Those of us pulling long sentences endure the pain of missing out on life’s milestones. You’re always watching from afar as nieces and nephews grow up, friends and loved ones marry, and even your own children growing old. The list is long.
I think that the most difficult milestones I’ve experienced have been those of my parents aging and that of my brother’s children growing up. When you are a kid, birthdays are times of celebration and anticipation. For prisoners, birthdays hold completely different significance. Birthdays are like the loud ticking of a clock in an empty room. Ticking steadily into time toward an unforseen striking hour of finality.
“At this point I’ve become numb to the prospect of loss. I’ve already lived and relived these time guaranteed inevitabilities, that in many ways they’ve long since happened. By suffering the future now, I am able to live in the present.”
The mortality of loved ones is always beneath the surface of every thought, and I touched on this in Grieving In Fast Forward. To realize that a 60th birthday has passed, knowing that many guys around you have lost loved ones at that age is difficult. But to see a 70th pass, and then an 80th, where you literally know no one around you that can claim a loved one at that age, what then?
At this point I’ve become numb to the prospect of loss. I’ve already lived and relived these time guaranteed inevitabilities, that in many ways they’ve long since happened. By suffering the future now, I am able to live in the present.
Then there are the children of family members. For those of us who care, birthdays serve to remind you of your personal failure. How do you participate from a distance in a meaningful way in the lives of these children? If you’re lucky you’ll be able to visit with your family and their children, but more often than not this isn’t an option.
Years ago when my brothers had their first children I was excited. Excited because there were new faces to the family, excited because there were boys and a girl, but mostly because I could see a future where I would participate in their lives.
I have no children. By the time the state releases me I will be too old to start a family. It’s just the sad truth of time in Ohio. It wouldn’t be fair to any child to have to lose a father to old age while still a child. So, vicariously, my children will be the experience I have loving everyone else’s.
It dawned on me early on that I’d become that uncle I remember from my childhood. On birthdays and Christmas I’d receive cards and money. I’d heard stories about my uncles and I’d remember thinking that they were very nice, but beyond that I could not connect.
So I had to decide. Do I send cards on birthdays and holidays and become that uncle, or do I allow time to give them the wisdom to undestand the things they have yet to understand? I chose time, hoping that once home again I could shape a future that would be more meaningful for them. It’s a decision I’ve struggled with since the day I made it, because within it is a sense of failure.
I have no family here in Ohio. All my visitors come from afar and by virtue of this visits are far and few. I cherish the visits that I do get, and when the children come it’s all the more special.
Some of the thoughts that I have are, “If I were out I’d always be in their lives” or “If I were out I’d visit regularly” or “When they get older I want to impart to them some of the wisdom I’ve learned” and a thousand other positive thoughts. This is what I want. But, what I want may not be what the Future has planned for me.
When I was a boy, there was a song that played on the radio that I loved. It’s called Time In A Bottle, by Jim Croce. I never thought about the lyrics, I just loved the melody.
Time puts everything into perspective. Just like I hope time will give wisdom to the very children I’m uncle to, it has given me the wisdom to understand the lyrics to this song, and now I can’t listen to it anymore.
If I could save time in a bottle
the first thing that I’d like to do…
*Female prisoners experience incarceration in similar ways as their male peers, but there are many key differences. I’ve begun posting guest essays from female prisoners across the U.S. and will post the next essay soon. As always, please share these posts.