It Is What It Is

I often think about life. Not so much my life, but life in the broader sense. Everything in life moves in cycles, and if you sit still long enough and observe, you will spot them. I see men here dying everyday. Not literally falling down (though sometimes this is the case), but traveling along a path of decline that even they fail to recognize until it’s too late. The sedentary lifestyle, the lack of general movement like walking regularly, and the habit of eating poorly. It’s a common cycle for many guys in This World, a cycle of decline influenced by the larger cycle of pulling time.

As I write, I know deep down with conviction that a few of the guys in my housing unit will not be with us in a few years, because The Reaper will have come for them. The end of a cycle, and the beginning of another. I no longer have to sit and observe to spot the inevitable. Now I listen to my gut because the subconscious mind is always aware. Over a lifetime I’ve learned that my gut is never wrong.

Several weeks ago my gut told me death had arrived, not so much here, but out there. Over several weeks, guys around me began receiving news of the loss of loved ones. First it was my neighbor, then a guy one aisle over, and most recently my bunkmate. It made me nervous, this last one; it’s a little too close to home. More unsettling, my gut still nagged at me. Could there still be more to come?

Then a week ago, death finally cycled away, but not before striking one last time. So today I’m going to share that story with you because it had an impact on me. It’s just another moment of what daily life is like here, and illustrates that no matter who we are or what we’ve done in life, we’re all humans and have hopes and dreams.

Sometimes our dreams come true.

Other times they die before our very eyes.


Mac is a 220lb biker. His arms are sleeved out with tattoos, and a giant skull and bones peers fiercely from his back. His footwear consists of black boots no matter the season or weather, and he doesn’t say much. If he were an animal in the wild I’m pretty sure he’d be a mixture of a bear and a porcupine.

Years ago I watched Mac fight off three men that tried to rob his cell. They were gang-bangers, new initiates no doubt told to target him in order to earn their way into the group. What were they thinking? Of all the people, Mac was the last man most cons would dare to single out. All I can come up with is that they were blindsided by the foolhardy MYTH that they should target the biggest or baddest MF around to earn respect from the other cons. Shit, that’s the surest way to gain your first ever helicopter ride.

The trio dashed into Mac’s cell from behind, slamming the door shut as they did. For a heartbeat or two there was an eerie silence…

Then came crashing–a.lot.of.crashing.

Someone screamed. I’m pretty sure a skull ricocheted off the wall several times in rapid fire succession. Crack-crack-crack!

The cell door unexpectedly banged open, bouncing dumbly off of the brick wall. Two young kids, hell they couldn’t have been older than 20, bloodied and terrified, fled onto the range. The third would-be robber, an older black fellow, lay sprawled out on the floor inside the cell. Mac dragged the perp onto the range, dumping his form there. He eyed the cell block before returning back inside the cell. The door calmly clicked shut behind him.

And so, there the man lay. The body motionless–dead, as far as anyone could tell–for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, to the relief of some, and the disappointment of others, the man awoke and stumbled his way down the stairs and back to his cell.

Mac has always had few friends. It’s not that guy’s dislike him, quite the contrary, but simply stated, he’s not exactly a social butterfly. I’d say that most guys don’t know how to take him. He’s like a puzzle with jagged edges. You know the type, it drives you nuts at first but once you get going things get easier to figure out. Something like that. Get to know him and he’s alright.

Mac is pulling a life bit for murder and is on his 25th year. Time has a way of sucking the life out of you if you aren’t careful, and for most guys pulling long sentences they’re lucky not to be a hollowed out shell come their 25th year. At the very least, time tends to harden you toward the world. Memories erase themselves. Colors fade. Hopes and dreams die off. I don’t imagine that Mac gives a shit though. “It is what it is,” he has always told me.

Yeah Mac, I guess so. It is what it is and life sucks.

A few years ago Mac got married to a woman he’d met since being incarcerated. They were pen-pals for years, eventually her coming to visit and the rest is history. I met her once during a special family visitation event when my family was here. She was a soft creature, and seemed to glow as she sat beside Mac. Her smile was infectious, and she and Mac laughed nonstop that day. For the first time since knowing him, I saw Mac in a different and softer light. He seemed truly happy, a man who had hopes and dreams.

His marriage was the one thing in life that made him happy. Oftentimes he’d tell me stories about his “gal.” His conversations about the future were hopes and dreams centered around her. “She’s awesome,” he’d say, or “We’re going to live together as soon as I get out,” or “she’s coming to visit!” Once he told me, “You know, life is good when you have someone to love.”

Yeah, I guess he did have a point.

Then one day I was walking through the cell block and someone stopped me. Mac, they said, had just received news his wife had passed away. What? That couldn’t be, I had replied, she couldn’t have been but 35. All anyone knew was that there had been some sort of accident.

I immediately went to find Mac. I had no idea how this news would affect him. I imagined scenarios where he simply snapped and went berserk, leaving broken bodies in his wake. Would he crash about in one final rage against the world or maybe strike at a guard? I saw him doing everything imaginable but what he was doing when I found him.

I found him in the bathroom. There he was standing alone, staring across the way at a distant wall. People shuffled past him unconcerned, and there he remained. Looking but not seeing, staring but unaware.

I cautiously walked up beside him. His eyes were red as if they had been rubbed.

“Mac?” I said. “Tell me it’s not true.”

His head turned toward me, and he tried to speak but failed. Tears welled up in the corner of his eyes.

Oh, Jesus, I thought. This can’t be true.

The unit’s laundry room was just around the corner, and I saw that no one was in there. I said, “C’mon man,” and went for the laundry so Mac would have a little privacy.

Once we were alone Mac said, “They said she was in an accident”–his voice was barely audible, it didn’t even sound like him–“She’s gone.”

Before I could reply, his body hitched and he put his head into his hands and began crying. I put my arms around him and patted him on the back and said the only thing I could think of, “It’s okay, let it out.”

And he did. He let out a terrible, anguished yowl, a sound that broke my heart, and literally cried on my shoulder. I patted him on the back several times before realizing that I, too, was crying.

And so time passed.

Some time has passed since that terrible day, and Mac puts on a brave face. As far as most people can tell, he’s the same old Mac, but I know better. Something inside him died that afternoon. I hear it in his voice, and I see it in his body language. He’s in my unit here, and I sometimes see him hugging the dogs a little longer now or staring off into the distance or talking a little less than usual.

Time is cruel to those pulling long sentences. It doesn’t care who you are. In This World, time eventually takes everyone you love away from you. His gal was the last thing he had, and now he is alone in the world.

But time doesn’t care.

It is what it is.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane

—Christopher

One thought on “It Is What It Is

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