Jennifer Parker

This page contains a winning entry by Jennifer Parker in the RCPsych Future Archives Competition.

The Underbelly of a Pandemic

I didn’t know our world was set to change
When slowly before all at once, a great sad weight
Of human suffering – descended
And with the virus, I watched sorrow disseminate.

I was left to oscillate between states
Of numb ennui, glum despair and hope.
Potential victim, vector and victor,
The threat now visible without a microscope.

A doctor, I still left home, returning initially
To the sound of my neighbourhood’s applause.
I have had the opportunity to provide psychiatric care
To prisoners, many ensnared in a world of archaic IPP laws.

In the prisons, I have borne witness
To a teeming mass of life, locked away
In cramped Victorian cells
For 23 hours - of every single day.

Within these cells, calorie-controlled meals
Congeal beside blocked toilets, and spike the air
Torrid, too, with cramped bodies
And minds, left to go threadbare.

Lives compounded with hurt,
Are left to stew in the dark
Whilst rehabilitation takes a backseat.
Truly, the situation for many is overwhelming stark.

Psychological groups deemed too risky,
Replaced instead with wellbeing leaflets pressed
Under the door. Psychiatric visits can only be offered
To the most ‘floridly psychotic’ or ‘severely depressed’.

Self-harm rates overwhelm the system. Drugs abound.
Sadness fills the empty communal spaces.
Already dwindling connections to the outside world dissolve-
All the while, we can barely offer the basics.

Hospital transfers are modern nativity
re-enactments – Nationally, we’re told, there are ‘no beds’
The line in the sand between what is mentally unwell
Enough - redrawn over our heads.

The discourse that the virus imprisoned
Us all, cannot imagine what has happened for those
Spectral figures behind bars,
Whose disconsolateness grows.

If I had not seen the state of these people myself,
Their stories would have belied belief.
One of the many privileges of prison psychiatry
Is how it throws the comforts of my own life into




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