Innermost thoughts from behind bars - September 30, 2002 by #479571
I am a prisoner. My name is #479571.
I am writing this for the benefit of those people who are misinformed about the supposedly easygoing life most convicts have. Contrary to what most of you believe, prisons are not country clubs. My goal is to give you a glimpse into prison life through my eyes and hands-on experience.
Like many of you I only imagined what prisons would be like. Only, that is, until the sheriff's car that was transporting me to the penitentiary crested the final knoll of the road that led me here. This was my first glimpse of my new home for the next twenty years. The picture that my mind painted will be, for me, as timeless as the Mona Lisa. It was the no-nonsense gun towers, I remember, along with the double bars of towering cyclone fences topped with seemingly endless rolls of gleaming razor wire that inspired me to search the azure blue sky for possible UFOs, in hopes of being picked up and taken somewhere, anywhere! But this wasn't the case. I need not mention the name of the particular prison, as I am quite certain that most penitentiaries are generally the same. The only possible difference would be the degree of fear and loneliness generated.
So, leave your honorary deputy's badge from the T.J. Hooker fan club at home when you begin this tale because you're in my world now. Besides, you are not allowed to possess any form of identification while incarcerated it's strictly against institutional policy (is it because it serves to humanize us?)
The transition from freedom to punitive detention is never easy. The changes you must undergo are unimaginable. First, you are stripped of your identity, the unique characteristic traits that make up your individualism. Handcuffed and shackled, you are escorted to the receiving area in the very bowels of the prison. Upon arrival, you are relieved of all your clothes, forced to expose your genitalia and open your bodily orifices under the tenuous guise of being searched for contraband. What awaits you next is a shower, taken in front of people you have never seen before, who instruct you to generously apply the delousing agent to all areas of your body where hair is present. After a barrage of questions (interrogation?) ranging from your medical history to who should be notified in the event of your untimely death, you're ready to be escorted to your cellblock.
First, you're issued a cell number, a roll of toilet paper and an institutional rulebook, for your reading pleasure of those long, sleepless nights. On the way to your cell, you're spit upon, called derogatory names, and threatened with rape, marriage and honeymoons. You make it to your cell when suddenly your cell door slams shut behind you. You look around in stunned disbelief at the 6x9 foot concrete and steel box, complete with urine-stained mattress, grunge toilet and filthy sink. This is your home.
Of course, you don't sleep the first night (or two) after your arrival. So what goes through your mind you ask? Nerves stretched tight, you sit on your steel bunk and try to ignore the incessant screaming emanating from somewhere down the run. Your subconscious is aroused from the shock it experiences from the day's events. You lie awake in a state of denial, retracing the routes and exits you traveled through life to get here. Self-pity overwhelms you. Loneliness gnaws at the fringes of your consciousness like some hungry beast. As reality begins to set in you seriously contemplate suicide. You wonder how can you possibly live in this man-made hell? Will anyone even care? You have no idea what will be demanded of you in order to survive. Like the proverbial quest to slay the sleeping dragon in his lair, each step you take leads you further into a myriad of fear. However, on this quest, you never have the satisfaction of that ultimate confrontation, for the dragon relocates often and in reality never sleeps.
This is your first day in prison and I haven't even mentioned aspects of familiarization in regard to rules, guard treatment, inadequate food and non-existent medical care. By the way, this article is subject to official review by prison censors at anytime before it actually leaves the penitentiary.
Words are ineffectual in describing the emotions you are forced to feel while incarcerated. I consider myself a strong person, and I have developed a system by which I continue to survive my imprisonment. Many, however, do not. There are those that are burdened by the loss of family, and blame those losses upon the system. Through their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their past actions (and inability to halt the cycle of life until their release), they grow hardened in heart, belligerent in attitude, and incapable in spiritual reflection. Still, others are forced into homosexuality, they become submissive through intimidation. Eventually they are raped, stripped of their masculinity and male identity.
Truly, it is because of the situation of these unfortunate individuals that I feel an extreme contempt toward society and prison officials alike. We are sent here to reflect on, and change our lives, to become better people not to suffer moral and physical degradation and oppression. Regardless what society may think of us, we are still human beings!
During this period of incarceration, hopefully, we will reflect upon our offenses, and in turn, effect a change in our aberrant lifestyle that led to our present situation. Yet how soon we are forgotten. The headlines may give us great stories during our trials and numerous court appearances, but when the process is finished, we are no more than a sour taste in the mouth of the community that raised us spoiled fruit in a warehouse of time.
I am not a violent offender, yet I walk amongst murderers. I am not a sex offender, yet I am forced to live in the midst of rapists. I am a human being. I am a man! Still, my keepers classify me, categorize me, and stereotype me. I live in a system whose main concern is revenue, not rehabilitation. My actions are suppressed by the fear of continual solitary confinement. Conditions worsen as the overcrowding continues. Emotions run amok. Tension tightens. Vitriolic anger is the norm. I firmly believe that given the choice, most prisoners would sooner sacrifice a limb, or suffer a horrendous public beating, rather than be imprisoned. A wound, no matter how severe, would surely heal much sooner and with less scar tissue.
If you were to run into me after my release from prison, you probably couldn't distinguish me from an upstanding citizen. My scars are invisible. I carry them on the shell that envelops my heart. I doubt if you'll ever get over this trip. I doubt if I ever will either, or should! I also doubt if you'll ever understand.
You know, I used to be a lot like you . . . son, brother, high school graduate, friend and lover, but for now, I'm nothing but a prisoner, my name is # 479571.