During my first few years of my sentence visits, phone calls, and photos were simply ways to connect with family. I didn’t think much of the bigger picture of time. In the beginning the gravity of a long sentence has yet to pull you apart.
As a prisoner you go from being that one friend everyone knows, to ‘that guy’ everyone knew. As time passes your friends fade away. At first you are on everyone’s mind, but like the death of a friend, time eventually erases you from their consciousness. Your friends marry, have families, raise children and life goes on. Eventually it’s just you alone.
Years ago my stepbrother was killed by a drunk driver, and just recently I unexpectedly lost one of my twin brothers. I see how it has impacted my mother and father. But my coming to jail has had a similar impact on my parents and family.
My father once told me, “While we can visit Kelly at his grave, we visit you in prison. While you’re alive we’ve still lost two sons.” I’ll never forget his words. The truth and finality in his statement is as undeniable as it is painful. He said these words to me 26 years ago.
And so it is true with family. You watch from afar as your parents grow old and they you. Brothers and sisters raise families of their own, there’s children, college and marriages. Cousins grow up, eventually having families of their own. There are still family get togethers, holidays are celebrated, and life continues only you aren’t there. You exist through photographs, letters and collect calls.
I find myself clinging to moments where I can ‘participate’ with family. When family is together on vacation I ask them to record for me short 30 second JPay email videos of
their activities. They do. I have videos of our vacations to Vegas, videos of years of family get togethers at the beach, videos from my cousin out for morning walks in the winter snow or on day trips to the local conservatory or of her gardening or playing the piano for me. I have videos from a brother while he stood on an empty beach in Hawaii recording the waves and sounds of the ocean at my request. There’s videos of Dad out car shopping, of him and his wife in the car they bought, of Dad in his office talking random topics. You’re like a ghost haunting family with your requests.
They say time is the greatest teacher one can have. Time makes you wise. Sure, I suppose so. It’s also the cruelest slave master too. Mercilessly lashing until you cower beneath its hand. For prisoners, time punishes continually and relentlessly.
Prison teaches you about life. You discover who your true friends are. You also discover who your true family is. My friend of 15 years prior to my arrest, stole everything from me, talked bad about me and abandoned me the moment I was arrested. When I needed him most he needed me the least. I have an on again off again drug addict friend here that I’ve known for 20 years now. He has always been there for me whenever I’ve needed him. He’s honest, hardworking and never judges those around him like so many men here do. We’ve walked down through the years together be
hind these walls, and even though he suffers from the grip of addiction, I’d be proud to know him on the street. Funny isn’t it how wise time makes you?
The same is true for family. I have cousins wanting nothing to do with me because I’m in prison, quick to pass judgement lest they spend a moment focusing on themselves. And I have new family that I’ve known for a little more than a year and there isn’t a shred of judgement from them. Who then is your true family? Those that think high of themselves or those who accept you unconditionally?
Through it all my mother, father and brother have suffered this journey alongside me. While I yearn for their love and to be a part of their lives, they yearn to keep my memory
alive. It is what all families and all prisoners suffer over long sentences. Like a loved one lost to the grave.
Christopher (MaCI) (OH)
Read more about what life is like for prisoners in the book titled ”Behind The Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal” ($11.50, pp 483 Amazon.com) (eBook $1.99) By Christopher Monihan.