International artist Joni Zavitsanos writes about the tragic stories of Texas prisoners who died of Covid-19 that she learned about while creating her tribute art piece “LIVING ICONS: A Commemoration of the Victims of Houston’s Covid-19 Pandemic.”
In Covid in the Prisons: The Ungrievable Neighbor featured in Public Orthodoxy, a publication of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, Ms. Zavitsanos compares those who died in prisons to Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan.
She writes about working on a tribute art piece honoring lives lost in Houston due to Covid-19 and spending thousands of hours trying to place a name and a face to the more than 7,000 deaths that occurred around Houston. She found “loneliness, isolation, separation of families, the inability to properly grieve and bury loved ones, the mental strain—so much sadness.”
“In my quest for names and photographs, I stumbled upon yet another tragedy within the tragedy that was our pandemic,” she writes. “I found the outbreaks in the prisons have been staggering. They may, in fact, be our largest number of deaths, along with the nursing home facilities. Hundreds of these prisoners and the few guards who braved the odds and showed up to work as well died of the virus. They were male, female, black, white, every age and ethnicity, every color and creed. The virus took them regardless.”
Ms. Zavitsanos talks about a few of the prisoners who died, including Edward “Hawk” Hawkins, and what their families felt. She compares these lost souls to saints. St. Silouan the Athonite says: “The saints were people like all of us. Many of them came out of great sins, but by repentance they attained the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“These are the ones like the guy in the parable. They are dirty. They stink. They carry the baggage of a life of crime they once led,” she writes. “They are outcasts and ones to be discarded and forgotten as if they never existed, as if they did not matter. Their stories keep me up many late nights thinking of the pain and loss and feeling quite helpless to lend a hand. Who is my neighbor? The answer is sadly obvious. My neighbors were those laying sick and alone, while I obliviously walked right on by.”
“LIVING ICONS: A Commemoration of the Victims of Houston’s Covid-19 Pandemic” will be on display this October 2021 – February 2022 at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science in Houston.