I think the most difficult aspect of doing time isn’t the day to day violence. No, not the fights. Not the thieving or hustling or nefarious deceptions cons engage in for their means to their ends. It’s not the gangs, hate groups, crooked guards, or the poor medical services or the bad food.
None of these hold a candle to the cruelty of time.
This week another one of the guys received news of a death in the family. For months Death has roamed around here playing a cruel game of Duck Duck Goose. A dozen guys have received the sad news. It has become so frequent it’s starting to wear on me.
I’ve hugged and cried with so many guys over this time frame that thoughts of my own family’s mortality have started to haunt me. I’ve had terrible nightmares these past few weeks, all centered around the loss of family. They’ve literally woke me crying.
The men I’m talking about today are guys pulling long sentences. It’s one of the cruelties of time to have to watch your family slowly fade away as you sit and wait. The sad part is these are reformed men. They remain here because they are serving definite sentences or because they are at the mercy of a parole board that cares nothing about one’s personal reform.
It’s the sad truth of doing time in Ohio.
Long sentences bring a slow drip of death. Sometimes you endure terrible losses before going ‘home’ again. And what about it? Where is home when you’ve lost everyone? Other times Death claims the prisoner himself. Just another number swallowed by the face of time, his empty bunk filled the same day by the revolving door of incarceration.
For me, my time is a frenemy. Friend because I am able to pursue all the positive things that are meaningful to myself and my future. Enemy because I know time will eventually take everyone I love away from me. Truth be known, I’ve already lost everyone I love a thousand times over through my nightmares and those moments of aloneness where I have only my thoughts as company. I often wonder what is worse: the dread of loss or the actual moment of loss? Does it matter?
This is the price every jailed soul pays. It’s one of the hidden punishments of your sentence: “You are hereby sentenced to 25 years of incarceration, where you will serve your time and pay your debt to society. You will watch as everyone you love is slowly cut down by Time’s cruel hand, and if you somehow survive your sentence, you will be released back into a society that cannot relate nor cares what you will have gone through. I hereby order this sentence and thus it shall be.”
Then there are the non-familial losses. These are the losses of friends around you that you met while incarcerated. These are the guys who have walked with you over the years, had your back and you theirs, reformed men who have worked their way down through the system. You and them, together in This World, through thick and thin. Always refusing to give in to the darkness and insanity of the Joint.
Losing a friend in a place like this is very tough. Guys get transferred to other institutions in far flung regions of the state, and some go home. Even then this is sometimes not good enough for the universe. Some who have survived decades behind bars, and lost everyone they’ve ever loved, face Death one last time. Except this time Death has come for what remains of their hollowed out shell of their former self—the circle is completed.
This week a friend of mine of 15 years here was transferred unexpectedly to another institution. He was told he had to go, to complete a program that is only offered at 2 prisons in Ohio. It was non negotiable. And just like, that he was gone as if he never existed.
It was depressing, and for two days I fought negative feelings that every prisoner experiences when faced with losses. “This isn’t fair” or “This will never end” or “Why?” etc. Then, two days later, I was back to my normal self, having reset and boxed my emotions away in a far corner of my mind with all the sadness, negative thoughts, and fears that I’ve ever had. It’s a defense mechanism you learn to develop in order to survive here. I sometimes wonder if, once I am free again, if all these sad moments will come gibbering back from the dark recesses of my mind one last time. Back to collect the sadness I denied them during my incarceration.
I once had someone tell me she noticed that I tend to grieve in fast forward. I never really thought about it until then. But you know what? She’s right. You don’t have the luxury here of wallowing in your sadness and fears, because when you do, The Darkness overtakes you.
So you grieve silently and quickly.
Then you move on.
*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.