JOHN KIRIAKOU: Now Imagine House Arrest

With Covid-19 showing why “sheltering in place” is so tough, it’s easier for me to explain why I found home confinement worse than actual prison. 

Pharmacy in New York City, during Covid-19 outbreak, April 2, 2020. (United Nations Photo, Flickr)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

Most of the country has been sheltering in place for weeks.  At first it was kind of fun, so long as we were generally healthy. Instead of getting up early, showering, getting dressed for work, and beginning a long commute, you could just roll out of bed, log on, and start your day.  But that got old pretty quickly.  Many of us started to feel a little stir crazy.  And as the pandemic dragged on, things got worse.  A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 45 percent of adults say their mental health has declined during the pandemic, with 19 percent saying that the pandemic has had a “major impact” on their states of mind.  Covid-19 is literally making us crazy, especially if you already suffer from depression or anxiety.

So with that as background, imagine being under house arrest, or, what the government calls “home confinement.”  Most Americans probably assume that people who are released from prison and are sent to home confinement are grateful.  They get to sit around all day and watch TV, right? But that’s not it at all.  When you are released from prison to home confinement, it means just what it sounds like.  You cannot leave the confines of the four walls of your house.  You can’t go outside, even into your own yard. You’re stuck, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Those walls begin to close in on you.  Depression and anxiety set in or worsen.  You begin to miss prison.  That’s exactly where we find ourselves right now.

Tougher Than Prison

In my experience, home confinement was far tougher than actual prison. In prison, I could go out to the yard and exercise.  I could hang out with my friends, play basketball, pool, or work out in the rudimentary gym.  Not so with home confinement.  Here we live on top of each other and there’s nothing we can do about it.  (My best friend from prison called me last night and said, “How do you like house arrest redux?”  He was exactly right.  This is house arrest and I don’t like it one bit.)

And just like recently-released prisoners, we have to worry about overzealous cops.  The son of a good friend of mine was sitting on a park bench in a park near his house in Arlington, Virginia yesterday.  There was literally nobody else in the park.  After only a few minutes, a cop pulled up and shouted at him with a bullhorn: “Quarantine!  Go home!” The cop was wrong, of course. Virginians are allowed out to exercise and they are allowed to go to the park, so long as they don’t congregate.  But the kid went home.  Two hours later, this same young man went with his 8-year-old brother to a local elementary school playground to play catch with a baseball.  Within minutes, two police cars showed up with lights flashing and threatened to arrest them for “violating the quarantine.” Again, they weren’t breaking the law. But they’re kids being threatened by cops.  So they picked up their ball and went home.  The situation is the same for recently-released prisoners.  Get caught outside and the cops show up.  Challenge them and they’ll make your life miserable. This new normal weighs on all of us. It’s hard to get used to.  We don’t like it.

I think we can agree that a quarantine is a form of confinement. Sure, we’ve all been thrust into it in the past couple of months against our will and without preparation.  It’s awful.  Why would we do it unless it was to protect our health and lives?  Home confinement in a time where there is no public health reason to do so is cruel.  It’s unnecessary.  It’s bad for mental health. 

The federal government and most states give prisoners 10 percent of their sentences, up to six months, in home confinement, like it’s a favor of some sort.  It’s not a favor.  It’s an attack on one’s mental health.  Now that we all know what it’s like, let’s do away with it.  If your sentence is so short that you can be sent home, just leave it at that.  It’s the humanitarian thing to do.  Doing away with home confinement is not going to raise the crime rate.  It’s not going to “release dangerous criminals into the streets.”  It’s showing concern for the mental health of those Americans among the most vulnerable.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Now Imagine House Arrest

  1. Jakob Cornelis
    April 17, 2020 at 19:01

    Seems to me sraying home during a pandemic crisis is more about protection of others than about your own inconveniences.

  2. Sam F
    April 16, 2020 at 15:37

    Good news that Club Fed is not so bad. Being very intellectual anyway, so far I don’t mind the quarantine, except that supply operations for home improvement projects take longer to complete. Stockpiling food for the duration, to avoid shopping exposure, was very time-consuming for several weeks. My daily mood is better with fewer traffic hassles, and no irritating processes or people at work. There is a sense of something missing after a month or so, perhaps the pleasant faces and silly kids seen in daily travels, but a little emergency shopping should take care of that. Perhaps during the epidemic more will consider retirement at Club Fed as whistleblowers.

  3. Andrew Thomas
    April 16, 2020 at 13:16

    For those of us already clinically depressed, it may not be that big a change. Makes it a little worse, in that you have to wear masks (or Jerry-rigged bandanas, if you can’t find any good ones) and garden gloves if you can’t find plastic and there are even fewer reasons to get your sorry butt in gear than there were before. For those of us unemployed and/or retired when all this began. For those who had a job, lost it, and are now stuck at home, oh, boy. A HUGE difference. But I’m sure it doesn’t do anyone any good; but, this generalization, like all others, will have its exceptions.

  4. Any
    April 16, 2020 at 12:52

    I have a nice house and live alone. I’m cleaning out a storage area that I like to believe is my deceased husband’s. (I’d like to have a word with him about keeping financial recofrds back to 1973 and a dozen boxes of books on Russian history.) I lambaste myself for having too much stuff. And now no one wants it. When I was a POC in Chile years ago I didn’t even have a pair of shoes or a change of clothes. I was in solitary but everyone was and we managed to communicate and since that was iffy, we made it short and very sweet. We were a community. We were hungry also. The gravest problem was that I always felt like throwing up since I didn’t know when they would come get me to interrogate me and torture me. I preferred to die without hurting anyone else by confessing to things I knew. You choose.

  5. April 16, 2020 at 10:23

    Shelter-in-place actually isn’t the same as being under house arrest—at least, depending on where you live.

    Here in Ohio, we do actually get to get outside to take walks as long as we restrict ourselves to no more than two at a time. I typically walk alone and I maintain distance from others. I find myself crossing the street when others are still a block away, if they don’t do that themselves. Most do. And we do get to go into our own yards, again, as long as we maintain distance from neighbors.

    But you do have a point. Having no life outside of work, I was already “sheltering in place” for many years, so nothing has really changed for me. Still, for those who actually have active social lives, I understand well how they’re feeling.

  6. rosemerry
    April 16, 2020 at 09:32

    Richard Wolff has a few recent interviews with counsellors speaking about mental health in the USA for those with differing problems, all of which are exacerbated by the present lockdown. Domestic violence of course is one obvious likely result. Because decisions were made so quickly (don’t blame China or the WHO, as Trump does!) the sort of confinement, its extent and timing varies in different places. Perhaps some useful data will emerge before the next disaster we refused to anticipate. At least the troops will be ready, and maybe one or two remaining aircraft carriers!!

  7. Norah
    April 16, 2020 at 06:21

    The tolerability of ‘ Home Confinement ‘ obviously depends on how big your home is, the bigger it is the more DIY repair jobs you can do, clearing out the garage again, and reading those books you bought ages ago but never quite got round to reading. John’s sentence for whistle-blowing if I remember correctly, was several years, in which case prison would have been less tolerable. John didn’t touch any raw nerves in the Deep State, it just irritated them, whereas Assange got them going. The U.K. Judiciary and specially Ms Barraister is totally Establishment oriented, never-the-less Assange should still be able to dodge deportation. He REALLY got under their skin.

    • April 16, 2020 at 15:31

      Truthtelling and whistleblowing is what keeps many of us going. It’s the last bit of honor left in the world. It’s what gives us hope and purpose in life. During this seige, I have taken to increased rable-rousing on Facebook. Have had wonderful interactions with peeps which makes me feel less isolated. Also, my home is spiffy, rearranged some furniture. The air is cleaner and just taking in deep breaths of fresher air is special right now.
      I’m busy making my list of how the Betrayer-in-Chief, Obama, was as bad as Bush and made it easy for slime like Trump to win. It’s a long list for someone I was so very excited to vote for in ’08.

  8. Anonymous
    April 16, 2020 at 00:52

    Just because you enjoyed prison does not mean everyone does. Quite a lot of stories speak to the opposite, and my experience in a psych ward was most certainly worse than my mostly self imposed near permanent quasi-shut-in state after that experience (so I don’t run into another cop with a challenged sense of reality and ethos and end up back at square 1).

    This article is a bit difficult to tolerate coming from the angle that I’ve experienced – I wonder how others feel.

    • John Kiriakou
      April 16, 2020 at 20:31

      Wow. What gives you the idea that I “enjoyed” prison? It was hell. I wrote a book about what a hell it was.

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