|A month has passed since my parole hearing and life is slowly returning to normal. I tap away at the soft rubber keyboard as I sit here typing at the same table I have for years. It has become my “office”. The guys know I’m writing–what exactly, few know–but that I do it daily.I’m in the dayroom and it’s loud. As abnormal as it may seem, I find the noise level comforting because it tells me all is well. Guys slapping dominoes on thick tables and animated card games make up this cacophony of prison life. Behind these pale cinder brick walls the abnormal becomes a new normal.
From my table I gaze through chain link fencing holding me prisoner. Rolls of razor wire from top to bottom glint in the sun, and I watch Blue Jays glide freely along my field of view. The gray prison bus lurches along the feeder road. My friend Mac is on that bus. The daily ride out’s on their way to the central hub in Columbus, Ohio. At the hub, which is another prison, the men are shuffled about before being dealt to waiting buses. Day long journeys to far flung institutions hidden amongst Ohio’s rural communities await them. Mac, however, will be ferried off to Ohio State Medical Center, in the bustling metropolis of Columbus.
The last time Mac returned from chemotherapy he appeared exhausted. When did pumping poison into someone’s veins become viewed as “therapy”? For months Mac hasn’t been able to speak in a voice louder than a whisper. One day he woke and his voice was gone.
The tumor pressing against Mac’s nerve deep in his throat has shrunk to 1.7 centimeters responding to chemo. Surgeons are going to attempt to cut the rest away. When I asked him how he felt about this he gruffed at me. “If it’s not life threatening,” he said, “which it isn’t, then I’m not worried about it and neither should you be worried for me.”
I’ve known Mac for seventeen years. We’ve clawed our way through our sentences together. Always having one another’s backs. He often shared stories with me about his days as a free man, and I’ve seen photos of him and his father together on their Harleys. After 40 years of incarceration time has stolen 3 wives and his entire family from him. He is alone in this cruel world fighting the final battle despite his gruff denials.
I often struggle with these moments. The men around me have become a type of extended family, forged in fire, linked by shared circumstance. There was a time when I was free where I wouldn’t have bothered acknowledging one of these souls. I feel shame just writing that sentence. Three decades in a cage has changed my perspective.
My thoughts are momentarily interrupted. The big guard is yelling something about iCare meals, that if your name is on the list to go to the chow hall and pick up your food. iCare is a service offered through Aramark, the company at my prison that prepares our daily meals. Through iCare friends and family can order us special meals every Saturday. Everything is grossly overpriced. I dislike how incarceration is lucrative business to companies like Aramark. I watch the privileged few head for the chow hall.
I was talking to my 83-year-old father last night. He and his wife had returned home from vacation. He told me shocking stories about how they were treated disrespectfully by more than one stranger on their trip. It got me to thinking about my friend Jo. He had gained parole years back after surviving decades on a murder bid. In November 2022 he sent me an email.
“I would like to prepare you,” he wrote, “that people out here have become crazy. Behind the walls every person knows what respect is and if you don’t you will learn. Out here totally different story.” What in the world, I had wondered, was he talking about? As if answering this thought I glimpse the World News with David Muir, on one of the giant wall televisions. The headline: “Scores Dead At Sweet Sixteen Party”. Maybe people out there have gone crazy…
The barking of dogs interrupts my societal pondering. I can tell by the tones and absent growls that it’s not serious. I depart my office and check on the dogs.
I’m a dog handler in the Staff Dogs program at my institution. I live in a specially modified section of the dorm where I have an enclosed area ideal for holding dogs. Imagine a concrete wall with two windows, eight feet high steel walls 12.5 feet opposite one another opening to a high ceiling above, and a 4 foot tall wall with a chain link gate opposite the windows and you will know my living space. I’ve joked that I live in a dog kennel but there’s some truth to it. Anyhow, spanning the length of the same wall are 4 other similar living spaces for the other handlers, a kind of “dog alley” so to speak. I have no dogs today, so I am curious as to what I’ll come upon.
I round the corner and discover the source of contention. One of the Lieutenants is dropping off her dogs, a small sweet beagle and an energetic terrier, and their excitement to be here has them and the other dogs barking. It’s funny because the dogs are the only ones that are eager to come to prison!
Back at my office. From my table I gaze through chain link fencing holding me prisoner. Rolls of razor wire from top to bottom glint in the sun, and Blue Jays glide freely along my field of view. I sip from the coffee cup. I type another line. I wonder how Mac is doing…
Christopher (MaCI) (OH)
*I created Lettersfromchristopher in 2019 to draw attention to incarceration in the United States. The solution to incarceration isn’t more incarceration. Please submit a comment if your heart moves you, and Thank You for following! —Christopher—