I’ve been a prisoner since 1995. I started at level 3 or “close” security, which in Ohio is a designation just below maximum but higher than medium security. A kind of quasi hades zone between the two designations, and something I’ve never really understood.
Most of the men in level 3 are lifers, and those that aren’t may as well be for their sentences run into decades and triple digits. Frankly, the mentality of these convicts wasn’t different from those that had worked their way down to level 3 from maximum.
Level 3’s a war zone. It’s day in and day out of constant combat, gangs running wild, racial tensions, fights, and a strong collective mentality amongst prisoners of every man for himself. Most prisoners are swept up into this mental existence, and the outcome is a lot of violence and the periodic loss of lives.
I think, had my experience in level 3 not been so difficult, so stressful and violent, that I wouldn’t still be thinking about it. It’s a form of PTSD to be honest, and I’m serious when I say this. Many inmates who’ve clawed their way down through the system from the war zones of high security suffer from PTSD. For example, I used to instantly stress whenever things became silent. My palms would sweat, all my senses would go on alert, eyes wide, body tensed. Silence in the joint means very bad things are happening, and this is especially true in high security environments. It took me years to overcome this response.
Nothing though has endured as long as the fear I have of people walking close behind me. It bothers me so much that I’ll literally stop and let you pass or sidestep so that I have an angle to protect myself. And if you refuse to pass, I’ll insist that you do, or I’ll reverse course and go another direction never taking my eye off of you. I had very bad experiences in my level 3 days allowing a vulnerability like that. As I said, had my early days not been so stressful and violent, I wouldn’t still be thinking of where I’ve been. Anyhow, that was long ago, and now I sit in minimum security. I’ll never forget where I’ve been though. It makes me thankful to be where I am.
During my first five or six years I spent intense amounts of time observing those around me. You are wise to do this if you want to survive. In the course of doing so, I watched men perish before my eyes, saw them assaulted, robbed, murdered – it’s a horribly long list. I’ve watched men fall into the abyss of depression giving up on life, intentionally letting their health go until they were no longer. When does life become so unbearable that it’s preferable to wither away? When does death suddenly feel like a reasonable alternative? Sadly, I now know the answers to these questions.
So many men come to prison and are swallowed by its culture, drama, day to day life running with the wolves. And like any wild pack they are sometimes eaten alive by the very group they are a part of. Even if you don’t choose to run with the pack, sometimes the pack finds you. It then becomes a whole different matter for the pack refuses to be denied its prey.
I almost didn’t make it through my first few years. What do I mean by this? I mean it literally. The stress, the day-to- day wars I fought, the chaos and the insanity. It was too much on most days. Somehow though I survived eventually discovering that the prison experience is what you choose it to be. If you choose to use your time to run with those who have made prison a way of life so your life shall become. You’ll pull prison stint after prison stint, serve a life sentence in small year and 18 month chunks, and you’ll be none the wiser to it. I see it every day all around me.
Although I’m a prisoner I don’t feel imprisoned. I live life each day, writing this blog for you, working with the dogs, studying, smiling and loving life. I choose freedom from chaos. I am free in my mind. Ironically many free world citizens are prisoners of their thoughts, thinking of their life situation as a dead end or thinking that they are unhappy in an unhappy existence. Thus, it becomes. At the core of it all we find the things we seek, and the things we seek find us. Anyhow, I don’t mean to get all philosophical with you. I’m just talking; this is on my mind at the moment.
The quote at the beginning of this post came from a sheet of paper posted to a window at ORW, Ohio’s massive women’s prison known as “The Farm”. It was part of a sheet of quotes a staffer posted to encourage the women there to see their time as something positive. Who the author is I couldn’t say.
But the one thing I can say is that whomever it is understood what many in the world miss, and only a handful of prisoners realize. Freedom isn’t about bars and steel and concrete. Freedom is a state of being and existence. Freedom is a belief in yourself, God, life. Freedom is everything we seek it to be.
Christopher (MaCI) (OH)
In a couple of weeks I’m posting a new multi-part guest written women’s series, titled ”Sugar & Spice,” about the things that go on in women’s prisons that you never hear about. Don’t let the title of the series mislead you. There’s nothing nice about this sugar and spice: fights, revenge, mean girls.
Also if you haven’t you may want to check out the book titled ”Behind The Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal ($11.50, 483 pp., Amazon.com) (eBook $1.99) By Christopher Monihan. In it you’ll find every Lettersfromchristopher post from March 2019 thru April 2021. All in one place at your fingertips.
THANK YOU so much for following. Please share these posts with others.