APRIL 10, 11 PM—Just as I was dozing off, my phone rings. It was 14 days into the quarantine and I’d been working remotely. The phone number was a Miami area code… the organization I work for had been pushing to get people incarcerated at Miami-Dade County’s Metro West Detention Center released.
As someone whose number is often at the top of press releases, I thought, “Maybe it’s a reporter who needs to make an early Saturday morning deadline.”
Reluctantly, I answered. To my surprise, it was a woman named Arielle, who wanted to know how we could get her boyfriend out of jail. I immediately sat up and tried to gather my thoughts.
As an organization, our entire mission has been built around creating a more just society for the most vulnerable of people. As she’s the girlfriend of a man who’s been detained in Miami for several years, she poured out her frustrations of the criminal legal system to me. She lamented the awful conditions, the lack of social distancing, the inability to visit her loved one during this time — all at 11:15 PM, as I sat almost painfully still from shock in my bed.
I couldn’t help but think about how I was able to sleep, alone, and socially, or physically distanced from others, in a heated home with little worry, compared to Arielle’s boyfriend. A sense of guilt weighed heavily on me as I tried to pay attention despite my exhaustion from a long week of work.
We didn’t talk too long, but when I hung up, I laid there, still, eyes wide open worrying about Arielle and her boyfriend’s life.
To my surprise, my workload drastically increased once work from home was enforced in my office. Hours got longer. Even though it’s difficult to decipher Monday from Saturday these days; I still noticed when I was working all day on Saturday and Sunday, and even on a holiday.
The reality is the most vulnerable are left to suffer the most at the hand of a crisis such as COVID-19. The incarcerated population, disproportionately Black and brown, suffer under unsanitary and unsafe conditions, low wage workers are often considered “essential” and cannot properly practice social distancing, and the millions of people left unemployed are seeking aid from all kinds of resources—specifically nonprofits. Therefore, the workload increases for many nonprofit workers.
In attempting to help and save others’ lives, there’s little room left to take care of ourselves.
A 40-hour workweek can easily turn into a 60-hour workweek. We’re living in an overly productive society. The thought of having to consistently work overtime in the middle of a deadly pandemic is peak-America.
Something’s got to give.