It has been an interesting day here so far. The staff are running about because something has happened, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I was thinking about what life is like here, specifically what incarceration is like. Not so much the craziness that rules day in and day out, but more about the overall experience.
I think of incarceration as a type of difficult journey. The best analogy I can offer is that it’s probably like experiencing war. In the beginning it’s all about survival, but as time passes you become wiser, more experienced, and more prepared.
Can you really be prepared for every scenario? Honestly, I don’t think so. With any long sentence there comes shocking events. Some of them so horrible that you’re dragged to the darkest depths where breathing becomes a matter of reaching the surface again.
I think, though, that the most catching aspect of incarceration are the people. There are men here from every walk of life, and every segment of America. All crammed together in close quarters without consideration for these truths.
Behind these walls I’ve met the smartest human being I’ve ever known, a man so smart that I marveled at how he was able to problem-solve situations. He was smart in every sense of the word, street smart, book smart, people smart, worldly smart. There wasn’t anything that he couldn’t figure out.
This very same man could bring to bear immense concentration and effort to any project he pursued. He was talented as an artist, craftsman, and writer. Yet, here he was behind bars with me. Both of us sitting at the same day room table playing a card game that neither I nor he cared for.
Smart as he was, he’d chose to focus that energy into a laser point some years past to defraud the elderly once he befriended them. He even had a promising future for he was on a major college football team. All a past life at this point. Thus, here he was, and how I came to know of him.
I’ve met a person so kind that it baffled my mind he could have ever found his way to prison. He never turned anyone away that came wanting for something. A cup of coffee, help with a task, a handout–you name it. I watched him go without many times because guys would take advantage of his kindness. He has given so much to those around him. What, I’ve wondered, could such a person have ever done?
I’ve met the cruelest human being, too. A fellow who relished in hurting the random wildlife on the yard, stomping the voles, kicking the pigeons, killing for the joy of it. This same evil he brought to bear upon those around him. I watched from afar as he assaulted, robbed, and took advantage of the unsuspecting. He lived for the thrill of bringing pain and suffering to those around him.
I’m not one to judge others, but this man holds a special place in my mind for the sheer depravity of the acts I witnessed committed at his hands. It is fitting that he is here behind concrete and steel. I pray this is where he stays.
I’ve met men who could sell you a sand box in the middle of the Sahara desert. Guys so smooth and convincing that you wanted whatever they were peddling. You wanted to believe the tall tales they spun, mesmerized by their tongue. So much people talent, all for naught.
I’ve met the chronically depressed, the irrationally happy. I’ve watched men struggle to survive in this environment, and I’ve witnessed those final moments where men have given up.
I suppose I am expected to say that I could’ve gone about just fine not having experienced the things I have, yes? Well then, I sure could have. But had I not experienced what little I’ve brushed upon in this post, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Prison is the greatest arena one can endure. Like Mad Max in the Thunder Dome, there’s no evading it once here. It becomes a zero sum experience. You either survive and benefit in some personally positive way or you don’t. You either seize upon your time or you allow time to seize upon you.
Really, it’s that simple. It’s sad, too. Because when you fail to realize this truth the outcome is like what we had here just an hour ago. Literally, as I wrote this post a man I’ve never met, but won’t soon forget, hung himself from the vent in his cell. Yeah. It’s true. Why? Who’s to say. But what is certain, is that he fell victim to Time.
It’s a curious thing, too. This man had only 24 hours to go before the end of his sentence. In other words, tomorrow was his release date. It’s not the first time I’ve known guys to walk the air on the eve of freedom. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Anyhow, this is where my mind is today. Who knows what tomorrow holds?
Madison Correctional Institution (OH)