward to all week? That’s been cancelled due to social distancing guidelines.

The Newcastle lockdown has its inconveniences for sure, but when I compare it to prison, I don’t think I have anything to complain about.

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